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The Soul in Matter

In Manichaeism, the Anthropos or Primal Human was freed even before the creation of the actual cosmos.  But the Soul remained behind, for its Light was too thoroughly mingled with the Darkness.  As Hans Jonas explains

"`Soul' is thus the power which the Primal Man, himself already freed and restored before the beginning of the world, had lost to Matter [or Darkness].  For the sake of these lost and thoroughly engulfed parts, the cosmos had to be created as a great mechanism for the separation of the Light....

In order to free this trapped Light, the Living Spirit and his entourage of gods extract the mixture of Light and Dark (in which the powers of Darkness had been weakened) from the main mass of Darkness, and fashion the mixture (i.e. the negative powers or Archons - "Rulers") that had incorporated the Light) into the cosmos.  Thus the cosmos is made from the carcasses of these negative powers.

In the following passage, Hans Jonas summarises the entire Manichaean cosmogony very clearly:

"Three `creations' were forced upon the deity by the aggression of the Darkness and its consequences: that of Primal Man for battle and sacrifice; of the Living Spirit (also called Demiurge) for the champion's liberation and, because this remains incomplete [due to the presence of Soul still within matter), for the construction  of the universe from the intermingled substance; of the Messenger (also called the Third Messenger) for the setting in motion of the universe and the liberation of the Light embodied in it.  The third mission is countered by the Darkness with the creation of man [who, through sexual reproduction keeps the Light trapped in new bodies indefinitely] which in turn necessitates the mission of the Luminous Jesus [an emanation of the Third Messenger] to Adam [the first man].  Through the latter's seduction and the ensuring fact of reproduction, the drama  and with it the mission of "Jesus" is protracted into the history of mankind.  This world history...belongs...to the division of divine history  represented by the emanation of the Messenger; it is his changing hypostases who act as deities of revelation in human religious history, namely,  "Jesus" for Adam, [Buddha in India, Zoroaster in Persia, Jesus in the West],...Mani at the height, and the Great Thought at the apocalyptic end of history..."

The Manichaean eschaton involves the final separation of Light and Darkness, with the latter rendered eternally still and impotent.  Thus the entire cosmic history, according to the Manichaeans and the Gnostics, is for the purpose of freeing the still trapped sparks of Light, leading eventually to the ultimate separation of Light and Dark.

As can be seen, both the Gnostics and the Manichaeans took a very dim view of this world.  They saw the world as totally ruled by negative powers (a hypothesis one does not find hard to believe when one looks at the global situation today!), and that even matter itself is of the nature of Darkness.  The only hope lies in escaping this world of Darkness, in order to return to the transcendent region of Light.

This is the basic other-worldly teaching, which one finds in many forms of spirituality and mysticism.  In contrast to this is the position that sees the world as flawed and fallen, certainly, but still capable of restitution.  Here we have the stance not only of exoteric religions such as Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Christianity (all representing the "Apocalypitic view of the world"), but also esoteric teachings such as Lurianic Kabbalah and Sri Aurobindo (which can perhaps be interpreted as "esoteric apocalyptic").  One could even use the alchemical metaphor: the base matter of the world is transmuted into the Gold of perfected existence.

According to this cosmology then, the Soul is not a kind of pre-existent entity which was made by God and which incarnated ready-made into a body, as the religionists believe.  Rather, the Soul is the result of a dynamic activity, of the Descent of the Divine Love into darkness and matter.  It is an aspect, an evolution, of the very nature of "God".  "God" performs a certain Action, and through this an aspect of Itself becomes the Soul.  The very descent of the Divine into the Darkness and Ignornance and evil of the original World (the world created by the four Fallen Powers) for the purpose of restoring or redeeming creation -  the ultimate act of self-giving, of self-sacrifice - generated, or became, the Soul.  The Soul itself is therefore the very essence of self-giving, of total selflessness.  And that is what makes the Soul so beautiful and sub-lime, more beautiful and sublime than even the highest god.

There is an obvious parallel here with the Christian myth, in which God sacrifices a part of himself (Christ) for the sake of fallen beings.  In the Christ-myth we find the idea of total, unconditional self-sacrifice.  And this Christ-myth is for this reason very beautiful, and contains a very profound truth within itself (as indeed do all valid myths).  Christianity only became ugly when Christ became the cosmic dictator: "no one comes to the father, but through me!"  Then Christ is no longer the symbol of the Divine Soul, but rather the symbol of the asura, the jealous god who demands absolute obedience.  And this is indeed what Christ has become in fundamentalist Christianity today.

It could be said that everything in human nature which is good - selflessness and altruism, sincerity, true spirituality, compassion for all beings, love of the good and disgust with the bad - comes from the Divine Soul.  Without it there could be no spirituality, no goodness, no victory of the Divine in this world.  The world would be eternally dark, eternally ruled by the Fallen Powers.  For it is the Divine Soul which alone that constitutes the Light and Love and Consciousness which is the Divine Presence in matter.

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content by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 24 May 1999, last modified 6 June 2004