Group soul of the animals

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The animal soul, the soul of the animals, is not individualised like the soul of the human being, one can only speak of a group soul of the animals, which the Hebrews called nephesh, and which, as it were, hovers around the individual animals from the outside. Only in man does nephesh move into the interior as the sentient soul.

All animals belonging to a species or genus have a group spirit and an associated group soul.

„... the animal has no individual soul, but a group soul which acts from without, like a spiritual entity. All animals whose blood can be mixed without harm have a common soul, the group soul.“ (Lit.:GA 55, p. 152)

„The question is often asked: Has the animal no such soul as man? - It has such a soul, but the animal soul is at the top of the astral plan. The individual animal relates to the animal soul in the same way as the individual organs of man relate to his soul. If one hurts a finger, it is the soul that feels this. All the sensations of the individual organs go to the soul. This is the case in the same way with a group of animals. Everything that the individual animal feels is felt in it by the group soul. Take all the different lions, for example: the sensations of the lions all lead to a common soul. On the astral plane, all lions have a communal group soul. So all animals on the astral plan have their group soul. If you give the individual lion a pain, or if he feels a lust, it carries over to the astral plan, just as the pain of the finger carries over to the human soul. Man can rise to the understanding of the group soul when he is able to fashion for himself a form which contains all the individual lions, just as a general concept contains the individual associated entities.“ (Lit.:p. 157.pdf GA 96, p. 157)

The animals do have their own astral body, but it is clearly different from that of man. 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 spirits of the animals are descendants of the Spirits of Motion and therefore the group souls are also in constant movement. They have high wisdom, which is shown in the instincts of the animals, but they lack love.

„The group souls are in perpetual motion. The seer sees along the spine of the animals a constant flickering. The spine is enclosed as if by flickering light. The animals are traversed by currents which go around the whole earth in all directions in infinite numbers, like the trade winds, and which act on the animals by flowing around the spinal cord. These animal group souls are continually in circular motion in every height and direction around the earth. These group souls are very wise, but they lack one thing which they do not yet have: they do not know love, which is so called on earth. Love is only connected with wisdom in individuality in human beings.

The group soul is wise, but the individual animal has love as sexual love and parental love. Love is individual in the animal, but the wise institution, the wisdom of the group spirit is still empty of love. Man has love and wisdom united; the animal has love in the physical life and wisdom on the astral plan.“ (Lit.:GA 98, p. 94)

The animal group soul is formed by the group spirit of the animals shaping the animal astral body. It regulates the breathing process of the animal from the outside.

„In the animal there is a breathing process which is, so to speak, strictly regulated from 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 'Nephesch' 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 Nephesch into the human inner being? 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)

Unlike the individual soul of humans, the group soul of animals does not form a coherent shape. This is a quite typical phenomenon in the astral world. The animal group soul shows itself divided into a wise light form and a dark form filled with lower desires due to the influence of the adversary powers.

„Man, as he meets us here, has an individual soul, each of which has an I-being. The animals do not have an I-being in the same way. With them, the forms of the same kind, that is, all lions, all tigers, all tortoises, have what one can call a common, a group soul. And you must imagine that an I-being lives on the astral plane, no matter where the animals live in the physical. All are embedded in an egoity which is a real personality on the astral plane, and there you can meet this personality, this group soul, just as here you can meet a human being.

An example: Take a bird migration, when the birds begin to migrate from the northern regions to the equator. Anyone who does not superficially observe these really extraordinarily wise bird migrations will be amazed at how much of what is called intelligence belongs to such a train of birds. Some move to this region, others to the other; they pass through dangers, they land where they have to land. The ordinary physical consciousness sees only the migrating flocks. The clairvoyant consciousness, however, sees the group soul, the work of the personalities who guide and direct what is going on. In fact, it is such astral personalities who guide and direct the whole. It is these group souls that initially confront us as a population of the astral world. The diversity that prevails in the group soul of the animals on the astral plan, this variegation is an infinitely greater one. It should only be mentioned in passing that on the astral plane there is room for all, because there the beings interpenetrate each other; for the law of impenetrability applies only to the physical plane. Only there they feel the influences when they are penetrated, good as well as evil; in the inner experience they feel the passing through. So they can pass through each other; they can also live in one and the same place. The law of penetration prevails there.

But this again is only a part of the astral population, though one which we do not recognise in the full, correct sense until we fully grasp it. Do not think that he who, let us say, is attentive to how this is embedded in the astral world and how his consciousness is led up to this group soul, already has a concept of a group soul of some animal form. That is not enough. It is precisely here that we are vividly confronted with the fact that what is spatially separated belongs together, so that we have a counter-image for every animal group soul which wisely guides the whole, and a terrible counter-image at that. This is what animalism consists of, that it once points up into the astral world, but then points down into that part of the astral world where ugliness and adversity prevail, so that for each animal group we have a light figure and an ugly figure, which has once separated itself from the light figure as the evil, ugly thing that was once within it. Now you can see how the old pictures and works of art have emerged from a higher realisation. Today, one recognises as an individuality only that which lives in the human being. And therefore, if one wants to depict something higher, one can only resort to fantasy. It was not always like that. At that time, when a large part of mankind, especially those who worked artistically, had a certain clairvoyant consciousness or at least traditions of clairvoyance, one always depicted what was really to be found in the higher worlds. And so in the Michael with the Dragon or Saint George with the Dragon, with which you are familiar, you have a wonderful representation of the conditions which the clairvoyant always finds on the astral plane with regard to the animal forms. It raises him to a higher form, which is wise and far surpasses the wisdom of men. But this wisdom has been attained by throwing out of the astrality of such beings the bad side. You have this evil form in the adverse dragon. When the clairvoyant looks up from the living form, he sees everything that is ordered for the living form by the higher entity, which is wise, but which does not know love. But this formation of the light soul form was only achieved by trampling under foot the evil qualities that were in the entity form. Man has attained his present nature by still mixing good and evil in his karma, whereas the moral distinctions of good and evil cannot be applied to the animal. But the concept of the luminous being is connected with the upward course, that of being fallen with that which has been overcome. Ancient art has mostly created in this way in meaningful symbols, and what has been created there is nothing more than a result of clairvoyant contemplation. This will only be understood when the astral archetypes are recognised again.“ (Lit.:GA 108, p. 20ff)


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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