This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

10.8. Satan, Hell, and Damnation

Satan as theological postulate

Satan is a theological postulate, which tells us several things about ‘him’: the religious teachings surrounding Satan are there for the purposes of salvation and because they aid the understanding of believers; like all exoteric teachings, they are not formulated for the sake of truth in itself, but are ‘interested’ in salvation. In other words, if the truth that is called Satan at the religious level is dealt with at another level, or within esoteric language, it will be described very differently, because with religious formulations there is always ‘more to the story.’ This should suffice to prepare the reader for what follows, which examines the nature of Satan from the esoteric point of view and therefore differs from the theological understanding without denying it, but merely pulls back the veil to show the thing in itself. This will, of course, require a few introductory comments that would seem unrelated in religious discussions of Satan and Hell but are necessary for our purposes here.

The kingdom of heaven is within you

Most people envision both God and Satan ‘objectively,’ which is to say as persons external to themselves, and naturally they do this as well with posthumous ‘places’ such as heaven, hell, and purgatory and these are always thought of as places other than where we are at now, experienced at a point and time that is certainly not now.  Yet we must sooner or later face the doctrine of Christ that ‘the kingdom of heaven is within you,’ which is to say, it has a presence here and now and not separate from yourself. The same, unfortunately, must be admitted of hell. Thus, Jacob Boehme’s saying that ‘heaven and hell are everywhere, being universally extended…Thou are accordingly in heaven or hell…The soul hath heaven or hell within itself.’[1] If we take this doctrine seriously, which we must on pain of admitting nonsense into the sayings of Christ, then in it would seem that the soul does not go to salvation or damnation upon death.

[1] Jacob Boehme, “Of Heaven and Hell,” pp. 259, 260.

Common difficulties

Coming face-to-face with the question of Satan’s nature and identity, and adopting the conventional image of a sadistic, reddish, horned being, much like ourselves composed of intellect and will and some type of body, who directs an army of ‘fallen angels,’ we run immediately into difficulties. First and foremost is an apparent ‘dualism’ that is plainly incompatible with the Christian view of God as both omnipotent and omniscient. Nor can we ever fully separate Satan from the Creator, for the simple reason that if God is Infinite, then there can be nothing that is not at least tenuously contained within God, for if anything is truly ‘not God,’ then God is not Infinite, since Infinity by definition includes everything and everyone. Moreover, we all ascribe to Satan a ‘personality’ while at the same time admitting that there is probably more to it than that. What more? Should ‘he’ be envisioned as man? Or serpent? Is all of this just a matter of ‘personification’ in the face of something unreachable to our minds? And if we have admitted previously of Satan’s status as ‘creature’ in the sense that he cannot not be contained within God, then what of his final Redemption, which according to Origen (and the Muslims, for that matter) must be the destiny of all that is God? All of these problems must be dealt with, and that is the task before us in the sections that follow.

The necessary admittance of dualism

While it is true that the Absolute is One, in order for anything to exist apart from the Absolute, or as it were to be ‘projected’ from It, dualism must enter in. In order for there to be Creation at all, dualism must be part of it, since a world without dualism would not be a ‘creation’ at all but simply the Absolute Itself. In this sense, creation ex nihilo, ‘out of nothing,’ means that in order for creation to occur the Absolute descended into duality and permitted itself to be polarized into essence and substance, matter and form, and most importantly good and evil. When speaking of good and evil we must admit that the Absolute is beyond the reach of these terms and that they only make sense once we are already in the order of created things previously spoken of, where dualism is introduced as a necessary condition of the existence of anything at all. The Absolute is ‘beyond good and evil,’ and we say that It is Good only because we mean It is beyond the reach of evil, but this only makes any sense from our perspective, couched as it is within the sphere of dualism. Thus, to say that ‘God is good’ is to project a relative truth onto the Absolute.

Why does God permit evil?

We must insist on the fact that in order for beings such as ourselves to exist, with ‘free wills,’ there must first be a world for us to populate in which there are things to choose from, and these choices must be qualitative—that is to say they must possess a moral dimension. In other words, we must be able to choose between good or evil. But if Adam ‘chose’ evil it could only have been because, as we have just said, it was ‘available’ and ready to be actualized. Evil presented itself to his will as a fork in the road presents itself to traffic. To say it another way, it is wrong to view Adam’s fall as ‘a moment in time’ when evil was brought into a perfect world, for it must necessarily have been there already. The world as such is mixed with ‘evil.’ To say it yet another way: God is good, and nothing else can claim to be good except God; hence Christ’s proclamation: ‘No one is good but God alone.’[1] The truth in Christ’s words is this: anything that is not God participates in evil; anything that is not God is lower than Gid—is ‘fallen.’ All creatures are ‘not good,’ fallen in nature, but this is not due to any action but due to their creature-hood. To pretend that Adam introduced evil into an absolutely perfect world is nonsense, since as already said a number of times, only God is perfect, and a ‘perfect world’ would be identical with God, and for Adam to ‘introduce’ evil into this perfection would amount to saying that Adam ‘created himself’ by introducing evil into God. I hope these explanations suffice, and the point of it all is to hopefully make clear that the question of ‘why evil exists’ is itself nonsensical: creation implies differentiation from the creator, and since ‘God alone is good,’ creation must necessarily be composed of good and evil, otherwise it would simply be ‘God,’ and not ‘creation.’ Evil exists because creation exists, and this answers the further question: why does God permit evil to exist? He does not ‘permit’ anything—He simply acts. He is act. To answer one final question, that which relates to God’s moral responsibility for evil, we can say simply that this also is a claim that, in the end, has no meaning. The Absolute is beyond relativity, the Creator beyond creation, and since the duality of good and evil belongs only to creation, God is thus beyond moral culpability. In other words, to try to speak of God’s actions in moral terms is to admit one’s ignorance of metaphysics and the nature of reality.

[1] Mark 10:18.

Two souls at war in my breast

Two souls alas! are dwelling in my breast;
And each is fain to leave its brother.
The one, fast clinging, to the world adheres
With clutching organs, in love’s sturdy lust;
The other strongly lifts itself from dust
To yonder high, ancestral spheres.

~ Goethe[1]

If we start from the assumption that dualism is part and parcel of the created order, we can the move to the problem of the ‘personification’ of Satan which in turn becomes a question of ‘localizing’ the source of evil in the inner life of man. Here too we are affirmed by the unanimous teachings of tradition that ‘there are two in us,’ or in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas ‘two natures.’[2] Everyone understands this, at least in common parlance, where we use terms such as ‘self-control,’ which implies the existence of a self which controls and a self which is controlled. Here we would head off any misunderstanding, fostered by the ‘democratic mentality’ and the myth of ‘self-government,’ by stating a basic truth of causality: nothing acts upon itself. Or, to quote Plato, “the same thing can never do or suffer opposites in the same respect or in relation to the same thing at the same time,”[3] or again from Aquinas, “no one imposes a law upon his own actions.”[4] Self-government is therefore just a way of describing a relation between ruler and the ruled that veils that very relationship. But returning to the question of ‘self-control’ we can say again that this implies a duality, and it is this duality that we are concerned with when we trace the presence of ‘evil’ in man. These are the two ‘selves’ that fight for government of the single man, and we can distinguish them by calling them the true Self, belonging to the spiritual order, and the psycho-physical ‘personality.’ The Self and the ego.

[1] Faust, “Outside the Gate of the Town.”

[2] St. Thomas Aquinas, Sum. Theol. II-II.26.4.

[3] Republic, 436B.

[4] St. Thomas Aquinas, Sum. Theol. I.93.5.

The threefold composition of man

Although any opposition is necessarily presented as between two components, this does not necessarily imply that man is only composed of two parts: body and spirit. Tradition unanimously affirms that man is in fact composed of three ‘elements’: body, soul, and spirit.

The tendency to forget this threefold division is due to two things: first, the fact that in the New Testament, particularly in the writings of St. Paul, the emphasis is on the opposition, which presents itself as two contraries even though this is not really the case. Second, in the modern mind the distinction between the first two terms—soul and spirit—is completely lost, especially after the rise of the Cartesian mindset where all is either spirit or matter. Soul and spirit are, for most Christians, vaguely synonymous, and when they come to teachings about how the word of God ‘penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit,’[1] they nod and move forward without ever knowing what it is they just read. Elsewhere in this manual, where we discussed the ‘tripartite constitution of man’, we carefully differentiated the two terms at length, and here we can simply recall that the spirit is the ‘divine seed’ in man, the Person within the person, immortal and unchangeable. The soul, on the other hand, is of the created order and is wedded to the body, and so in this context it is reasonable to group them together as ‘body-and-soul,’ one being the form and the other the matter and joining together to make the individual being possible.

[1] Hebrews 4:12.

Where is the devil in man?

Body, soul, spirit. Which of these is ‘evil’? It is not the body, for matter is neither good nor evil, and those who associate ‘the body’ as such with sin are attributing a moral dimension to that which cannot possess it, for evil is something that must be accomplished, and matter is only the means of accomplishing acts, whether for good or for evil. We can also safely say that the spirit cannot play the part of devil, for the spirit is as we have said man’s divinity, the thing veiled by sin, but which cannot be the source of sin. This leaves us with only one choice which is at once obvious and uncomfortable: the soul is that part of man which must be equated with the Devil.

Ambiguity of the term ‘soul’

Soul is an ambiguous term, and is used ambiguously throughout the New Testament, particularly by St. Paul who is constantly speaking of ‘losing one’s life so that one’s life can be saved.’ We understand intuitively that this must refer to two different lives, and this is enunciated in Christian doctrine by saying that we put on ‘new clothes’ and discard the old. The same is true for the usage of ‘self,’ and in all such cases we must understand that we are dealing with the Soul and the soul, the Self and the self, the spark of the Intellect or Spirit (Self, Soul) and the ego or personality. Unfortunately, despite the fact that in the reading we all know intuitively that there is a distinction in question, when it comes to many theological commentaries, there seems to be an adamant insistence that the distinction is illusory.

The immortality of the soul

Another oversimplification is present in contemporary Christian thought regarding the immortality of the soul. Aside from the fact that Scripture constantly disparages the soul, the Christian tradition itself does not actually teach that the soul is immortal in the way that God is immortal, and this is necessarily so considering that the soul is mutable, thus, Augustine says that the soul is immortal ‘in a certain way of its own,’ which is to say it has a relative immortality.

Or, putting it another way, Tatian says that the soul ‘is not in itself immortal…Yet it is possible for it not to die.’ His teaching is worth citing at length, because it delineates the tripartite anthropology very clearly:

The soul is not in itself immortal, O Greeks, but mortal. Yet it is possible for it not to die. If, indeed, it knows not the truth, it dies, and is dissolved with the body, but rises again at last at the end of the world with the body, receiving death by punishment in immortality. But, again, if it acquires the knowledge of God, it dies not, although for a time it be dissolved. In itself it is darkness, and there is nothing luminous in it. And this is the meaning of the saying, The darkness comprehends not the light.’ (John 1:5) For the soul does not preserve the spirit, but is preserved by it, and the light comprehends the darkness. The Logos, in truth, is the light of God, but the ignorant soul is darkness. On this account, if it continues solitary, it tends downward towards matter, and dies with the flesh; but, if it enters into union with the Divine Spirit, it is no longer helpless, but ascends to the regions whither the Spirit guides it: for the dwelling-place of the spirit is above, but the origin of the soul is from beneath. Now, in the beginning the spirit was a constant companion of the soul, but the spirit forsook it because it was not willing to follow.[1]

Thus, as we have explained elsewhere, it is an oversimplification to call the soul ‘immortal’ in itself, as if the intervention of a third element were not always necessary for it to have eternal life. This ‘relative immortality’ is something that will be addressed when discussing the posthumous states in general, but for now we will say that both paradise and perdition are not Absolute states because they are not the Absolute, and for this reason they are not ‘the end of the journey.’ This belongs only to God ‘who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light.’[2]

[1] Address to the Greeks, 13.

[2] 1 Timothy 6:16.

The soul as devil

In the New Testament, the Greek term psyche is often translated as either ‘soul’ or ‘life,’ and both are in fact accurate, but the second option has the unfortunate result of conveying to the modern mind the idea that it is only the biological element that is in question: thus, he who ‘loses his life (psyche)’ is simply someone who experienced bodily death. But this takes away the depth of many passages since life is certainly in question, but what is being dealt with is the principle of bodily life and not the biological processes themselves, and so we must understand that it is the soul and the life of the soul which is usually in question. This is the only way that teachings such as ‘he that loseth his life for my sake’ make sense. And so, while it is accurate to use the term ‘life’ or ‘soul,’ it is better to prefer the second due to the oddities and superficiality of modern English. Speaking then of the soul, we are taught in sermons to treasure our souls as if they were our best part, and to hate the physical body; but as we just said above, this places the opposition in the wrong place, since it places the blame on matter itself, which cannot be blamed for anything, and as a secondary result, it exonerates and places ‘above suspicion’ the soul, which, as we have seen and will see, is identical with the tempter himself. This does not mean that we should not care for the soul, but we should care for the soul in the same way that we care for the body as temple. Nonetheless, an honest reading of the Scriptures will tell us that it is the soul which must be guarded against. Nay, the soul must not simply be guarded against—it must be hated, for ‘whoever cherishes his soul destroys it, and whoever hates his soul in this cosmos will preserve it for life in the Age.’[1] It is this very psyche which St. Paul tells us must be lost in order to be able to say, “I live, yet not I, but Christ in me.”[2]

[1] John 12:25. Here I’ve preferred the translation of David Bentley Hart, and will often defer to his New Testament, being as it is the product of one sound mind, rather than a committee of anonymous evangelicals.

[2] Galatians 2:20.

The personality of the devil

Satan is not a personal name but rather a term describing a function. The Hebrew term ‘Satan’ means simply ‘opponent’. Having located the devil in the soul, we can then make sense of the insistence within some teachings on presenting Satan as a person; seated in the soul, his actions are very much ‘personal,’ but this is a terrifying truth: his actions are personal because springing from our personality, and this means that when given over to the temper, we are the devil. Just as Christ must come to live in us that we may be saved, if we permit Satan to live in us, we will be consumed in the eternal flames, but in either case, we are to choose between identification with Christ, wherein we become one with Christ and his will operates in us, or else we become one with Satan and become Satan, his will and acts being identical with our own.

The sundering of soul and spirit

The Word of God sunders soul and spirit, which is to say that he who has not ‘hated his soul’ in order to let Christ live in Him will in the end lose his connection with divinity (the preserving ‘spirit’ that is his eternal life) and his soul will be damned rather than ‘saved’.

Devils and damnation

When Lucifer fell he became Satan, because he became identified with that which ‘Satan’ represents; and this in the same way that all who identify with not-God instead of God will necessarily become Satan, although not being the archetype of the fallen, they could rather be termed one of the ‘damned,’ but still a part of the archetypal demon who is ‘legion.’ And what but annihilation at the day of judgement can await one of these who are not of God, they must go to the fire; and although nothing is ever lost, the ‘I’ that such a one clings to is utterly destroyed ‘at the end of eternity.’

Fundamental psychomachy

We say that the spirit ‘is’ and the soul ‘becomes’ because as is generally admitted, the soul is mutable and can be cleansed or tarnished by what the person does. It is the soul that must be ‘regenerated’ via salvation. For this reason it has been said that the soul ‘is not’ because that which is constantly becoming is never the same thing from moment to moment. “How can that which is never in the same state ‘be’ anything?”[1] “‘Ego’ has no real meaning because it is perceived only for an instant”,[2] i.e., does not last for even so long as two consecutive moments. This is why the ego is but a ‘personification’ of a ceaseless chain of decisions and behaviors; the thing referred to when we say ‘I’ never stays the same in this life and so never truly ‘is’ except as a postulation. To put it in other terms, the ego or more accurately the soul itself is not real but only has the potential to become real, and to become real is to be saved, and the alternative is to becomes less and less real and then cease to exist.

There is only one way to become real: “I live, yet not I, but Christ in me.” But what does this require of us? “He who does not hate his own soul…” The soul must be lost if it is to be saved, and that is why the Hindus say of the soul (the lesser ‘self’): “That is not my Self.” This lesser self, this soul, with its likes and dislikes and being as it is subject to constant vacillation and persuasion, the mind that drives us in those moments when we say ‘I was not in my right mind,’ must be sacrificed so that the Self might live in its place. Thus, Jacob Boehme said: “not I, the I that I am, knows these things, but God in me.”

The only way to become real is to become One with the One Reality, with God, apart from whom there is no life.

[1] Plato, Cratylus, 439B; Theatetus, 152D; Symposium, 207D.

[2] Vivekacudamani of Sri Sankaracharya, 293, Swami Madhavananda, tr. Almora, 3rd ed., 1932.

The meaning and identity of Satan

It is said often enough that ‘man is his own worst enemy,’ and most of us would readily admit that this is true, and we are right. We just do not know how right we are. The Hebrew term for ‘Satan’ means simply ‘opponent.’ It is not a personal name. Likewise in the Scripture and in the Fathers Satan is always the ‘adversary,’ ‘tempter,’ ‘enemy,’ ‘accuser,’ and so on. Is it difficult then to see that this ‘personality’ is none other than our own? We generally admit that the spiritual battleground is within us, and that conversion and regeneration takes place there, and where Christ works, so also Satan. And if it is Satan who usurps the proper station of Christ in the temple that is our body—if the command is that we die so that Christ may live in us, and if this is generally understood to be the sanctification of man, then it is not difficult to identify the soul that must be put to death with ‘the enemy’ who must be vanquished.

Here we will cite William Law:

You are under the power of no other enemy, are held in no other captivity, and want no other deliverance but from the power of your own earthly self. This is the one murderer of the divine life within you. It is your own Cain that murders your own Abel.[1] Self is the Root, the Tree, and the Branches of all the Evils of our fallen State…Satan, or which is the same thing, self-exaltation…This is that full-born natural self that must be pulled out of the heart and totally denied, or there can be no disciple of Christ.[2]

It is written in the Theologia Germanica (ch. 3, 22, 49) that it was the Devil’s “ ‘I, Me, and Mine’ that were the cause of his fall… For the self, the I, the me and the like, all belong to the Evil Spirit, and therefore it is that he is an Evil Spirit. Behold one or two words can utter all that has been said by these many words: ‘Be simply and wholly bereft of self.’ ”

For “there is nothing else in hell, but self-will; and if there were no self-will, there would be no devil and no hell.”

Jacob Boehme agrees that “this vile self-hood possesses the world and worldly things; and dwells also in itself, which is dwelling in hell.”[3]

We should remember Boehme’s warning that “the most evil beast we carry in our bosom.”[4]

Returning once more the Scriptures, both in Christianity and Hinduism:

We know that the Law is of the Spirit… but I see another law in my members, warring against the Law of the Intellect, and bringing me into captivity… With the Intellect I myself serve the Law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin…From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Submit yourselves therefore to God: resist the devil.[5]

“Lift up the self by the Self, let not self sit back. For, verily, the Self is both the friend and the foe of the self; the friend of one whose self has been conquered by the Self, but to one whose self hath not (been overcome), the Self at war, forsooth, acts as an enemy”[6]

[1] The Spirit of Love.

[2] An Humble and Affectionate Address to the Clergy.

[3] The Signature of All Things, “Of the Supersensual Life.”

[4] Threefold Life of Man.

[5] Romans 8, James 4.

[6] Bhagavad Gita, VI. 5-6.

Further distinctions

Traditionally the distinction is between soul and intellect/spirit. In Sufism this distinction is between nafs (soul) and aql or ruh (spirit) which corresponds to Philo’s distinction between Pscyhe (soul) and Pneuma (spirit). This latter is also what we find in the New Testament when we are told that the Word of God divides ‘soul from spirit.’ Occasionally the distinction is placed between anima and animus (William of Thierry), but the meaning is the same. And in each case there is little question of which of these is the ‘tempter.’ For Kashfu’l Mahjub, the Muslim theologian, the soul is the type of hell in this world, while Al-Ghazali calls the soul ‘the greatest of your enemies,’ which would make little sense if it was not identifiable with Satan himself.

The meaning of traditional anonymity

We have discussed elsewhere the traditional preference for anonymity, not only when it comes to authorship of great works, but with respect to art as well. This is intimately connected with the question at hand, and it was sensed in the traditional world that one must not attach one’s ego to a work, lest it become inflated, because the more ‘true’ a work of art is, the less I can say of it that it is ‘mine,’ and to say that it is ‘mine’ is to condemn it. Given this and what has already been said, we can make sense of the great teachers who refused to take on a personal name, thereby identifying themselves with a passing ‘personality,’ the most notable of these being the Buddha. Likewise, Abu Sa’id, saying that “evil is ‘thou,’ and the worst evil ‘thou’ if thou knowest it not,” called himself ‘Nobody.’ Finally, Rumi observed that “The soul and Shaitan are both one being, but take two forms; essentially one from the first, he became the enemy and envier of Adam.” He concluded frankly that “This soul is hell,” therefore “slay the soul”; “decapitation means, to slay the soul and quench its fire in the Holy War.”[1]

[1] See: Rumi, Mathnawi I.2617; II.2525; III.374, 2738, 3193, 4053.

Cogito ergo sum

If Satan’s sin was to claim independence from the Divine and to see an existence apart from it (“I will not serve”), then we can say that this is identical to the psychomachy wherein the personality, the ego, the “I,” no longer “serves” the Intellect, or the Spirit, but does what it wills and this pertains also to rational thought since man thinks of what he loves and so his thought follows his will. In this light, the motto of Descartes is terrifying. ‘I think, therefore I am’ is essentially satanic in the sense that it claims totality in the soul.

Theotokos and the erotic element in religion and myth

We may in passing remark that the Mother of God, wherever the doctrine is found, is the symbolic expression of precisely this question of receptivity for the sake of eternal life. We must say, on behalf of the soul, ‘thy will be done’, and only then can the seed of the Christ-life germinate and grow, and through us, enter into the world. That is to say, only then can Christ be born into the world through our person, in imitation of Mary, the archetype of spiritual receptivity. And now we can also understand the erotic imagery of the Christian and other doctrines. Marriage in its consummation is an initiatic death and an ‘integration,’ and this is precisely the process by which Christ comes to wed the self and in doing so integrate it and ‘make it real.’ In the words of the Aitareya Aranyaka (II.3.7):

“This Self gives itself to that self, and that self to this Self; they become one another; with the one form he (in whom this marriage has been consummated) is unified with yonder world, and with the other united to this world.”

The immortality of Satan and damnation

Satan is no single person, but a multiplicity; he is ‘Legion’ and is ‘personified’ in every ego inasmuch as that ego is unredeemed by through union with the Self, a marriage wherein the Lion and the Lamb may lie together in peace and the war within us come to an end. Every personality, so long as it remains merely a personality, is satanic. The satanic personality who perseveres in itself egoism even until the end of life can still be redeemed in the sense that it might become again what it was before it ‘fell,’ but because there will always be evil insofar as there is a world, then there will always be a hell populated by demons, and this hell we carry with us insofar as we choose to carry it instead of the ‘kingdom of heaven which is within.’ In the beginning heaven and earth were one, and still are within God, although they are divided in our members and at war: it is the vocation of man to put them together in himself.

The question of demon possession

Here we need to briefly address a question directly connected with the identity of Satan: the situation involving possession by demons. This would seem to fly in the face of what has already been said since these demons claim personal names and speak for themselves when questioned by exorcists. Although they constitute a separate study, we can say here that while the psychomachy is usually described as a conflict between two parties—Christ and Satan—there is nothing that prevents the latter from becoming a composite of demonic personalities, being as they are an expression of dispersion, such that the self to be defeated is actually a tribe of selves, hence ‘Legion.’ While God is One, Satan is indefinite in number. As for the other phenomena said to accompany possession, and which are used by the Catholic Church as criteria to distinguish between a true possession and other mental disturbances, we can mention first the ability to speak languages which the possessed individual does not know. We can address this by referring to what has already been said about the hereditary contents of the collective unconscious and the knowledge that can result from accidental content with this fragmentary data. But this is only one possibility, and we should assume that cases of possession vary not only in cause but in kind. For example, as is the case with mediums who seem to be ‘channeling the dead’ when they are actually doing nothing more than channeling the person next them at a table via psychic sympathy, it is possible that some possessed individuals, being in a state of psychic sensitivity, merely channel the psyche of the priest and regurgitate what is found there, which, depending on the case, might include a knowledge of ancient languages such as Aramaic. In other words, these cases are exceptional in circumstances, degree, and nature, such that we should not too hastily say that ‘this is what possession is,’ but merely ‘this is what it might be, although it might also be something else.’ The Catholic Church also takes this cautious approach. What we can say generally is that cases of possession suggest that the psychomachy has been decided, at least temporarily, in favor of ‘the enemy,’ and for this reason the common understanding of the phenomenon, while overly simplistic because couched in a purely theological and narrowly Christian context, is nonetheless apt.

Death and the need to die before we die

The nature of hell, and of salvation for that matter, can be further clarified by meditating on death and its meaning. When we approach the subject of death and of life after death, we are immediately confronted by the questions: What death? We are concerned initially with physical death, the cessation of biological function. Let us leave it at that for now. Then the questions follow: If ‘my’ survival is possible ‘after death,’ then what am I and what part of me dies with the body and what survives? The ‘I’ which is simply a long string of instants of consciousness but never the same for more than that instant, this ‘I’ who is always ‘becoming,’ cannot be more than mortal, for it is always changing and change is a kind of death. This ‘I’ is the ‘stream of consciousness’ which, having a beginning, also has an end. But all tradition attests that this is need not be the end of the story and we are told that the alternative to death is to ‘Know thy Self’ and that this begins in the knowledge that ‘this is not my self.’ We must discover that we have confused our consciousness-of-being-So-and-so with our true Self that stands apart and above, and so we have mistaken for the Self what is just the superficial personality. What dies at death? Whatever is capable of perishing. What can be broken must be broken. If we only know ourselves as ‘So-and-so,’ then the only immortality we can claim is whatever part of us passes on to our descendants. Yet if, before we die, we have ‘recollected’ the Self, and ‘realized’ the Self, and if we have put the lesser self to death as Christ demanded, then we may survive; but this survival is no longer ‘I,’ but Christ in us, and this is why our survival is predicated on our ‘dying before we die, that we may live.’ This is why it is said: “No man hath ascended into heaven save he which came down from heaven, even the Son of Man, which is in heaven.” And in regard to the ego, Meister Eckhart said truly that “The kingdom of God is for none but the thoroughly dead.”