Carl Gustav Jung and his disciple Erich Neumann have set forth archetypes of the psyche, and introduced their study,. The Eleusinian Mysteries are a beautiful example of the spiritual nature of the Mother-Daughter archetype. One of Jung's patients gave, in a series of spontaneous visual impressions and poetic images the essential meaning of the mysteries of Demeter, Persephone, and Iacchos. This woman had no particular interest in mythology and was merely trying to understand her own psychological problems by letting her mind go free. This is her account with bold words emphasized by Jung:
i. 'I saw a white bird with outstretched wings. It alighted on the figure of a woman, clad in blue, who sat there like an antique statue. The bird perched on her hand, and in it she held a grain of wheat. The bird took it in its beak and flew into the sky again.'
For this X painted a picture: a blue-clad, archaically simple 'Mother'-figure on a white marble base, Her maternity is emphasized by the large breasts.
ii. 'A bull lifts a child up from the ground and carries it to the antique statue of a woman. A naked young girl with a wreath of flowers in her hair appears, riding on a white bull, She takes the child and throws it into the air like a ball and catches it again. The white bull carries them both to a temple,. The girl lays the child on the ground, and so on (initiation follows).'
iii, 'I saw a golden pig on a pedestal. Beast-like beings danced round it in a circle. We made haste to dig a hole in the ground. I reached in and found water. Then a man appeared in a golden carriage, He jumped into the hole and began swaying back and forth, as if dancing.... I swayed in rhythm with him. Then he suddenly leaped out of the hole, raped me, and got me with child.'
iv. 'I saw a beautiful youth with golden cymbals, dancing and leaping in joy and abandonment.... Finally he fell to the ground and buried his face in the flowers. Then he sank into the lap of a very old mother. After a time he got up and jumped into the water, where he sported like a dolphin.... I saw that his hair was golden. Now we were leaping together, hand in hand, So we came to a gorge ... In leaping the gorge the youth falls into the chasm. X is left alone and comes to a river where a white sea-horse is waiting for her
with a golden boat.'
... X found the youth in the lap of the mother so impressive that she painted a picture of it, The figure is the same as in item i; only, instead of the grain of wheat in her hand, there is the body of the youth lying completely exhausted in the lap of the gigantic mother.
v. 'There now follows a sacrifice of sheep, during which a game of ball is likewise played with the sacrificial animal. The participants smear themselves with the sacrificial blood, and afterwards bathe in the pulsing gore. X is thereupon transformed into a plant.
vi. 'After that X comes to a den of snakes, and the snakes wind all round her.
vii, 'In a den of snakes beneath the sea there is a divine woman, asleep.' (She is shown in the picture as much larger than the others.) 'She is wearing a blood-red garment that covers only the lower half of her body. She has a dark skin, full red lips, and seems to be of great physical strength. She kisses X, who is obviously in the role of the young girl, and hands her as a present to the many men who are standing by, etc.
viii. 'As X emerged from the depths and saw the light again, she experienced a kind of illumination: white flames played about her head as she walked through waving fields of grain.'"
(Jung The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious p. 188-189)
We remember that blue was the color of the sanctuary. The tossing of the child may be analogous on one level to the games that were held with the rites at intervals. More significantly it symbolizes in dream-like fashion the joy of having a new child or new birth (spiritual), and also the joyous procession with Iacchos. The white bull may indicate a spiritual origin from a Taurus culture with earth and vegetation rituals. The pig recalls sacrifices, and the digging in the ground the ridding, or returning to matter, of the evil influences, and the finding of water the purification resulting. Pluto arriving from the underworld enchants and transforms the subject into a mother. Demeter is the archetypal mother and the new child is perfectly analogous to the renewed grain. The game in the ritual again symbolizes the joy which is the play of children who may enter heaven. The blood may symbolize death and the transformation into a plant the resurrection. The snakes symbolize the spinal cord and immortality, the opening of the seven chakras and entrance into the divine world. There she sees the archetypal Great Mother, and she is given a place. In her resurrection she has a halo of light. This modern woman has given us one of the best recountings of the mystical symbolism of the Eleusinian Mysteries, Whether they came from experiences in previous incarnations or by sensitivity to certain vibrations on the inner plane of consciousness is mere speculation.
Neumann discusses the more archaic human psyche which was more collective (less individuated) and less evolved and complicated. Women and the womb are related to the growth of plants, probably because of the similarity of sowing the seed. Female psychological development may be compared to plants with the virgin as the flower and the mother as the fruit, one being transformed into the other. The maiden and mother identify with each other, as Persephone's resurrection symbolizes her finding by Demeter. In any group of women, the old may identify with Demeter the Mother and the young with Persephone the Maiden. (Neumann The Great Mother p. 309)
Jung describes how the mother and daughter parts of the psyche relate, intermingle, and eventually merge in a union which transcends space and time as the soul realizes its eternal being, consciousness, and bliss as a part of God. Such a mystical union was possible in the initiation rites for the soul that has prepared itself through succeeding levels of purification. The identification of the young woman with the mother and the older woman with the daughter enables them to transcend time and begin to sense their immortality. Thus they start to transcend their lives as individuals and become a part of their ancestors and descendants, a wholesome experience not often found in modern culture that seems to lack these Eleusinian emotions. (Jung The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious p. 188-189)
Conclusion: Through the Veil
The proud Athenian, Isocrates, summaries the value of the Eleusinian Mysteries.
When Demeter came to our land, in her wandering after the rape of Kore, and, being moved to kindness towards our ancestors by services which may not be told save to her initiates, gave these two gifts, the greatest in the world - the fruits of the earth, which have enabled us to rise above the life of the beasts, and the holy rite which inspires in those who partake of it sweeter hopes regarding both the end of life and all eternity, - our city was not only so beloved of the gods but also so devoted to mankind that, having been endowed with these great blessings, she did not begrudge them to the rest of the world, but shared with all men what she had received. The mystic rite we continue even now, each year, to reveal to the initiates; and as for the fruits of the earth, our city has, in a word, instructed the world, in their uses, their cultivation, and the benefits derived from them.
The Romans attempted to suppress certain rituals of the Greeks, but Cicero points out to us how these most sacred mysteries were allowed to remain, having given so much to mankind.
M: Then what will become of our Iacchus and Eumolpidae and their impressive mysteries, if we abolish nocturnal rites? For we are composing laws not for the Roman people in particular, but for all virtuous and stable nations.
A: I take it for granted that you make an exception of those rites into which we ourselves have been initiated.
M: I will do so indeed. For among the many excellent and indeed divine institutions which your Athens has brought forth and contributed to human life, none, in my opinion, is better than those mysteries. For by their means we have been brought out of our barbarous and savage mode of life and educated and refined to a state of civilization; and as the rites are called "initiations," so in very truth we have learned from them the beginnings of life, and have gained the power not only to live happily, but also to die with a better hope.
(Cicero Laws II, xiv, 36)
In Apuleius' Metamorphoses, Psyche calls upon the mother goddess for aid and describes many of the events from myth and ritual.
Psyche cast herself before the goddess, wetting the holy feet with tears and sweeping the ground with her tresses. Amid a thicket of supplications she asked for the favor of Ceres:
'By your right hand of Plenty, I implore you. By your joyous Ceremonies of Harvest; by your Mystery enclosed in Osier-baskets; by the winged Gig of your familiar Dragons; by the Furrows of the Sicilian Glebe, the Rape of the Chariot, the Earth that yields not up its own, the Descent into the Night of the Nuptials of Proserpine, and the Ascent into the light of the Maiden's Restoration; by all the other Symbols which the Sanctuary of Eleusis in Attica preserves in Silences - stand by your suppliant Psyche in the hour of her deep need. Permit me, at least for a few days, to shelter myself among the layers of wheat until the passage of time mitigates the raging rancor of the mighty goddess, or until an interval of rest refreshes the body that daily stress has now exhausted.'
(Apuleius Metamorphoses VI, 2)
However, in his De Natura Deorum, Cicero refers to the mysteries as being more scientific than religious.
I say nothing of the holy and awe-inspiring sanctuary of Eleusis, "where tribes from earth's remotest confines seek Initiation," and I pass over Samothrace and those "occult mysteries which throngs of worshippers at dead of night in forest covert deep do celebrate" Lemnos, since such mysteries when interpreted and rationalized prove to have more to do with natural science than with theology.
(Cicero De Natura Deorum I, 52)
The ancient Greeks very likely understood the correspondence between the cycles of plant life and human reincarnation, as analogous natural and spiritual laws. Plotinus discusses the spiritual understanding of the earth and plant life.
If the earth transmits the generative soul to growing things - or retains it while allowing a vestige of it to constitute the vegetal principle in them - at once the earth is ensouled, as our flesh is, and any generative power possessed by the plant world is of its bestowing: this phase of the soul is immanent in the body of the growing thing, and transmits to it that better element by which it differs from the broken off part no longer a thing of growth but a mere lump of material.
But does the entire body of the earth similarly receive anything from the soul?
Yes: for we must recognize that earthly material broken of from the main body differs from the same remaining continuously attached; thus stones increase as long as they are embedded, and from the moment they are separated, stop at the size attained.
We must conclude, then, that every part and member of the earth carries its vestige of this principle of growth, an under-phase of that entire principle which belongs not to this or that member but to the earth as a whole: next in order is the nature (the soul-phase), concerned with sensation, this not interfused (like the vegetal principle) but in contact from above: then the higher soul and the Intellectual Principle, constituting together the being known as Hestia (Earth-Mind) and Demeter (Earth-Soul) - a nomenclature indicating the human intuition of these truths, asserted in the attribution of a divine name and nature.
(Fourth Ennead IV, 27)
Thus Demeter relates to the soul rather than the mind. Plutarch also discusses the soul and mind in relation to the goddesses, and how purification and purgation follow death.
The result of soul and body commingled is the irrational or the affective factor, whereas of mind and soul the conjunction produces reason; and of these the former is source of pleasure and pain, the latter of virtue and vice. In the composition of these three factors earth furnishes the body, the moon the soul, and the sun furnishes mind to man for the purpose of his generation even as it furnishes light to the moon herself. As to the death we die, one death reduces man from three factors to two and another reduces him from two to one; and the former takes place in the earth that belongs to Demeter (wherefore "to make an end" is called "to render one's life to her" and Athenians used in olden times to call the dead "Demetrians"), the latter in the moon that belongs to Persephone, and associated with the former is Hermes the terrestrial, with the latter Hermes the celestial. While the goddess here dissociates the soul from the body swiftly and violently, Persephone gently and by slow degrees detaches the mind from the soul and has therefore been called "single-born" because the best part of man is "born single" when separated off by her. Each of the two separations naturally occurs in this fashion: All soul, whether without mind or with it, when it has issued from the body is destined to wander in the region between earth and moon but not for an equal time. Unjust and licentious souls pay penalties for their offenses; but the good soul must in the gentlest part of the air, which they call "the meads of Hades," pass a certain set time sufficient to purge and blow away the pollution contracted from the body as from an evil odor. Then, as if brought home from banishment abroad, they savor joy most like that of initiates, which attended by glad expectation is mingled with confusion and excitement. For many, even as they are in the act of clinging to the moon, she thrusts off and sweeps away; and some of those souls too that are on the moon they see turning upside down as if sinking again into the deep. Those that have got up, however, and have found a firm footing first go about like victors crowned with wreaths of feathers called wreathes of steadfastness, because in life they had made the irrational or affective element of the soul orderly and tolerably tractable to reason; secondly, in appearance resembling a ray of light but in respect of their nature, which in the upper region is buoyant as it is here in ours, resembling the ether about the moon, they get from it both tension and strength as edged instruments get a temper, for what laxness and diffuseness they still have is strengthened and becomes firm and translucent. In consequence they are nourished by any exhalation that reaches them, and Heraclitus was right in saying: "Souls employ the sense of smell in Hades."
(Plutarch The Face of the Moon 28)
Orpheus in his hymns, sang to fumigate the bad odors with incense and purify the soul.
To the Terrestrial Hermes
O Bacchic Hermes, progeny divine
Of Dionysus, parent of the vine,
And of celestial Venus, Paphian queen,
Dark-eyelash'd Goddess of a lovely mien:
Who constant wand'rest thro' the sacred seats
Where Hell's dread empress, Proserpine, retreats;
To wretched souls the leader of the way,
When Fate decrees, to regions void of day.
Thine is the wand which causes sleep to fly,
Or lulls to slumb'rous rest the weary eye;
For Proserpine, thro' Tart'rus dark and wide,
Gave the for ever flowing souls to guide,
Come, blessed pow'r, the sacrifice attend,
And grant thy mystics' works a happy end.
(Taylor Mystical Hymns of Orpheus )
Taylor quotes Proclus who also makes the distinction between terrestrial and celestial gods.
Hence, there is a terrestrial Ceres, Vesta, and Isis, as likewise a terrestrial Jupiter and a terrestrial Hermes, established about the one divinity of the earth, just as a multitude of celestial Gods proceeds about the one divinity of the heavens. For there are progressions of all the celestial Gods into the Earth: and Earth contains all things, in an earthly manner, which Heaven comprehends celestially. Hence we speak of a terrestrial Bacchus and a terrestrial Apollo, who bestows the all-various streams of water with which the earth abounds, and openings prophetic of futurity.
(Taylor Mystical Hymns of Orpheus p. xxxiii)
Pindar explains how the pure light of the soul remains after death, and how even during life when the body sleeps it may give knowledge of the future. His metaphor for having realized this transcendent reality is clearly a reference to the mystic grain.
... having, by happy fortune, culled the fruit of the rite that releases from toil. And, while the body of all men is subject to over-mastering death, an image of life remains alive, for it alone comes from the gods. But it sleeps, while the limbs are active; yet, to them that sleep in many a dream it gives presage of a decision of things delightful or doleful.
(Pindar Fragment 96)
Pausanias tells how Pindar received a communication in a dream from the Goddess of the underworld, and then after passing on, sent a song to a living person through a dream.
When his fame was spread abroad from one end of Greece to the other, the Pythian priestess set him on a still higher pinnacle of renown by bidding the Delphians give to Pindar an equal share of all the first-fruits they offered to Apollo. It is said, too, that in his old age there was vouchsafed to him a vision in a dream. As he slept Proserpine stood by him and said that of all the deities she alone had not been hymned by him, but that, nevertheless, he should make a song on her also when he was come to her. Before ten days were out Pindar had paid the debt of nature. But there was in Thebes an old woman, a relation of Pindar's, who had practiced singing, most of his songs. To her Pindar appeared in a dream and sang to her a hymn on Proserpine; and she, as soon as she was awake, wrote down all the song she had heard him singing in her dream. In this song, amongst the epithets applied to Hades is that of 'golden-reined,' obviously in reference to the rape of Proserpine.
(Pausanias IX, 23:3-4)
The dreamer is able to visit the underworld or the "other side" to communicate with the dead, yet when wake and alive is usually not aware of the soul realm. Heraclitus expresses this by calling such a person "the sleeper."
A man in the night kindles a light for himself when his vision is extinguished; living, he is in contact with the dead, when asleep, and with the sleeper, when awake.
(H. Diels 236)
Realizing that in dreams the awakened soul may visit the inner realms, Orpheus sings:
To the Divinity of Dreams
Thee I invoke, blest pow'r of dreams divine,
Angel of future fates, swift wings are thine.
Great source of oracles to human kind,
When stealing soft, and whisp'ring to the mind,
Thro' sleep's sweet silence, and the gloom of night,
Thy pow'r awakes th'intellectual sight;
To silent souls the will of heaven relates,
And silently reveals their future fates.
Forever friendly to the upright mind,
Sacred and pure, to holy rites inclin'd;
For these with pleasing hope thy dreams inspire:
Bliss to anticipate, which all desire.
Thy visions manifest of fate disclose,
What methods best may mitigate our woes;
Reveal what rites the Gods immortal please,
And what the means their anger to appease;
For ever tranquil is the good man's end,
Whose life thy dreams admonish and defend,
But from the wicked turned averse to bless,
Thy form unseen, the angel of distress;
No means to check approaching ill they find,
Pensive with fears, and to the future blind.
Come blessed pow'r, the signatures reveal
Which heav'n's decrees mysteriously conceal,
Signs only present to the worthy mind,
Nor omens ill disclose of monstrous kind.
(Taylor Mystical Hymns of Orpheus )
Seneca indicates that the Eleusinian Mysteries continually helped the ancient Greeks to grow spiritually.
There are holy things that are not communicated all at once: Eleusis always keeps something back to show those who come again.
(Quaestiones Naturalis VII, 30:6)
Yet the silence in which these mysteries were wrapped is difficult to penetrate. In Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus the Chorus exclaims:
Haply by the shores loved of Apollo, haply by that torch-lit strand where the Great Goddess cherish dread rites for mortals, on whose lips the ministrant Eumolpidae have laid the precious seal of silence;
(Sophocles Oedipus at Colonus 1048-1053)
Later Oedipus himself speaks of the required silence, and tells how to hand them down from generation to generation.
But for your mysteries which speech may not profane, you shall mark them for yourself, when you come to that place alone; and when you are coming to the end of life, disclose them to your heir alone; let him teach his heir; and so thenceforth.
Oedipus at Colonus was produced in 405 BC, one year after Sophocles' death. Thus in this play Sophocles is able to express his deepest thoughts about death, as Oedipus faces the situation. Oedipus goes off to his death, calling upon Persephone.
This way - hither, this way! - for this way does Guiding Hermes lead me, and the goddess of the dead.
Here again the terrestrial Hermes leads the man to the gods. A messenger describes the ritual symbolic of initiation performed by Oedipus before his death.
And then he called his daughters, and bade them fetch water from some fount, that he should wash, and make a drink-offering. And they went to the hill which was in view, Demeter's hill who guards the tender plants, and in short space brought that which their father had enjoined; then they ministered to him with washing, and dressed him, as use ordains.
Theseus consoles the daughters of Oedipus and asks them not to mourn the death of a blessed one.
Weep no more maidens; for where the kindness of the Dark Powers is an abiding grace to the quick and to the dead, there is no room for mourning; divine anger would follow.
Sophocles gives the reason why in a fragment.
Thrice happy are those of mortals, who having seen those rites depart for Hades; for to them alone is it granted to have true life there; to the rest all there is evil.
(Sophocles Fragment 719)
An inscription found at Eleusis agrees.
Beautiful indeed is the Mystery given us by the blessed gods: death is for mortals no longer an evil, but a blessing.
Scholiast On Aristophanes reveals that not only was death not feared, but that initiation could help the soul that has passed on to realize its divine nature.
It was the common belief in Athens that whoever had been taught the Mysteries would, when he died, be deemed worthy of divine glory. Hence all were eager for initiation.
(Scholiast on Aristophanes The Frogs 158)
Thus as Pindar expresses it, initiation could be the beginning of divine life.
Blessed is he who has seen these things before he goes beneath the earth; for he understands the end of mortal life, and the beginning (of a new life) given of god.
Jesus explains the immortality of the soul and the sovereignty of God in the symbols the Greeks understand due to the mysteries.
Some of those going up so that they might worship at the feast were Greeks; therefore these approached Philip, the one from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him saying, "Lord, we wish to see Jesus." Philip goes and tells Andrew; Andrew and Philip go and tell Jesus.
And Jesus answers them saying, "The hour has come so that the human son may be glorified. Amen, amen, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falling into the earth dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."
(Gospel of John 12:20-24)
Thus Jesus explained that death is a rebirth. Paul explains the resurrection by the symbol of a seed dying in the earth in order to grow into celestial life.
But some one will ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?" You foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed is its own body. or not all flesh is alike, but there is one kind for men, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are celestial bodies and there are terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another of the moon, and another glory of the star; for star differs from star in glory.
So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable, It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body . If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being;" the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the sovereignty of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
(I Corinthians 15:35-50)
The individual's soul, which is the seed of God, becomes one with God as the seed becomes a tree. Jesus gives the parable.
And he said, "Thus is the sovereignty of God: as a person might throw seed on the earth, and might sleep and rise night and day, and the seed sprouts and lengthens, though one does not know how. By itself the earth bears fruit, first grass, then an ear, then full grain in the ear. And when the fruit is ripe, immediately one sends the sickle, for the harvest has arrived."
And he said, "How shall we describe the sovereignty of God, or by what parable may we compare it? It is like a mustard seed, which when it is sown on the earth, is smaller than all the seeds of the earth, and when in is sown, comes up and becomes greater than all the vegetables, and produces great branches so that the birds of heaven can dwell under its shade."
And by many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear; and he did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.
And he said to them on that day as evening came, "Let us go over to the other side." And leaving the crowd they take him along as he was in the boat, and other boats were with him. And a great whirlwind occurs, and the waves broke into the boat, so that now the boat was being filled. And he was in the stern sleeping on a pillow.
And they awake him and say to him, "Teacher, don't you even care that we are perishing?"
And waking up he reprimanded the wind and said to the sea, "Be quiet! Shut up!" And the wind ceased, and it became very calm. And he said to them, "Why are you such cowards? How come you have no faith?"
(Gospel of Mark 4:26-40)
As they cross to the other side, symbolically through the veil of death, the disciples become afraid and cry out to Jesus in fear of dying. But Jesus has shown the way through stormy death and proven the truth by his own resurrection, Once the soul is purified of its other bodies, it is able to pass back and forth between earthly life and the heavenly realm, which is on the other side or within the inner realms of consciousness.
In Eckankar, Paul Twitchell informs us that all the ancient mysteries of Dionysus, of Delphi, and of Eleusis taught out-of-the-body travel. (p. 134) He describes the path to God from purgatorial virtues of purification, theoretic or epoptic virtues bestowing clairvoyance and clairaudience, exemplary virtues conferring magical powers, and theurgic virtues which transform one into God. Twitchell calls the Eleusinian Mysteries the supreme font of western occult lore that released the soul from bodily bondage. (Twitchell Eckankar p. 18)
He quotes Madame Blavatsky's Theosophical Glossary under "Soma Drink" which refers to the initiates' drinking the Kykeon which enables them to easily reach the place of splendor or heaven. (Ibid. p. 18) Twitchell also saw Plato's Phaedo as symbolic of the Eleusinian Mysteries.
They are taking off his chains, and giving orders that he is to die today.
(Plato Phaedo 60)
Socrates' execution has been delayed due to the holy season proclaimed in honor of the ship sent to Delos to commemorate Theseus's and fourteen youths' victory over Minos and Crete. Socrates is advised not to talk too much so that the hemlock may take effect, and before he drank it he bathed and changed his clothes as the initiates did before the final vision at the celebration. Phaedo himself describes the mood at this historic event.
I had singular feeling at being in his company. For I could hardly believe that I was present at the death of a friend, and therefore I did not pity him, Echecrates; he died so fearlessly, and his words and bearing were so noble and gracious, that to me he appeared blessed. I thought that in going to the other world he could not be without a divine call, and that he would be happy, if any man ever was, when he arrived there; and therefore I did not pity him as might have seemed natural at such an hour.
(Plato Phaedo 58-59)
To lift the veil from death, two truths were to be learned and experienced by the initiates. The first is reincarnation or the continual regeneration of spiritual life symbolized by seeds and plants. The second is even a greater mystery and has to do with initiation into divine life or the soul realm achieved while alive on earth and practiced on the higher planes of consciousness after the new birth. Let us look at Socrates' argument for the first.
There comes into my mind an ancient doctrine which affirms that they go from hence into the other world, and returning here, are born again from the dead. Now if it be true that the living come from the dead, then our souls must exist in the other world, for if not, how could they have been born again?...
Then let us consider the whole question, not in relation to man only, but in relation to animals generally, and to plants, and to everything of which there is generation, and the proof will be easier.
Thus we see the perpetual transformations of nature. The soul enters the body at birth and departs at death.
For if the soul exists before birth, and in coming to life and being born can be born only from death and dying, must she not after death continue to exist, since she has to be born again?
What is the reason for the soul's coming to birth in a body over and over again?
Why, because each pleasure and pain is a sort of nail which nails and rivets the souls to the body, until she becomes like the body, and believes that to be true which the body affirms to be true; and from agreeing with the body and having the same delights she is obliged to have the same habits and haunts, and is not likely ever to be pure at her departure to the world below, but is always infected by the body; and so she sinks into another body and there germinates and grows, and has therefore no part in the communion of the divine and pure and simple.
The ethical laws of the universe are just, though not necessarily completed within a lifetime.
We arrive at the conclusion that the living come from the dead, just as the dead come from the living; and this, if true, affords a most certain proof that the souls of the dead exist in some place out of which they come again.... But I am confident that there truly is such a thing as living again, and that the living spring from the dead, and that the souls of the dead are in existence, and that the good souls have a better portion than the evil.
Sleep is analogous to death, because the soul and the subtler bodies often leave the physical body to travel the inner realms of consciousness.
The state of sleep is opposed to the state of waking, and out of sleeping waking is generated, and out of waking, sleeping; and the process of generation is in the one case falling asleep, and in the other waking up.
The very existence of God or the absolute and the soul which comprehends this absolute by being one with it, implies the previous existence of the soul.
Then may we not say,... there is an absolute beauty, and goodness, and an absolute essence of all things;... which is now discovered to have existed in our former state, we refer all our sensations, and with this compare them, finding these ideas to be pre-existent and our inborn possession - then our souls must have had a prior existence.
Your favorite doctrine, Socrates, that knowledge is simply recollection, if true, also necessarily implies a previous time in which we have learned that which we now recollect. But this would be impossible unless our soul had been in some place before existing in the form of man; here then is another proof of the soul's immortality.
Socrates tells how the soul may be forgotten when a person is swayed by the body and its senses.
And were we not saying long ago that the soul when using the body as an instrument of perception, that is to say, when using the sense of sight or hearing or some other sense (for the meaning of perceiving through the body is perceiving through the senses) - were we not saying that the soul too is then dragged by the body into the region of the changeable, and wanders and is confused; the world spins round her, and she is like a drunkard, when she touches change.
But when returning into herself she reflects, then she passes into the other world, the region of purity, and eternity, and immortality, and unchangeableness, which are her kindred, and with them she ever lives, when she is by herself and is not let or hindered; then she ceases from her erring ways, and being in communion with the unchanging is unchanging. And this state of the soul is called wisdom?
That is well and truly said, Socrates, he replied.
(Plato Phaedo 79)
Socrates points out that the body and the senses are visible and changing while the soul is invisible and unchanging.
Then reflect,... - that the soul is in the very likeness of the divine, and immortal, and intellectual, and uniform, and indissoluble, and unchangeable; and that the body is in the very likeness of the human and mortal, and unintellectual, and multiform and dissoluble, and changeable....
But if it be true, then is not the body liable to speedy dissolution? and is not the soul almost or altogether indissoluble?
Yet all men will agree that God, and the essential form of life, and the immortal in general, will never perish.
Yes, all men, he said - that is true; and what is more, gods, if I am not mistaken, as well as men.
Seeing then that the immortal is indestructible, must not the soul, if she is immortal, be also imperishable?
Then when death attacks a man, the mortal portion of him may be supposed to die, but the immortal retires at the approach of death and is preserved safe and sound?
Then, Cebes, beyond question, the soul is immortal and imperishable, and our souls will truly exist in another world!
Now Socrates discuses how the true philosopher seeks death, by which he means the purification of the soul from the body to reach the higher life.
And now, 0 my judges, I desire to prove to you that the real philosopher has reason to be of good cheer when he is about to die, and that after death he may hope to obtain the greatest good in the other world.... For I deem that the true votary of philosophy is likely to be misunderstood by other men; they do not perceive that he is always pursuing death and dying; and if this be so, and he has had the desire of death all his life long, why when his time comes should he repine at that which he has been always pursuing and desiring?...
For they have not found out either what is the nature of that death which the true philosopher deserves, or how he deserves or desires death....
Is it not the separation of soul and body? And to be dead is the completion of this; when the soul exists in herself, and is released from the body and the body is released from the soul, what is this but death?...
Would you not say that he is entirely concerned with the soul and not with the body? He would like, as far as he can, to get away from the body and to turn to the soul.
In matters of this sort philosophers, above all other men, may be observed in every sort of way to dissever the soul from the communion of the body.
Whereas, Simmias, the rest of the world are of opinion that to him who has sense of pleasure and no part in bodily pleasure, life is not worth having; and that he who is indifferent about them is as good as dead.
That is also true.
Socrates tells how the higher levels of consciousness are attained.
Then when does the soul attain truth? - for in attempting to consider anything in company with the body she is obviously deceived.
Then must not true existence be revealed to her in thought, if at all?
And thought is best when the mind is gathered into herself and none of these things trouble her - neither sound nor sights nor pain nor any pleasure, - when she takes leave of the body, and has as little as possible to do with it, when she has no bodily sense or desire, but is aspiring after true being?
Absolute justice, absolute beauty and absolute good are not perceived by bodily senses but by the intellectual vision of the soul.
And he attains to the purest knowledge of them who goes to each with the mind alone, not introducing or intruding in the act of thought sight or any other sense together with reason, but with the very light of the mind in her own clearness searches into the very truth of each; he who has got rid, as far as he can, of eyesores and, so to speak, of the whole body, these being in his opinion distracting elements which when they infect the soul hinder her from acquiring truth and knowledge - who, if not he, is likely to attain to the knowledge of true being?
(Plato Phaedo 65-66)
Socrates explains how the soul attains the higher knowledge when it is apart from the body which also may be achieved through soul travel.
'It has been proved to us by experience that if we would have pure knowledge of anything we must be quit of the body - the soul in herself must behold things in themselves: and then we shall attain the wisdom which we desire, and of which we say that we are lovers; not while we live, but after death; for if while in company with the body, the soul cannot have pure knowledge, one of two things follows - either knowledge is not to be attained at all, or, if at all, after death. or then, and not till then, the soul will be parted from the body and exist in herself alone. In this present life, I reckon that we make the nearest approach to knowledge when we have the least possible intercourse or communion with the body, and are not surfeited with the bodily nature, but keep ourselves pure until the hour when God himself is pleased to release us. And thus having got rid of the foolishness of the body we shall be pure and hold converse with the pure, and know of ourselves the clear light everywhere, which is no other than the light of truth.' For the impure are not permitted to approach the pure.
He declares this purification of the soul from the body to be the aim of the true philosopher.
But, 0 my friend, if this be true, there is great reason to hope that, going where I go, when I have come to the end of my journey, I shall attain that which has been the pursuit of my life. And therefore I go on my way rejoicing, and not I only, but every other man who believes that his mind has been made ready and that he is in a manner purified.
Certainly, replied Simmias.
And what is purification but the separation of the soul from the body, as I was saying before; the habit of the soul gathering and collecting herself into herself from all sides out of the body; the dwelling in her own place alone, as in another life, so also in this, as far as she can; - the release of the soul from the chains of the body?
Very true, he said.
And this separation and release of the soul from the body is termed death?
To be sure, he said.
And the true philosophers, and they only, are ever seeking to release the soul. Is not the separation and release of the soul from the body their special study?
That is true.
Thus the initiates who are born anew into divine life in the mystery celebration are called by Socrates "the true philosophers."
The founders of the mysteries would appear to have had a real meaning, and were not talking nonsense when they intimated in a figure long ago that he who passes unsanctified and uninitiated into the world below will lie in a slough, but that he who arrives there after initiation and purification will dwell with the gods. For 'many,' as they say in the mysteries, 'are the thyrsus-bearers, but few are the mystics,' - meaning, as I interpret the words, 'the true philosophers.'
It is for the divine soul to rule and govern and the mortal body to obey and serve. The soul must master the lower forces.
But she will calm passion, and follow reason, and dwell in the contemplation of her, beholding the true and divine (which is not matter of opinion), and thence deriving nourishment. Thus she seeks to live while she lives, and after death she hopes to go to her own kindred and to that which is like her, and to be freed from human ills.
(Plato Phaedo 84)
Socrates describes what happens to the soul when separated from the body at death and how its immortality makes the action in life more important as each gets its just reward or punishment.
But then, 0 my friends, he said, if the soul is really immortal, what care should be taken of her, not only in respect of the portion of time which is called life, but of eternity! And the danger of neglecting her from this point of view does indeed appear to be awful. If death had only been the end of all, the wicked would have had a good bargain in dying, for they would have been happily quit not only of their body, but of their own evil together with their souls. But now, inasmuch as the soul is manifestly immortal, there is no release or salvation from evil except the attainment of the highest virtue and wisdom. For the soul when on her progress to the world below takes nothing with her but nurture and education; and these are said greatly to benefit or greatly to injure the departed, at the very beginning of his journey there.
For after death, as they say, the genius of each individual, to whom he belonged in life, leads him to a certain place in which the dead are gathered together, whence after judgment has been given they pass into the world below, following the guide, who is appointed to conduct them from this world to the other: and when they have there received their due and remained their time, another guide brings them back again after many revolutions of ages.
But the philosopher who is good and true has no fear of death.
And is it likely that the soul, which is invisible, in passing to the place of the true Hades, which like her is invisible, and pure, and noble, and on her way to the good and wise God, whither, if God will, my soul is also soon to go, - that the soul, I repeat, if this be her nature and origin, will be blown away and destroyed immediately on quitting the body as the many say? That can never be, my dear Simmias and Cebes. The truth rather is, that the soul which is pure at departing and draws after her no bodily taint, having never voluntarily during life had connection with the body, which she is ever avoiding, herself gathered into herself; - and making such abstraction her perpetual study - which means that she has been a true disciple of philosophy; and therefore has in fact been always engaged in the practice of dying? For is not philosophy the study of death?
The reward of the good and pure soul is initiation into divine life.
That soul, I say, herself invisible, departs to the invisible world - to the divine and immortal and rational: there arriving, she is secure of bliss and is released from the error and folly of men, their fears and wild passions and all other human ills, and forever dwells, as they say of the initiated, in company with the gods.
Then is the holy life remembered.
But all souls do not easily recall the things of the other world; they may have seen them for a short time only, or they may have been unfortunate in their earthly lot, and, having had their hearts turned to injustice through some corrupting influence, they may have lost the memory of the holy things which once they saw. Few only retain an adequate remembrance of them; and they when they see here any image of that other world, are rapt in amazement; but they are ignorant of what this rapture means, because they do not clearly perceive. For there is no light of justice or temperance or any of the higher ideas which are precious to souls in the earthly copies of them: they are seen through a glass dimly; and there are few who, going to the images, behold in them the realities, and these only with difficulty. There was a time when with the rest of the happy band they saw beauty shining in brightness, - we philosophers following in the train of Zeus, others in company with other gods; and then we saw the beatific vision and were initiated into a mystery which may be truly called most blessed, celebrated by us in our state of innocence, before we had any experience of evils to come, when we were admitted to the sight of apparitions innocent and simple and calm and happy, which we saw shining in pure light, pure ourselves and not yet enshrined in that living tomb which we carry about, now that we are imprisoned in the body like an oyster in his shell.
(Plato Phaedrus 250)
The destiny of all souls is to return to God from where we came. Plotinus inspires us in that direction.
Therefore we must ascend again towards the Good, the desired of every Soul. Anyone that has seen This, knows what I intend when I say it is beautiful. Even the desire of it is to be desired as a Good. To attain it is for those that will take the upward path, who will set all their forces towards it, who will divest themselves of all that we have put on in our descent: - so, to those that approach the Holy Celebrations of the Mysteries, there are appointed purifications and the laying aside of the garments worn before, and the entry in nakedness - until, passing on the upward way, all that is other than the God, each in the solitude of himself shall see that solitary-dwelling Existence, the Apart, the Unmingled, the Pure, that from which all things depend for Which all look and live and act and know, the Source of Life and of Intellection and of Being.
(Plotinus First Ennead VI, 7)