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.





11 responses to “The Migrations of the Soul”

  1. Steve Lavendusky says :

    The last blog was interesting. It made me think of the book, “The Essence Of Shinto: Japan’s Spiritual Heart,” by Motohisa Yamakage.

  2. Dwig says :

    I’d be very interested to learn about these signs of integration that you see. One possibility that’s occurred to me is the rise of complex adaptive systems (CAS) theory, and its applications to a variety of phenomena. Of course, it’s very much a product of the fourth consciousness structure, but to me at least, it seems to “point beyond” it. One of my favorite sayings in the discipline is “in a CAS, you can never do just one thing”.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Given the present circumstances, nothing seems more unlikely than “integral consciousness”, does it? It looks just the opposite, in fact — disintegration, corruption, fracture and fragmentation, the erection of barriers and walls and fortress mentality, and emergent havoc. Every crisis imaginable seems to be descending upon us — war, terrorism, climate change, global economic contraction, displacement and migration, dissolution of nation-states, energy anxiety, nuclear madness, reactionary political formations, etc. The list of maladies goes on and on. And while we might describe this global “havoc” as “chaotic transition”, it could very well be a transition to nothing but planet death. This is also feasible — a disintegration that is total. The ultimate catastrophe and existential threat, and this seems to be the dominant tendency and current presently. Humankind seems hell-bent on destroying itself.

      All this was anticipated by some as a fate for the Modern Age — Nietzsche, Gebser, Rosenstock, Yeats, amongst others — as “chaotic transition”, but also as the ultimate challenge to “sink or swim” as the saying goes. Economic globalisation, with all the naivete of reductionistic economism, was supposed to be this new dynamic of “integration”, but it has resulted in the exact opposite of what it intended — another case of “ironic reversal”. Coca-Cola and capitalism have not united the world in song. Nor has Pepsi or McDonald’s or Levis, etc. It was very naive to think you could turn brand names and logos into the globe’s new sacred symbols and holy relics, and advertising into myth and “grand narrative” — the perfect life attainable through consumption. But that’s essentially economism promoted as a consolation for the “death of God”, as it were. Assuming we have a future, I’m sure it will look back on all this as having been utterly insane and psychopathic. Consumerism can’t fill the inner void. Money can’t provide the meaning of life. And yet that’s what is implied in sayings like “time is money” and “money makes the world go round”. That’s the rule of Moloch.

      So, you have this tension presently between reductionism and fundamentalism, which are quite evidently two sides of the same coin, as it were, and is the gist of “jihad” and “mcworld” as Barber put it in his book. Reductionism leads to the secular bigot, and fundamentalism leads to the religious fanatic, and there isn’t much to distinguish between them in terms of attitude.

      Analytical rationality is good at taking things apart. It’s not so good at putting things back together — the Humpty-Dumpty problem. For that, you need other resources than analytical rationality. This is the issue of “metanoia” or “new mind”. But it’s the very existence of the unsatisfactory state of late modernity that is acting as chief stimulus for the quest for this “metanoia” or integral consciousness, as corrective. So, wherever you find novel experiments in holistic thinking like “theory”, this is the incipient integral consciousness attempting to manifest itself within the current consciousness structure — the mental-rational, and in a sense also dissolving it from within. That also acts as a kind of “solvent”, which process is accompanied by stress, confusion, perplexity, disorientation, anxiety, etc.

      The chief manifestation of the “new mind” is the overcoming of the subject-object divide and dichotomy. Cosmos and consciousness are, as it were “entangled” to employ the present jargon. The one is the precise mirror reflection of the other. The subject-object divide was a convention only, a way of gaining psychic or intellectual distance from nature by way of “disinterestedness”. It was, in other words, a mental maneouvre and device. This is pivotal, really. Contemporary arts and sciences now understand that we can get nowhere without taking into account the so-called “hard problem” — that consciousness is, in some way, implicated in all cosmic process, and does not end at the boundary of the skin or with the physical senses.

      Gebser was right, I think, to point to Einstein’s unification of space and time (and also matter and energy) in the spacetime continuum as seminal and pivotal. Remember Augustine’s remark that “time is of the soul” and you will also realise the fuller implications — the unification of consciousness and cosmos. The problem of “time” has forced physics to take account of the “point-of-view” in temporicity — the essential role of an observer. That has led to all the paradoxes of contemporary physics, especially quantum physics, the “Measurement Problem”, uncertainty principle, entanglement, etc, etc. The unification of space and time (and matter and energy) meant Descartes (and Newtonianism, too) became obsolete.

      For what the unification of space and time in the spacetime continuum means, and also of matter and energy, is that we are now coming to see them also as transforms of one another — polarities of one and the same mysterious process, and not as “dualities”, and with that also, cosmos and consciousness cease to be divided into discrete “subject” and “object” realms, but are also coming to be appreciated as polarities also — aspects of one and the same energetic dynamic and process.

      In consequence of all this, consciousness and the act of perception itself is no longer being taken for granted, as it was with Descartes, who completely ignored time and the act of perception. None of this can be ignored any longer, nor is the subject-object device and convention (and dichotomy) sustainable any longer. And this is slowly — perhaps too slowly — beginning to inflitrate even mainstream consciousness, but presently mainly concentrated in little oases and pockets in the arts and sciences.

      I would say that the ultimate outcome of this is a definitive corroboration of that insistent remark by “Seth” that “you create the reality you know” and that “consciousness generates form, and not vice versa”. There in itself lies a revolution in thinking so profound that it must come to change how we approach everything, for the exact opposite was believed to be the actual case. That consciousness, in some mysterious way, intends its world — that wasn’t even considered possible to the modern sensibility, which believed just the opposite.

      It’s going to take a while before this all percolates through the social structure, and I’m not sure we have that time to wait for it to do so. But its this conundrum of consciousness and its connection with time that has so many contemporary people, including scientists, looking to Buddhism amongst other things for possible answers, which is also a manifestation of “integralism” in the making, a true feature of “globalism”, for it is also making for “universal history”.

      In fact, it’s interesting that Rosenstock-Huessy predicted the “Buddhist turn” of the contemporary intellect in 1946.

      • Scott Preston says :

        A word of caution following this last comment: the dissolution of the subject-object divide and boundary can have psychopathic outcomes. It must be realised in full consciousness and awareness, otherwise it will be indistinguishable from psychopathy.

        The reason the subject-object convention was adopted in the first place was as a shield against that kind of psychopathy that characterised the waning of the Middle Ages. Preserving some measure and degree of psychic distance is necessary — that is to say, it is not a question of ego annihilation, but enhancement of functionality, which in Castaneda was referred to as “controlled folly”. And the appropriate way of achieving such a fine balance is the medical attitude — compassion and empathy but also with distance. You don’t want your doctor becoming sick at the sight of blood or not telling you the truth because he doesn’t want to hurt your feelings.

        So, here again it is not a question of an “either/or” type logic, but a “both/and” type logic. You don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. A “both/and” logic is what Gebser means by a “plus mutation” rather than a “minus mutation”.

        That’s another way of testing for a manifestation of integral consciousness — does it conform more to a “both/and” type test of logic or an “either/or” type. Where paradox is admitted, then there is also “coincidentia oppositorum” also admitted, and that means a supersession of dualistic reasoning towards complementarity and polarity.

      • Dwig says :

        I’m glad I asked — that comment pulls together several strands of thought that you’ve been exploring. I think it’d be worth elevating to a post of its own.

        One more question: the mention of “cosmic consciousness” makes me wonder if there’s also something like a “cosmic unconsciousness” in the Jungian sense. If we take seriously Jung’s notion of “individuation”, it seems that there must be something to act as the complementary pole.

        • Scott Preston says :

          Well… in the Jungian sense that’s supposed to be the so-called “collective unconscious” which, one might say, corresponds to “dark energy” in physics. In traditional terms, the complement to kosmos is kaos, or otherwise expressed as Being and Nothingness. Otherwise expressed, I’ve referred to these as the intentional and the attentional polarity of awareness, which we call the active case or the passive case, or correspondingly as speaking and listening acts (which must be distinguished from merely talking and hearing).

          Nothingness or chaos or Void is not, in that sense, oblivion, but potentiality. Aristotle distinguished between what came to be called actus and potens in that sense, too — but actus and potens corresponds to cosmos and chaos, or otherwise called Being and Nothingness. So, to try to answer your question, there isn’t a “cosmic unconsciousness” as such. It’s already known as Void, Chaos, Nothingness, and this is considered Origin of all things, and this corresponds to what Jung tried to describe as “collective unconscious” or “dark energy” in cosmological terms. That’s “synchronicity” for ya’…

  3. abdulmonem says :

    please note my comment on migration of the soul11

  4. abdulmonem says :

    Thank you Scott for liberating it. All your posts are act of liberating humanity from its bondage.

  5. LittleBigMan says :

    Enlightening and illuminating. It seems to me then that time imbues space with value. Time also represents and implies movement through space. So, migration of the soul, in a way, necessitates experimentation with the times. “Times out of joint,” as it were, it seems to me, is an acknowledgement of “The Migrations of the Soul.”

  6. LittleBigMan says :

    It seems to me that at this level of space-time-based existence, Seth’s ““you create the reality you know” refers to anyone’s experience of one of many path choices.

    Each possible path leads to different challenges and demons and moments of happiness, leading, therefore, to different experiences and realities.

    This choice of the challenges (and spiritual gains) we face is the meaning of “you create the reality you know.” Not that we necessarily create these challenges, but that we choose the course that lets us to experience them.

    As we experience these various events in life, they become the reality we know. I certainly did not create the monsters that I have had to face, since they were born long before I was born, and either they came to my place of existence from afar or I entered their place of operation from a place also very far away.

    The aspect of the meaning of Seth’s “you create the reality you know” that deals with consciousness’ creation of form is handled by personalities that operate at a different level of existence.

    Seth himself, for instance, is one such personality that is capable of creating form for the sake of experiencing the reality associated with that form. For example, creating a forest and then taking the form of a single tree in that forest in order to experience that level of consciousness.

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