The Nature of the Soul...

“Whatever you are physically...male or female, strong or weak, ill or healthy--all those things matter less than what your heart contains. All those other things, they are the glass that contains the lamp, but you are the light inside.” -Cassandra Clare

Today we’re diving into the core of our experience here on Earth...exploring the very thing that arguably connects us all and makes us who we are. Or in less dramatic wording...we’re gonna look at the first half of our channel name...Spirit. Now, quick disclaimer...practically every culture in the world shares some concept of a soul or spiritual essence, and many make that distinction between a physical material body and an immaterial divine essence. As such, we can only cover so much in one video, but if you have a concept of the soul from your own culture, drop it below and start a conversation in the comments! Also, today we wanna give you a free download of the Awakening Meditation, you can grab a copy using the links in the description, and connect with your soul deeper right after this video! 

So….the soul huh. That thing that basically every culture shares some understanding of and yet isn’t considered real by mainstream science. Everyone has talked about it at some point, from Ancient Philosophers to Instagram “Gurus” and most of us probably have an idea of what it is…  Even scientists have used the term “Soul” metaphorically to describe the essential nature of a subject! But...what actually IS it? What does it look like? Does it float around like a ghost on Halloween? Is it something inside our body, around us, or off somewhere else? What about our own depiction from the Balance card in Patch Tarot? If you’ve ever asked anything like this, then you’re actually thinking in line with some of the greatest philosophers of antiquity

In the Western world our understanding mostly comes from the Greek Mystery schools. The soul -known in Greek as Psyche, is the immaterial essence of our Self and is the force behind everything from reason and logic, character, feeling, consciousness, memory and even perception. For the most part, the Greeks used the word "ensouled" to represent the concept of being alive, indicating that the earliest surviving western philosophical view on the self, believed that the soul gave the body life. This idea is echoed in the Greek and Latin words for it as well, with the Latin anima meaning breath, while the Greek word psyche comes from a verb meaning "to cool, or blow", associated with wind. This is literally the etymology today - the root of the word Spirit is Breath. 

Interestingly, Plato believed that even after death, the soul exists and is able to think. He believed that while our physical bodies die, our soul is reborn into new bodies every time, a process known as Metempsychosis or “the transmigration of souls”...extremely similar to reincarnation. But Plato didn’t invent the idea of Metempsychosis… Actually, the earliest Greek Philosopher to talk about it was Pherecydes of Syros around 543 BC… But it actually was popularised by Pythagoras, who created societies and schools to teach it. 

In the Pre-Pythagorean teachings, the soul was present but lifeless, and simply returned to the Otherworld and had no hope of reincarnating.

In Platonic thought though, the Soul had three parts: the Logos, which was the mind and part that allowed us to engage in logic and reason, located in the head. The Masculine aspect Thymos, which was responsible for emotion and willpower and found in the Chest. And finally, the Feminine Eros, which was responsible for love and desire, found in the Stomach. According to Plato's ideas, this trinity soul was similar to a state's class system in that, to work properly, each part needs to contribute to the wider Whole. However, in contrast, Aristotle believed that only the Logos got reincarnated and put forth the belief of different kinds of souls (Plants, Animals and Humans), which is something we covered in our first Science video!

Now, we don’t really know how this Westernized Reincarnation idea came about in Greece… Since Pythagoras likely didn’t get it from Egypt...but some historians have argued it has its roots in the Orphic tradition… You know, that story of the guy with the harp going down into the underworld to bring back his dead girlfriend… See, Orpheus is said to have taught that the soul continues its journey after death, alternating between a separate untethered existence and a fresh reincarnation, which is what laid the groundwork for the later Eleusinian Mysteries

Amazingly, during the Roman conquests of Gaul later on, both Polyhistor and Julius Caesar noted that the Celtic Druids had an extremely similar belief about the soul in Europe. Stating that “the Pythagorean doctrine prevails among the Gauls' teachings, that souls are immortal, and that after a fixed number of years they will enter into another body”, with Caesar even arguing that “the main object of all education [among the Druids] is to imbue their scholars with a firm belief in the indestructibility of the human soul, which, according to their belief, merely passes at death from one tenement to another”. Naturally scholars argue that such similar beliefs are a descendant of Proto Indo European religious thought, but that’s a whole video on its own!

...But what about other cultures? Well let’s take a trip to the Desert... Throughout their history, Egyptians believed there were 9 or so different parts to the human soul. First you had the Khet, the physical body, translating as “the sum of bodily parts”. Khet was super important to allow the soul to incarnate and have intelligence, as well as be judged by Anubis upon death, which is why they placed such a big emphasis on preserving the body.

Before a person could be judged by the gods, they had to be "awakened" through a series of spells designed to reanimate them, something called the Opening of the Mouth Ceremony. If this process was completed, then the Sah would be created, which was kinda like a spiritual body double, like you see in Dr Strange. The Sah was what allowed you to interact with the Duat or Astral, and talk to the Gods. However, it also had a negative aspect and was the part of the soul that could come back to haunt people if they got screwed over in life. 

Another major part was the Heart, known in Egyptian as the ib. Depending on the school, they often believed that the heart was the seat of emotion, thought, willpower and intention. Something that is super cool...a lot of Egyptian words and phrases incorporate the word ib, for instance, in the Teachings of Ptahhotep, there is a line often translated as “do not vent your anger” but more literally the translation would be “do not wash your heart”. And when it came to adjectives, they usually made no distinction between the mind and the heart with regard to emotion or thought.

Next we had the most famous aspect... the Ka. This was the one probably most similar to the Greek Psyche, since it was considered the Vital Essence or breath that distinguished between a living person and a dead one. It was believed that the Ka was breathed into you at birth and left you upon death. Interestingly, this was the aspect of the soul people gave offerings to in little “Ka Shrines” in tombs, as it was thought it could eat and drink the spiritual essence of stuff. 

Closely related to the Ka, there was the Ba. This was probably the closest in nature to what we would call the Ego today. It made up everything that made us an individual and unique, such as our self identity and individuality. Where things get a bit weird though is that random objects could also have a Ba, with a lot of people referring to their tombs as their own Ba. It was an aspect of yourself left behind after death, kinda like a living memory. However, Egyptologist Louis Vico ┼Żabkar argues that the Ba is not just a part of the person but is the person themselves. Funnily enough, when it’s used in the plural (Ba-u), it meant reputation or power. Oh...it was also depicted as a you headed bird, so...yeah...imagine Astral birdseed..

Next was the Shut or Shadow self. This is a weird one, because it didn’t necessarily mean the bad parts of our soul, but more just something that was always there and thought to represent some aspect of yourself. Sometimes a statue or picture of yourself was said to contain your shadow. Linked in with this is another part known as the Sekhem. Literally it meant power or force, but outside of that we don’t really know much about it.

The last two aspects of the soul were Ren and Akh. Ren is a word that meant “name”, and in Egyptian thought, you would remain immortal as long as people spoke your name or remembered you...so when we found Tutankhamun in 1922, Howard Carter probably accidentally woke him up on the astral....Your Soul Name was the place where memories were stored as well as all your experiences, so that’s why a lot of Egyptian monuments have names written all over them, because writing them down helped to keep your soul alive. As a result, erasing someone’s name was one of the worst things you could do, which is actually what happened to Akhenaten and Tutankhamun. 

The final aspect is the most interesting. The Akh was one of the magical aspects of the soul and represented the part of you that became a being of pure light after death. While it was thought to be responsible for thinking, it was also thought and feeling personified as an actual entity, and as a result, it would only emerge once the Ka and Ba, and other aspects of your soul came together and were unified into a complete whole after completing your journey.. Naturally, there’s so much more to Egyptian Philosophy, so we encourage you to look into it yourself! But if we continue our journey into ancient traditions, and head further East, we find a similar idea of multiple souls in Chinese traditional religions.

In Chinese Myth, an individual was said to have a Cloud Soul and a White Soul. The Cloud (known as Hun in Chinese… no, not the villains from Mulan), was your immaterial, spiritual and Yang soul which left the body after death, but the White (Po) soul was your physical Yin self. In Taoism, there is sometimes a belief that we had 3 Hun souls and 7 Po souls. We actually find a similar idea to Plato and Aristotle in that the Hun controlled our intellect and reasoning whereas the Po was our animalistic soul that controlled our physical growth. 

While the Hun looked similar to us, with a body, the Po was said to be disc shaped like the moon. In fact, one of the main goals of Taoist Alchemy was to return the Hun and Po back to the body, standing on the belief that in most cases, the Po -our physical desires, controlled the Hun -our true spiritual self, which led to decay and death eventually...however, through breath and Alchemy we could reverse the respective roles so that our true soul could control our physical self, which is what led to Immortality.

Now, we’ve also covered the discussion of the Soul in Buddhism before in our episode on Ego, so we won’t go into it much here. But essentially, in contrast to Vedic and Hindu tradition that believed we had a true higher self that stayed with us throughout all our lifetimes - known as the Atman, many early Buddhist schools adopted the philosophy of Annata, a non-self teaching….a belief that there is no unchanging, permanent self, soul, or essence in anything. While the Buddha often argued that we didn’t have a soul, there were still discussions of Karma and rebirth, so texts that talked about a soul were often two sided. Either they directly denied the existence of a true self or soul or they questioned the nature of the material self. 

As a result, the Buddha was supposedly critical of saying the soul was responsible for karma or reincarnation, instead depending on the school of thought it was a form of universal energy that made its way back into bodies, but even that is up for debate. Peter Harvey has pointed out a paradox in Buddhist literature that some early texts described the achievement of Nirvana as “gaining a mature self that knows everything as Selfless”. There is also this idea of the Citta which was described as the Mind/heart and emotional nature of a person, but something known as the Great Self is mentioned in the Suttas as meaning “a mind which is neither at the mercy of outside stimuli nor its own moods, neither scattered nor diffused, but imbued with self-control”....in other words, one of the primary goals of the early Buddhist Suttas was a development of self towards a Selfless state where you realize there is no self or “I am” nature in the universe. Ultimately the Buddhist idea of the soul is rooted in Anicca a belief that change is the only constant and nothing remains permanent

So… it seems we’re out of time for today, but there’s SO much more to cover yet! So stay tuned for part 2 where we’ll look at some of the other more obscure ideas about the soul and bring it into the modern day, along with some of our own interpretations… Until then, what do you think the soul is? But more to the point...what could gain from an understanding of it today? See you soon! 

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