33. The Order and the Teaching

(Part 2 – Notes for this chapter at the end of Part 3)



Cosmogony and Psychology -- Evolution of the Soul

The disciple had received the principles of science from the master. This first initiation caused the thick scales of matter which had covered the eyes of his mind, to fall. Tearing away the shining veil of mythology, it had snatched him from the visible world and had cast him into limitless spaces, plunging him into the Sun of Intelligence, from which Truth radiates over the three worlds. But the science of numbers was only the preamble to the great initiation. Armed with these principles, it was now a question of descending from the heights of the Absolute into the depths of nature, there to grasp divine thought in the formation of things, and in the evolution of the soul through the worlds. Esoteric cosmogony and psychology were very close to the greatest mysteries of life, as well as to the jealously guarded secrets of the esoteric arts and sciences. Pythagoras preferred to give these lessons at night, free from the profane light of day, on the terraces of the Temple of Ceres, accompanied by the gentle murmuring of the Ionian Sea with its melodious rhythm, beneath the distant phosphorescences of the starry cosmos; or in the crypts of the sanctuary where Egyptian naphtha lamps cast a steady, gentle, clear light. The women initiates attended these nocturnal gatherings. Sometimes priests or priestesses from Delphi or Eleusis came to confirm the teachings of the master either by relating their experiences, or through the clear speech of clairvoyant sleep.

Material and spiritual evolution of the world are two opposite but parallel and concordant movements upon the entire scale of being. One is explained only by the other, and together they explain the world. Material evolution represents the manifestation of God in matter through the activity of the soul of the world. Spiritual evolution represents the development of consciousness in the individual monads and their efforts to rejoin, across the cycle of lives, the divine spirit from which they emanate. To see the universe from the physical point of view or the spiritual point of view is not to consider a different object; it is to look at the world from two opposite viewpoints. From the terrestrial point of view the rational explanation of the world must begin with material evolution, since it is from this aspect that it appears to us. However, by causing us to see the work of universal Mind in matter and by pursuing the development of individual monads, this rational explanation leads to the spiritual point of view, causing us to pass from the outside to the inside of things.

In this way Pythagoras explained the universe as a living being, animated by a great Soul, and permeated with a great Intelligence. The second part of his teaching therefore began with Cosmogony.

If one relies upon the divisions of heaven which we find in the esoteric fragments of the Pythagoreans, this astronomy would be similar to the astronomy of Ptolomy -- a motionless earth with the sun, the planets and the entire firmament revolving around it. But the very nature of this astronomy indicates that it is entirely symbolic. At the center of his universe Pythagoras places Fire, of which the sun is but a reflection. And in all the esoterism of the East, Fire is the sign of Spirit, of divine universal Consciousness. Therefore, what our philosophers generally accept as the physics of Pythagoras and Plato is nothing but a figurative description of their secret philosophy, luminous for the initiates, but all the more impenetrable for the common man, since it was made to pass for explanations of simple physical phenomena. Let us therefore regard it as a sort of cosmography of the life of souls, nothing more nor less. The sublunar region designates the sphere where earthly attraction is exerted, and is called The Circle of Generations. By this the initiates meant that for us the earth is the region of corporeal life. All the activities which accompany the incarnation and excarnation of souls take place there. The sphere of the six planets and of the sun corresponds to ascending categories of spirits. Olympus, conceived as a revolving sphere, is called The Heaven of Fixed Things because it is assimilated within the sphere of perfect souls. This apparently naive astronomy, therefore, conceals a concept of the spiritual universe.

But everything leads us to believe that the ancient initiates, and particularly Pythagoras, had much more accurate ideas of the physical universe than is generally conceived. Aristotle says positively that the Pythagoreans believed in the movement of the earth around the sun. Copernicus affirms that the idea of rotation of the earth upon its axis came to him while reading in Cicero that a certain Hycetas of Syracuse had spoken of the daily movement of the earth. To his disciples of the third degree, Pythagoras taught the dual movement of the earth. Without the exact calculations of modern science, nevertheless he knew, as did the priests of Memphis, that planets coming from the sun revolve around it; that the stars are so many solar systems governed by the same laws as ours, and that each has its appointed place in the vast universe. He also recognized that each solar world forms a little universe, having its correspondence in the spiritual world and its own heaven. But these ideas would have upset the popular mythology of the ancients, and the masses would have labeled them as sacrilege. Therefore they were never entrusted to profane writing, but were taught only under the seal of the deepest secrecy.57

Pythagoras said that the visible universe, the sky with all its stars, is but a passing form of the world-soul, of the great Maia, who concentrates scattered matter out of infinite spaces, then dissolves and scatters it in an imponderable, cosmic fluid. Each solar vortex possesses a part of this universal soul, which evolves for millions of centuries with a special force of impulsion and dimension. As for the powers, kingdoms, species and living souls which will appear successively in the stars of this little world, they come from God, they descend from the Father, that is, they emanate from an unchangeable and higher spiritual order as well as from a former material evolution, from an extinct solar system. Some of these invisible powers which are entirely immortal, direct the formation of this world. Others await its unfolding in cosmic sleep or in divine dream in order that they may return to visible generations according to eternal law. Nevertheless, the solar soul and its central fire which the Great Monad activates directly, cultivates matter to a condition of fusion. The planets are the daughters of the sun. Each of them, fashioned by forces of attraction and rotation inherent in matter, is endowed with a semi-conscious soul coming from the solar soul, and has its distinct character, its particular role in evolution. Since each planet is a varied expression of the thought of God and since it plays a special role in the planetary chain, the ancient wise men identified the names of the planets with those of the great gods which represent the divine Faculties in action in the universe.

The four elements, of which the stars and all beings are formed, are progressive states of matter. The first, denser and cruder than all the others, is the most refractory to spirit; the last, being most refined, shows a great affinity for spirit. Earth represents the solid state, water, the liquid state, air, the gaseous state, fire, the imponderable state. The fifth element, or the etheric, represents a state of matter so subtle and alive that it is no longer atomic, and is endowed with the property of universal penetration. It is the fundamental cosmic fluid, the astral light or the world-soul.

Pythagoras then spoke to his disciples about Egypt and Asia. He knew that earth in fusion was originally surrounded by a gaseous atmosphere which, liquefied by its subsequent cooling, had formed the seas. According to tradition, he summed up this idea metaphorically by saying that the seas were produced by the tears of Saturn, the cosmic age.

But now appear the kingdoms, invisible seeds, floating in the ethereal aura of earth. They swirl in its gaseous robe, then are attracted into the depths of the seas and the first emerging continents. The plant and animal worlds, still combined, appear at almost the same time. Esoteric doctrine accepts the transformation of animal species, not only according to the secondary law of selection but also according to the primary law of percussion of the earth by celestial powers, and of all living beings by intelligible principles and invisible forces. When a new species appears on the globe, it is because a group of souls of a higher type becomes incarnated at a given time in the descendants of the older species, in order to cause it to ascend by remolding and transforming it. Thus esoteric doctrine explains the appearance of man upon the earth. From the point of view of earthly evolution, man is the crown of all anterior species. But this point of view no more explains his entrance upon the scene than it explains the appearance of the first algae or the first crustaceans on the bottom of the seas. All successive creations presuppose, as does each birth, the percussion of earth by the invisible powers which create life. The creation of man presupposes the previous reign of a celestial mankind which presides at the blossoming of earthly mankind.

Pythagoras, enlightened by the temples of Egypt, had precise ideas on the great revolutions of the globe. Indian and Egyptian teaching spoke of the existence of the ancient austral continent, called Atlantis by the Greeks, which had produced the red race and a powerful civilization. It attributed the alternating emergence and submersion of continents to the oscillation of the poles, stating that mankind had passed through six floods. Each interdiluvian cycle brings about the dominance of a great human race. In the midst of partial eclipses of civilization and human faculties, a general upward movement takes place.

Therefore, humanity is constituted and races are launched upon their careers through the cataclysms of the globe. On these continents which emerge from the seas, only to disappear again, in the midst of peoples who pass away, and civilizations which crumble, -- what is the great, poignant, everlasting mystery? This is the great inner problem of everyone. It is the problem of the soul, which discovers within itself an abyss of darkness and light, which views itself with a mixture of rapture and fear, saying, "I am not of this world, for it does not suffice to explain myself to me. I do not come from earth, and I am going elsewhere. -- But where?" This is the mystery of Psyche, which includes all others.

The cosmogony of the visible world, Pythagoras said, leads us to the history of earth, and the latter brings us to the mystery of the human soul. With this we approach the sanctuary of sanctuaries, the arcanum of arcana. Once its consciousness is awakened, in its own eyes the soul becomes the most astonishing of spectacles. But even this consciousness is but the lighted surface of man's being; beneath it lie obscure and unfathomable abysses. In their unknown depths, the divine Psyche views with fascination all the lives and all worlds: past, present, and future, which Eternity unites.

"Know yourself, and you will know the universe of the gods."  -- This is the secret of the initiate-sages. But in order to pass through this narrow door into the vastness of the invisible universe, let us awaken in us the direct life of the purified soul, and let us arm ourselves with the torch of Intelligence, with the science of principles and sacred numbers.

Pythagoras thus passed from physical to spiritual cosmogony. After the evolution of the earth, he described the evolution of the soul through the worlds. Outside initiation, this doctrine is known as the transmigration of souls. No part of esoteric doctrine has been more falsely represented than this. Hence ancient and modern literature know about it only under naive disguises. Whether his prudence or his oaths prevented him from saying all he knew, Plato, who of all the philosophers contributed most to making it popular, gave only fantastic and sometimes extravagant sketches of it. Few people today doubt that for the initiates it must have had a scientific aspect, in order to open infinite perspectives and to give the soul divine consolation. The doctrine of the ascending life of the soul through the series of existences is the common characteristic of esoteric traditions and the crown of spiritual knowledge. In addition, it is of major importance for us, since the man of today, rejects equally the abstract, vague immortality of philosophy and the childish heaven of elementary religion. Nevertheless, the dryness and emptiness of materialism shocks him. Unconsciously he strives for the consciousness of an organic immortality, which responds both to the requirements of his reason and to the needs of his soul. One understands, moreover, why the initiates of the ancient religions, knowing these truths, nevertheless kept them so secret. They are of such nature as would startle unprepared minds. They are closely linked to the profound mysteries of spiritual generation and of generation in the flesh, upon which the destinies of future mankind depend.

This important hour of esoteric teaching, therefore, was awaited with a kind of awe. Through Pythagoras' speech, as through a solemn chant, heavy matter seemed to lose its weight, the things of earth became transparent, visible to the mind. Golden and blue spheres, traced with luminous essences, unfolded their orbits into Infinity.

Then the male and female disciples, grouped around the master in a subterranean part of the Temple of Ceres, called the Crypt of Proserpine, listened with sacred rapture to The Celestial History of Psyche.

What is the human soul? It is a part of the great Soul of the world, a spark of the divine spirit, an immortal monad. But if its possible future opens the unfathomable splendors of divine consciousness, its mysterious unfolding traces back to the origins of organized matter. In order to become what it is in modern humanity, it was necessary for it to traverse all the kingdoms of nature, every gradation of beings, gradually becoming developed through a series of innumerable existences. The mind which cultivates the worlds and condenses cosmic matter into enormous masses, is manifest in the successive kingdoms of nature in a varied intensity and an ever greater concentration. A blind and indistinct force in the mineral, individualized in the plant, polarized in the sensitivity and instinct of animals, -- it tends toward the conscious monad in this slow unfolding, while the simple monad is visible in the lowest animal. The animate and spiritual element exist, therefore, in every kingdom, although only in an infinitesimal degree in the lower kingdoms. Souls which existed in the germ state in the lower kingdoms sojourn there without leaving them for long periods of time, and it is only after great cosmic revolutions that they pass to higher kingdoms by changing planets. All they can accomplish during the period of life on a given planet is to ascend a few stages. Where does the monad begin? This is the same as asking when a cloud was formed, or when a sun shone for the first time. What constitutes the essence of any human being had to evolve during millions of years across a chain of planets and lower kingdoms, all the while preserving throughout these existences an individual principle, which follows it everywhere. This vague but indestructible individuality constitutes the divine seal of the monad in which God wishes to manifest Himself through consciousness.

The higher one ascends through the series of organisms, the more the monad develops the latent principles which are in it. The polarized force becomes sensitive; sensitivity becomes instinct, instinct becomes intelligence. And as the flickering flame of consciousness is lighted, this soul becomes more independent of the body, more capable of leading a free existence. The fluid, non-polarized soul of minerals and vegetables is linked to the elements of the earth. The soul of animals, strongly attracted by earth fire, sojourns there a certain time when it has left its cadaver, then returns to the surface of the globe to be reincarnated in its species without being able to leave the lower layers of air. These latter are inhabited by elementals or animal souls, which have their role in atmospheric life and a great hidden influence on man. The human soul alone comes from heaven and returns there after death. But at what era of its long cosmic existence did the elemental soul become a human soul? Through what incandescent crucible, what ethereal flame did it pass in order to accomplish this? Transformation was not possible in an interplanetary period except through the meeting of human souls already fully formed, which had developed their spiritual principle in elemental souls and had imprinted their divine prototype, like a fiery seal upon plastic substance.

But how many journeys, how many incarnations and how many planetary cycles are yet to be crossed in order for the human soul, thus formed, to become man as we know him? According to the esoteric traditions of India and Egypt, the individuals who comprise modern humanity probably began their human life on other planets, where matter is less dense than on ours. The body of man was then almost vaporous, his incarnations, light and gentle. His faculties of direct spiritual perception must have been very powerful and very subtle in this first human phase; reason and intelligence, on the other hand, were in the embryonic state. In this semi-corporeal, semi-spiritual state, man saw spirits; all was splendor and charm to his eyes, music to his ears. He even heard the harmony of the spheres. He did not think nor reflect; he scarcely wished. He caused himself to live by drinking in sounds, forms and light. Like a dream he floated from life to death, from death to life. This is what the Orphics called The Heaven of Saturn. According to Hermes' teaching, it was only as man incarnated on denser and denser planets that he became material. By becoming incarnated in dense matter, mankind lost its spiritual sense, but through man's ever greater struggle with the external world, he developed his reason, intelligence and will. Earth is the last stage of this descent into matter which Moses calls the expulsion from Paradise, and Orpheus describes as the fall into the sublunar circle. From here man can painfully reascend the circles in a series of new existences and regain his spiritual senses by the free exercise of his intellect and his will. Then only, say the disciples of Hermes and Orpheus, does man acquire consciousness and come to possess the divine through his deeds. Then only does man become the Son of God. And those who have borne this name on earth, before appearing among us, had to descend the dread spiral and ascend it once again.

What then is humble Psyche like at her origin? -- A passing breath, a floating seed, a bird which emigrates from life to life, beaten by the winds. And nevertheless, from shipwreck to shipwreck, across millions of years, the soul has become the daughter of God, and no longer recognizes any other home than Heaven! This is why Greek poetry, with rich, profound, luminous symbolism, compared the soul to a winged insect, now a worm, now a heavenly butterfly. How many times was it a chrysalis, how many times a butterfly? It will never know, but it feels that it always has wings!

Such was the past of the human soul. This explains its present condition and allows us partly to see its future.

What is the divine Psyche's situation in earthly life? If one but thinks about it, one cannot imagine one stranger or more tragic. From the moment it painfully awakens in the dense atmosphere of earth, the soul is entwined in the folds of the body. It does not see, breathe or think except by means of the body, yet it is not the body. As it develops, it feels a flickering light forming within itself, something invisible and incorporeal which it calls its spirit, its consciousness. Indeed, man has the inborn feeling of his threefold nature, since he distinguishes, even though instinctively, between his body and his soul, between his soul and his spirit. But the captive, tormented soul struggles with its two companions as in the grip of a serpent of a thousand coils on the one hand, and an invisible genius who calls to the soul, but whose presence is only felt by the beating of its wings and fleeting lights, on the other. Sometimes the body absorbs the soul to such a degree that the latter lives only by sensations and passions; it grovels in bloody orgies of madness, or in the thick vapor of fleshly pleasures until it is frightened because of the great silence of its invisible companion. Sometimes, attracted by the latter, the soul loses itself in such lofty thoughts that it forgets the existence of the body until the latter reminds it of its presence by a tyrannical demand. Nevertheless, an inner voice tells the soul that the link between it and its invisible companion is insoluble, while death will break the soul's attachment to the body. But, tossed back and forth between the two in its everlasting struggle, the soul vainly seeks for happiness and truth. In vain does the soul seek itself in its passing sensations, in its fleeting thoughts, in the world which changes like a mirage; Finding nothing permanent, tormented, blown like a leaf in the wind, it doubts itself as well as the divine world which reveals itself to the soul through the latter's sorrow and inability to reach it. Human ignorance is inscribed in the contradictions of so-called wise men, and human sorrow is written in the unquenchable longing of the human glance. Finally; whatever the extent of his knowledge, birth and death enclose man between two fateful boundaries. They are two doors of darkness, beyond which he sees nothing. The flame of his life lights up as he enters by the one, and flickers out as he leaves by the other. Is it the same with the soul? If not, what becomes of it?

The answers that the philosophers have given to this profound question are very varied. The reply of the initiates of all ages is fundamentally identical. It is in harmony with the universal sentiment and inner spirit of all religions. However, the latter have expressed this truth only in superstitious or symbolic forms. Esoteric doctrine opens much broader perspectives, and its affirmations are in accord with the laws of universal evolution. Instructed by tradition and by numerous experiences of the psychic life, the initiates have said to man, What moves in you, what you call your soul, is an etheric double of the body which encloses within itself an immortal spirit. The spirit creates and weaves its spiritual body by its own activity. Pythagoras calls the spirit the subtile chariot of the soul because it is destined to carry the soul from earth after death. This spiritual body is the organ of the spirit, its sensitive covering and its volitive instrument. It aids in the animation of the body, which would remain motionless without it. In the apparitions of the dying or the dead, this double becomes visible. But this always presupposes a special inner state on the part of the seer. The subtlety, the power and the perfection of the spiritual body vary according to the quality of the spirit it encloses, and between the substance of souls woven in the astral light but impregnated with imponderable fluids of earth and heaven, there are more numerous nuances, greater differences, than between all terrestrial bodies and all states of ponderable matter. This astral body, though much subtler and more perfect than the earthly body, is not immortal like the monad it contains. It changes, it becomes pure according to the atmospheres it passes through. The spirit molds and perpetually transforms it in its image, but never abandons it. And if spirit slowly discards it, it is while it is being clothed with yet more etheric substances. This Pythagoras taught, but he did not conceive the abstract spiritual entity, the formless monad. Spirit in action in the heights of the heavens as well as on the earth, must have an instrument; this instrument is the living soul, bestial or sublime, dark or radiant, but having a human form -- the image of God.

What happens at death? At the beginning of the death agony, the soul generally senses its imminent separation from the body. It again sees all its earthly existence in brief tableaux in rapid succession and startling clarity. But when the exhausted life ceases, the soul becomes troubled and loses consciousness entirely. If it is a holy or pure soul, its spiritual senses are already awakened by the gradual separation from matter. Before dying, in one manner or another, even if only by a looking into its own state, it has the feeling of the presence of another world. At the silent urgings, the distant calls, the dim rays of the Invisible, earth already has lost its solidity, and when the soul finally escapes the cold body, joyful because of its deliverance, it feels itself lifted in a great light toward the spiritual family to which it belongs.

But it is not thus with the ordinary man whose life has been divided between material instincts and higher aspirations. He awakens in a semi-consciousness, as in the torpor of a nightmare. He no longer has arms to stretch or voice to speak with, but he remembers, he suffers, he exists in a limbo of darkness and fear. The only thing he perceives is the presence of his body, from which he is detached, but for which he still feels a very strong attraction. For it is through the body that he lived, and now what is he? He seeks for himself with fright in the frozen fibers of his brain, in the congealed blood of his veins, and no longer finds himself. Is he dead? Is he alive? He would like to see, to cling to something, but he does not see; he grasps nothing. Darkness encloses him; around him, in him, everything is chaos. He sees but one thing, and that thing attracts him and horrifies him. . . . It is the sinister phosphorescence of his own cast-off skin; and the nightmare begins again. . . .

This state can last for months or years. Its length depends upon the strength of the material instincts of the soul. But, good or bad, infernal or heavenly, slowly this soul will become aware of itself and its new condition. Once free from its body, it will escape into the abysses of the earthly atmosphere, whose magnetic streams carry it here and there, and whose wandering forms, more or less similar to itself, the soul begins to perceive like fleeting lights in a thick fog. Then on the part of the still heavy soul begins a severe struggle to ascend into the higher layers of air, to free itself from earthly attraction, to reach the region which is suited to it and which friendly guides alone can reveal in the sky of our planetary system. But before hearing and seeing them, the soul often requires a long period of time. This phase of the life of the soul has been given various names in different religions and mythologies. Moses calls it Horeb; Orpheus, Erebus; Christianity, Purgatory, or "the valley of the shadow of death." The Greek initiates identified it with the cone of shadow which extends to the moon, and which earth forever trails behind it, for this reason calling it "the gulf of Hecate." According to the Orphics and Pythagoreans, in this dark vortex whirl souls which through desperate efforts seek to reach the circle of the moon, while the violence of the winds beats them back to earth by the thousands. Homer and Virgil compare them to whirling leaves, to flocks of birds overwhelmed by the tempest.

The moon played an important role in ancient esoterism. On the moon's surface, turned toward the heavens, the soul was supposed to purify its astral body before continuing its celestial ascension. It was alleged that heroes and geniuses sojourned a while on its surface turned toward earth in order to become clothed in a body appropriate for our world before reincarnating in it. In some degree the ancients attributed to the moon the power of magnetizing the soul for terrestrial incarnation or demagnetizing it in preparation for heaven. Generally speaking, these assertions, to which the initiates attached both a real and a symbolic meaning, meant that the soul must pass through an intermediate state of purification and rid itself of the impurities of earth before continuing its journey.

But how is one to depict the arrival of the pure soul in its own world? Earth has disappeared like a dream. A new sleep, a delightful swoon surrounds it like a caress. It sees only its winged guide carrying it with the swiftness of light into the widths of space. What is to be said of its awakening in the valleys of an ethereal star, without elemental atmosphere, where everything, mountains, flowers, vegetation, is of an exquisite, sensitive, expressive nature? Above all, what is to be said of these luminous forms, men and women, which surround it like a sacred procession, to initiate it into the holy mystery of its new life? Are these gods and goddesses? No, they are souls like itself; and the wonder is that their intimate thought is expressed upon their faces, and that tenderness, love, desire or fear shine through these diaphanous bodies in a spectrum of shining colors. Here, bodies and faces no longer are masks of the soul, but the transparent soul appears in its true form and shines in the full light of its pure truth.

Psyche has found her divine home. For the secret light in which she is bathing, which emanates from herself and which returns to her in the smile of beloved men and women, -- this light of happiness is the World-Soul. The soul feels the presence of God! Now there are no more obstacles. Now the soul will love, will know, will live without any limit other than its own wings.

O strange and marvelous happiness! The soul feels joined to all its companions by profound affinities. For in the life of the beyond, those who do not like each other flee one another, and only those who understand each other remain together. The soul will celebrate the divine Mysteries with them in the most beautiful temples, in a more perfect communion. There will be living and ever new poems, of which each soul will be a strophe and in which each one will relive his life in that of the others. Then, ecstatic, the soul will throw itself into the light from above at the call of the envoys, of the winged spirits, of those who are called gods because they have escaped the cycle of rebirths. Led by these sublime intelligences, the soul will attempt to spell the great poem of the Hidden Word, to understand what it can grasp of the symphony of the universe.

The soul will receive the hierarchical teachings of the circles of divine Love; it will strive to behold the Essences which the animating spirits spread through the worlds; it will contemplate the glorified spirits, the living rays of the God of Gods; and it will not be able to bear their blinding splendor, which makes the suns appear pale like dim lamps. And when the soul returns, awed by these dazzling journeys, for it trembles at these immensities, it will hear from afar the call of beloved voices and will fall back upon the golden strands of its star, beneath the pink veil of a gentle sleep, filled with white forms, perfumes and melodies.

Such is the celestial life of the soul which we, dulled by earth, scarcely perceive, but which the initiates divine, the seers live and the law of analogies and universal concordances makes clear. Our crude pictures, our imperfect languages try vainly to translate it, but each living soul feels its essence in its own secret depths. If, in our present state we find it impossible to achieve this, the philosophy of the unseen formulates its psychic conditions for us. The idea of ethereal stars, invisible to us, but forming a part of our solar system and serving as a place of sojourn for happy souls, is often spoken of in the Mysteries and in esoteric tradition. Pythagoras calls it a counterpart of earth, the antichthon lighted by the central Fire, that is, by divine Light. At the end of his Phaedo, Plato describes this spiritual earth at length, although in a disguised manner. He says that it is as light as air and is surrounded by an ethereal atmosphere.

In the other life, therefore, the soul preserves all its individuality. It retains only the noble memories of its earthly existence and drops the others in that forgetfulness which the poets call Lethe. Freed from its impurities, the human soul feels its consciousness returning. It has passed from the outside of the universe to the inside; with a deep sigh, Cybele-Maia, the world-Soul, has taken it into her breast once again. There Psyche will complete her dream, that dream interrupted at every moment and unceasingly begun again on earth. She will complete it in proportion to her earthly effort and her acquired light, but she will enlarge it a hundredfold. Dashed hopes will flower again in the dawn of her divine life; the dark sunsets of earth will flame forth into shining days. Yes, if man lived but a single hour of ecstasy or abnegation, that single note, taken from the dissonant scale of his earthly life, will be repeated in his other life in wondrous progressions, in aeolian harmonies. The fleeting happiness the charms of music provide, the ecstasies of love, or the raptures of charity are but the separate notes of a symphony which we shall then hear.

Does this mean that the after-life will be only a long dream, a great illusion? What is more real than what the soul feels within it and what it sees fulfilled by its divine communion with other souls? As consistent and transcendent idealists, the initiates have always thought that the only real and durable things of earth are the manifestations of spiritual Beauty, Love and Truth. Since the other life can have no other goal than this Truth, Beauty and Love for those who have made it the aim of their life, they are certain that heaven will be more real than earth.

The celestial life of the soul can last hundreds of thousands of years, according to its rank and its impelling force. But it is the privilege of only the more perfect, the more sublime, those who have gone beyond the circle of generations to prolong it indefinitely. The former have reached not only temporary rest, but immoral activity in truth; they have created their wings. They are inviolable, for they are light; they govern the worlds, for they see beyond. As for the others, they are led by an inflexible law to be born again in order to undergo a new trial and to elevate themselves to a higher degree or to fall still lower if they fail.

Like earthly life, spiritual life has its beginning, its climax and its decline. When this life is exhausted, the soul feels overcome with heaviness, faintness and melancholy. An invincible force again draws it to the struggle and sufferings of earth. This desire is mixed with terrible apprehensions and a tremendous grief at leaving the divine life. But the time has come; the law must be fulfilled. The heaviness increases, a darkening takes place within it. It sees its luminous companions only through a veil, and this veil, growing ever thicker, causes the soul to sense the imminent separation. It hears their sad farewells; the tears of the happy loved ones permeate it like a celestial dew and will leave in its heart the burning thirst for a forgotten happiness. Then, with solemn vows it promises to remember: in the world of darkness to remember light, in the world of falsehood to remember truth, in the world of hate to remember love. Only at this price can the soul gain the return and the immortal crown. Now it awakens in a heavy atmosphere. Ethereal star, diaphanous souls, oceans of light, -- all have disappeared. Again the soul is on earth, in the vale of birth and death. Nevertheless, it has not yet lost its celestial memory, and its winged guide, still visible to its eyes, points out the Woman who will be its mother. The latter carries within her the seed of a child. But this seed will live only if the spirit comes to animate it. Then, during nine months is accomplished the most impenetrable mystery of earthly life, that of incarnation and maternity.

The mysterious fusion takes place slowly, systematically, organ by organ, fiber by fiber. As the soul is plunged into this warm cave which makes a confused sound and which enlarges, as it feels itself taken into the organism, the consciousness of divine life fades and dies away. For between the soul and the light from above are interspersed waves of blood, tissues of flesh, which bind it and fill it with darkness. Already this distant light is no more than a dying flicker. Finally, dreadful pain compresses it, pressing it into a vice, a bloody convulsion tears it from the maternal soul and fixes it within a throbbing body.  -- The child is born, a pitiful earthly image, and he cries with fright. But the memory of heaven has returned to the secret depths of the unconscious. It will live again only by science or by pain, by love or by death!

The law of incarnation and excarnation emphasizes the real meaning of life and death. It constitutes the main link in the evolution of the soul, allowing us to follow the latter backward and forward to the depths of nature and of divinity. For this law reveals to us the rhythm and measure, the reason and purpose of immortality. Taking the latter out of the abstract or the fantastic, it makes it alive and logical by showing the correspondences between life and death. Earthly birth is a death from the spiritual point of view, and death is a heavenly birth. The alternation between the two lives is necessary for the development of the soul, and each of the two is both the result and explanation of the other. Whoever has fathomed these truths has arrived at the very heart of the Mysteries, at the center of initiation.

But, you will say, what is there to prove to us the continuity of the soul, of the monad and of the spiritual entity throughout all these existences, since it successively loses memory? And what, we reply, proves to you the identity of your self while you are awake and asleep? You awaken each morning from a strange state as inexplicable as death, you revive from this nothingness, only to fall back into it again in the evening. Was it nothingness? No, for you have dreamed, and for you your dreams have been as real as the reality of waking. A change of the physiological conditions of the brain has modified the relationships of soul and body and has altered your psychic viewpoint. You were the same individual, but you found yourself in another environment and you were leading another existence. With hypnotized persons, somnambulists and clairvoyants, sleep acquires new faculties which to us seem miraculous but are the natural faculties of the soul when it is detached from the body. Once awakened, these clairvoyants no longer remember what they saw, said and did during their sleep. However, in one of their sleeps, they recall perfectly what happened in the preceding sleep and sometimes foretell with mathematical exactness what will happen in the next one. Therefore they have two consciousnesses, two distinctly alternating lives, but each has its rational continuity and revolves around the same individual.

It is therefore in a very deep sense that the ancient initiate poets called sleep the brother of death. For a veil of forgetfulness separates sleeping from waking as it does birth from death. As our earthly life is divided into two alternating parts, so in the immensity of its cosmic evolution the soul alternates between incarnation and spiritual life, between earth and heaven. This alternate passage from one plane of the universe to another is no less necessary to the development of the soul than are the alternations of waking and sleeping to the corporeal life of man. We need the waves of Lethe as we pass from one existence to another. In the present, a salutary veil hides past and the future from us. But the forgetfulness is not complete, and light penetrates through the veil. Innate ideas in themselves prove an anterior existence. But there is more; we are born with a world of vague recollections, mysterious impulses and divine feelings. Among children born of gentle, calm parents are sometimes observed eruptions of wild passions which atavism does not suffice to explain, and which come from a preceding existence. Sometimes in the most humble life is to be found unexplained, sublime faithfulness to an emotion, an ideal. Do these not come from the promises and vows of celestial life? For the hidden memory which the soul has preserved is stronger than all earthly reasoning. Depending upon whether the soul becomes attached to this memory or abandons it, does it conquer or succumb. Real faith is that speechless fidelity of the soul to itself. Therefore one perceives that Pythagoras considered corporeal life to be a necessary extension of the will and celestial life to be a spiritual growth and fulfillment.

Lives follow but do not resemble one another, yet with merciless logic they form a sequence. If each of them has its own law and its special destiny, their succession is governed by a general law which can be called the repercussion of lives.58 According to this law, the deeds of one life have their fatal repercussion in the following life. Not only will man be born again with the instincts and faculties he developed in his preceding incarnation, but the nature of his existence itself will be determined in a large measure by the good or evil use he made of his freedom in the preceding life. "There is no word or action which does not have its echo in Eternity," says a proverb. According to esoteric doctrine this proverb is literally applicable from one life to another.

For Pythagoras, the apparent injustices of destiny, the deformities, miseries, strokes of fate, -- misfortunes of all kinds -- have their explanation in the fact that each existence is the reward or punishment of the one preceding. A criminal life engenders a life of expiation; an imperfect life, a life of trials. A good life leads to a task; a higher life, to a creative mission. Retribution, which is applied with seeming imperfection from the point of view of a single life, is therefore applied with admirable perfection and minute justice in the sequence of lives. In this sequence there can be progression toward spirituality and intelligence as well as regression toward bestiality and gross materialism. As the soul climbs, by degrees it acquires a greater share in the choice of reincarnations. The inferior soul is subject to the latter; the average soul chooses among those offered to it; the superior soul, who imposes a mission upon itself, chooses reincarnation through self-sacrifice. The higher the soul, the more it preserves in its incarnations the clear and unbroken consciousness of the spiritual life which reigns beyond our earthly horizon, surrounding it like a sphere of light and sending its rays into our darkness. Tradition even has it that the initiator of the first order, the divine prophets of humanity, remembered their preceding earthly lives. According to legend, Gautama Buddha, Sakya-Muni, had found in his ecstasies the thread of his past existences, and of Pythagoras it is said that he claimed he owed the remembrance of some of his former lives to a special favor of the gods.

We have said that in the series of repeated earth lives the soul can regress or advance, depending upon whether it surrenders itself to its lower or to its divine nature. In all lives there are struggles to bear, choices to make, decisions to be formed, the consequences of which cannot be determined. But on the ascending path of good, extending through a long series of incarnations, there must be a lifetime, a year, a day, perhaps an hour when the soul, arriving at a full awareness of good and evil, with a final, supreme effort can lift itself to a height from which it will not have to descend again, and where the way to the heights begins. Likewise, on the descending road of evil, there is a point where the soul can still turn back. But once this point is passed, the hardening is definitive. From incarnation to incarnation it will roll at last to the bottom of darkness. It will lose its humanity. Man will become demon, an animal demon, and his indestructible monad will be forced to begin again the painful, dreadful evolution through a long series of ascending kingdoms and innumerable existences. This is the real Hell, in harmony with the law of spiritual evolution, and is this not as terrible and even more logical than that of exoteric religions?

The soul therefore can climb or descend in the course of its series of incarnations. As for earthly mankind, its journey takes place according to the law of an ascending progression, which is a part of the divine order. This truth, which perhaps we may believe to be a recent discovery, actually was known and taught in the ancient Mysteries. "Animals are relatives of man, and man is the relative of the gods," said Pythagoras. He developed philosophically what the symbols of Eleusis also taught: the progression of ascending kingdoms, the striving from the vegetable world to the animal world, from the animal world to the human world, and in humanity the succession of more and more perfect races. This progression is not accomplished in a uniform manner, but in regular and increasing cycles, enclosed one within the other. Each people has its childhood, its maturity, its decline. It is the same with races as a whole: the red race, the black race, the white race who in turn have reigned on the globe. The white race, still in the fullness of youth, has not yet reached its maturity. At its height it will develop a perfected race out of itself through the reestablishment of initiation and through spiritual selection in marriages. Thus races follow one another; thus mankind progresses.

The ancient initiates went much farther in their forecasts than do modern men. They said that a time would come when the great mass of individuals who compose contemporary humanity would pass to another planet in order to begin a new cycle. In the series of cycles which constitute the planetary chain, all mankind will develop those intellectual, spiritual, transcendent principles which the great initiates cultivated in themselves, and thus humanity will come to a more general efflorescence. Needless to say, such a development embraces not only thousands, but millions of years, and it will bring about such changes in the condition of mankind that we cannot even imagine them. In an attempt to characterize them, Plato said that in that future age, the gods really will inhabit the temples of men. It is logical to conclude that in the planetary chain, that is, in the successive evolutions of humanity on other planets, mankind's incarnations become of an ever more ethereal nature, which will bring them unconsciously closer to the purely spiritual state, that eighth sphere which is beyond the circle of generations and by which the ancient initiates indicated the divine state.

What then is the final goal of man and mankind, according to esoteric doctrine? After so many lives, deaths, rebirths, intervals and reawakenings, what is the end of Psyche's labors? The initiates say that the goal will have been attained when the soul will have decisively conquered matter; when, developing all its spiritual faculties, the soul will have found within itself the principle and goal of all. Then, since incarnation will be no longer necessary, the soul will enter the divine state through a complete union with divine intelligence. For Pythagoras, the apotheosis of man was not submersion into unconsciousness but creative activity in supreme consciousness. The soul, having become pure spirit, does not lose its individuality; it terminates it, since it rejoins its archetype in God. It remembers all its anterior existences, which seem to it like so many stepping-stones, necessary in order to reach the stage where it embraces and penetrates the universe. In this state, man is no longer man, as Pythagoras said; he is a demigod. For in all his being he reflects the ineffable Light whose immensity is God. For Pythagoras, knowledge is power; loving means creating; existing means radiating truth and beauty.

Is this boundary definitive? Spiritual Eternity has other measures than solar time; it has its own stages, norms and cycles, and these are entirely beyond human conception. But the law of progressive analogies in the ascending kingdoms of nature allows us to affirm that once spirit has reached this sublime state it can no longer regress. Therefore, even if the visible worlds change and pass away, the invisible world, which is its own reason for being, is immortal.

With these luminous perspectives Pythagoras concluded the story of the divine Psyche. The last word had died away on the lips of the sage, but the meaning of the incommunicable Truth remained suspended in the motionless air of the crypt. Each listener thought he had finished the dream of lives and was awakening in great peace, borne upon the sweet ocean of the one, endless life. The naphtha lamps softly lighted the statue of Persephone, standing there in the form of the Celestial Reaper, causing her symbolic story to come to life in the sacred frescoes of the sanctuary. At times a priestess, entering into a state of ecstasy at the harmonious voice of Pythagoras, seemed in her attitude and in her shining face to incarnate the ineffable beauty of her vision. And the disciples, seized with a religious ecstasy, looked on in silence. But soon, with a calm and certain gesture, the master brought the "inspired" prophetess back to earth. Slowly her features relaxed, she slumped into the arms of her companions and fell into a deep lethargy from which she awakened troubled, sad and exhausted from her journey.

Then they went out from the crypt and entered into the gardens of Ceres, into the freshness of dawn, which began to turn the sea white at the margin of the starry sky.


33c. The Order and the Teaching Part 3

The Great Initiates