What is the Soul and how should we describe it?
In this, the twelfth and final article, of our occult studies course, we will discuss the true constitution of the human soul; it's origin, nature and purpose.
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By now you may very well have come to the conclusion that we know nothing whatsoever about the subjects we have discussed with you, and that we are ignoramuses of the first water. We are conceited enough to agree with you and even take great pleasure in our ignorance, which now gives us the opportunity to begin learning something, and of obtaining some of the enlightenment for which all sincere seekers long. The subject now under discussion is one we are more in ignorance about than all the rest put together; and for this reason we left it until last, in the hope that during the preparation of the previous 11 articles we might—perhaps—give ourselves a hint or two in regard to what the Soul really is and how we should describe it.
You might argue that being 'living souls' we should know all about it, but we assure you that we do not; for how could any living being, enmeshed in the snares of the material know all about that greatest of all mysteries—that part of us which is God? To profess such knowledge would be just as unwise as to state that we know all about our Creator Himself. But we do not, and can only speculate and wait for the time when all things shall be revealed.
We are not alone in our great ignorance, for in all the thousands of books we have read on the Soul we have not found a single authoritative and exact statement, nor any proof that the writers knew what constitutes the Soul. Perhaps it is one of the disadvantages of being very dense and dull persons in our case, and perhaps there are thousands and thousands of wise people who have solved this enigma to their entire satisfaction. If that is true we do congratulate, but not envy, them.
Does the Soul have any form?
Does the soul have any form at all, and how is it made, and if it is made what is it made of? Being part of God it has therefore always existed and was never made at any time, as we conceive time with our limited senses. It always was, is, and will be. And it cannot have any form, although it has full consciousness. We say it has no form, but full consciousness, quite deliberately, based on the personal experiences of the authors of this website, as well as the collective testimony of the many thousands of trained seers and mystics throughout the ages who have recorded similar experiences to our own.
In several of our previous articles we have referred to 'the spark of God within us'. But as that spark is 'some thing' it cannot be the soul itself, as the soul is no 'thing', having no form, but full consciousness. We came to this conclusion—which may be wrong and is only our interpretation of personal experiences—when one day the writer of this article was lying down; resting and completely relaxed. I suddenly found myself looking down on my recumbent form, which was fully awake and conscious in itself, and by the left of this form floated a misty shape, similar in outline to my body, whilst in front of this shape and my body (which were somehow connected) stood a large golden and shining ball, the three forming a triangle with the ball at the apex. For several seconds I watched this phenomenon with interest and then I found myself lying on the bed again. Now what was it that was watching my body, the astral or psychic shape beside it, and that blazing, golden ball?
It was the real 'me', my soul, fully conscious, but formless and without substance. My body was also fully conscious, and so was the misty shape, for it moved and weaved slowly by my side, whilst the ball itself shone and glittered and blazed with Life. They made a living triangle, closely connected, a triunity in the truest sense. The Soul hovered over this triangle and knew all things with a large and terrible awareness, and that body was me, that shape was me, and that ball of fire was me, all alive and conscious, but that which watched those three parts of me was the greatest part of all, for it was at that moment clearly proved that it did not need all these three things, forming that triangle, to have full awareness and consciousness, but was something infinitely greater, having full wisdom without form; an interested spectator and master of all its faculties, without these faculties having any material shape or the need of it; completely independent. Do not suggest that it was a case of astral projection, for it was not. The authors of this website know too much about such projections to be mistaken.
What constitutes the Soul?
Let us now take you by the hand and lead you through the mazes of occult statements on what others say constitutes the soul.
[The Soul is] "The immortal Spirit—sexless, formless (arupa), an emanation from the One universal BREATH. Its Vehicle—the divine Soul—called the 'Immortal Ego,' the 'Divine Monad,' etc., etc., which by accretions from Manas in which burns the ever-existing jev—the undying spark—adds to itself at the close of each incarnation the essence of that individuality that was, the aroma of the culled flower that is no more."
This statement, by Madame Blavatsky seems very definite and authoritative at first sight, but let us consider it closely and try to discover what may be wrong with it. There are the words 'sexless,' 'emanation,' 'breath,' 'vehicle', 'accretions from Manas', the undying spark,' and so on.
Let us begin with the statement that the soul is Sexless. From a material standpoint this must certainly be correct, but we are not so sure that it is correct spiritually. Occult Science often refers to the 'Father-Mother' God, and there is also the well-known Hermetic axiom 'as below, so above' (and vice versa) to raise a doubt in our minds.
If we consider God as a complete being, state, or condition, does the absence of sex, spiritual sex, make Him complete? Occult Science affirms that the matter of sex is not only a physical condition, but also a mental and spiritual one. If the term Father-Mother God is correct, and we cannot conceive why it should not be so, then—in some way—it must apply to a spiritually sexual state or condition of God and in that case it applies also to the human soul (which is a misnomer in itself) in its final state, when the need for reincarnation has ceased completely and it is re-absorbed in the divine essence from whence it originally sprang: which is God.
Even in the physical state, science tells us that no man is all man, or woman all woman, but that at most seventy-five per cent of man is male, and the rest female, and the same proportion holds good for woman. Taking all this into consideration we incline to the belief that the soul is not sexless, but that it may be a perfectly balanced combination of the spiritual attributes of male and female principles.
The next words, such as emanation, breath, vehicle, accretions, and spark may all refer to formless things or conditions, but they all imply the material; just as air and all gases and fire are material; and therefore they are wrongly applied to the soul, which is both formless and non-material.
Crantor, Plato, and Herakleides believed that the soul was exiled in the human body as a punishment. The latter adopted the Pythagorean and Platonic views of the human soul which he describes as a luminous, highly ethereal essence. But he was probably referring to what we call the Higher Self, or perhaps the 'spark', or golden ball, which our friend saw, both of which principles can be said to be 'exiled in the human body,' which is not true of the real soul. You can read more about Plato's views on the exile of the Soul in the human body in our translation of his 'Allegory of the Cave', taken from his Republic, in the sidebar on your right, as well as in our three-part investigation of esoteric philosophy.
Confusion of terms
As we discuss in our first article in this course, much confusion and misunderstanding have always surrounded the terminology used to describe the various principles of man, or components of our being. This is not to be wondered at, given that the true occult constitution of man has always been a closely-guarded secret of the Initiates. What has 'leaked out' has mostly been misinterpreted and distorted. Plato perhaps comes closest to the truth when he draws a distinction between the divine spirit (which means the true Soul we are now discussing) and what he calls the 'irrational soul' (the lower self and physical body with all its material desires and passions).
To add to this confusion, the terms 'spirit' and 'soul' are employed indiscriminately by the Christian church, whilst for many psychics they mean one and the same thing. Many occultists, on the other hand, regard the divine spirit as that everlasting part of God clothed in flesh (which is an impossibility, for how can we 'clothe' that which has no material existence?), whilst by the soul they may mean the astral body, or the immortal particle, or what you wish. Some regard the 'spark,' or ball of fire, as the soul; some others call it the divine principle. For these reasons we cannot make it too clear, that by the 'Soul' WE mean that divine principle which is that part of God which overshadows the incarnated human being; not only overshadowing it, but penetrating, and mingling with it as well, and being, for each incarnation, so closely knit to the living physical personality and the Mind that only death can separate them. But it is not the physical body, nor the astral body, nor the Spark of fire, nor any of the many causal, mental, desire, or other bodies we hear so much about from occultists, mystics and psychics.
The number seven has always been a number of the greatest occult significance, as you can read in The Golden Star by J Michaud PhD, and in the writings of H. P. Blavatsky. Gerald Massey in his The Seven Souls of Man says: "The first form of the mystical Seven was seen to be figured in heaven by the seven large stars of the Great Bear, the constellation assigned by the Egyptians to the Mother of Time, and of the seven Elemental Powers." He goes on to say that: "The Egyptians divided the face of the sky by night into seven parts. The earliest forms recognised in Nature were reckoned as seven in number. These became Seven Elemental powers, or later divinities. Seven properties were assigned to Nature—as matter, cohesion, fluxion, coagulation, accumulation, station, and division—and seven elements or souls to man. A principle of sevening, so to say, was introduced, and the number seven supplied a sacred type that could be used for manifold purposes."
We find that the Hindus also place their seven primitive Rishis in the Great Bear and the Aryans also divided the night sky into seven parts, and in the Esoteric Doctrine we find the teachings of seven forces of Nature. The seven souls of the Pharaoh are often mentioned in the Egyptian texts and Seven Souls, or principles in man were identified by the British Druids. The Rablins and Karens of India also counted up the number of souls as seven. But the 'souls' in this case are not the divine principle now under consideration, but rather the septenary division of Man into distinct and separate parts or functions, such as we discussed in our very first article in this Course, when we asked: "what do body, mind, soul and spirit really mean?"
For these reasons we cannot believe in a seven-fold soul; is one not sufficient and must we needlessly multiply an already insoluble mystery? The difficulty with all the ancient and modern soul theories is that those teachers cannot get away from the material in the earthly as well as in the Astral World; or with regard to the Godlike spark—as it is called—and with the very soul itself.
They say that the soul has neither form nor substance, and then immediately give it form by comparing it with a material manifestation, such as the breath of God or even the ether! They talk about the things the soul does on the 'inner planes,' and the more they try to explain, the more fantastic their explanations become, and the more entangled they are by that far-spread net of the objective worlds. There is only ONE Soul, complete in itself; the other six parts are on the material plane, whilst the Divine Soul, the first part of the seven-fold principle of Man—is non-material.
Secrecy in Esoteric Teachings
In the Esoteric Teachings we read about those who 'see without eyes, hear without ears, and sense without organs,' but the meaning of this truth is so hidden in the text, that it needs a commentator to explain what is meant. Why all this secrecy? If you utter a divine truth, the wise man will perceive at once its beauty and verity, and with him the secret is safe; he would probably have discovered it for and by himself in any case. The fool, the unlearned, the unevolved, the vulgar, on the other hand, will gape at you with incredulity, and will know just as much as they did before—which is nothing—and so the secret is safe with them too!
On the other hand, as we mention in many of our articles, there are a number of secrets of an occult, but material, nature, which cannot be revealed. In some cases because words cannot make these secrets clear, in other cases because the—sometimes—simple principles might be understood by the unscrupulous, and would become veritable dangers to humanity in their hands. It would—in time—also destroy these dark souls, but possibly too late to avert great damage and suffering. But when we deal with the purely spiritual there is not the same need for all this mystery, and why a simple statement, such as the one that refers to the soul, should be written in such a manner that very few can understand the riddle, has always puzzled us.
It would be to the good of all if everyone had a greater amount of wisdom in regard to spiritual truths than is now the case. There certainly would be more peace and tolerance in the world than we can boast of at this time. Many people today blame the Church and its methods, others blame Capitalism, still others Communism, or Fascism; all, in their own way, responsible on account of their intolerance towards those who do not think—if they think—the same.
Opposing schools of thought on the Soul
If we turn to India for a moment we shall find a number of opposing schools of thought on Alaya, or the Soul, each teaching different doctrines. With some the word has a double and even a threefold meaning. The Yogacharya system says Alaya is the universal Soul, Anima Mundi, and the Self of a progressed Adept. Aryasanga says that the soul has an absolute, eternal existence. In the Vishnu Purana we may read: "The indiscreet cause which is uniform, and both cause and effect, and which those who are acquainted with first principles, call Pradhana and Prakriti, is the incognisable Brahma who was before all.
The German Transcendentalists, like Hegel, with their 'Supreme Spirit' can be said to follow to a certain extent these Indian doctrines; whilst the schools of Schelling and Fichte have diverged widely from the primitive archaic conception of an 'Absolute Principle,' and have mirrored an aspect only of the basic idea of the Vedanta, whilst Hartmann with his pessimistic philosophy of the 'unconscious' comes perhaps closest of all European thinkers to the Hindu Advaitin doctrines.
It is a pity that the word 'unconscious' seems to have been adopted by many mystics nowadays when they mean the subconscious (which is also a wrong term, for how can the Soul, which has all Wisdom and Perception be termed 'unconscious' or 'subconscious'?), though the latter term does not show such an entire ignorance as the former, and is not quite so stupid. For it might be argued that many human beings give so little evidence of having any soul at all, that the existence of one might be doubted, or at any rate, that their souls could not be fully conscious, or else they would escape in disgust at once, and leave behind their useless material existence, as you can read in Plato's Allegory of the Cave in the sidebar on your right.
We may be sure that the Soul is never sub- or un-conscious, whether the body it overshadows and guides (if it will allow the soul to do so), is aware of it or not, but the mind, closely knit to the physical brain, will not always allow the soul to transmit its divine warnings and messages. The mind is that part of us which has complete and free choice to make the body act as it directs. We have separated the mind in many of our articles into the 'Higher' and 'lower' selves, and this is correct, and when people talk about 'being in two minds' about something, they unconsciously echo this truth. The more the Higher Self gravitates toward the material, the more will the lower self pamper, use, and spoil the body with its gross appetites. No matter how often the 'still small voice' of the soul sends its warnings, the mind of the gross and animal-like body of the lower evolved will ignore these warnings, and follow along its self-made path towards destruction of both mind and body. The Soul can only watch in sorrow—and wait.
When both body and mind are destroyed in the material sense, the body is resolved into its chemical parts which are slowly redistributed; the mind dwells in its material shell in the astral world, until the time of the next trial arrives, and it has to reincarnate again with the soul once more in touch with the new body and that old mind, which has erred so often in the past, misusing its free will, but at the same time learning its lessons. Will that mind benefit by its previous experiences and follow the path of right use-ness, so that it can finally join with the divine soul and take its place amongst the workers in finer spheres, and have done with earthly and material incarnations? The Soul cannot tell; the mind must carve out its own staircase to heaven in its own way.
But, please, do not forget that both Mind and Soul have the same identity, and are entwined in such a marvellous manner that they have always, each jointly and separately, full consciousness of their own ego; only the soul having full awareness of this inseparable mingling, on account of its peculiar divine wisdom. When the mind finally slakes off all material shackles, and has become without form or substance, it is ready to become fully aware of its twin identity with the soul. It loses nothing of its own consciousness, and the wisdom it has acquired during its millenniums on earth, and the final blending together only seems, to both soul and mind, to be a still greater awareness than either had before. Then the two-in-one shine forth in a truly majestic effulgence, and the greater work commences. Thus the purpose of incarnation is fulfilled, and spiritual marriage of Mind and Soul is consummated.
The sex of the Soul
In this lies the secret of the sex-problem of the Soul. The Soul being the positive and Male principle and the Mind its objective and female counterpart. Here we find also an explanation of the 'Twin-Soul' puzzle, which has led so many people astray, and has been such a convenient excuse for unlimited license of the lower self and human body. That there can be an affinity of Minds we readily accept, up to a point. But that is no excuse for the uncontrolled physical indulgences of the sexes. It may be true that the minds of two persons of the opposite sex draw together in successive incarnations when there has been a true comradeship and understanding in the past. But physical love should not be the main objective; nor is there the slightest need for it in such cases. We are old-fashioned enough to believe that real friendship between two persons of the opposite sex is possible and often occurs.
But this has no primary connection with the Soul, and the idea of twin-souls is an utter fallacy, as the perfected and completed Soul—after its Divine Marriage with the Mind—is the integral, undivided and full realisation of that Purpose of God which caused the Mind to be placed in material substances in order to learn its tasks Below, and become worthy of that ultimate and holy espousal of these two sacred Principles: Soul and Mind.
We say once again that this Union is a spiritual Union, and has no connection with our material conceptions of nuptial rites or consummations. It is entirely non-material, as the Mind, by the time it achieves that immaculate purity which will cause the blending of it with the Soul, is so entirely emancipated and disenthralled from all corporeal substances, that no vestige of form or matter remains, and it is now a pure essence, in every way commensurate with its divine counterpart, the Soul.
Then it can, and will, join in unimaginable Bliss with those Souls who have completed their curriculum in times past, and who await the advent of their peers in the supernal Dominions of the Sovereign of the Universe. In this way they will meet not one Twin-Soul, but Legions of the Seraphic Hosts, with whom to dwell in all Eternity.
Can we describe the Soul?
Now, whether the soul has to travel through the seven spheres, symbolised by the seven chambers of the great Pyramid, until it reaches the point of the apex and is lost finally as a speck or small spark in the blue, from which it is supposed to have first descended into the material world, is not a matter we can discuss here; nor is the mode of progress of such importance; the main purpose is to reach the pre-determined goal. In all the ancient mythologies and the religious systems, as well as in the old philosophies—though not so much in the later ones—the main study is for the purpose of discovering where the soul came from, what it is, and where it is heading. There are a bewildering number of such speculations, and the further we go back into antiquity, the more we marvel at the wonderful knowledge of the old Initiates; a knowledge so great that it has been almost impossible for the later sages to evolve new systems, theories, or religions, the origin of which could not be traced back to the Brethren of old.
But no matter what terms or appellations these various thinkers use, we always come up against that wall of material thought, which persists—even in the subtlest manner—to give substance, or form, or both, to the Soul. Is it beyond the power of the mind to imagine a principle, full of life and intelligence and wisdom, without subconsciously, or otherwise, giving it form or substance? The same difficulty confronts us when we consider such concepts as time and space; both without beginning or end. The Indian sages get out of the difficulty—or try to—by sending God, and the whole of the Cosmos, to sleep, after time periods so immense as to stagger the imagination of man. But that does not do away with the problem. The only thing it does is to nail down time with the hammer of materialism; no matter how poetically and beautifully it is all disguised. It is very interesting to watch man's mind at work, when it seeks to grapple with that which only the Soul can perpend, and not until the time when the perfect blending of Soul and Mind has been achieved will or can these problems be solved; a true marriage of intellect and wisdom with perception.
In Isis Unveiled, H. P. Blavatsky says: "Truth is known but to the few; the rest, unwilling to withdraw the veil from their own hearts, imagine it blinding the eyes of their neighbour." Here—in this quotation—we have the true reason for the everlasting conflict between the world-religions; each adherent with heart and mind closely veiled and blaming the rest of mankind for being too blind to see the truth.
We have now learned a few things about what the soul is not, and are not quite so much in the dark as when we commenced this discussion. You will see that there was more in it than meets the eye when we said at the beginning that we hoped we might give ourselves a few hints. As my body is me, and my vital spark is me, and my mind is me, so is my soul me, and me, or I, have given myself (from my soul to my mind) a few hints, which the brain acted upon, and the part of my body which is known as my hand, wrote down. Try the experiment yourself, and you will be surprised what you get—in one way or another!
The great master Gautama Buddha, who studied all the various religious and mystical systems until he became a greater adept in them than his teachers, discarded every system one by one, and, after his years of meditation, following these studies, he discarded his terrible ordeals of fasting and mortifying of the body also. He had found the path of simplicity. And that is what all true mystics and thinkers always should try to do. To find the simple, straightforward and true path to the Light. And this is very difficult indeed, for we are ever tempted with the marvels of our imagination; so much so, that if you tell any seeker the unadorned facts about these holy matters, as we see them in the wonderful purity of God's Truth, it is a hundred to one that he will not believe you, and dismiss you as an ignorant fool. Let him do so; it only prevents him from reaching the Truth sooner.
When, on the other hand we read in the Secret Doctrine that:
"With the Esotericists from the remotest times, the Universal Soul or Anima Mundi, the material reflection of the Immaterial Ideal, was the Source of Life of all beings and of the Life-Principle of the three kingdoms. This was the septenary with the Hermetic Philosophers, as with all the Ancients. For it represented a seven-fold cross, whose branches are respectively, light, heat, electricity, terrestrial magnetism, astral radiation, motion, and intelligence, or what some call self-consciousness."
We are in full agreement; for this is a simple and straightforward statement of which few would or could deny the sincerity. It is worth while reading through many ponderous volumes if one is rewarded with a statement like this in the end.
The Gnostics taught the planetary origin of the Monad, or Soul. "On its way to the Earth, as on its way back from the Earth, each soul born in, and from, the Boundless Light had to pass through the seven planetary regions either way."
The apparent contradiction here between a soul that is born in the Boundless Light, although it has Eternal Life, is no contradiction at all, for, as the material is not Eternal, there must have been a time when the Earth did not exist, although the Soul existed in that Light; and the word 'born' should be replaced with 'separated.' There must have been a moment when the soul, existing in the Boundless Light, was separated from it for the first time, in order to incarnate on Earth.
Here we are again confronted with the figure seven, which plays such an important part in all occult teachings. We have the seven spheres, the seven planets, the pure Dhyani and Devas of the oldest religions, who, with the Zoroastrians become the seven Devs, the Ministers of Ahriman, "each chained to his own planet," the good, bad, and indifferent Rishis; or, as in Egypt, where among the Gnostics, it was Thoth, or Hermes, who was the chief of the Seven. And finally we find sectarian Theology transform the seven into the Rebellious Angels of the Christians, who believed them to be the seven Devs of the Magi, without understanding the significance of the allegory.
The reunion of Soul and Mind
And what of that great moment when the spark, the astral vehicle, and the mind leave the body for good, either to rejoin with the Divine Principle as the perfected bridal pair, the Soul and the Mind one inseparable unit, or, when the Mind has to remain in the lower or higher Astral regions awaiting reincarnation? In the latter case we may think that the Astral body, Divine Spark, and Mind remain in contact until a new human body has been prepared for them; but if the Divine Marriage has been consummated then the Astral body will be dissolved, as it is no longer needed, and the spark will return to the heavenly fires from which it was taken in order to vitalise the mind and body whilst in the earthly regions. In The Golden Star it is said that at the moment of bodily death the Soul is confronted with a light or flames of such intensity that the soul instinctively turns from it if it is not yet ready to rejoin with its source. But if it bravely faces the light and enters it in full confidence, then all further need for reincarnation is past, and it becomes one with the first Divine Principle, or the Mind of God.
We might go a little further and suggest that unless the Mind is so pure and strong that it is found worthy to merge with the Soul, it cannot face the Light and it must return to earth, in order to acquire further strength, purity, love, and wisdom.
And now to return to the question with which we began this article: "What is the Soul and how should we describe it?" This is the answer: The Soul, having neither form, nor substance, cannot function in a material sense without the assistance of, or the conjunction with the Mind and the material. Having no form or substance it can therefore never be described in words or pictures, which have both.
The Mind can only become aware of it—the rest is Silence!
This at once connects up with the rather daft introduction to this article in which we professed our very great ignorance of the many subjects we have discussed in this occult studies course. You may think that we were joking with you. But were we? If you are far advanced upon the Path to the Light, or even if you are only a beginner in occult studies, if you are sincere and honest with yourself (and there is no other attitude possible for a true seeker after enlightenment), then you will agree with us that the more we learn, the more we become aware of our very great ignorance. And how can it be otherwise? However great our intelligence or Intuition (and we have discussed what these are previously), they cannot be compared to the wisdom of the Soul which knows all things with a terrible acuity.
To become aware of the Soul, and to listen and act upon the wisdom it communicates to our Minds so lovingly in the stillness of the within, should be the aim of every sincere seeker after Truth. And there is no other way to gain enlightenment than this entering into the silence, whether through meditation or in any other way. For when the Soul speaks, the scales fall from our eyes and we behold thy Glory and Wisdom of God in all their Divine Purity and Simplicity. Then there can be no more returning to Darkness and Ignorance; and those that are so Blessed will ever after look up to God and merge with His Holy Spirit.
We end this course as we began it—with the sublime words of J Michaud PhD—to whom we are greatly indebted for the teachings we have put before you. You can read more about the six books he wrote during his lifetime elsewhere on our website.
Raise high the Golden Chalice,
So that the Gods may fill your Cup
With sparkling Dew of Revelation;
And give you Sight and Hearing,
So far beyond the ken of mortal man,
That ev'ry whisper of the Angels
Shall reach the Inner Soul of You,
And fill it full of rare Delight,
And deep Sagacity and Erudition;
So that a Shining Pearl you may
Become; A Rosy Light in Golden Dawn,
A Guiding Star! A Light unto your Brothers
On their weary Way.
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14 August 2014 — © Copyright occult-mysteries.org. Updated 12 August 2018.