The Consciousness of Death

A healthy consciousness of death is not a fear of death, unless you take the word “fear” in the Old English sense of “reverential awe.” In the last two thousand years, we’ve been told by Christianity that death is an enemy. The Apostle Paul claimed that death is “the last enemy,” and something that must be defeated. Of course, he was referring to a resurrection in which all of the dead would be raised again to new life. I’m not certain whether Paul was writing metaphorically or not, but there is no doubt his followers have taken this idea very literally to the point where the idea of death creates an intense atmosphere of fear in the minds of most people.

We fear death because it is the most profound mystery of our existence, and we are terrified of the unknown. This is due to the unconsciousness of death. There are those who, it is said, have experienced death while still living. These no longer fear death, but recognize it as a transition and a widening of consciousness.

Death is an abstruse metaphor that most have lost sight of. Certainly, the physicality of death is that we fall asleep forever and the animatter of our bodies is processed by Nature and redistributed to other animaterial entities, as the Anima Mundi determines. This is only the superficial meaning. As with all things, there is another side of the story that must be sought in the depths of the depths.

In a sense, we die nightly. We sleep, or, more accurately, we fall asleep. Sleep is a going-down as death is a going-down. We plunge into the Underworld, as do also the dead. Sleep is an initiation, as death is an initiation. Death and the dreams of sleep are closely intertwined. As we sleep nightly, we are becoming more and more acquainted with, and more and more conscious of, death and the Underworld. Our death-vessel is daily being prepared, for we are born to die:

Life and death come into the world together; the eyes and the sockets which hold them are born at the same moment. The moment I am born I am old enough to die. As I go on living I am dying. Death is entered continuously, not just at the moment of death as legally and medically defined. Each event in my life makes its contribution to my death, and I build my death as I go along day by day (Hillman, 59).

There is an Underworld inside us. It is to that nocturnal world we journey every night, where we commune with the beings of that world: the dead, the imaginal, the gods, et al. By simply being born into these bodies, we are forced by nature to visit this realm in sleep, and thereby acclimate ourselves with the Darkness. For, without Darkness, there can be no Light. This is the truth of initiation.

The underworld isn’t just a place of darkness and death. It only seems like that from a distance. In reality it’s the supreme place of paradox where all the opposites meet. Right at the roots of western as well as eastern mythology there’s the idea that the sun comes out of the underworld and goes back to the underworld every night. It belongs in the underworld. That’s where it has its home; where its children come from. The source of light is at home in the darkness” (Kingsley, 68).

Sleep, albeit an unconscious state, provides us with a foretaste of death and thus brings some consciousness of death. Freud said that dreams are the via regia, the royal road, to a greater knowledge of the unconscious. Truth doesn’t come from outside ourselves, but from within. The Light is in the Darkness, in the Underworld, if we would only heed it’s call and be aware as we journey down the Royal Road each night.

Hillman, James. Suicide And The Soul. New York: Harper & Row, 1973. 
Kingsley, Peter. In The Dark Places Of Wisdom. Inverness: The Golden Sufi Center, 1999.

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The Delian Diver

Die Insel Delos, by Carl Anton Rottman (1797-1850)

We are already aware that the realities of Soul are unfathomable. Heraclitus taught us, “You could not discover the
limits of Soul even if you traveled by every path in order to do so; such is
the depth of its meaning” (qtd. in The Presocratics, by Philip Wheelwright, p. 72). Heraclitus may have been the first depth psychologist in Western history.

Diogenes  Laertius wrote,

they say that Euripides gave him [Socrates] a small work of Heraclitus to read, and asked him afterwards what he thought of it, and he replied: ‘The part I understand is excellent, and so too is, I dare say, the part I do not understand; but it needs a Delian diver to get to the bottom of it (Diogenes Laertius, 2.22).

What quality was inherent in a Delian diver that would make this metaphor more meaningful than, say, that of a diver from the island of Samos or Lesbos? What was it about Delian divers that made them better at uncovering hidden things in the deep places?

Another Laertian reference to Heraclitus’ perplexing statement reads thusly,

The story told by Ariston of Socrates, and his remarks when he came upon the book of Heraclitus, which Euripides brought him, I have mentioned in my Life of Socrates. However, Seleucus the grammarian says that a certain Croton relates in his book called The Diver that he said work of Heraclitus was first brought into Greece by one Crates, who further said it required a Delian diver not to be drowned on it (Diogenes Laertius, 9.12).

Here we have an allusion to the Delian diver being seemingly immune to drowning in the depths. Crates, apparently, had the same opinion as Socrates concerning the obscurity of Heraclitus’ philosophy. What are these qualities that makes a Delian diver the model for the investigator of Soul, the Soul spelunker (to use my own metaphor)? Is there something more to this metaphor than simply someone from Delos who is highly skilled at swimming and diving for objects of treasure at great depths?

The island of Delos, located within the islands known as the Cyclades in the Aegean Sea, was a holy place for the Greeks. It was the Ionians, who first arrived on Delos in the 10th century B.C., who made the island a religious sanctuary around the 7th century B.C.

When the goddess, Leto was searching for a birthplace for Artemis and Apollo, it is said she spoke these words to the island of Delos:

Delos, if you would be willing to be the abode of my son Phoebus Apollo and make him a rich temple –; for no other will touch you, as you will find: and I think you will never be rich in oxen and sheep, nor bear vintage nor yet produce plants abundantly. But if you have the temple of far-shooting Apollo, all men will bring you hecatombs and gather here, and incessant savour of rich sacrifice will always arise, and you will feed those who dwell in you from the hand of strangers; for truly your own soil is not rich (Homeric Hymn to Delian Apollo 51–60).

Delos was not rich in natural resources, but became the birthplace of two of the most important gods in the Greek pantheon.

Interestingly, according to Diogenes Laertius, Pythagoras’ prior reincarnation was purportedly a “Delian fisherman.” Not the same as a diver, but interesting, nevertheless.

The meaning of the name, Delos, is also intriguing. It alludes to the ideas of brilliance, visibility, and transparency. With this in mind, and in agreement with scholar, Francesc Casadesús Bordoy, the phrase “Delian diver” is a sort of oxymoron, i.e a Delian diver would be someone who could dive into the murky depths of Soul with a brilliant clarity of vision.

According to Wikipedia, “Apollo was an oracular god—the prophetic deity of the Delphic Oracle.” So, a Delian diver could also be connected to the powers of the Oracle, giving us the trait of the wisdom of foresight.

Delos was also the birthplace of Artemis, goddess of the hunt, wild animals, and the wilderness. She is the patron goddess of hunters. There is no greater hunt than tracking the mysterious and elusive reality we call Soul.

In summary, a Delian diver, being from Delos, is by definition connected to clarity and vision; Apollo, the god of oracular vision; and Heraclitus, because the metaphor is an oxymoron (a diver is at home in the murky depths of the sea, but able to find treasure because of their clarity of vision).  Heraclitus loved the paradoxical and this metaphor is an intriguing paradox connected to the hunt for Soul.

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Photo by Aleš Kocourek

My principal anguish and the source of all my joys and sorrows from my youth onward has been the incessant, merciless battle between the spirit and the flesh. Within me are the dark immemorial forces of the Evil One, human and pre-human; within me too are the luminous forces, human and pre-human, of God – and my soul is the arena where these two armies have clashed and met (Nikos Kazantzakis, Prologue to The Last Temptation of Christ).

In the past, I have discussed the idea of the Metaxy, how Soul is the meeting-place between spirit and matter. In Plato’s Symposium, Socrates argues that Eros is a daimon who is in-between god and mortal. Indeed, according to Socrates,

the whole of the daimonic is between god and mortal” (202d11-e1).

This state of “in-between-ness” is important in the history of religion and philosophy. Henry Corbin said the Metaxy is the realm of

alam al-mithal, the world of the Image, mundus imaginalis: a world as ontologically real as the world of the senses and the world of the intellect, a world that requires a faculty of perception belonging to it, a faculty that is a cognitive function, a noetic value, as fully real as the faculties of sensory perception, or intellectual intuition. This faculty is the imaginative power, the one we must avoid confusing with the imagination that modern man identifies with “fantasy” and that, according to him, produces only the “imaginary” (Henry Corbin, Swedenborg and Esoteric Islam).

As  Kazantzakis observes, it is also the battleground between matter and spirit. Soul is a mediator. Some alchemists believe that Soul can become disconnected and lost. It can either be trapped in matter or it can be so high in the ethereal that it is totally ineffectual. Their answer, in the form of their art, is to dissolve the dense and literal substance into something more gaseous (spirit or mind). This is equivalent to matter giving up a part of itself. Then, the gaseous is worked upon so that it condenses, thus giving up its part. This middle-region between these two processes is Soul. Arnold de Villa Nova (1235-1313) wrote,

For the solution of the body means the coagulation of the spirit and vice versa; each gives up something of its own nature; they meet each other half way, and thus become one inseparable substance, like water mixed with water.

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic story, The Lord of the Rings, the refuge of Rivendell, the Last Homely House, is a metaphor for this characteristic of Soul. It is a middle point on the journey between the relatively civilized lands of Middle Earth and the rawness of the Misty Mountains and wilds of Rhovanion. In Rivendell, one could rest from tribulation. Though all of Mordor was set against them, the travelers could enjoy solace and peace, free from the darkening clouds of warfare that were beginning to gather all around them.

The Soul is this place of rest. The opposites of matter and spirit are synthesized in Soul. This is one of the great truths of humanity that many have forgotten.

You feel there’s something calling you
You’re wanting to return
To where the misty mountains rise and friendly fires burn
A place you can escape the world
Where the dark lord cannot go
Peace of mind and sanctuary by loud water’s flow ( Rivendell, by Rush).

How do we get to Rivendell?  In an animaterialistic worldview, all matter is dynamic and full of activity, full of life. The Soul that infuses each of us is the same Soul that infuses the entire universe. It is no less a part of us than it is a part of our vast, infinite cosmos. Soul stands as the Metaxy, the Bridge to the Divine for all animaterial creatures. We build our Soul-Houses by daily becoming more aware of Soul. This comes by learning to think mythologically and utilizing Imagination instead of focusing on Aristotelian logic. Nature is our classroom in which Soul has many things to show us. All forms in Nature are symbols for us to assimilate until they permeate our animaterial bodies.

We also get there by treating others as we wish to be treated, not only humans but non-humans as well.

The more time we spend in Rivendell, the closer to God we become.

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Promethean Fire

Prometheus Carrying Fire, by Jan Cossiers

If we look more deeply into the story, we find that everything bestowed by Prometheus on mankind is connected with the human Ego, while Zeus is portrayed as a divine power which inspires and ensouls men in whom the Ego has not yet come to full expression. If we look back over the evolution of the earth, we find in the far past a humanity in which the Ego was no more than an obscurely brooding presence. It had to acquire certain definite faculties with which to educate itself. The gifts that Zeus could bestow were not adapted to furthering the progress of mankind. In respect of the astral body, and of everything in man apart from his Ego, Zeus is the giver. Because Zeus was not capable of promoting the development of the Ego, he resolved to wipe out mankind. All the gifts brought by Prometheus, on the other hand, enabled the Ego to educate itself. Such is the deeper meaning of the legend (Rudolf Steiner, Metaporphoses of the Soul One: Lecture 2: The Mission of Anger).

Prometheus is best known for his theft of fire from the gods. His name literally means, “Forethinker.” By obtaining fire for humanity, he enabled humankind to emerge from a slumbering unconsciousness that had lasted eons. The theft of fire is directly connected with the human ego, for by Prometheus’ gift, humankind began the journey toward developing ego and widening its powers. I see in this myth the warring of two modes of being: 1) the unconsciousness that Zeus desires to perpetuate; and 2) the consciousness of a strong and powerful Ego that would take humanity to the very threshold of the most perplexing questions in existence.  

The myth of Prometheus is analogous to the story of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Both stories tell of the birth of human consciousness. Adam and Eve came to a knowledge of good and evil, while, in the Greek myth, humanity was bestowed the gift of knowledge of ourselves and the world. Both Prometheus and Adam/Eve were severely punished for seeking more knowledge. Prometheus, being immortal, was bound to a rock, where Zeus’ eagle would come everyday to consume his daily regenerating liver.

Why did the gods think the birth of consciousness was something that required such dire consequences? Perhaps they did not want us to become as gods ourselves, possessing conscious awareness of the Universe. Perhaps they foresaw the dangers of unleashing the fire of ego, with its concomitant ability to destroy the very world in which they had placed us.

This is a story of the human Soul and how it has developed through the ages. The same fiery ego that created nuclear weapons is the reason why I must remind you of this. In our ego-driven quest for knowledge, we sometimes forget how dangerous the overinflated ego can be.

Prometheus is traditionally seen as a great benefactor of humanity. He is known as the original source of technology and the useful arts. I think his theft of fire is more beneficial as the catalyst that sparked our thirst for self-knowledge.

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The Vortical Mix

One thing you’re certain of, when you’re whirling in a vortex, is that you’re there together with whatever else is spinning with you. This is the best aspect of the involutionary nature of collective consciousness, i.e. we are all together in this world of contradictions. As the Vortical Mix spins with increasing rapidity, we are drawn closer together.

Picture a cosmic mixing bowl. Several ingredients are added and the mixer is activated. The mixer goes round and round. All the ingredients lose their physical individuality, as they all become one. But when the final product is tasted, one can distinguish, for example, the cinnamon from the apple. So, in a sense, individuality is somehow retained. This is the mystery of the One and the Many.

Our planet is suffering birth pangs, awaiting for the Vortical Mix to be complete. There are those who do not desire this to come to pass. They have another agenda for the human race. The unfolding of the Anima Mundi, however, will trump selfish plans by those who seek to control us.

We are whirling now in the Vortical Mix. The whirling will continue until we decide that it is not such a bad idea to work together for our common good. We cannot become what we are meant to become without uniting.

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Romney’s 47%: Plutocratic Hypocrisy

Photo by Toby Alter

Mitt Romney recently was caught saying that 47% of Americans feel they are entitled “to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it — that that’s an entitlement.” The word, “entitle,” means ” to give a title, right, or claim to something ( He said this as if he and his followers were somehow above being entitled to anything. But we know this is false, since Mitt, and many of his comrades, were raised with the proverbial silver spoons in their mouths.

All people, not just Americans, are indeed entitled to everything we, as humans, need to survive. This is the gist of the principle of human rights. Where did the rich get the idea that their fellow humans were not entitled to a certain standard of living from so-called civil society and its leaders? It is a double standard, when it’s perfectly okay for the wealthy plutocrats to receive their entitlements, such as tax breaks and corporate welfare, but it is somehow wrong for those less fortunate to receive a minimum subsistence from the government. Who else will care for these? Certainly not the Mormon or Christian churches!

The Jesus Christ that Mitt claims to follow would have no problem giving these basic rights to all peoples. That is most obvious from the Gospels. I wonder if Mitt is really following Jesus at all, or if he’s just the stereotypical rich, greedy skinflint that wants everything for him and his rich friends?

I detest politics, but I detest more the denial of human rights to those who cannot help themselves.  

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Animaterialist Thinking

Coal Barges, by Van Gogh

When we think of thinking in our technological age, we think of the brain. But is the brain the only part of the body that thinks? I don’t think so. Thinking is performed with the entire body acting as a Gestalt. It is our Western tendency to view the body in fragmented terms. This is because we project our fragmented nature onto everything, including our own bodies. Because scientists have found the brain to be a computer, we believe it is the location of all thinking in the human body.

What is thinking? It depends on what mode of consciousness the question refers to. The World Soul reveals itself in various ways, according to whatever mode of unfolding is needed at a particular time. The two predominant modes of thinking are 1) the strictly rational, discursive type of thinking; and 2) the intuitive, immediate, and imaginal type of thinking.

Strictly rational thinking most likely involves the brain, since it really is a computer. Rational thinking is, of course, the most predominant type of thinking in Western society. It objectifies and attempts to dominate all things. It believes that all things are within its purview and under its control. This is because it is driven by an overinflated Ego. A mind ruled by analytical ratiocination is always in danger of becoming a mind that desires more power and more control over Nature, which includes the minds of others. I daresay that extreme attempts at ratiocination is at the root of all totalitarian ideology. That being said, rational thinking also is beneficial if used at the appropriate time.

Intuitive thinking is something we in the West are sorely lacking and are much in need of. I believe the entire body is capable of this mode of thought. This is what is romantically known as “thought of the heart.” In our tendency to focus on separate parts of things, we immediately think of “heart” as the organ that pumps blood throughout our bodies. I think “heart” refers to the core of our Being, that which makes us human. According to Henry Corbin, writing of Ibn Arabi’s teachings,

This power of the heart is what is specifically designated by the word himma, a word whose content is best suggested by the Greek word, enthymesis, which signifies the act of meditating, conceiving, imagining, projecting, ardently desiring–in other words, of having (something) present in the thymos, which is vital force, soul, heart, intention, thought, desire…(Henry Corbin, qtd. in The Thought of the Heart and the Soul of the World, by James Hillman, p. 5).

It is this power of the heart, this intuitive thinking, that is in reverential awe of Nature, and is in touch with spirituality and mysticism. It is this mode of thought that brings forth wondrous symphonies, poetry, art, and literature that deepens our awareness of Soul; and it is this mode of thought that will save our world.

Souls think because Souls are bodies and bodies are Souls. Soul is not located in any separate part of the body, as Descartes believed (the pineal gland). Soul and body are one undifferentiated mode of Being.

We need to restore this animaterialist mode of thinking. Our world is in dire need of it. James Hillman wrote,

…philosophy begins in a philos arising in the heart of our blood, together with the lion, the wound, and the rose. If we would recover the imaginal we must first recover its organ, the heart, and its kind of philosophy The Thought of the Heart and the Soul of the World, by James Hillman, p. 6).

Let us develop this mode of thinking in ourselves. The more of us that do so, the better chance our world has of surviving.

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