The Writings of Annie Besant
The Destinies of Nations
From "The Theosophical Review," Volume XXXVII
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,
name "Angel" is used, the terms "Angel," "
"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
having contended with each other about the possession of
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
dispersion, at the building of the
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
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
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.
their philosophy, took the matter as real, not as fairy-tale, although the
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
The first nation to whom that part was offered was
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
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
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
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
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
striving to impress upon
a nation be exalted in the long run And in a critical moment, when luxury was
too enervating, too selfish, the terrible lesson of
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.
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.
stage of the world's history, could not do the necessary service: she was
her lessons under a conqueror; but there was a nation in the
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
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
years since, when a wondrous opportunity came in
divine compassion of those youths and girls was met by the fortress of Peter
and Paul, by the mines, and deserts, and snows of
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.
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
and the rulers of
still tread the winepress of the divine wrath.
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
downward those are guided who inevitably drag it downwards. The same was the
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
that you see now in
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.
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
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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