The Mission of the Folk Souls
“It is particularly important . . . especially at the present time, to speak about the mission of the individual folk souls . . . because the destiny of humanity in the near future will bring people together in far greater measure than has hitherto been the case in order to fulfil a mission common to the whole of humanity. But the members of the individual peoples will only be able to offer their proper, free, and positive contributions if they have, above all else, an understanding of their own native origin, an understanding of what we might call the self-knowledge of their people, their folk.” Rudolf Steiner
In the mythologies of all ancient cultures, humanity is portrayed as intimately interwoven with the activity of lesser and greater gods, spirits, devas, elemental beings—as members of the grand symphony of creation. Who are these gods, pictured so vividly in various myths and legends? And how are they connected with the mission of humanity as a whole and the diverse peoples of the Earth?
In his preface to this lecture cycle, Steiner argues that a true basis for a “psychology of peoples” cannot be given by the “anthropological, ethnographical, or even historical studies” of conventional science, but requires “a basis . . . in spiritual reality.” It is precisely this spiritual reality—the creative activity of the beings of the hierarchies in connection with the destiny of humanity—that forms the heart of these lectures and of Steiner’s view of folk psychology more broadly.
In another context, Steiner described what he considered the ideal prerequisites for studying a people: a broad-ranging view of the field, extended over all areas of the life of a people (as had been practiced, for example, by Jacob Grimm in his research into language, folklore, and the laws governing the evolution of sounds in language); a trained natural-scientific thinking; and a “modern spiritual research” of the kind Steiner himself tried to develop.
Rudolf Steiner’s familiarity with the field of folk studies included the work of Karl Julius Schröer, Ludwig Laistner, Moritz Lazarus, and Heymann Steinthal, all of whom belonged to the waning phase of philosophical idealism, which was displaced in the second half of the nineteenth century by the emergence of materialistic positivism and the worship of science. Their folk psychology, still based on Wilhelm von Humboldt’s ideas, had an influence on Franz Boas, the later founder of the American school of cultural anthropology. It was probably the last current in the nineteenth century that saw in an ideal “folk spirit” the real object of folk knowledge.
Steiner’s intentions for this lecture cycle are clear from the beginning. He emphasizes in the first lecture, and in his preface, that the essential thing is to develop an understanding of peoples in the name of freedom and in the service of “a mission common to the whole of humanity.” On this foundation, Steiner builds his most comprehensive and profound account of the mission of folk souls.
Publisher: Steiner Books