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The Chaldæan Oracles



We now come to the important subject of the doctrine of the Oracles concerning the human soul.

The soul, as we have already seen (i. xx), was brought into being by the union of three; it is a triad, or rather a monad united with a triad.

Having mingled the Spark of soul with two in unanimity - with Mind and Breath Divine - to them He added, as a third, Pure Love, the august Master binding all.

(K. 26; C. 81)

We must, then, suppose that the individual souls, as lives, flow forth from the World-Soul, the Great Mother; it is, however, the Father who conditions them by His Creative Thought.

These things the Father thought, and [so] made mortal [man] to be ensouled.

(K. 46; C. 78)

“Mortal man” here seems to mean man as conditioned by body. The Soul is, as it were, a middle term between Mind and Body - both for the Great World and for the little world, or man; for two verses run:

The Father of men and gods Placed Mind in Soul, and Soul in inert Body.

(K. 47; C. 18)

The fundamental distinction, however, between the Mind and Soul is not easy to draw with any great clearness. They may be thought of as Light and Life, the eternally united complements of the One Mystery, the masculine and feminine powers of the sexless Supreme. So also with the individual soul in man; the soul-spark is a light-spark which is also a life-spark, or rather life-flood; it is centre and sphere in perpetual embrace - for mind and soul are not to be separated, no man can put them asunder. The nature of this “soul” (ātma-buddhi) is immortal and divine.

For Soul being shining Fire, by reason of the Father' s Power, both keeps immune from Death, and body is of Life, and hath the fulnesses [plērōmata] of many wombs.

(K. 47; C. 20)

In the cosmic process (and also in the case of the individual) when the Sea of Substance has been impregnated by the Beams of Light, the whole Sea changes from dull and sluggish Matter (tamas) to bright Soul (sattva). It has become one now instead of indeterminate, cosmic and no longer chaotic. It is now the Sea of Life, the complement of all imperfection.

It is in all probability to the individual Soul that Psellus refers, when he writes:

For if, according to the Oracles, it is “a portion of the Fire Divine,” and “shining Fire,” and “a creation of the Father's Thought,” its form is immaterial and self-subsistent.

(K. 47, n. 2)



The original text of our Oracle-poem had, probably, something to tell us of

other “vehicles” or “garments” of the Soul besides the gross body; but no verses on this interesting subject are extant.

Proclus, however, tells us that the disciples of Porphyry “seem to follow the Oracles, in saying that in its Descent the Soul ‘collects a portion of Æther and of Sun and Moon, and all the elements contained in Air.’” Compare with this the Oracle quoted above (i. xx):

O Æther, Sun, Moon's Breath, Leaders of Air.

(K. 3; C. 136)

And also a fragment of Porphyry preserved by Stobæus:

For when the soul goes forth from the solid body, there follows along with it the spirit which it collected from the spheres.

(K. 47, n. 3)

And with this compare the following passage from the Trismegistic tractate “The Key”:

Now the principles of man are this wise vehicled: mind in the reason, the reason in the soul, soul in the spirit, and spirit in the body.

Spirit pervading body, by means of veins and arteries and blood, bestows upon the living creature motion, and, as it were, doth bear it in a way . . .

It is the same for those who go out from the body.

For when the soul withdraws into itself, the spirit doth contract within the blood, and soul within the spirit. And then the mind, stripped of its wrappings, and naturally divine, takes to itself a fiery body.

(H., ii. I49, I5I)

And so also Proclus, treating of the Ascent or Return, and plainly referring to the Oracles, writes:

In order that both the visible vehicle may, through the visible action of them [sci., the Rays], obtain its proper treatment [or care], and that the vehicle that's more divine than this, may secretly be purified, and [so] return to its own proper lot, “drawn upward by the lunar and the solar Rays,” as says somewhere one of the Gods [i.e., the Oracles].

Compare with this the Pitri-yāna and Deva-yāna, or Way of the Fathers and Way of the Gods, in the Upanishads. This “more divine vehicle” was generally called by the Later Platonic school the “ray-like” (augo-eidés), or “star-like” (astro-eidés), or “spirituous” (pneumatik-ón) body; and its purification and enlivening by means of the Rays are admirably set forth in the rubrics of the Mithriac Ritual (Vol. VI.).



In itself, the Soul is possessed of a divine nature, and is naturally free; in the earth-state, however, it is now in slavery owing to its being drunk with the things of gross matter (hylē). This at any rate seems to be the meaning of the following three lines that have, unfortunately, been considerably mangled by the copyists:

The Soul of man shall press God closely to itself, with naught subject to death in it; [but now] it is all drunk, for it doth glory in the Harmony beneath whose sway the mortal frame exists.

(K. 48; C. 83)

With these lines are probably to be taken the verse quoted above (i. xx):

Not knowing God is wholly God. wretched slaves, be sober !

(K. 15; C. 184)

The Harmony is the system of the Seven Formative Spheres of Genesis, or Fate. And so Proclus, speaking of Souls, writes:

Which also the Gods [i.e., the Oracles] say are slaves when they turn to generation (genesis); but “if they serve their slavery with neck unbent,” they are brought home again from out this state, leaving the state of birth-and-death (genesis) behind.



As to body, the doctrine of the Oracles was, as with nearly all the mystic schools of the time, that of naïve ascetic dualism in general, that is if we can trust the commentators. Body seems more or less to have been identified with matter. It is said to be “in a state of flux,” “spread out,” and “scattered.” It was apparently called, in the Oracles, the “tumultuous vessel” or “vessel of tumult” - the epithet being derived from rushing, roaring and dashing waves, and the idea being connected with the flowing nature of material things, presumably, as contrasted with the quiet of the contemplative mind.

Proclus speaks of “the earth from which one must ‘lighten the heart’” (K. 48), and this “heart” must be associated with what he calls, after the Oracles, “the ‘inner heart’ in the essence of the soul” (K. 47, n. I).

The unfortunate body is thus regarded as the “root of evil,” or “naughtiness,” and is said to be even the “purgation of matter” (K. 48), one of our extant fragments characterizing it plainly as the “dung” or “dross of matter” (K. 6I; C. 147).

It may here be noted that in the Pistis Sophia, matter is called the “superfluity of naughtiness,” and men (that is men's bodies) are said to be the “purgation of the matter (hylē) of the Rulers” (P.S., 249, 251, 337); and it is very credible that this was one of the doctrines of the “Books of the Chaldæans.”

Matter (hylē) is here not regarded as the fruitful substance of the universe, the “Land flowing with milk and honey,” but as the dry and squalid element beneath the Moon, which, Proclus tells us, is called, in the Oracles, the “unwatered,” that is in itself unfruitful, the Desert as compared with the Land of true living substance (K. 48).



In this gross matter dwells the body which is subject to Nature, that is Fate. The physical body, then, appears to have been regarded as an excretion within the domain of Nature or the Fate-sphere. Psellus, accordingly, writes concerning the Soul, or rather the Light-spark:

But the Gnostic Fire comes from Above, and is in need of its native Source alone [presumably, the true spiritual life-substance]; but if it be affected by the feelings of the body, Necessity compels that it should serve it [the body] and [so] be set beneath the sway of Fate, and led about by Nature”

(K. 48)

This suggests the putting on the “form of a servant,” of the Pauline Letters (Phil., ii. 7), and the Trismegistic “becoming a slave within the Harmony [i.e., Fate-sphere] (H., ii. 10).

This gross matter, or hylic substance, extended as far as the Moon; it constituted, therefore, practically the atmosphere, or surround, of the earth, generally spoken of as the sublunary region. The Moon was its “Ruler,” being the “image” of the Great Mother, Nature, who conditions all genesis - that is, becoming or birth-and-death. Speaking of this Lunar Sphere, which surrounds the hylic regions, Proclus tells us that in it were “the causes of all genesis” or generation; and quotes a sacred logos in confirmation:

The self-revealed glory [or image] Nature shines forth.

(K. 49)

Whether these words are quoted directly from our poem is not quite certain; it is, however, highly probable, for an isolated verse runs:

Do not invoke the self-revealed image of Nature.

(K. 49; C. 148)

Here Mother Nature is what the Greeks called Hecatē, and her “image” or nature-symbol, or glory, is the Moon. Very similar to this is the fragment:

Turn not thy face Naturewards; [for] her Name is identical with Fate.

(K. 49; C. 149)

Perhaps the second clause has been defaced in the tradition; it is difficult to make out the precise sense from the present text, unless it means simply, as lamblichus tells us, that: “The whole being [or essence] of Fate is in Nature” - that is to say, that Nature and Fate are identical.

In close connection with this we must take the Oracular prohibition:

Do not increase thy Fate!

(K. 50; C. 153)

Fate may here be said to be the result of contact with many people and objects. Everything that we have intercourse with on earth enlarges our destiny, for destiny in this sense is the result of earthly happenings. We should, accordingly, seek within everything for further ideas, and not simply rush about and spread ourselves all over space. This seeking within by means of true mind is not stirring up the secret powers of Great Nature; it is rather the understanding of Fate.

The prohibition thus seems to mean: Do not increase the dominion of the body of the lower nature, or rather the Moon-ruled plasma.

Within the same range of ideas also, we may, perhaps, bring the isolated apostrophe from the Oracles:

O man, thou subtle handiwork of daring Nature!

(K. 50; C. 94)

This refers to the body of man that is wrought by the Nature-powers, the elemental intelligences of the Mother.



The “soul” is thus thought of, in this doctrine, as struggling against the “body”; in this great Struggle, or Passion, it is helped by the Father, who has bestowed upon it a particle, or rather portion, of His own Mind, the living “symbol,” or pledge, or token, of Himself. This struggle, or passion, is in reality the travail, or birth-throes, of the self-born Son. It is because of this Light-spark, by reason of this pledge, that souls fallen into generation, and therefore forgetful in time of their Divine origin, can recover the memory of the Father.

For the Mind of the Father hath sown symbols through the world - [the Mind] that understands things understandable, and that thinks-forth ineffable beauties.

(K. 50; C. 47)

Psellus has a variant of the first verse, namely:

The Mind of the Father has sown symbols in the souls.

(C. 80)

These “symbols” are the seeds of Divinity (the logoi or “words” of Philo and the Christian Gnosis), but they are not operative until the soul converts its will from the things of Fate to those of Freedom, from self-will to spiritual freewill. On this we have, fortunately, three verses preserved:

But the Mind of the Father doth not receive her will, until she hath departed from Oblivion, and uttereth the word, by putting in its [Oblivion's] place the Memory of the Fatherhood's pure token.

(K. 50; C. 164)

On this Psellus comments: “Each, therefore, diving into the ineffable depths of his own nature, findeth the symbol of the Al1-Father.” “Uttering the word” is, mystically, bringing this logos, or light-spark, into activity.



The Path of Return to the Father was set forth at length in the Oracles, and on it we have, fortunately, a number of fragments:

Seek out the channel of the Soul-stream, - whence and from what order is it that the soul in slavery to body [did descend, and] to what order thou again shalt rise, at-one-ing work with holy word.

(K. 51; C. 172)

The meaning of “word” in this and the preceding fragment is doubtful. We may either take it mystically, as we have suggested above, or it may be taken magically, as the utterance of compelling speech - in the lower sense, the theurgic use of invocations, and in the higher the utterance of true “words of power,” that is the “speech of the gods” which is uttered by right action, or “work.” This reminds us of the “Great Work” of the Alchemists, and of Karma-yoga, or the “union by works,” of Vaidik theosophy, taken in the mystic sense and not the usual meaning of ceremonial acts. Kroll thinks that the “holy word” means the knowledge of the intelligible world of the Father, but I do not quite follow him.



The nature of the Quest is set forth mysteriously as follows:

Armed at all points, clad in the bloom of Sounding Light, arming both mind and soul with three-barbed Might, he must set in his heart the Triad's every symbol, and not move scatteredly along the empyrean ways [or channels], but [move] collectedly.

(K. 51; C. 170)

Compare with this (i. 87):

Yea, verily, full-armed without armed within like to a goddess.

(K. 36; C. 171)

This refers to the Re-generate, as described in the Mithriac Ritual. The “three-barbed Might” is taken probably from the symbol of the trident, and represents the triple-power of the Monad. As the Ritual says (p. 27), he must hold himself steady and not allow himself to be “scattered abroad”; all his “limbs” must be collected, or gathered together, as the Osiris in resurrection. Compare with this The Gnostic Crucifixion (pp. 16, 52 ff.), and also the remarkable description of a somewhat similar experience in a story, by E. R. Innes, in The Theosophical Review {vol. xli., p. 343., Dec. 1907).

Especially to be noticed is the graphic phrase “Sounding Light,” showing that the close connection between colour and sound was known to the initiates of these mysteries. This Sounding Light, however, in its mystical sense, was probably the Uttered Word, or, to use another figure, the putting-on of the “Robe of Glory.” Compare with this the Descent of the Eagle in the Hymn of the Soul of Bardaisan:

It flew in the form of the Eagle,

Of all the winged tribes the king-bird;

It flew and alighted beside me,

And turned into speech altogether.

(F., p., 410)

This Sounding Light is thus the true “symbol” of the Paternal or Spiritual or Intelligible Monad. Proclus speaks of the intelligence as being “well-wheeled,” by which he means smoothly spinning round a centre; this centre being the Intelligible (K. 51). But, to our taste, this is by no means a good simile, for the Intelligible or Spiritual Mind embraces all things and is not a centre. Proclus, however, seems to base himself upon this verse:

Urging himself to the centre of Sounding Light.

(K. 51; C. 126)

But when we remember the “three-barbed Might” of our first fragment above (K. 51; C. 170), we may, perhaps, be permitted to translate kéntron as “goad”:

Urging himself on with the goad of Sounding Light.

We thus bring the main idea into relation with the contemporaneous Trismegistic doctrine of the Master-Mind (i.e., the Spiritual Mind) being the Charioteer, and driving the soul-chariot, with gnostic rays (or reins) that sound forth its true counsels. In any case the mystic should find no difficulty in transmuting the symbols, passing from centre to periphery or from periphery to centre as the thought requires.

Finally, with regard to the first quotation under this heading, it may be said that in re-generation man begins to reclothe himself; only when he makes these new clothes, they no longer bind but clothe him with power. The “bloom” (or vigour) of Sounding (or Resounding) Light is an armour that rays forth. “Might” (or Strength) suggests inner stability, that which is planted within and is the root of stability, the foundation. The ātmic, or spiritual, “spark” in the virgin soil, or womb, of the man's spiritual nature is the Strength of the Father. It is the Power to stop chaos swirling, and so start the enforming or ordering of itself. Thus it is that the man starts making the symbols and sounds whereby his Name or Word is actualized.

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