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The Writings of Annie Besant

Annie Besant

 (1847 -1933)


The Destinies of Nations


From "The Theosophical Review," Volume XXXVII


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Certain great ideas, necessary for the evolution of the race, may be said to

belong especially to the civilisations of the East, and those ideas were in

danger of being trampled out by the advancing western civilisations. That was a

danger to humanity at large, the ideals of both eastern and western

civilisations being necessary in the future of the world; and it became

necessary for some definite interference to take place to re-establish the

balance of thought. I want to draw attention to the nature of that interference,

to show what lies behind the destinies of nations, and what forces guide the

current of affairs, so that we may see through the veil of events to the forces

that guide them. The great world-drama is not written by the pen of chance, but

by the thought of the LOGOS, guiding His world along the road of evolution. In

the course of that evolution many beings are concerned. We have to look on this

world as part of a chain of worlds all closely interlinked, all the inhabitants

of these different worlds having something to say in those parts of the drama

which are being worked out in each. We are all living in three different worlds,

and not only in one; and whether in the physical world, or in the next world,

the astral, or in the third, the heaven world, the inhabitants are busy with the

general conduct of affairs which affect all three. Life becomes enormously more

interesting when we recognise that it is shaped not only in the physical world

but in other worlds as well, and that when we trace the destinies of nations we

find that those destinies stretch backward, and that the working out in the

present is largely conditioned by the energies of the past.


Let us look for a moment on the rough plan of the whole. Let me put it as though it were a great drama written by a divine pen. The story of the world, and the various parts of the actors on the stage, are all therein written. What is not

laid down is who the actors shall be, and with regard to this a large amount of

what is called choice comes in. This drama is the manifestation of certain great

ideas in the Divine Mind, ideas written, as it were, in the heavens; for it is

suggested in very ancient thought that what we call the signs of the zodiac have

a definite connection with the course of human affairs. Of that, in the broad

outline, there is no doubt in the minds of any who have penetrated somewhat

behind the veil. The importance of these starry influences cannot be

over-estimated; for inasmuch as human beings are related in the composition of

their physical and other subtler bodies to the worlds among which they move in

space, there must be magnetic relations existing between them and the system of

which they form a part, and at certain epochs in the history of evolution there

will be one or another dominating influence present in the atmosphere in which

men think and act, and they can no more escape that influence than their bodies

can escape the influence of the far-off sun. The great drama, then, is the grand

plan of human evolution. It is full of parts which are to be played by the

nations, but not necessarily by this or that nation; for the nation qualifies

itself to play a certain part which may be offered to more than one nation, and

one or another may rise to the height of its great opportunity.


Leaving that for a moment, let us ask a question as to the forces which help to

adapt players to parts. Are there to be found, in what seems the great chaos of

human wills, any guiding forces which bring the actor and the part together? You

cannot well have a drama vast as the world-process, as evolution, and then a

great gap between the Author of so vast a plan and the individual players who

make up the nations and choose the parts. How is the right player to be brought

into touch with his part in the history of the nation, in the history of

individual successive births and deaths? That is the next point to grasp.


Now the vast machinery for bringing together the parts and the players is found

in the hierarchies of superhuman Intelligences recognised in all the religions

of the world, and in the occult teaching on which they are founded. Not one

great religion of the past or of the present that does not see surrounding the

world and mingling in its affairs the vast hierarchies of spiritual

Intelligences into whose hands is put the work of bringing together the players

and the parts. You will see, if you turn to the religions of the nations of the

past, how they have recognised these workings as playing a great part in the

practical shaping of the destinies of nations. Not one great people of antiquity

that did not have its own national "Gods."


The word "Gods," however, as used in the English tongue, is very confusing, for it is applied not only to those great hosts of Intelligences, but also to the

Supreme, the LOGOS, the Author of the drama. Now in the nations that have other religions than the Christian this confusion does not arise. It is when the

Christian is contemplating those whom he calls the "heathen" that the greatest

confusion arises, for over the whole of their vast theology he uses the one name

"God." And yet he might easily escape that by remembering that his own cosmogony is only a reproduction of the older thoughts of these more ancient peoples. In the East there is one name which is used for these Intelligences--the name "Devas," from the root "div," to "shine" or to "play"; the "shining ones," or the "playing ones," would be the English translation. When Bunyan so often used the term "shining ones" he was using a quite eastern phrase, for it is by that

name that the East knows this great hierarchy of Intelligences. Among the

Christians and Mussulmans, whose religions are drawn largely from the Jewish,

the name "Angel" is used, the terms "Angel," "Archangel," "Cherubim,"

"Seraphim," and so on, being represented in the older faiths either by the word

"Deva" or by a word derived therefrom. "God," in the Christian sense, is known

by other names, and no confusion arises.


In all the old religions these Devas played an enormous part, and each nation

had its own particular set of Devas. The Egyptians regarded certain superhuman

Intelligences as their earliest law-givers, and the connection between the human

law-giver, the Divine King, and the Deva is always clearly marked. Every

civilisation takes its rise in a little group, partly human, partly superhuman,

to which it looks back and from which it draws its laws. The Greek had his

Demigods or Heroes, and his Gods or Devas. So among the Chinese, the Japanese, the Persians, the Indians, the same idea is found of the nation being founded by the group which contained the human law-giver and the Deva who worked with him in the building of the nation. Celsus hints that the Beings "to whom was allotted the office of superintending the country which was being legislated for, enacted the laws of each land in co-operation with its legislators.


He appears then to indicate that both the country of the Jews, and the nation which inhabits it, are superintended by one or more beings . . . co-operated with

Moses, and enacted the laws of the Jews" (Origen. Con. Cel. V. xxv.).

Now the Divine Kings, the Heroes, passed, but the Deva remains still at the head

of each nation, a real existence in the astral and heavenly worlds, with a crowd

of less developed Intelligences under his guiding hand. And when you come to the Jews you find that idea very clearly laid down in their scriptures. I pause for

a moment upon it, because the sentence I am going to take from the Old

Testament, from Deuteronomy, gives exactly the idea which I want us to take in

considering the working out of a nation's destinies: "When the Most High divided the nations, when He dispersed the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of the people according to the number of the angels of God; and the Lord's portion was his people Jacob" (Deut. xxxii. 8, 9, Septuagint). To many modern readers the latter part of that sentence, "the Lord," may sound surprising, for they are accustomed to connect that word with the Supreme God; but we can see from the whole of the sentence that it is the name "Most High" which indicates the LOGOS, the manifested God, and He divides all the nations of the world according to the number of the angels, and to one great angel, "the Lord," He gives Jacob, Israel, as his peculiar portion. Origen, in dealing with this, alludes to the "reasons relating to the arrangement of terrestrial affairs," and points out

that in Grecian history "certain of those considered to be Gods are introduced

as having contended with each other about the possession of Attica; while in the

writings of the Greek poets also some who are called Gods are represented as

acknowledging that certain places here are preferred by them before others"

(Con. Cel. V. xxix.). And so he points out that after what he regards as the

symbolical dispersion, at the building of the tower of Babel, the different

nations were given to these groups of celestial beings (Ibid. xxx.). These

beings were worshipped in their respective nations, who followed their own

"Gods," and not those of other peoples (Ibid. xxxiv.).


This idea of "the ministry of angels" is very general among the early

Christians; thus we have in Hermas the vision of the building of a tower:

"And I answering said unto her, These things are very admirable; but, lady, who

are those six young men that build?

"They are, said she, the angels of God, which were first appointed, and to whom the Lord has delivered all his creatures, to frame and build them up, and to rule over them. For by these the building of the tower shall be finished.

"And who are the rest who bring them stones?


"They also are the holy angels of the Lord; but the other are more excellent

than these. Wherefore when the whole building of the tower shall be finished,

they shall all feast together beside the tower, and shall glorify God, because

the structure of the tower is finished" (lst Book of Hermas, Vision iii.,

43-46). Clement (1st Epistle, xiii. 7) quotes the text above referred to. Also the

following remark about Jesus, made by Satan to the Prince of Hell, is

noteworthy: "As for me, I tempted him, and stirred up my old people the Jews

with zeal and anger against him" (Gospel of Nicodemus, xv. 9). The Jews were

under Saturn, or Jehovah, according to Origen. The same idea is taught among the Mussulmans. They regard the angels as taking a very active part in the affairs

of men. And it is hardly necessary to remind you that in the great epic poems of

India, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, you find the Devas mingling with the

affairs of men, so that when great quarrels are to be decided they manifestly

take part in the strife, each struggling for the particular tribe or nation

placed in his hands for its evolution. A correspondent, Mr. Tudor Pole, of

Bristol, tells me that there is an old Teutonic legend that on New Year's Eve

all the "Inner Rulers," the angels, of the nations assemble before the Council

of the Gods to receive their orders for the coming year; each has his request to

make as to the destiny of his nation during the coming year; the Council

arranges the part that each nation shall play during the ensuing year, and the

Great Lords are consulted. Finally, the Rulers disperse, some with music and

joy, some weeping, some in great agony.


In Greece there is much mingling of "Gods" and men, and the Greeks, despite

their philosophy, took the matter as real, not as fairy-tale, although the

philosophers in Greece, as among the Hindus and Buddhists, did not worship these "Gods." In the 7th book of the Odyssey we read how "Minerva meets Ulysses, in the likeness of a young maiden bearing a pitcher," and she guides him to the palace of Alcinous, a palace guarded, in Atlantean fashion, by immortal gold and silver dogs, made by the mind of Vulcan. And so again in many another tale, written when men's minds were less blinded thanthey are to-day.


Of course, in modern times this idea has disappeared, and it must seem like a

fairy tale to modern readers when one brings such thoughts into touch with what

may seem to them such much more real things, the strifes of Kings, and the

politics of the modern world. And yet behind all these the co-ordinating forces

are still continually at work; and when the time comes for a nation to play a

triumphant part in the current history of the world, then, many years before the

time of the triumph, there are guided into that nation by the Devas souls which

are fitted for its building up and guidance in the coming struggle. And when the

time comes for a nation to sink low in the current history of the world, there

are guided to incarnation there souls that are weak, undeveloped, cruel,

tyrannical, having fitted themselves to fill such actors' parts in the great

national drama. Let us keep, then, that theory in mind: the drama on the one

side; this great co-ordinating agency on the other, guiding the self-chosen

actors to their appointed parts.


And now let us look at some of the nations themselves, and see how far the

destinies that they are working out fit in with this view of a guiding hand

behind the veil. Let us take for one instance the building up of a mighty

western empire, so that the great Fifth Race, with its evolution of the concrete

mind, might play its part in the drama for the benefit of humanity at large. And

let us see, if we can, whether certain definite currents may not be traced which

show a plan definitely worked out, and not the mere mingling of the chaotic

wills, ambitions, and selfishnesses of nations.


Slowly was prepared this part of a nation to stand high above the nations of the

world. The first nation to whom that part was offered was Spain, who had been

preparing for it by a very marked and extraordinary evolution. Into her was

poured the great flood of learning which linked itself with the dying philosophy

of Greece, and drew its rich stores from the Neo-Platonic schools; into Southern Spain came the great incursion from Arabia, rich with all the knowledge brought from the mighty schools of Bagdad, which spread over Southern Spain and thence over Europe. To her was sent Columbus, who made it possible for her to spread her conquering troops across the Atlantic and subject the new world to her imperial sceptre.


How did Spain meet that wondrous opportunity? In the wake of Columbus came the army, subjecting Mexico and Peru to her sway, and destroying

their ancient civillsations, outworn and ready for destruction. She had laid

upon her shoulders the task of building up in that new world a civilisation

based on the solid foundation left there by Atlantis, capable of supporting the

structure of the new thought and knowledge. All know how she missed her

opportunity, how she drove out from her own country the Moors and the Jews, the

inheritors of the knowledge, the philosophy, and the science; and how, in the

new world, with her greed of gold, she cared nothing for the peoples placed in

her hands but trampled them into the dust. So her part in the drama was taken

away and offered to another people.


Another nation became a candidate--a nation which, with many faults, had also

many great virtues. England, spreading abroad her race, more and more subjected to her sway land after land. She gained the offer of a world-empire by an act of national righteousness--the liberation of the slaves from bondage, accompanied by that great act of national justice which sacrificed no one class but placed the burden of the liberation on the whole nation. For that, those who guided her destinies were offered the possibility of world dominion. All the nations that tried to establish themselves in that great land of the East, India, one after another failed, until the English race placed its feet therein. The story of the

placing is not good to read, and many crimes were wrought, yet on the whole the nation tried to do its best and to correct the oppressions wrought in

India--then so out of reach--as witness her action towards her great pro-consul,

Warren Hastings, when she brought him to trial for his evil deeds, in the face

of the world.


So, despite many faults, she was allowed to climb higher and higher in the eastern world, partly also because she offered, with her growing colonies and language, the most effective world-instrument for spreading the thought of the East over the civilisations of the West. All know how far that has gone, how all over Northern America, in far-off Australasia, as well as in her own land, eastern thought and philosophy have everywhere penetrated, so that the treasures of Sanskrit learning, kept so jealously until the time was ripe for their dispersion, are being spread over the surface of the globe.


Continually, by lessons ever repeated, those Higher Ones who guide the nation

are striving to impress upon England the lesson that by righteousness alone can

a nation be exalted in the long run And in a critical moment, when luxury was

growing too enervating, too selfish, the terrible lesson of South Africa branded

on the English conscience the lesson that duty and right must go before luxury.

Through the fires of disaster a lesson was taught to England which, may God

grant, she has learned for her future guidance.


And then there came the question of what nation should be chosen for the work of lifting up those ideals of the East of which I wrote last month. India, at this

stage of the world's history, could not do the necessary service: she was

learning her lessons under a conqueror; but there was a nation in the Far East

which had within it the possibility of learning the lesson, and the Devas of the

nation began to concern themselves with the attempt to train up in that far-off

island a people who should be fit for the mighty task of uplifting eastern

thought, of showing that conquest might go hand-in-hand with gentleness and

self-control, and that a nation might spring into a mighty power without losing

its sense of duty. The work began by a change in the education of the people,

which might make a nation conscious of itself, and then into the soil thus

prepared a group of heroic souls was born.


The Mikado of Japan, a mighty soul, fit to incarnate for that nation its own

greatness, fit to use such power that in brief space of years he might transform

the nation, put it into new shape, evolved it in unknown forces, and at the same

time showed out a personality so wonderful that all that nation look to him as

ruler by Divine Right, from whose sacred person flow the powers which in the

nation are shown forth, every triumph reflecting new glory on his personality.

And round him gathers one great one after another, for the labour of raising up

the nation, until at every point of importance you see a statesman, a general,

an admiral, fit to lead a people from triumph to triumph. A group of strong

souls is guided to incarnate there, in order that the nation may fulfil its

destiny; for no nation can be great unless at the centre there be an ideal, and

a perfect loyalty and self-devotion. It is no mere lip phrase, but voices a

feeling deep in the heart of the soldier and of the general, when they thank

their Ruler for the victory in the field, and with the eastern devotion say that

he is the representative of God amongst them.


Glance at the other nation in the great duel which is being fought in Eastern

Asia, and see how strangely Russia, a nation with a great future before her, is

being guided through the frightful valley of humiliation. The preparation for

that calamitous part in the drama lies in that which has gone before, even

within the limits of our own lives. There was a moment, some twenty-five or

thirty years since, when a wondrous opportunity came in Russia's way. Although ill-judged, there was a noble impulse underneath the freeing of the serfs, and there was a possibility that that act might be turned to good purpose for the nation, and raise it higher, instead of leading it wellnigh to destruction as it has done. And then there came out of many souls born just then among the nobles of Russia, one of the most wonderful things the world has seen--a flinging of themselves out of their own rank down amongst the poor, the ignorant and the down-trodden, a giving of themselves by the lads and the girls of the nobility to the lifting up of the people, not by a far-off charity, but by a wondrous impulse of uttermost self-sacrifice. And how was that met?


The divine compassion of those youths and girls was met by the fortress of Peter and Paul, by the mines, and deserts, and snows of Siberia. Nothing more terrible has been wrought by a government of any people within modern times. And terrible the Nemesis.


Driven by despair, their attempts to uplift in all gentleness met with the knout

and the underground dungeon, with starvation for the men, with dishonour for the

women, what wonder some of them went mad! What wonder that some of them at last, after years of patience, after cruellest sufferings, answered with the bomb to the knout! This state of affairs was created in the first place by the

bureaucracy and not by the victims. Thousands upon thousands of those who would have redeemed Russia died on the scaffolds, were slaughtered in those frightful mines, until at last the patience of the Gods grew exhausted, and the time came for the government to learn that governments exist for the helping and not for the crushing of their peoples.


So that Russia chose by her past that terrible role which now she is playing on

the stage of the world. Against her are all the forces that make for progress;

against her from the astral world the myriads that she sent there before their

time--all her martyrs, all her victims, are struggling against her. Hence the

record of unexampled defeat. And at home, revolution, anarchy, assassination and mutiny are threatening her government fabric from every side, until for Russia at the moment there is only that Valley of the Shadow of Death to be trodden from end to end; and with pain at heart, but with steady hands, her angelic guardians guide her through the defeat and the disaster, willing that their

charge should learn her lessons whatever the price she pays. For in those

clearer eyes the nation s agony for the moment matters little, beside the

lessons that through that agony are learned; and until the tyranny itself is

crushed, and the rulers of Russia learn their duties to the people, she must

still tread the winepress of the divine wrath.


And see how Russia has been prepared for it. Among all her rulers not one strong man; weakness and uncertainty everywhere, changed policy at every moment. Mark the government of him who should be the father, but is the tyrant, of his people--perhaps not a bad man in himself, but utterly unfit for his post. It is part of the destiny of a nation that, when the hour of its doom strikes, nothing

but weakness is born into its governing classes, so that those who would not

rule aright may lose the power to rule. And on those terrible battlefields of

which we have read records in the daily press, is there anything more pathetic

than the dauntless courage of the soldiers, and the hopeless incompetence of the

officers? It is not that the soldiers do not fight, but that they are led by men

who know not how to lead.


It is thus that nations are guided from above, and into the nation that has to

go downward those are guided who inevitably drag it downwards. The same was the case in Spain--a child King, and not one able man among the ministers who could guide it right in the struggle with Cuba and America.


And how are these leaders chosen? The are chosen by their own lives in the past. A man is found unselfish, brave, and noble, and such a one, in the countless choices of his daily life, is making the choice for the splendid part that

hereafter in humanity he shall play. And so with those who are great outside,

but have to play a sordid part. By countless selfishness and preferring of

themselves, by taking ever that lower path instead of the higher, those men

choose also their parts in history.


Thus it is that the Occultist looks on human history, and sees preparing around

him on every side the men and women who are to be the players of the future in

the more prominent parts of the world-drama. For none forces upon us any part,

nor imposes upon us any special place in the world-drama. We choose for

ourselves. We build up ourselves for glory or for shame, and as we build so

hereafter shall we inevitably be. Hence it follows that for a nation to be great

its citizens must slowly build up greatness in themselves. Hence it is that the

greatness that you see now in Japan is a greatness that you can recognize among

her ordinary men and women, who are willing to sacrifice all that is dearest for

the sake of their country and the glory of their chief.


And so with England, if she would fill the mighty part which is before her in

the near future. She must build up her sons and daughters on heroic models, by

placing righteousness above luxury, thought above enjoyment; by choosing the

strenuous, the heroic, the self-sacrificing in daily life, and not petty

enjoyments, small luxuries, and miserable sensual gratifications. Out of rotten

bricks no great building can be built, and out of poor material no mighty nation

may be shaped. The destinies of nations lie in the homes of which the nations

are composed, and noble men, women and children have in them the promise of the future national greatness. And as we make our conditions better, higher and more evolved souls shall be born amongst us. While we have slums and miserable places we are making habitations for little evolved souls, whom we draw into the nation.


Under the ground the root grows, out of which the flower and fruit will come, and poor the gardening science which places a rotten root in the ground and expects from it a perfect flower and a splendid fruit. If we would have

England great among the nations and make her destiny an imperial destiny as the

servant of humanity at large, we must cultivate the soil of character, plant the

sound roots of noble, righteous, simple living, and then the destiny is

inevitable, and the nation will be cast for an imperial part in the drama of the



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