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The animals (Latin: animal; Greekζῷον zóon; Hebrewבְּהֵמָה Behema, "animal, domestic animal, livestock"), which form an independent kingdom of nature on Earth alongside minerals, plants and humans, are souls living beings that have an independent etheric body and astral body, but no individual I. However, the I and the group soul of the animals belonging to each species and genus, lives as a spiritual reality on the astral plan. The entirety of the animal kingdom or the animal world is also called fauna (derived from Faunus, the Roman god of nature and the forest).

The Astral Body of Animals

The animals have their own astral body, but it is not as self-contained as that of the human being embodied on Earth. However, the nascent astral body that man forms before he descends to earthly incarnation shows a similar form.

„The human astral body has a shape enclosed within limits, it has definite outlines. The astral body of animals has no such definite outlines. The astral bodies of animals look quite different. They do not belong to a single being, but group souls exist for whole groups of animals. The individual physical animals hang, as it were, from a common trunk, and from these individual animals a kind of strand then leads to the group souls which move the animals. You can also discover certain animal forms, which cannot be encountered in the physical, in the astral. These astral bodies are nascent human beings who are forming and further developing their astral bodies to form a suitable vehicle for such as come down from the spiritual world.“ (Lit.:GA 88, p. 67f)

The Group Spirit of the Animals

As the group spirit, the common I of a species of animals, has a formative effect on the astral body, the animal group soul is formed, which was called Nephesh by the Hebrews. It surrounds the individual animal, as it were, from the outside and regulates its respiratory activity. Only in humans does Nephesh move into the interior as the soul of feeling.

„In the animal there is a respiratory process which is, so to speak, strictly regulated from the outside, which is not subject to the inner individual ego in the relationship described today. That which maintains the respiratory process, that which actually regulates it, was called, for example, the 'Nephesh' in the Old Testament secret doctrine. In truth, this is what is called the "animal soul". So what is a group ego in the animal is the nephesh. And in the Bible it says quite correctly: "And God breathed into man the nephesh - the animal soul - and man became a living soul in himself. - Of course, this is often misunderstood, because in our time we cannot read such deep scriptures, because we read one-sidedly. For example, when it says: "And God breathed into man the nephesh, the animal soul", it does not mean that he created it at that moment, but that it was already there. It does not say that it was not there before. It was there, externally. And what God did was to transfer what had previously existed externally as a group soul into the human being's inner being. That is the essential thing, that one should understand such an expression in its real thoroughness. One might ask: What came about through the transfer of the nephesh into the human interior? Through this it became possible for man to attain that sublimity above the animal which made it possible for him to unfold his I inwardly in an active way, to laugh and to cry and thus to experience joy and pain in the way that they work on himself.“ (Lit.:GA 107, p. 269f)

The perceptive capability of animals

Since animals do not have an individual I, they perceive the world quite differently from humans.

„But the way in which the human senses perceive can only be perceived in an organism in which there is an I. Today's superficial way of looking at things naturally presupposes that, for example, an animal also perceives the external world in the same way as man perceives it through his senses. This is a very confused view, and people would be very surprised if they were introduced to the way a horse, a dog or any other animal sees the world. The environment of the dog or the environment of the horse, as it were, drawn, painted, would appear quite different from that which is the world-view of man. For in order that the senses may perceive the world as man perceives it, it is necessary that the I should pour itself out over the world and fill the sense organs, eyes, ears and so on. So only an organism in which an I dwells has such a world-view as the human being has, and the outer organism of the human being stands in there, belongs only to this world-view.“ (Lit.:GA 124, p. 93f)

The animal forms as imaginations of Ahriman

The formation of hollow space, the largely closed body cavity, is the central formative motif in animals and humans. While the plant grows almost uninhibitedly into space, life in animals and humans must limit itself to the shaping of this narrowly confined cavity. Misdirected life, which wants to continue to proliferate in an unlimited and undifferentiated manner even in the interior, leads to malignant cancerous growth and destroys the entire organic unit. The inner formation of the animal and human body is much more complex than the outwardly directed growth forms of plants. Cancerous growths lack precisely this differentiated shaping.

What the animal lacks in vitality, it gains in consciousness. In the animal, such a consciousness arises for the first time, which leads to the experience of inner mental images, which, however, have a strong luciferic character and very strongly awaken the sensual drives and desires, while the bodily form is determined much more strongly than in the plants by the ahrimanic forces. The animal forms are actually imaginations of Ahriman, Rudolf Steiner quite rightly says.

„Animals, even plants in their outer forms - but plants less than animals and least of all the minerals - are imaginations of Ahriman. Our physicists search for the material laws in the outer kingdoms of nature; the occultist discerner comes more and more to the conclusion that the outer kingdoms of nature, in so far as they present themselves as material entities, are imaginations of Ahriman. We know, of course, that animals, for example, are based on group souls. The group souls are not imaginations of Ahriman, but the individuals of the animals in outer forms are the imaginations of Ahriman. So when we have the kingdom of the lions, their group soul belongs, so to speak, to the good spiritual entities, and Ahriman's struggle against the good spiritual entities consists precisely in the fact that he presses their group soul into the individual shapes of the animals and imprints his imaginations upon them. The individual lion figures, as they actually walk around outside in the world, are forced out of the group souls by Ahriman. Thus the environment also shows itself to us gradually transformed into something quite different from what it appears in the Maja.“ (Lit.:GA 145, p. 174f)

Descent of animals from man

Drawing from GA 95, p. 157

Contrary to today's prevailing interpretation of evolution, humans did not descend from animals, but it is the other way round. Man, of course not yet in his present form, has set apart the animals from himself in the course of his development.

„The entire animal kingdom was once within man, that is, man stood on a level between the present animal kingdom and the human kingdom. In order to be able to develop further, he had to separate from himself those parts which could not take part in his development. At that time he expelled what today forms our animal kingdom. Originally, therefore, the animals were far less different from man than they are now. Then they gradually degenerated. Now the separation of the animal kingdom did not happen suddenly, but very gradually. First the fish, then reptiles and amphibians, then birds and mammals. And with these groups, too, there was only a gradual separation. For example, the predators were set out earlier than the apes. When the lions were eliminated, the constellation in which the sun was located was called Leo, and when man expelled the bull nature, the constellation was called Taurus. The names of the four apocalyptic beasts in the Revelation of John point to the same thing. They are called Eagle, Lion, Bull, Man.“ (Lit.:GA 95, p. 157f)

„There are sixteen groups of human instincts and passions and so there are also sixteen groups of animals. Zoology, too, will one day realise how all this gradually came out. We can easily show how the various members of the mammalian nature had to separate. The formation of hoofs, for example, occurred because the nature of the animal closed itself off from the outside world in a very special way. The claws or paws were formed as a result of the aggressive nature. Claw nature expresses a completely different stage of development from that of the hoofed animal. We also see such a contrast expressed in the centaur and sphinx figures.

In the second part of Faust, an occultly very important book, this is depicted where the sphinxes meet Mephistopheles and laugh at him because of his horse's hoof as a sign of nature hardened in the hoof, a nature that has selfishly closed itself off from the world.“ (Lit.:GA 104a, p. 108)


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References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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