Folk souls

From Anthroposophy

The term folk soul is the general term used both for:

  • the soul qualities characteristic of and common for a given folk or people (feelings, moods, sympathies, antipathies),

as for

  • the spiritual beings or spirits of the hierarchy of archangels that inspire the soul qualities of the individuals of a given people.

Besides the normal archangelic folk spirits influence, there are also retarded luciferic spirits, who compete with the real leading folk-spirits, and are the cause that the nations feud with each other, do not live in peace with each other. They cause the human being to identify with the nation like with a completely personal affair, and thereby this quarrel of the nationalities comes into being on Earth. (1915-05-13-GA159).

The folk soul is to be positioned together with, but below the Group souls of humanity and Human races.


  • nationality, or the strong feelings of identification with a nation, as an influence of retarded (luciferic) archangels (and the not the rightful archangels acting als folk spirits) (1915-05-13-GA159 quote A)
  • connection of Man with the folk soul is different while awake versus while asleep
  • working of the folk spirits (1918-03-30-GA181)
    • Italian peninsula: through the air element
    • France: through the fluidic elements, everything which not only enters the body as fluid, but also works in it as fluid
    • British: through everything earthly, principally through the salt and its combinations in the organism
    • Americ: through the underground magnetic and electric currents
    • Russian/Slavic: through the light, working in the vibrations of light.
  • archangel Michael as (guiding spirit of the time) folk soul for the German people (1915-01-19-GA157, see also 1914-11-27-GA064)
  • different folks (characterization only, without any value judgment) (see 1915-05-13-GA159 quote B)
    • the Italian people inspires the sentient soul. .. on one side the brilliant aspect of the Italian people is based on the fact that the sentient soul is inspired .. but this people also identify themselves with something superhuman that lagged behind luciferically in all the passionate impulses of development which appear within the Italian people.
    • in the French people the folk-spirit is inspiring the intellectual soul.
    • in the British people the folk-spirit is inspiring the consciousness-soul .. that which connects the human being mostly with the external physical world. Hence, this nation which is inspired in the consciousness-soul is entrusted above all with the task of furthering the materialistic civilisation. In so far as the individual human being belongs to his nation, in so far as he is inspired by the luciferic folk-spirit, he identifies himself with the purely materialistic civilisation of the present.


Lecture coverage and references

Coverage overview

1910-06-GA121 is the main cycle, with original tite: 'The Mission of Individual Volk-Souls in Connection with Germanic-Nordic Mythology'

Reference extracts


The principle of generality, of the generic, is anchored in the etheric body. In the etheric body of the woman there is still present today the counterpart of what exists outwardly as the folk soul, the race spirit. Folk soul and race spirit are identical.


We have already said what was necessary to characterize them outwardly: that they are beings who are two stages higher than Man, beings who are working at the transformation of their etheric bodies, who are now at the present time engaged in transforming their etheric bodies into that which is called life-spirit or buddhi. Man is spun into the web of this work. In so far as the evolution of these Beings so progresses that man is woven into this evolution, the reflection of this Folk-spirit is expressed in human individuality itself, as the folk-character of the single human individual.

We must now look a little into the inner nature of such a folk-soul.

If we wish to throw light upon the present inner being of man, we find it necessary to picture it as being threefold, as being divided into:

  • The sentient-soul, which is, as it were, the lowest member of the inner human being,
  • The intellectual-soul, the central member, and
  • The consciousness (or spiritual) soul, the highest member of the inner nature of the human being, in which the human ‘ I ’ is first actually brought to a state of consciousness.

In the spiritual-soul is first to be found that which is called human self-consciousness. Nevertheless the ‘ I ’ of man is active in all three parts of his inner life, in the sentient-soul as well as in the intellectual-soul or mind-soul, and in the spiritual-soul.

In the sentient-soul the ‘ I ’ is active in such a way that man is hardly aware of his ego. In the sentient-soul, therefore, he is thus far given up to all his desires and passions. The ‘ I ’ broods dully in what we call the sentient-soul. It first works itself out and begins to appear in the intellectual-soul or mind-soul, and only becomes quite apparent in the spiritual-soul.

If we wish to examine each of these three members of the human inner being separately, we must look upon them as three modifications, as three parts within the astral body. It certainly is the case, that these modifications, these three members of the astral body, prepare the transformation of the astral body itself, of the etheric body and of the physical body. But these transformations are still not what meets us as the actual human inner being or soul. The soul, the inner part of man; consists of three modifications of the astral body. The three modifications must make use of certain instruments, and these express themselves in such a way, that in the astral body the sentient-soul is a sort of instrument, in the etheric body the intellectual-soul or mind-soul, and in the physical body the spiritual-soul. Thus we can distinguish the human inner being from that which is the human envelope or covering; so that therefore the inner nature of man consists of three modifications of the astral body.

Just as in man the inner part, that in which the ‘ I ’ works and imprints itself, is represented by these three modifications of the astral body, so in those spiritual Beings whom we designate as Folk-spirits their actual inner part, or that which we may compare to the human inner part, is represented by three members, three modifications of the etheric body. Just as in man we distinguish sentient-soul, intellectual-soul, spiritual-soul, so in the Archangelic Beings, the normal folk-spirits we must distinguish three modifications in the etheric body. As, however, these three modifications are not in the astral but in the etheric body they are quite different, essentially different from the three modifications in the soul-life of man. Hence also you must think of the form of consciousness, the whole soul-life of these Folk-spirits as being different from the soul-life of man. From an external description, therefore, we now press on as it were into the inner part of the soul of these Folk-spirits. It will not be quite easy but we must endeavor to cross this rubicon.


[The Nature of European Folk Souls]

Sympathy and antipathy out of place when considering the characteristic nature of folk souls. How the soul relates to other folk souls during sleep. The power of spiritual truths.

Involvement of folk spirits in earth evolution; the individual soul separating itself from this on death. Meaning of death in battle.

Different nature of French and Russian souls because of their folk spirits.

Higher spiritual entities fighting to let a spiritual stream enter into human evolution, with the aid of souls that have gone through death. Earthly alliances and battles as reversal of spiritual battle positions. Anthroposophy as a challenge from the spiritual world. Question as to responsibility for outbreak of war, and need to make efforts to perceive the karma of the folk soul. Contribution to be made to the future through spiritual renewal of intellectual life.


covers 'The Spirits of the Age and the Folk-Spirits'

quote A

Also those spiritual beings we call folk-spirits who lead whole peoples are among the archangels. And in so far as we have the people to which we belong to thank for that which we are, we have to look at that what the nation's being gives us as a gift of the corresponding being of the hierarchy of the archangeloi. It is the inspiration of the archangeloi which comes to us because we are put into a people. Now we only need to think what it means for the human being to be put into a people. In the people's being there flow mental qualities, but also customs; a certain configuration of the being flows into the human being. One cannot imagine at all that somebody would have become that who somebody is in an incarnation because of the gift of the folk-spirit, in reality of the gift of an archangel.

Except that we stand within a people and receive, inspired by an archangel, certain configurations of our whole being, we stand in the development of the whole humankind. There we are exposed to the intuitions into which the spirit of the ages of the hierarchy of the archai leads us. Imagine that we receive something today in our present spiritual culture that goes beyond any national differentiation; what we have because we live from the 19th to the 20th centuries what we would not have had if we had lived during the Roman or Greek times. We have the spirit of the ages to thank for this.

You can strictly make a distinction between the gift of the spirit of the ages and the gift of the folk-spirit. If only this were there which is a regular development of the human being, of the angel, of the archangel or that of the spirit of the ages then we would receive, every individual human being, the gift always from our spirit of the ages and from our corresponding folk-spirit and would develop by means of this gift. The human beings on earth would develop side by side. All members of the different peoples would receive the gift of their folk-spirits in such a way, as if five pictures would hang completely differently from each other in a gallery which would show miscellaneous things, but which would not disturb each other in the slightest.

Thus individual human beings would receive the gift of their folk-spirits on earth side by side. They would not disturb each other if their development had proceeded regularly.

But there are beings who lagged behind. Among the guiding archangeloi are those who began their development properly on the Sun and have become right archangeloi up to the earth evolution, but also those who stopped on the Sun level who are basically only on the level of human beings. These beings are on the same level as the folk-spirits, and, nevertheless, they lagged behind them, have the qualities of invisible supersensible human beings, not those of archangels. They make the same claims to the world like the archangeloi in a certain way, but they have not reached the level of the archangeloi on earth. Hence, they must work with the same forces as on the Sun. The result is that they do not seize the human beings as the archangels do directing them from above, but penetrate them as invisible human beings. They do not lead the human being from above, but go into the human nature. These spirits, who compete with the really leading folk-spirits, cause that the nations feud with each other, do not live in peace with each other.

The human being would not be tempted at all to identify his personality, his humanness with his nation, but he would look at the person as something that feeds him spiritually. However, he would not stand up as a fighter for his nation, not identify his person with it. The human being would not say, I am of this or that nationality, but: nationality is there, and I have to get my spiritual food indirectly via this nationality into which I have been born. But while the archangel stimulates him to think that way, the other comes who is on the level of humankind, actually, and is basically a luciferic spirit, and leads him into his nationality.

The result is that the archangel-like does not come down as a gift to the human being, but that the human being identifies himself with the nation like with a completely personal affair, and thereby this quarrel of the nationalities comes into being on the earth.

That must absolutely be clear to us: because we were not only exposed to the influence of the leading archangel, but also to the influence of the retarded archangel, we identify ourselves with the nationality as we do on earth. That is just the spiritual-scientific feeling that we as human beings are able to rise above the only national to find access to the general humanness. Then we can be national in the most remarkable sense. As well as the one human being may do that or the other may do something different as art, and the former doing his art does not need to be the adversary of the other, one did not need to be the adversary of the other concerning nationality if there were no retarded archangels who cause the identification. One has to presuppose that if one generally speaks about the basis of the human development with reference to the national or other differentiations.


The folk-spirit is basically a complicated being on the whole. He is the regular folk-spirit who floats above us and if we only followed him we would follow in such a way that we take up his gifts because we are in his sphere. But he is impaired perpetually in his effectiveness by his luciferic companion who obsesses us and induces us to identify ourselves as individual human beings with the whole nationality.

quote B

However, the individual human being does this differently. It is very important that one really sees that in the middle of Europe a people has to develop that has another relationship to its folk-spirit as the peoples have in the periphery of Europe. We have to learn this insight. What takes place under the surface of the human consciousness and what depends really on the spiritual beings of the higher hierarchies is extremely important.

The materialistically thinking human being regards it still an insanity if one says that such impulses go out from the spiritual beings like this is one in Central Europe who stimulates the unaware people to such a feeling towards the divine or — because in Central Europe Christ is working — to the Christ Impulse. So that the Central European human being learns to feel Christ in such a way as He speaks to the core of the soul. This came nowhere else into being as in Central Europe.


I want only to mention a really significant fact.

One calls a certain group of European human beings Germanic people or Teutons. And while one speaks in Central Europe of Germanic people (“Germanen”), one includes England, Holland, Norway, Sweden and still others. One expands the concept of the Germanic people. I do not talk out of agitation, but out of that which is given in the language.

The German calls himself “deutsch,” and if he speaks of Germanic people, he encloses a bigger group of human beings.

The English do not speak of themselves as Germanic people, because they call only the Germans Germanic people. The English apply the term Germans only to the Germans, to those who are not like “him.” This is a tremendously significant fact. It is something that is in the deepest sense typical for the kind in which way on the one side and on the other the folk-spirit works; he works in Central Europe to embrace a bigger entity and the folk-spirit of the English people takes care to put away that and only to apply it to the other.

That will be obvious to the human beings gradually in a wonderful way which the language teaches as the outflow of the effective folk spirituality. Now one is little understood if one speaks about the different European peoples as I tried it some years before this war — not caused at all by the war — in the cycle 'The Mission of the Individual Folk-Souls in Connection with the Germanic-Nordic Mythology'. This is understood in such a way, as if I wanted to express any value judgments. But I do not want to express value judgments, but only a characteristic. We can now characterise the West-European peoples expressing exactly what I expressed in this lecture cycle.

We know that the soul of the human being consists of the sentient soul, the intellectual soul or mind-soul and the consciousness-soul, and the I which works in these three soul nuances.

If we look at the Italian nation with its folk-spirit, we find the peculiarity that there the folk-spirit inspires the sentient soul. This is the typical of the Italian people, that the folk-spirit inspires the sentient soul. If now something is possessed by the luciferic folk-spirit, it is also the folk-spirit. Imagine that on one side the brilliant aspect of the Italian people is based on the fact that the sentient soul is inspired. Think of Dante, of all the great Italian artists. But this people also identify themselves, on the other hand, with something superhuman that lagged behind luciferically in all the passionate impulses of development which appear within the Italian people. I do not pronounce any value judgment, but I characterise it only.

We can see everywhere with the French people the folk-spirit inspiring the intellectual soul.

With the British people it is the consciousness-soul. The consciousness-soul is for the present human cycle that which connects the human being mostly with the external physical world. Hence, this nation which is inspired in the consciousness-soul is entrusted above all with the task of furthering the materialistic civilisation. No value judgment is expressed again, but it is characterised only that just the British nation has a vocation to get the consciousness-soul inspired. In so far as the individual human being belongs to his nation, in so far as he is inspired by the luciferic folk-spirit, he identifies himself with the purely materialistic civilisation of the present. We find this really in the British culture. Like the individual human being positions himself in the British nation, this comes out what is just the materialistic spirit of the British nation, this peculiar spirit who waged thirty-four wars of conquest from 1856 up to 1900 and made fifty-seven million people new British subjects, and who pretends to stand up for the liberty of single human groups in our time.

If we consider such a time like ours, we must absolutely be clear to us that just this time teaches people very much to feel like an admonition what one puts up now as the contrast of the single national groups of Europe or of a big part of the earth. The members of thirty-four nationalities — apart from minor tribal differences — are in war with each other. One should regard this as an admonition to refrain really from that which one has called history up to now.

But this approach is used just for the time being still up to nonsense. We find it really driven up to nonsense what the individual nations of Europe reproach each other for everything. One weighs up the single external facts to discover the causes of this dreadful war.

But just this war will teach people that one finds nothing in its external causes, but at most external symptoms of that which exists deeply hidden in the human groups by the guidance of advanced and retarded spiritual beings.

The ordeals of this time force us to appeal to the spiritual subsoil in which the causes of the external events in the world can be found today.


Then again we have those Beings whom we call Archangels. Their mission is to bring about harmony among men on Earth. Hence in a certain sense they are the guides and leaders of the Folks and Nations.



How the folk soul works into individuals. An individual belongs to a nation as a result of karma. Nationality as something karmic is above logic, nationality as something belonging to the blood is below logic.


The constitution of folk souls: the Italian and Russian folk souls

  • Italian – air <-> breathing
  • Russian – light ether <-> soil

.. the various members of these [spiritual] beings should be sought elsewhere than in the case of man. For if a Folk-Soul had the same members as a human being, it would be a human being; but a Folk-Soul is not a human being, it is an entirely different kind of Being.

In the case of Folk-Souls, we must really study the individual Folk-Souls and then we shall have an idea of what they are really like. We cannot generalize, for this would lead us to abstractions. We cannot generalize, and for this reason, we can only speak, as it were, in the form of examples.

Let us, therefore, consider one particular Folk-Soul, the one which now governs, for instance, the Italian nation, in so far as a nation is governed in all its details by a Folk-Soul. Let us consider one particular Folk-Soul and ask: How can we speak of this particular Folk-Soul?

If we were to speak of it in the same way in which we speak of the human being, that he has, for instance, a physical body, we really mean, when speaking of man's physical body, that it contains certain alkaline substances, certain mineral substances, and that 5% of it is solid, whereas the rest is liquid and gaseous. All this constitutes man's physical body.

[Italian folk soul]

When we speak of a Folk-Soul, for instance, of the Italian Folk-Soul, we cannot say that it has a human body, nevertheless it has something which, may be compared with a physical body. But its physical body does not contain alkaline substances, nor any solid parts; the physical body of the Italian Folk-Soul does not even contain any liquid parts (which does not exclude that other Folk-Souls may contain liquid parts); the Italian Folk-Soul has no liquid parts, but it begins with gaseous parts. It has no liquid parts, or other more solid parts, but the body of the Italian Folk-Soul is woven out of air, which is its densest material substance; everything else in it is less compact.

  • Thus, when we say that the human being contains earthly substance, we must say, in the case of the Italian Folk-Soul, that it contains, to begin with, aeriform substances.
  • And where the human being has watery substances, there the Italian Folk-Soul has warmth.
  • The human being breathes aeriform substances in and out — the Italian Folk-Soul light. In the case of the Italian Folk-Soul, light corresponds to the air of human beings.
  • Where man has heat or warmth, there the Italian Folk-Soul has tones, namely, the music of the spheres.

Now you have more or less that which corresponds to the physical body, except that its ingredients are different. Instead of saying, as we do in the case of man: Solid substance, liquid substance, aeriform substance, warmth, we must say, in the case of the Italian Folk-Soul, if we take for granted something analogous to the physical body (for then, it is not in the same meaning of the word, a physical body): Air, Warmth, Light and Tone. — This shows you that when the Italian Folk-Soul really animates the human being to whom it belongs, it chooses the respiration as its channel, because its lowest and densest ingredient is the air. In fact in the Italian nation, the correspondence between the individual human being and the Folk-Soul takes place through the respiration. The Italian Folk-Soul communicates with man through the breath. This [is] an actual and real process. Of course, one breathes through entirely different means, but the influence of the Folk-Soul steals into the breathing process.

In the same way, we might depart from that which corresponds to the etheric body. In that case, we would have to begin with the life-ether and instead of the light-ether it would have that element which has been characterized in my 'Theosophy' as the “burning desires,” and to the tone-ether would correspond that element which has been described in 'Theosophy' as “mobile susceptibility,” etc. You may therefore find the ingredients in my 'Theosophy' but you must know how to apply them. And if you were to continue studying the nature of the correspondence which takes place between the Folk-Soul and the individual human being, if you were to continue by studying this upon the foundation of the things which I have now indicated, you would realise that this is connected with all the qualities which are contained in the character of a nation; We should study these things thoroughly and concretely.

[Russion folk soul]

These things can only be given in the form of examples. Let us now, for instance, say that we wish to study the Russian Folk-Soul. In the lowest member of the Russian Folk-Soul we would find nothing material, in the way in which solid, liquid, gaseous substances, or heat are material, but we would find that

  • the lowest member of the Russian Folk-Soul, which it has in the same way in which the human being has his alkaline, solid substances, is the light ether.
  • And we would also find that the Russian Folk-Soul has the tone or chemical ether in the same way in which the human being has within him liquid substances,
  • and it has the life ether in the same way in which the human being has air;
  • moreover, we would find in that part which corresponds to the physical body of the Russian Folk-Soul the burning desires, which it has in the same way in which the human being has warmth.

We might then ask: How does the Russian Folk-Soul communicate. With individual Russians?

This takes place in such a way, that the light reverberates in a certain way from that which constitutes the earth. The light exercises certain influences upon the earth; it does not only reverberate, I might say, physically, but it reverberates in particular from the vegetation, from that which the soil bears upon it. The light does not influence the individual Russians in a direct way, but the influence of the light first penetrates into the earth; of course, not into the coarse, physical earth, but into the plants, into everything which grows and flourishes upon the earth. And all this reverberates. What thus reverberates, contains the medium through which the Russian Folk-Soul can communicate with the individual Russians. This explains the Russian’s connection with his land, which is far stronger in him than in others, the strong connection of the Russian with his soil, with everything that the earth brings forth. This is contained in the peculiar attitude of the Russian Folk-Soul. The “mobile-susceptibility” — and this is extremely important — is the first etheric ingredient of the Russian Folk-Soul; it-corresponds, to a certain extent, to the light, to what the light is for us human beings.

Thus you may reach a real Being, the true nature of a nation, and you may also reach the point of studying the question: “How does a spirit communicate with another spirit” ... one of the spirits being the Folk-Soul and the other one man. This communication takes place in the sub-consciousness. When the Italian breathes and maintains his life through breathing — in his consciousness he therefore has in mind something quite different, that is to say, he breathes in and out in order to maintain his life — when the Italian breathes, then the Folk-Soul whispers and talks to him in his sub-consciousness. He does not hear it, but his astral body perceives it and lives in these communications which are being exchanged below the threshold of his consciousness between the Folk-Soul and the individual human being.

What the Russian soil rays out, through the fact that the light of the sun-fertilizes it, contains the mystical runes, the whispering runes, through which the Russian Folk-Soul speaks with the individual Russian, while he walks over his land, or feels the life which rays out of the light. But again, do not think that these things should be taken materialistically. A Russian may be living in Switzerland, but the light which the earth throws back is also to be found in Switzerland. If you are Italian, you may hear your Folk-Soul whispering through your breathing; if you are Russian, you will find that even from the Swiss soil comes up what you are able to hear as a Russian. These things must not be taken materialistically. They are not chained to a particular place, although materialistically, and seeing that the human being is, in a certain way, in a materialistic frame of mind, he will obtain more from his-Folk-Soul when he lives in his own country. The Italian air, with its whole climate, naturally facilitates and furthers that manner of speaking which I have just now characterized. The Russian soil facilitates and furthers the other kind — but these things must not be considered materialistically, for a Russian can just as well be a Russian outside Russia, although the Russian soil particularly favours all that pertains to the Russian nature.

You will therefore see that, on the one hand, materialism is borne in mind, but, on the other hand, materialism is something relative and nothing absolute. For the light which is spread over the Russian soil is not only contained in the body of the Russian Folk-Soul, but there is light everywhere. A Russian Folk-Soul has the rank of an Archangel. (You know that I have frequently described this). An Archangel is not chained to a particular place; he is above the limits of space.

These kinds of thoughts, these kinds of concrete ideas, must lie at the foundation of our consideration's, if we wish to speak objectively of the connections between the individual human being and his nation. Consider the fact that modern mankind is far from having even an inkling of the concrete reality which is contained in the name which we give a nation! Nevertheless world-programmes are strewn out to-day, in which one continually toys with the names of nations! To what an extent all that which pullulates in the world is empty talk, may be clearly seen and judged through the fact that a nation is a real Being, and the Being of every nation is, after all, different. What is air for the Italian Folk-Soul, is light for the Russian Folk-Soul, and this, in its turn, calls for an entirely different way of communication between the Folk-Soul and the individual human being. Anthropology is a materialistic, external manner of contemplating things; it will be the task of Anthroposophy to reveal the truth, the real connections and true aspects. Since the human beings are now so far away from truth in their materialism, it is not surprising that people should talk in such an arbitrary and consequently untrue way of things, which today are even raised to the level of world-programmes.


is called 'Folk Souls and the Mystery of Golgotha'

quote A describes the workings of different folk spirits

The different Folk-Spirits, whom in the course of the lectures on the Mission of the different Folk-Souls we have distinguished according to other points of view, work, with regard to what I have just indicated, in different ways upon mankind; and the individual characters of the nations of the Earth are thereby differentiated. The various characters of the different nations depend on their Folk-Spirits.

But if, from a spiritual-scientific point of view, we follow the by-paths along which the separate Folk-Spirits work, the following result becomes apparent.

Man breathes. He thereby stands in constant connection with the surrounding air; he breathes it in then he breathes it out. If, in a particular case, on account of the configuration of the Earth and for reasons of various kinds, the Folk-Soul chooses the by-path of breathing and by means of that, calls forth the special configuration and characterization of the nation in question, we can say that the Folk-Spirit works ‘through the air’ on the people concerned.

In fact this is the case to an especially marked degree among those people who have at any time inhabited the Italian Peninsula. On the Italian Peninsula the air is the medium for the workings of the Folk-Spirit of the people. We may say that the air of Italy is the means, the medium, through which the Folk-Spirit impresses his workings on the people who inhabit the Italian Peninsula, in order to give then the particular configuration through which they are just the Italian nation, and formally worthy old Roman nation and so on. Thus we can investigate apparently material workings in their spiritual foundations, if we follow the methods of Spiritual Science.

Now one may raise the question: How is it with other Folk-Spirits?

If we look around at other regions of the Earth, what methods do the Folk-Spirits adopt in order to bring the particular configuration of the nations to expression? Among the people who have inhabited the France of today or who still inhabit it, the Folk-Spirits work along the by-path of the fluidic elements, through everything which not only enters the body as fluid, but which also works in it as fluid. Thus the Folk-Spirit vibrates and moves in the process by which liquid contracts the organism and works upon it, and thereby determines the character of the people. This is the case among the people who formerly inhabited the France of today as well as those who still do inhabit it.

Now we do not grasp the matter completely if we only look at this relationship of man to his environment from one side. That would indeed give a very one-sided conception. It must here be remembered what I have often said, that “Man is a two-fold being;” his head and the rest of his organism, each work for themselves. In reality the working of which I have just spoken in reference to the Italian and the French peoples, affects only the rest of the organism, and not the head. From the head another activity goes forth. Only through the cooperative working of the activity which proceeds from the head with that which comes from the rest of the organism, does that which then impresses itself upon the Folk-character come fully into force. The activity which proceeds from the head is neutralized, as it were, by that which proceeds from the rest of the organism.

Hence we might say, as regards the Italians, that together with what they breathe in with the air and which regulates the rest of the organism except the head, there works also from the direction of the head, the nervous system of the head in its spiritual differentiation, insofar 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 whole organism and different from that of the head; the head has its own rhythm. While in Italy it is the nervous activity of the head which works in combination with what is acted in man by the air, in France it is the rhythm, the rhythmical movement of the head — the vibrating of the rhythm in the head combined with what is effected by the fluidity in the organism. Thus the Folk-character is built up through the particular combination of what takes place in the head of the individual man with what the Folk-Spirit brings in from the environment.

From this we can see that it is possible to study what is spread out severally over the Earth's organism, if we allow ourselves to observe these things from a spiritually-scientific point of view; for, as a matter of fact, mankind will never understand the characteristic configuration all over the world if such things are not taken into consideration.

Let us enquire further as to the different Folk-characters, the British, for instance. As the Folk-Spirits of the Italian race works through the air, and that of the French through the watery element, so the Folk-Spirit of the British race works through everything earthly, principally through the salt and its combinations in the organism. Solidity is the principal feature; the watery element works in the French national character, in the British it is the solid, the salty element which is active through everything which enters the organism, through air as well as through food. This brings about the peculiar form of the British Folk-Character. But here again something neutralizing works from the head upon what comes from the environment. Just as “rhythm” is in the rest of the organism as well as in the head, so is also digestion, assimilation, and the rest of the organism and in the head as well. As the organism of the head accomplishes its metabolism, this process of the transmutation of substance is combined with the salty element in the organism, and that brings about the British Folk-Character. Thus the earth-element in connection with the metabolism of the head, determines the British Folk-character. We may say that while the Folk-Soul works through the salty element, it is opposed by the characteristic quality of the metabolism of the head. You will be able to study all the separate features of national character if you look at these particular metamorphoses in the modes of activity of the Folk-Souls.

Let us go further into the West. In America things are again different. There a subterranean element is at work. While in the British organism we have to do with the earthy, with the salty, in the American Folk-Character an underground element is active, something that vibrates under the earth; that has there a very special influence on the organism. The Folk-Spirit works on the national character of the American people particularly through the underground magnetic and electric currents. And something from the head strains towards these underground magnetic and electric currents and neutralizes their influence: toward them streams what is actually Human Will. That is the characteristic feature of the American Folk-Character. While of the British national character we must say that it depends essentially on the earthy element, inasmuch as man takes it into his organism and it comes into reciprocal action with the metabolism in the head, so, inasmuch as the Will impresses itself in the case of the American, it works in him together with something which comes from underground, and this determines the American Folk-Character. With this is also connected what I have mentioned in a public lecture (The historical life of mankind and its problems, 14th March 1918). Man can only with his whole free personality stand in relationship with the element above the Earth and down to the Earth. If he is influenced by underground Folk-Soul activities, he is not forming his Folk-Soul in freedom, he is then, as it were “possessed” by the Folk-Soul. I have shown in the public lecture that the Americans may even say the same thing as a Central-European, Herman Grimm, also says; and yet it is not the same thing. While we notice in Herman Grimm how everything is humanly acquired and won, with Woodrow Wilson it is as though he were humanly possessed by it. From that you can see one thing (this is important because at our present time it is necessary to face these things). When today, two or three men say the same thing, it is considered purely from the point of view of ‘content,’ it is looked at in the abstract. But two men may say the same thing in substance, and the remark made by the one may sound exactly the same as the other, yet the one man may have fought out, conquered things in his soul, and the other may utter them as the result of ‘possession.’ The content is often not at all the essential thing. What matters is the degree in which what a man says is his ‘own,’ the acquisition of his own soul, instead of having perhaps acquired it through being possessed. That is the important point. Today people have only a sense for the abstract. We can see in Herman Grimm that what he says has been gone over and over many times in his soul, and we might take sentences from Wilson's works and write over them “Herman Grimm” or vice versa; but that is not the point. Herman Grimm worked something out, Woodrow Wilson says something which comes to him through being possessed by underground beings. These things must be recognised; we need not approach them with emotion and passion, they can be recognised quite objectively.

Let us enquire further, and describing a circle round Germany, look for the moment towards the East. Something characteristic confronts us there when we observe the Easterner who has first gradually to lift himself out of chaos, and will only then rise resplendent in his original form. As the Folk-Spirit works in Italy through the air, in the French people through water, in the English through the earth-element and in the American through an underground element, so does the Folk-Spirit work in the Russian Slavonic element through the light. In actual fact the Folk-Spirit on whom the East depends works in the vibrations of light. When once that which in the future will grow up in the West shall have loosened itself from its embryonic coverings, it will be seen that the method of working of the Folk-Spirit in the European East is quite different from that of the Folk-Souls in the West. For although I must say that the Folk-Spirit works through the light, yet the curious thing is that it does not work directly through the light vibrating on to men, look through the light which is first sunk into the ground and is then reflected back thence. This light which rises again from the ground is that of which the Russian Folk-Spirit makes use, to work upon the Russian. It does not work upon the whole organism, but directly upon the head, on the character of thought, on the manner of forming concepts, sensations, etc. Thus here the method of the Folk-Spirit is exactly the opposite of that in the West, where he works from the rest of the organism and something strikes against him from the head. In the East he works through the light. The light streaming back from the ground is there the medium for the Folk-Spirit, and that works particularly on the head. And the counteraction now comes from the rest of the body, and especially from the organism of the heart. This counteraction now operates as a reversed process towards the head and alters the working which proceeds from there. (It is still in chaos today, still in its embryonic coverings.) It is the rhythm of the breathing which strikes towards the head and counteracts what comes from the Folk-Spirit by way of the light. What comes out in the Near East has presence to a still higher degree when we go further East. It is the special characteristic of the Far East that there the Folk-Spirit works also partly through the light which is taken up and reflected from the Earth and which works upon the head, but works also through that which is no longer light, and is indeed not visible at all: the Harmony of the Spheres, which vibrates through everything and which, to the spiritual humanity of the Asiatic East, is equivalent to a working of the Folk-Spirit, in that Folk-Spirit works directly through the Harmony of the Spheres which, however, is reflected from the Earth and works upon the head. In opposition to this works the rhythm of the breath, and therein lies the secret of the fact, that seekers of the Spirit in the East have always tried to come into connection with the Spirit through a special development of the breathing. If you study Yoga you will see that it requires one to develop the breathing in a special way. This rests on the fact that the individual tries to find a spirituality through the Folk-Spirit; — as a member of the whole of humanity, not as an individual — he seeks it in a manner which really belongs to the character of this nation. Thus the further east we go, the more do we find this. Of course it would be seen in more or less refinement in the activities of this Folk-character, and also in deteriorations in these activities, how sometimes a deviation becomes evident. Individual nations and whole races may be subject to these deviations to a pronounced degree; and that a disharmony, for instance, appears when the activity of the head of accords with that in the rest of the body, and so on. But to enter into these various disharmonies is perhaps not to be specially recommended to-day, as for this or that reason a nation is bound to love certain other nations today, circumstances demand this; and much might be received with the feeling instead of with the understanding and perhaps then be misunderstood. At a later date, perhaps we may be able to speak about Eastern peoples and similar problems.

Now the question can be raised: How do the Central European nations stand?



In what has been gone into today, the great contrast between the Asiatic East and the American West also becomes very clearly apparent.

  • One might say that the light, and even to what lies above the light in the etheric, is the means made use of by the Folk-Soul in the East in order to approach man, even if it be reflected light from the earth;
  • the subterranean element, that which works beneath the earth, is in the West.

This can lead us deeply into the organic soul-life of the whole organism of the earth and its association with mankind. In this there is absolutely no intention to wound any part of the Earth's population or to flatter any other; yet it is true that on the one hand in the East, the evolutionary streams are directed towards the spiritual, in the west downwards towards gravity, chaining man to the Earth. A rising tide — I might say — in the East, and ebbing back, a working into the Earth, in the West. Such is life.



Now because Judaism conceived only of this one God, it could make no image of the Godhead but could only grasp the Divine with the innermost forces of the soul, with the intellect. It is easy to understand that this led to an intensification of human egoism; for man becomes remote from what is around him if he sees the Spiritual only in and through his own person. This has produced a certain folk-egoism in the Jewish world — there is no denying that it is so ..

German folk soul



Russian folk soul

The following pointers were shared by a reader.























covers the connection of Man with the own folk soul during daytime waking consciousness, and with all others during sleep


















































Related pages

References and further reading

  • Hans Erhard Lauer:
    • Die Volksseelen Europas : Grundzüge einer Völkerpsychologie auf geisteswissenschaftlicher Basis (1933)
    • Die Volksseelen Europas : Versuch einer Psychologie der Europäischen Völker auf geisteswissenschaftlicher Grundlage (1965)
  • Eleanor C. Merry: The Flaming Door - The Mission of the Celtic Folk-Soul (1936)
  • George Adams Kaufmann: 'Souls of nations : being a help to the study of Rudolf Steiner's lecture-cycle The Mission of Folk-Souls in connection with germanic and scandinavian Mythology' (1937)
  • Stefan Lubienski (1893-1976)
    • with J. Braun, S. von Gleich: 'Polens Seele : Polen das Land der Ueberraschungen ; die polnische Volksseele und ihre geistige Bestimmung ; Streiflichter auf das philosophische Streben der Polen' (1938)
    • ( 'Die Polnische Volksseele und die Anthroposophie' (1989)
  • Hans Mändl: 'Vom Geist des Nordens : studien zur skandinavischen Volksseelenkunde' (1966)
  • 'Europa und sein Genius : Die Volksseelenkunde der Anthroposophie : Ein Beitrag zu einem schöpferischen Frieden' (1984)
    • various authors (oa Rudolf Grosse, ... ), lectures at 'Kongreß der Völkerverständigung' (1983)