The Migrations of the Soul
What we call “soul” has a very interesting history. I don’t know if anyone has written a history of the soul as it has been represented in human history, apart from Jean Gebser in some respects, but it would make for some very interesting reading. Bruno Snell took a crack at it in his excellent book The Discovery of the Mind: The Greek Origins of European Thought (which is available online), but Snell was more interested in the evolution (ie, “unfolding”) of “mind” (or mental-rational consciousness structure) moreso than the soul. The “discovery of the mind”, or the mental-rational, is only part of the history of the migrations of the “soul” through the human form.
What I mean by “soul” we may take to mean “the life essence”, or the energetic principle, or “the creative force” as expressed in and through the human form that has become self-aware to a certain degree, and imperfectly so as the case may be, and which imperfection is the cause of human restlessness and sense of lack. Or, as William Blake put it, “More! More! is the cry of the mistaken soul; less than All cannot satisfy Man.”
The pre-Socratic Greek philosophers credited the Egyptians for the “discovery of the soul” — the Ka, the Ka being the life essence. By “discovery”, though, is meant that the incipient individuated ego-consciousness now came to feel itself as “having” a soul rather than being a soul. There is here the beginning of a separation between ego awareness and the life essence, the beginning of a separation between Being and Having, or, correspondingly, between consciousness AS and consciousness OF.
This same period of the “discovery of the soul” corresponds with intense religious innovations which has been called The Axial Age, running from about the 8th to the 3rd centuries B.C. and which some have found quite puzzling. It’s not that puzzling. It is the attempt by the individuated consciousness or ego-nature to preserve its connection with the life essence from which it emerged, and which was becoming more and more objectified. That’s implied in the very meaning of the word “re-legion” which means “to re-connect”.
Before “religion”, per se, was animism and vitalism. It’s not really accurate to call them “religions”. Animism held that the life force was in the limbs, and often early cave art or pottery as such depicts the limbs, or the joints of the limbs, in exaggerated form. It was called “animism” precisely because the life force was the animating force, which was movement. What moved was alive and was imbued with “mana” or “teja” as long as it was in motion. The “soul”, as such, was in the limbs, and language still preserves much of that animistic sense in sayings like “feel it in my bones” or “bred in the bone” or “felt it in all my members” or “sinews” and so on. Athletes, and similar somatic types, tend towards an animistic conception of “soul”. It is associated with the metabolic system and the element of earth.
In vitalism, the life essence and creative force is felt to reside in the blood and heart rather than the limbs. The Egyptians believed that the heart, and not the brain or limbs, was the house of the life essence. Echoes of vitalism still resound in things like “the Holy Blood” or “blood bond” or “blood purity” or “hot-blooded” and “cold-blooded”, “blood sacrifice” and so on. Jehovah’s Witnesses tend towards vitalism. It is associated with the circulatory system and the element of water.
The next migration of the life essence was into respiration and the element of air — spiritus and pneuma. The soul or life force is conceived as akin to the wind. “The Spirit bloweth where it listeth”, and it is often the tongue (speech) that is associated with the soul. This is associated predominantly with the mythical structure of consciousness.
The next migration of the life force was into the brain and nervous system, and this corresponds to the emergence of the mental structure of consciousness or the notion of soul as the psyche. Mentalism or psychism is the name for this conception of soul as “rational soul”. It is associated with the element of fire.
Animism, vitalism, spiritualism, and psychism (or mentalism) pretty much covers the various migrations of “the soul” in human history and its circulation through the human form. It’s an interesting pattern, which probably has some correspondence with Gebser’s four structures of consciousness — the archaic, the magical, the mythical, and the mental-rational, and perhaps also with Blake’s “four Zoas” of the disintegrate “Adam”. The pattern certainly seems connected with Jung’s four psychological types or functions of consciousness, in terms of sensing, feeling, willing, and thinking. And what is this but the “soul’s” experimentation with different modalities of being or modes of perception and self-actualisation or self-realisation? Moreover, each of them had a different experience of, and understanding of, time.
They all still exist, of course, under different names perhaps or wearing different attire, even as different ideological or theological systems of values, where the accent falls on one or another. But it is probably a feature of the “integral consciousness” that the life essence will be known and felt to be resident throughout the entire human form, and not just one part of it.
It would seem that the “soul” as such has experimented with all the modes of being possible to it in physical reality, and that the next step would be to integrate them into a coherent and comprehensive narrative of its history and origins. And there are, indeed, signs that this is occurring now, even in the midst of the apparent mayhem of the late modern era.