THEOSOPHY, Vol. 50, No. 8, June, 1962
(Pages 366-374; Size: 25K)

TO CONQUER MATTER(1)

Stoop not down, for a precipice lies below the earth,
Drawing under a descent of seven steps, beneath which
Is the throne of dire necessity.

--PSELLUS

IS it enough for man to know that he exists? Is it enough to be formed a human being to enable him to deserve the appellation of MAN? It is our decided impression and conviction that to become a genuine spiritual entity, which that designation implies, man must first create himself anew, so to speak; i.e., thoroughly eliminate from his mind and spirit not only the dominating influence of selfishness and impurity, but also the infection of superstition and prejudice. The latter is far different from what we commonly term "antipathy" or "sympathy." We are at first irresistibly or unwittingly drawn within its dark circle by that peculiar influence, that powerful current of magnetism which emanates from ideas as well as from physical bodies. By this we are surrounded, and finally prevented through moral cowardice -- fear of public opinion -- from stepping out of it. It is rare that men regard a thing in either its true or false light, accepting the conclusion by the free action of their own judgment. Quite the reverse. The conclusion is more commonly reached by blindly adopting the opinion current at the hour among those with whom they associate.

Theology has disfigured ancient Theosophy, and Science ancient Philosophy. Materialism has been, and ever will be blind to spiritual truths. Nothing is eternal and unchangeable save the Concealed Deity. Nothing that is finite, whether because it had a beginning or must have an end, can remain stationary. It must either progress or recede; and a soul which thirsts after reunion with its spirit, which alone confers upon it immortality, must purify itself through cyclic transmigrations.

Every true savant admits that in many respects human knowledge is yet in its infancy. Can it be that our cycle began in ages comparatively recent? To what eminence the race in its progress had several times arrived may be feebly surmised by the wonderful monuments of old, still visible, and the descriptions given by Herodotus of other marvels of which no traces now remain. We can judge, moreover, of the lofty civilizations reached in some periods of antiquity by the historical descriptions of the ages of the Ptolemies, yet in that epoch the arts and sciences were considered to be degenerating, and the secrets of a number of the former had been already lost.

The first races of men were spiritual, and their protoplasmic bodies were not composed of the gross and material substances of which we see them composed nowadays. The first men were created with all the faculties of the Deity, and powers far transcending those of the angelic host; for they were the direct emanations of Adam Kadmon, the primitive man, the Macrocosm; while the present humanity is several degrees removed even from the earthly Adam, who was the Microcosm or "the little world." At the beginning the human body was of a half-ethereal nature; before the fall mankind communed freely with the now unseen universes. But since that time matter has become the formidable barrier between us and the world of spirits. The oldest traditions also teach that before the mystic Adam many races of human beings lived and died out, each giving place in its turn to another. Were these precedent types more perfect? Did any of them belong to the winged race of men mentioned by Plato in the Phaedrus? It is the special province of science to solve the problem.

The same belief in the pre-existence of a far more spiritual race than the one to which we now belong can be traced back to the earliest traditions of nearly every people. In the ancient Quichè manuscript, the Popol Vuh, the first men are mentioned as a race that could reason and speak, whose sight was unlimited, and who knew all things at once. The discoveries of modern science do not disagree with the oldest traditions which claim an incredible antiquity for our race. But, notwithstanding the hypotheses of geologists, we are beginning to have almost daily proofs in corroboration of the assertion of the ancient philosophers. They divided the interminable periods of human existence on this planet into cycles, during each of which mankind gradually reached the culminating point of highest civilization and gradually relapsed into abject barbarism.

One thing, at least, has been shown in the Hebrew text: that there was one race of purely physical creatures, another purely spiritual. The evolution and "transformation of species" required to fill the gap between the two has been left to the anthropologists. We can only repeat the philosophy of men of old, which says that the union of these two races produced a third -- the Adamite race. Starting as a pure and perfect spiritual being, the Adam of the second chapter of Genesis, not satisfied with the position allotted him by the Demiurgos (who is the eldest first-begotten, the Adam-Kadmon), Adam the second, the "man of dust" strives in his pride to become Creator in his turn. Evolved out of the androgynous Kadmon, this Adam is himself an androgyn; for, according to the oldest beliefs presented allegorically in Plato's Timæus, the prototypes of our races were all enclosed in the Microcosmic Tree. Divine spirit being considered a unity, however numerous the rays of the great spiritual sun, man has still had his origin like all other forms, whether the organic or otherwise, in this one Fount of Eternal Light. Thus sharing the nature of both its parents, the Adamite race is equally adapted to an existence in the material and spiritual worlds. Allied to the physical half of man's nature is reason, which enables him to maintain his supremacy over the lower animals, and to subjugate nature to his uses. Allied to his spiritual part is his conscience, which will serve as his unerring guide through the besetments of the senses, for conscience is that instantaneous perception between right and wrong, which can only be exercised by the spirit, which, being a portion of the Divine Wisdom and Purity, is absolutely pure and wise. Its promptings are independent of reason, and it can only manifest itself clearly when unhampered by the baser attractions of our dual nature.

Many men have arisen who had glimpses of the truth, and fancied they had it all. Such have failed to achieve the good they might have done and sought to do, because vanity has made them thrust their personality into such undue prominence as to interpose it between their believers and the whole truth that lay behind. The Greek, Egyptian, and Chaldean philosophers held, with the Hindus, that God had infused into matter a portion of his own Divine Spirit, which animates and moves every particle. They taught that men have two souls, of separate and quite different natures: the one perishable -- the Astral Soul, or the inner fluidic body -- the other incorruptible and immortal -- the Augoeides, or portion of the Divine Spirit; that the mortal or Astral Soul perishes at each gradual change at the threshold of each new sphere, becoming with every transmigration more purified. The Astral Soul is placed between matter (body) and the highest intellect (its immortal Spirit or nous). Which of those two will conquer? The result of the battle of life lies between the triad. It is a question of a few years of physical enjoyment on earth and -- if it has begotten abuse -- of the dissolution of the earthly body, being followed by death of the astral body, which is thus prevented from being united with the highest Spirit of the triad, which alone confers on us individual immortality. Or, on the other hand, of becoming immortal mystæ; initiated before the death of the body into the divine truths of the after life. Demi-gods below, and GODS above.

The Divine, the highest and immortal spirit, can be neither punished nor rewarded. To maintain such a doctrine would be at the same time blasphemous and absurd, for it is not merely a flame lit at the central and inexhaustible fountain of life, but actually a portion of it, and of identical essence. It assures immortality to the individual astral being in proportion to the willingness of the latter to receive it. So long as the double man, i.e., the man of flesh and spirit, keeps within the limits of the law of spiritual continuity; so long as the divine spark lingers in him, however faintly, he is on the road to an immortality in the future state. But those who resign themselves to a materialistic existence, shutting out the divine radiance shed by their spirit at the beginning of the earthly pilgrimage, and stifling the warning voice of that faithful sentry, the conscience, which serves as a focus for the light in the soul -- such beings as these, having left behind conscience and spirit, and crossed the boundaries of matter, will of necessity have to follow its laws.

Matter is as indestructible and eternal as the immortal spirit itself, but only in its particles, and not as organized form. The body of so grossly materialistic a person as above described having been deserted by its spirit before physical death, when that event occurs the plastic material, astral soul, following the laws of blind matter, shapes itself thoroughly into the mold which vice has been gradually preparing for it through the earth-life of the individual. Then, as Plato says, it assumes the form of that "animal which it resembled in its evil ways" during life. "It is an ancient saying," he tells us, "that the souls departing hence exist in Hades and return hither again and are produced from the dead. ... But those who are found to have lived an eminently holy life, these are they who arrive at the pure abode above, and dwell on the upper parts of the earth" (the ethereal region). In Phaedrus again, he says that when man has ended his first life (on earth), some go to places of punishment beneath the earth. This region below the earth, the kabalists do not understand as a place inside the earth, but far more material.

If there is such a thing as existence in the spiritual world after corporeal death, then it must occur in accordance with the law of evolution. It takes man from his place at the apex of the pyramid of matter, and lifts him into a sphere of existence where the same inexorable law follows him. And if it follows him, why not everything else in nature? Why not animals and plants, which have all a life-principle, and whose gross forms decay like his, when that life-principle leaves them? If his astral body becomes more ethereal upon attaining the other sphere, why not theirs? They, as well as he, have been evolved out of condensed cosmic matter, and our physicists cannot see the slightest difference between the molecules of the four kingdoms of nature. With Plato, the lower types were but the concrete images of the higher abstract ones. The soul, which is immortal, has an arithmetical, as the body has a geometrical beginning. This beginning, as the reflection of the great universal Archæus, is self-moving, and from the center diffuses itself over the whole body of the Microcosm.

From Kapila, the Hindu philosopher, who many centuries before Christ demurred to the claim of the mystic Yogins that in ecstasy man has the power of seeing Deity face to face and conversing with the "highest" being, down to the Voltaireans of the eighteenth century, who laughed at everything that was held sacred by other people, each age had its unbelieving Thomases.

Man, the most perfect of organized beings on earth, in whom matter and spirit, i.e., will are the most developed and powerful, is alone allowed to give a conscious impulse to that principle which emanates from him; and only he can impart to the magnetic fluid opposite and various impulses without limit as to the direction. Both Van Helmont and Paracelsus agree as to the great potency of the will in the state of ecstasy; they say that "the spirit is everywhere diffused; and the spirit is the medium of magnetism"; that pure primeval magic does not consist in superstitious practices and vain ceremonies but in the imperial will of man. It is not the spirits of heaven and of hell which are the masters over physical nature, but the soul and spirit of man which are concealed in him as the fire is concealed in the flint. The theory of the sidereal influences on man was enunciated by all the mediaeval philosophers.

The ancient philosophy affirmed that it is in consequence of the manifestation of will, termed by Plato "the Divine Idea," that everything visible and invisible sprang into existence. As that Intelligent Idea, which by directing its sole will-power toward a center of localized forces called objective forms into being, so can man, the Microcosm of the great Macrocosm, do the same in proportion with the development of his will-power. The plan of the structure to be erected is in the brain of the Architect, and reflects his will; abstract as yet, from the instant of the conception it becomes concrete through the atoms which follow faithfully every line, point, and figure traced in the imagination of the Divine Geometer. As God creates, so can man create. Given a certain intensity of will, and the shapes created by the mind become subjective. Given a more intense and intelligent concentration of this will and the form becomes concrete, visible, objective; the man has learned the secret of secrets; he is a Magician.

Plato acknowledges man to be the toy of the element of necessity, which he enters upon in this world of matter: he is influenced by external causes, and these causes are daimonia, like that of Socrates. Happy is the man physically pure, for if his external soul (body) is pure, it will strengthen the second one (astral body), or the soul which is termed by him the "higher mortal soul," which though liable to err from its own motives, will always side with reason against the animal proclivities of the body. The lusts of man arise in consequence of his perishable material body, so do other diseases; but though he regards crime as involuntary sometimes, for it results, like bodily diseases, from external causes, Plato clearly makes a wide distinction between these causes. The fatalism which he concedes to humanity, does not preclude the possibility of avoiding them, for, pain, fear, anger, and other feelings are given to men by necessity, "if they conquered these they would live righteously, and if they were conquered by them, unrighteously."

The spiritual or inner man is one thing, and his terrestrial, physical casket another. That physical nature, the great combination of physical correlations of forces ever creeping on toward perfection, has to avail herself of the material at hand; she models and remodels as she proceeds, and, finishing her crowning work in man, presents him alone as a fit tabernacle for the overshadowing of the Divine spirit. But the latter circumstance does not give the right of life and death over the animals lower than himself in the scale of nature, or the right to torture them. Quite the reverse. Besides being endowed with a soul -- of which every animal, and even plant, is more or less possessed -- man has his immortal rational soul or nous, which ought to make him at least equal in magnanimity to the elephant, who treads so carefully, lest he should crush weaker creatures than himself.

If the "spirit," or the divine portion of the soul, is pre-existent as a distinct being from all eternity, as old philosophers all taught, and if it is the same and nothing more than the metaphysically-objective soul, how can it be otherwise than eternal? And what matters it in such case whether man leads an animal or a pure life if, do what he may, he can never lose his individuality? This doctrine is as pernicious in its consequences as that of vicarious atonement. Had the latter dogma, in company with the false idea that we are all immortal, been demonstrated to the world in its true light, humanity would have been bettered by its propagation. Crime and sin would be avoided, not for fear of earthly punishment, or of a ridiculous hell, but for the sake of that which lies the most deeply rooted in our inner nature -- the desire of an individual and distinct life in the hereafter, the positive assurance that we cannot win it unless we "take the kingdom of heaven by violence," and the conviction that neither human prayers nor the blood of another man will save us from individual destruction after death, unless we firmly link ourselves during our terrestrial life with our own immortal spirit.

The occult doctrine recognizes a certain possibility, albeit so rare and so vague that it is really useless to mention it. Even the modern occidental occultists deny it, though it is universally accepted in Eastern countries. When, through vice, fearful crimes and animal passions, the disembodied spirit has fallen to the eighth sphere -- the allegorical Hades, and the gehenna of the Bible, the nearest to our earth -- he can, with the help of that glimpse of reason and consciousness left to him, repent; that is to say, he can, by exercising the remnants of his will-power, strive upward, and, like a drowning man, struggle once more to the surface.

Swedenborgians believe, and arcane science teaches, that the abandonment of the living body by the soul frequently occurs, and that we encounter every day, in every condition of life, such living corpses. Various causes, among them overpowering fright, grief, despair, a violent attack of sickness, or excessive sensuality may bring this about. The vacant carcass may be entered and inhabited by the astral form of an adept sorcerer, or an elementary (an earth-bound disembodied human soul), or very rarely, an elemental. Of course, an adept of white magic has the same power, but unless some very exceptional and great object is to be accomplished, he will never consent to pollute himself by occupying the body of an impure person.

This doctrine of the possibility of losing one's soul and, hence, individuality militates with the ideal theories and progressive ideas of some spiritualists. They will never accept the kabalistic doctrine which teaches that it is only through observing the law of harmony that individual life hereafter can be obtained; and that the farther the inner and outer man deviate from this fount of harmony, whose source lies in our own Divine spirit, the more difficult it is to regain the ground. As to the fact of the possible death and obliteration of the human personality by the separation of the immortal parts from the perishable, it is taught of the above that a strong aspiration to retrieve from his calamities, a pronounced desire, will draw the "lost soul" once more into the earth's atmosphere. Here he will wander and suffer more or less in dreary solitude. His instincts will make him seek with avidity contact with living persons.

These spirits are the invisible but too tangible magnetic vampires; the subjective dæmons so well known to mediaeval ecstatics, nuns, and monks, to the "witches" made so famous in the Witch-Hammer, and to certain sensitive clairvoyants, according to their own confessions. They are the blood-dæmons of Porphyry, the larvae and lemures of the ancients; the fiendish instruments which sent many unfortunate and weak victims to the rack and stake. Origen held all the dæmons which possessed the demoniacs mentioned in the New Testament to be human "spirits." It is because Moses knew so well what they were, and how terrible were the consequences to weak persons who yielded to their influence, that he enacted the cruel, murderous law against such would-be "witches"; but Jesus, full of justice and divine love to humanity, healed instead of killing them. Subsequently our clergy, the pretended exemplars of Christian principles, followed the law of Moses, and quietly ignored the law of Him whom they call their "one living God," by burning dozens of thousands of such pretended "witches."

Physical death, as elucidated by a Swedenborgian minister, or the death of the body, is a provision of the divine economy for the benefit of man, a provision by means of which he attained to the higher ends of his personal being. But there is another death which is the interruption of the divine order and the destruction of every human element in man's nature, and every possibility of human happiness. This is the spiritual death, which takes place before the dissolution of the body. "There may be a vast development of man's natural mind without that development being accompanied by a particle of love of God, or of unselfish love of man."

When one falls into a love of self and love of the world, with its pleasures, losing the divine love of God and of the neighbor, he falls from life to death. The higher principles which constitute the essential elements of his humanity perish, and he lives only on the natural plane of his faculties. To all that pertain to the higher and the only enduring phase of existence he is as much dead as his body becomes dead to all activities, delights, and sensations of the world when the spirit has left it. This spiritual death results from disobedience to the laws of spiritual life, which is followed by the same penalty as the disobedience of the laws of the natural life. But the spiritually dead have still their delights; they have their intellectual endowments and power, and intense activities. All the animal delights are theirs, and to multitudes of men and women these constitute the highest ideal of human happiness. The tireless pursuit of riches, of the amusements and entertainments of social life; the cultivation of graces of manner, of a taste in dress, of social preferment, of scientific distinction, intoxicate and enrapture these dead-alive. But, the eloquent preacher remarks, "these creatures with all their graces, rich attire, and brilliant accomplishments, are dead in the eye of the Lord and the angels, and when measured by the only true and immutable standard have no more genuine life than skeletons whose flesh has turned to dust." A high development of the intellectual faculties does not imply spiritual and true life. Many of our greatest scientists are but animate corpses -- they have no spiritual sight because their spirits have left them. So we might go through all ages, examine all occupations, weigh all human attainments, and investigate all forms of society, and we would find their spiritually dead everywhere.


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