Is there a more important question than the descent of the human soul in the prison of the flesh?
This mystery interests all of us, because everyone is involved in this drama by the miracle of its dual nature, already described by the Orphics six centuries before our era when they used the expression “Soma Sema,” meaning: “The body is a tomb.”
The Pythagorean Empedocles of Agrigento especially gives us bright lights on this subject.
In his mystical poems, he unveils several elements of the Secret Doctrine of the Order and gives us secrets of astonishing precision.
Although we have only scattered fragments of his works, they are precise enough to give us a real doctrine.
Here is a particularly evocative passage from his book about Purifications: “From what honors, what height of bliss, I am fallen, said the human soul, to wander here on earth among mortals, chained in the matter. I cried and I lamented when I saw myself in front of a landscape that was unfamiliar to me. The Divinity had covered me with a strange envelope of flesh.” Unquote.
Empedocles talking about the fate of the embodied soul wrote: “Yes, we felt in the cave...” Unquote. The narrow horizon of earthly realities must appear very dull and ridiculous, when it replaces the radiant vision of immense heavenly realms.
This soul, which descends from the blessed regions in the dark, stays where men struggle. However, it is immortal. Diogenes Laertius wrote: “It differs from life, because it is a piece of an immortal element and is therefore immortal.” Unquote.
At the time of her fall, the soul, having lost her wings, had to “drink to forget,” says Macrobius, in his book Dream of Scipio.
She then forgets the highest reality with which she was associated. But this oversight is not absolute. She will always have the nostalgia for its origin, and always keep it in a mysterious magnetism, which tends constantly toward heaven in a desperate desire to regain her heavenly homeland. Plato says in the Phaedo that the soul, fallen in the flesh, is like a drunken man, which in his intoxication loses the precise memory of his dignity and his true place.
In his fourth Ennead, Plotinus accurately describes the life of souls chained as follows: “They live an amphibious life, separated between things from above and the things below, the most addicted to the intelligence living more in the spiritual world while most absorbed by earthly concerns are precisely those that their nature or accidents of life maintain away from intellectual thoughts.” Unquote.
All souls do not have the same knowledge of their condition. Thus fallen and obscured, the soul is heavier and filled with forgetfulness and wickedness, floundering in a difficult, unusual atmosphere.
But why call this descent a Birth? We must be careful regarding the words we use for this subject! This cannot be a beginning, an origin, because it is a simple change of state, a temporary modification, imposed on an already existing being, a temporary garment imposed by Fate.
Here again, it is Empedocles who speaks unequivocally to those who are ignorantly using the words “beginning,” “end,” “birth.” He wrote: “Fools all of you, without extended thoughts, still imagine that what did not previously exist could suddenly come into existence or that something might die or suffer any destruction. For it is impossible that nothing can be born from nothing, and it is equally impossible and unheard of that what already exists can die one day, because if it exists, there it will always be, wherever you place it.” “I'll tell you something else. It is nothing that came to existence or died. It exists as a mixture, and a change of which was mixed. Birth is but a name given to this fact by men.” Unquote.
This is the doctrine of Pythagorism, Platonism, Neoplatonism, and most hermetic schools.
Birth in this world is therefore an accident among many others in the history of our soul. Immortal as the gods, she is like them indestructible. Her descent into the realm of this world “sublunar” is one of hermandatory avatars, a temporary travel “in the area of adversity.”
All that is required is written and is part of a mysterious plan, a great rhythm and a permanent exchange between all worlds, imposed by an everlasting ordinance.
Empedocles wrote: “If ever a soul who lived a long life, be defiled or followed the impulses of hatred or committed the crime of perjury, it will wander thousands of years away from the homes of the Blessed. She will be reincarnated constantly along the history as mortal and will pass from one life to another.” Unquote.
And the poet says, with regret: “I am, unfortunately, one of them, an outcast, a fugitive from the gods, a toy of senseless Discord...”
This is the secret cause of these successive avatars and these repeated tests.
The souls, albeit associated with celestial choirs, are unevenly perfect. One wants to come down to earth only by altruism, by ideal, by kindness, by sacrifice, to secure the salvation of men, to assist in the perfection of the universe. Plotinus explains this in one of his writings (Enneads, IV. 8.5).
Others, however, are excluded from their partners for some time, to suffer the punishment of past sins, and thus have the opportunity to move to the Good. This is the theory of Celsus. Plutarch informed us on this point when he wrote: “In other incarnations, the souls are defiled, leaving their bodies to feed through meats and attempt the principle of life.” Unquote. Or, they are seduced by the appetites of the senses and the tyranny of matter. A chain of pain will show them their mistakes, lead them back to the Truth, make them aware of their status and restore their original purity.
The author Lucien wrote: “The fate of the soul varies from one incarnation to another.” Unquote.
When the souls came to earth, they crossed through various stellar atmospheres, borrowing appropriate clothing from each one. Arriving on earth, the souls are thus dressed in ethereal envelopes of various subtle natures, that they will return, after physical death, to the various stars, as taught by Macrobius, in the Dream of Scipio.
Various experiences from the Commander Rochas, Durville and Lancelin on the externalization of sensitivity and the out-of-body experience seem to give validity to Macrobius' theory.
A very famous Pythagorean tradition even specifies what are the gates of heaven: by Cancer, the souls descend on earth with Capricorn, rising to the glorious ether.
In his great work on the Pythagorean Basilica of Porta Maggiore, Carcopino reports that this is the hypothesis of Porphyry, which was adopted by the builders of this imperishable monument.
Since the soul is multiple when she arrives on earth, she will also be multiple at the time of physical death, which is a new change of her state: a rise after a descent and a stop in the flesh; a dissociation of multiple elements after temporary association; a successive purification of her various astral envelopes to return one day the soul itself, naked, but purified, to the world of blessed ones from which she originally came.
In his “Treatise on Music,” Aristide Quintilian has the same idea, and Diogenes Laertius, bringing us authentic Pythagorean teaching, adds: “The atmosphere is entirely filled with souls. They wander through the air.” Unquote.
Hermes is their steward. This is why we call him “Conveyor” or “Guardian of the Threshold” or “Earthling” because he is the “Psychopompe” or “conductor of souls,” removing them from the body of the earth and the sea. He guides the pure souls to the highest Heaven and separates the impure souls from them.
According to the Tradition, said Diogenes Laertius, whether Pythagoras was the first who discovered the migration of the soul, it moves in a circle according to the decision of Destiny, going from one body to another, to attach.
Because on our globe is the prison of the body, the valley of tears, the place of the unhappy.
As Empedocles wrote: “Woe to you, miserable race of mortals! You are twice cursed! From what struggles and groans you were born.” Unquote.
But there is hope for the human being, a beacon in the night, a light in his darkness. It is love, the heavenly current that one day will again give wings to the soul and reopen the gates of Heaven.
“Behold love with your mind and not sit, eyes dazzled,”sings Empedocles. “It is him who puts his burden on members of mortals that inspires their ideas, and affection that makes them ask for peaceful acts they call works of joy.” Unquote.
Love repairs the evils of hatred, by collecting all the items that Discord had separated. It is therefore a living hope.
Let’s conclude this important study by a quote from Diogenes Laertius: “The pure souls will be conducted to the highest heaven.”