The proud Athenian, Isocrates, summarized the value of the Eleusinian Mysteries.
When Demeter came to our land,
in her wandering after the rape of Kore, and,
being moved to kindness towards our ancestors by services
which may not be told save to her initiates, gave these two gifts,
the greatest in the world—the fruits of the earth,
which have enabled us to rise above the life of the beasts,
and the holy rite which inspires in those who partake of it
sweeter hopes regarding both the end of life and all eternity--
our city was not only so beloved of the gods
but also so devoted to mankind that,
having been endowed with these great blessings,
she did not begrudge them to the rest of the world,
but shared with all men what she had received.
The mystic rite we continue even now,
each year, to reveal to the initiates;
and as for the fruits of the earth, our city has, in a word,
instructed the world, in their uses, their cultivation,
and the benefits derived from them.
Isocrates Panegyricus 28-29
The Romans attempted to suppress certain rituals of the Greeks, but Cicero wrote how these most sacred mysteries were allowed to remain, having given so much to mankind.
M: Then what will become of our Iacchus and Eumolpidae
and their impressive mysteries, if we abolish nocturnal rites?
For we are composing laws not for the Roman people
in particular, but for all virtuous and stable nations.
A: I take it for granted that you make an exception
of those rites into which we ourselves have been initiated.
M: I will do so indeed.
For among the many excellent and indeed divine institutions
which your Athens has brought forth
and contributed to human life,
none, in my opinion, is better than those mysteries.
For by their means we have been brought
out of our barbarous and savage mode of life
and educated and refined to a state of civilization;
and as the rites are called “initiations,”
so in very truth we have learned from them
the beginnings of life and have gained the power
not only to live happily, but also to die with a better hope.
Cicero Laws II, xiv, 36
In Apuleius’ Metamorphoses Psyche calls upon the mother goddess for aid and describes the myth and ritual.
Psyche cast herself before the goddess,
wetting the holy feet with tears
and sweeping the ground with her tresses.
Amid a thicket of supplications
she asked for the favor of Ceres:
“By your right hand of Plenty, I implore you.
By your joyous Ceremonies of Harvest;
by your Mystery enclosed in Osier-baskets;
by the winged Gig of your familiar Dragons;
by the Furrows of the Sicilian Glebe, the Rape of the Chariot,
the Earth that yields not up its own,
the Descent into the Night of the Nuptials of Proserpine,
and the Ascent into the light of the Maiden’s Restoration;
by all the other Symbols which the Sanctuary of Eleusis
in Attica preserves in Silences—
stand by your suppliant Psyche in the hour of her deep need.
Permit me, at least for a few days, to shelter myself
among the layers of wheat until the passage of time mitigates
the raging rancor of the mighty goddess,
or until an interval of rest refreshes the body
that daily stress has now exhausted.”
Apuleius Metamorphoses VI, 2
However, in his De Natura Deorum, Cicero referred to the mysteries as being more scientific than religious.
I say nothing of the holy
and awe-inspiring sanctuary of Eleusis,
“where tribes from earth’s remotest confines seek Initiation,”
and I pass over Samothrace and those “occult mysteries
which throngs of worshippers at dead of night
in forest covert deep do celebrate” Lemnos,
since such mysteries when interpreted and rationalized prove
to have more to do with natural science than with theology.
Cicero De Natura Deorum I, 52
The ancient Greeks most likely understood the correspondence between the cycles of plant life and human reincarnation, as analogous natural and spiritual laws. Plotinus discussed the spiritual understanding of the earth and plant life.
If the earth transmits the generative soul to growing things--
or retains it while allowing a vestige of it
to constitute the vegetal principle in them--
at once the earth is ensouled, as our flesh is,
and any generative power possessed by the plant world
is of its bestowing: this phase of the soul is immanent
in the body of the growing thing, and transmits to it
that better element by which it differs from the broken off part
no longer a thing of growth but a mere lump of material.
But does the entire body of the earth
similarly receive anything from the soul?
Yes: for we must recognize that
earthly material broken off from the main body
differs from the same remaining continuously attached;
thus stones increase as long as they are embedded,
and from the moment they are separated,
stop at the size attained.
We must conclude, then, that every part and member
of the earth carries its vestige of this principle of growth,
an under-phase of that entire principle which belongs
not to this or that member but to the earth as a whole:
next in order is the nature (the soul-phase),
concerned with sensation,
this not interfused (like the vegetal principle)
but in contact from above:
then the higher soul and the Intellectual Principle,
constituting together the being known as Hestia (Earth-Mind)
and Demeter (Earth-Soul)--
a nomenclature indicating the human intuition of these truths,
asserted in the attribution of a divine name and nature.
Plotinus Fourth Ennead IV, 27
Thus Demeter relates to the soul rather than the mind. Plutarch also discussed the soul and mind in relation to the goddesses and how purification and purgation follow death.
The result of soul and body commingled
is the irrational or the affective factor,
whereas of mind and soul the conjunction produces reason;
and of these the former is source of pleasure and pain,
the latter of virtue and vice.
In the composition of these three factors
earth furnishes the body, the moon the soul,
and the sun furnishes mind to man
for the purpose of his generation
even as it furnishes light to the moon herself.
As to the death we die,
one death reduces man from three factors to two
and another reduces him from two to one;
and the former takes place in the earth
that belongs to Demeter (wherefore “to make an end”
is called “to render one’s life to her” and Athenians used
in olden times to call the dead “Demetrians”),
the latter in the moon that belongs to Persephone,
and associated with the former is Hermes the terrestrial,
with the latter Hermes the celestial.
While the goddess here dissociates the soul from the body
swiftly and violently, Persephone gently and by slow degrees
detaches the mind from the soul
and has therefore been called “single-born”
because the best part of man is “born single”
when separated off by her.
Each of the two separations naturally occurs in this fashion:
All soul, whether without mind or with it,
when it has issued from the body is destined to wander
in the region between earth and moon
but not for an equal time.
Unjust and licentious souls pay penalties for their offenses;
but the good soul must in the gentlest part of the air,
which they call “the meads of Hades,”
pass a certain set time sufficient to purge and blow away
the pollution contracted from the body as from an evil odor.
Then, as if brought home from banishment abroad,
they savor joy most like that of initiates,
which attended by glad expectation
is mingled with confusion and excitement.
For many, even as they are in the act of clinging to the moon,
she thrusts off and sweeps away;
and some of those souls too that are on the moon they see
turning upside down as if sinking again into the deep.
Those that have got up, however,
and have found a firm footing first go about like victors
crowned with wreaths of feathers
called wreathes of steadfastness,
because in life they had made the irrational or affective
element of the soul orderly and tolerably tractable to reason;
secondly, in appearance resembling a ray of light
but in respect of their nature,
which in the upper region is buoyant as it is here in ours,
resembling the ether about the moon,
they get from it both tension and strength
as edged instruments get a temper,
for what laxness and diffuseness they still have
is strengthened and becomes firm and translucent.
In consequence they are nourished by any exhalation
that reaches them, and Heraclitus was right in saying:
“Souls employ the sense of smell in Hades.”
Plutarch The Face of the Moon 28
Orpheus in his hymns sang to fumigate the bad odors with incense and to purify the soul.
To the Terrestrial Hermes
O Bacchic Hermes, progeny divine
Of Dionysus, parent of the vine,
And of celestial Venus, Paphian queen,
Dark-eyelash’d Goddess of a lovely mien:
Who constant wand’rest thro’ the sacred seats
Where Hell’s dread empress, Proserpine, retreats;
To wretched souls the leader of the way,
When Fate decrees, to regions void of day.
Thine is the wand which causes sleep to fly,
Or lulls to slumb’rous rest the weary eye;
For Proserpine, thro’ Tart’rus dark and wide,
Gave the for ever flowing souls to guide,
Come, blessed pow’r, the sacrifice attend,
And grant thy mystics’ works a happy end.
Taylor Mystical Hymns of Orpheus
Taylor quoted Proclus who also made the distinction between terrestrial and celestial gods.
Hence, there is a terrestrial Ceres, Vesta, and Isis,
as likewise a terrestrial Jupiter and a terrestrial Hermes,
established about the one divinity of the earth,
just as a multitude of celestial Gods
proceeds about the one divinity of the heavens.
For there are progressions of all the celestial Gods
into the Earth: and Earth contains all things,
in an earthly manner, which Heaven comprehends celestially.
Hence we speak of a terrestrial Bacchus
and a terrestrial Apollo,
who bestows the all-various streams of water with which
the earth abounds, and openings prophetic of futurity.
Taylor Mystical Hymns of Orpheus p. xxxiii
Pindar explained how the pure light of the soul remains after death, and how even during life when the body sleeps it may give knowledge of the future. His metaphor for having realized this transcendent reality is clearly a reference to the mystic grain.
... having, by happy fortune,
culled the fruit of the rite that releases from toil.
And, while the body of all men
is subject to over-mastering death,
an image of life remains alive,
for it alone comes from the gods.
But it sleeps, while the limbs are active;
yet, to them that sleep in many a dream
it gives presage of a decision of things delightful or doleful.
Pindar Fragment 96
Pausanias wrote about how Pindar received a communication in a dream from the Goddess of the underworld. Then after passing on, sent a song to a living person through a dream.
When his fame was spread abroad
from one end of Greece to the other,
the Pythian priestess set him on a still higher pinnacle
of renown by bidding the Delphians give to Pindar
an equal share of all the first-fruits they offered to Apollo.
It is said, too, that in his old age
there was vouchsafed to him a vision in a dream.
As he slept Proserpine stood by him and said that
of all the deities she alone had not been hymned by him,
but that, nevertheless, he should make a song on her also
when he was come to her.
Before ten days were out Pindar had paid the debt of nature.
But there was in Thebes an old woman,
a relation of Pindar’s, who had practiced singing,
most of his songs.
To her Pindar appeared in a dream
and sang to her a hymn on Proserpine;
and she, as soon as she was awake,
wrote down all the song
she had heard him singing in her dream.
In this song, amongst the epithets applied to Hades
is that of “golden-reined,”
obviously in reference to the rape of Proserpine.
Pausanias Description of Greece IX, 23:3-4
The dreamer is able to visit the underworld or the “other side” to communicate with the dead. Yet when wake and alive one is usually not aware of the soul realm. Heraclitus expressed this by calling such a person “the sleeper.”
A man in the night kindles a light for himself
when his vision is extinguished;
living, he is in contact with the dead, when asleep,
and with the sleeper, when awake.
Heraclitus Fragment 236
Realizing that in dreams the awakened soul may visit the inner realms, Orpheus sings:
To the Divinity of Dreams
Thee I invoke, blest pow’r of dreams divine,
Angel of future fates, swift wings are thine.
Great source of oracles to human kind,
When stealing soft, and whisp’ring to the mind,
Thro' sleep's sweet silence, and the gloom of night,
Thy pow’r awakes th’intellectual sight;
To silent souls the will of heaven relates,
And silently reveals their future fates.
Forever friendly to the upright mind,
Sacred and pure, to holy rites inclin’d;
For these with pleasing hope thy dreams inspire:
Bliss to anticipate, which all desire.
Thy visions manifest of fate disclose,
What methods best may mitigate our woes;
Reveal what rites the Gods immortal please,
And what the means their anger to appease;
For ever tranquil is the good man’s end,
Whose life thy dreams admonish and defend,
But from the wicked turned averse to bless,
Thy form unseen, the angel of distress;
No means to check approaching ill they find,
Pensive with fears, and to the future blind.
Come blessed pow’r, the signatures reveal
Which heav’n’s decrees mysteriously conceal,
Signs only present to the worthy mind,
Nor omens ill disclose of monstrous kind.
Taylor Mystical Hymns of Orpheus
Seneca wrote that the Eleusinian Mysteries continually helped ancient Greeks to grow spiritually.
There are holy things that are not communicated all at once:
Eleusis always keeps something back
to show those who come again.
Seneca Quaestiones Naturalis VII, 30:6
Yet the silence in which these mysteries were wrapped is difficult to penetrate. In Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus the Chorus exclaims:
Haply by the shores loved of Apollo,
haply by that torch-lit strand
where the Great Goddesses cherish dread rites for mortals,
on whose lips the ministrant Eumolpidae
have laid the precious seal of silence.
Sophocles Oedipus at Colonus 1048-1053
Later Oedipus himself speaks of the required silence, and he tells how to hand them down from generation to generation.
But for your mysteries which speech may not profane,
you shall mark them for yourself,
when you come to that place alone;
and when you are coming to the end of life,
disclose them to your heir alone;
let him teach his heir; and so thenceforth.
Sophocles Oedipus at Colonus 1526-1534
Oedipus at Colonus was produced in 405 BC, one year after Sophocles’ death. Thus in this play he was able to express his deepest thoughts about death, as Oedipus faces the situation. Oedipus goes off to his death, calling upon Persephone.
This way—hither, this way!—
for this way does Guiding Hermes lead me,
and the goddess of the dead.
Sophocles Oedipus at Colonus 1556-1558
Here again the terrestrial Hermes leads the man to the gods. A messenger describes the ritual symbolic of initiation performed by Oedipus before his death.
And then he called his daughters,
and bade them fetch water from some fount,
that he should wash, and make a drink-offering.
And they went to the hill which was in view,
Demeter’s hill who guards the tender plants,
and in short space brought that
which their father had enjoined;
then they ministered to him with washing,
and dressed him, as use ordains.
Sophocles Oedipus at Colonus 1595-1602
Theseus consoles the daughters of Oedipus and asks them not to mourn the death of a blessed one.
Weep no more maidens;
for where the kindness of the Dark Powers
is an abiding grace to the quick and to the dead,
there is no room for mourning; divine anger would follow.
Sophocles Oedipus at Colonus 1750-1753
Sophocles gave the reason why in a fragment.
Thrice happy are those of mortals,
who having seen those rites depart for Hades;
for to them alone is it granted to have true life there;
to the rest all there is evil.
Sophocles Fragment 719
An inscription found at Eleusis agrees as translated by S. Angus in The Mystery Religions and Christianity page 140.
Beautiful indeed is the Mystery given us by the blessed gods:
death is for mortals no longer an evil, but a blessing.
Scholiast on Aristophanes revealed that not only was death not feared, but that initiation could help the soul who has passed on to realize its divine nature.
It was the common belief in Athens
that whoever had been taught the Mysteries would,
when he died, be deemed worthy of divine glory.
Hence all were eager for initiation.
Scholiast on Aristophanes The Frogs 158
Thus as Pindar expressed it, initiation could be the beginning of divine life.
Blessed is he who has seen these things
before he goes beneath the earth;
for he understands the end of mortal life,
and the beginning (of a new life) given by Zeus.
Pindar Fragment 137
The destiny of all souls is to return to God from where we came. The ideas of Plotinus may inspire us in that direction.
Therefore we must ascend again towards the Good,
the desired of every Soul.
Anyone that has seen This,
knows what I intend when I say it is beautiful.
Even the desire of it is to be desired as a Good.
To attain it is for those that will take the upward path,
who will set all their forces towards it,
who will divest themselves of all
that we have put on in our descent--
so, to those that approach the Holy Celebrations
of the Mysteries, there are appointed purifications
and the laying aside of the garments worn before,
and the entry in nakedness--
until, passing on the upward way,
all that is other than the God,
each in the solitude of himself shall see
that solitary-dwelling Existence, the Apart, the Unmingled,
the Pure, that from which all things depend
for Which all look and live and act and know,
the Source of Life and of Intellection and of Being.
Plotinus First Ennead VI, 7
Jesus explained the immortality of the soul and the sovereignty of God in symbols the Greeks understood because of the mysteries.
Some of those going up
so that they might worship at the feast were Greeks;
therefore these approached Philip,
the one from Bethsaida of Galilee,
and asked him saying, “Lord, we wish to see Jesus.”
Philip goes and tells Andrew;
Andrew and Philip go and tell Jesus.
And Jesus answers them saying, “The hour has come
so that the human son may be glorified.
Amen, amen, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat
falling into the earth dies, it remains alone;
but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
Gospel of John 12:20-24
Thus Jesus explained that death is a rebirth. Paul explained the resurrection by the symbol of a seed dying in the earth in order to grow into celestial life.
But some one will ask, “How are the dead raised?
With what kind of body do they come?”
You foolish man!
What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.
And what you sow is not the body which is to be,
but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.
But God gives it a body as he has chosen,
and to each kind of seed is its own body.
Or not all flesh is alike, but there is one kind for men,
another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish.
There are celestial bodies, and there are terrestrial bodies;
but the glory of the celestial is one,
and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
There is one glory of the sun, and another of the moon,
and another glory of the star;
for star differs from star in glory.
So is it with the resurrection of the dead.
What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable.
It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory.
It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.
It is sown a physical body; it is raised a spiritual body.
If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.
Thus it is written,
“The first man Adam became a living being;”
the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical,
and then the spiritual.
The first man was from the earth, a man of dust;
the second man is from heaven.
As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust;
and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven.
Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust,
we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
I tell you this, brothers:
flesh and blood cannot inherit the sovereignty of God,
nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
I Corinthians 15:35-50
The individual’s soul, which is the seed of God, becomes one with God as the seed becomes a tree. Jesus presented the parable.
And he said, “Thus is the sovereignty of God:
as a person might throw seed on the earth,
and might sleep and rise night and day,
and the seed sprouts and lengthens,
though one does not know how.
By itself the earth bears fruit,
first grass, then an ear, then full grain in the ear.
And when the fruit is ripe, immediately one sends the sickle,
for the harvest has arrived.”
And he said,
“How shall we describe the sovereignty of God,
or by what parable may we compare it?
It is like a mustard seed, which when it is sown on the earth,
is smaller than all the seeds of the earth,
and when it is sown, comes up
and becomes greater than all the vegetables,
and produces great branches
so that the birds of heaven can dwell under its shade.”
And by many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear;
and he did not speak to them without a parable,
but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.
And he said to them on that day as evening came,
“Let us go over to the other side.”
And leaving the crowd
they take him along as he was in the boat,
and other boats were with him.
And a great whirlwind occurs,
and the waves broke into the boat,
so that now the boat was being filled.
And he was in the stern sleeping on a pillow.
And they wake him and say to him,
“Teacher, don’t you even care that we are perishing?”
And waking up he reprimanded the wind
and said to the sea, “Be quiet! Shut up!”
And the wind ceased, and it became very calm.
And he said to them, “Why are you such cowards?
How come you have no faith?”
Gospel of Mark 4:26-40
As they crossed to the other side, symbolically through the veil of death, the disciples became afraid and cried out to Jesus in fear of dying. But Jesus has shown the way through stormy death and proven the truth by his own resurrection. Once the soul is purified of its other bodies, it is able to pass back and forth between earthly life and the heavenly realm, which is on the other side or within the inner realms of consciousness.
In Eckankar on page 134 Paul Twitchell wrote that all the ancient mysteries of Dionysus, of Delphi, and of Eleusis taught out-of-the-body travel. He described the path to God from purgatorial virtues of purification, theoretic or epoptic virtues bestowing clairvoyance and clairaudience, exemplary virtues conferring magical powers, and theurgic virtues which transform one into God. Twitchell in Eckankar on page 18 considered the Eleusinian Mysteries the supreme font of western occult lore that released the soul from bodily bondage. He quoted Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophical Glossary under “Soma Drink” which refers to the initiates’ drinking the Kykeon which enables them to easily reach the place of splendor or heaven. Twitchell also saw Plato’s Phaedo as symbolic of the Eleusinian Mysteries.
Socrates’ execution had been delayed because of the holy season proclaimed in honor of the ship sent to Delos to commemorate Theseus’ and fourteen youths’ victory over Minos and Crete. Socrates was advised not to talk too much so that the hemlock may take effect. Before he drank it, he bathed and changed his clothes as the initiates did before the final vision at the celebration. Phaedo himself described the mood at this historic event.
I really felt strange being with him.
For while being present at the death of my companion
I did not feel pity;
for the man appeared happy to me, Echecrates,
both in manner and words,
since he was dying fearlessly and nobly,
so that it came over me that he was not going to Hades
without there being divine providence,
and that arriving there he would do well,
if ever anyone would.
Because of this I felt no pity at all,
as might seem normal being present in mourning.
Plato Phaedo 58-59
To lift the veil from death, two truths were to be learned and experienced by the initiates. The first is reincarnation or the continual regeneration of spiritual life symbolized by seeds and plants. The second is even a greater mystery and has to do with initiation into divine life or the soul realm achieved while alive on earth and practiced on the higher planes of consciousness after the new birth. Let us look at Socrates’ argument for the first.
And let us consider it in this way,
whether the souls of people who died are in Hades or not.
Thus there is an ancient argument, which we remember,
that those arriving there are from here,
and again they come back and are born from the dead;
and if this is so,
the living being born again from the dying,
certainly our souls would be there;
for they would not be born again if they did not exist,
and this would be a sufficient indication of this,
if in reality it should become clear
that the living are born nowhere else than from the dead….
Now if you wish to learn easily
consider this not only in regard to people
but also in regard to all animals and plants,
and in short to whatever has birth,
let us see about all, just as all things are generated.
Plato Phaedo 70
These are the perpetual transformations of nature. Socrates explained how the soul enters the body at birth and departs at death.
For if the soul exists also previously,
and necessarily when it comes into life and is born
it is born from nothing else than the dead and the dying,
then is it not necessary also for the dying to exist,
since it must be born again?
Plato Phaedo 77
What is the reason for the soul‘s coming to birth in a body over and over again?
Because each pleasure and pain like a nail
nails and fastens itself to the body and makes it corporeal,
believing these things to be true
which the body also says are.
For from agreeing with the body
and delighting in the same things
she is compelled to adopt
the same habits and the same upbringing
and never arrives purely into Hades,
but always goes out infected by the body,
so that quickly again she falls into another body
and like scattered seed is sown,
and from this has no share in the divine and pure
and communion in the one form.
Plato Phaedo 83
The ethical laws of the universe are just, though not necessarily completed within a lifetime.
Then for us to agree also in this
that the living are born out of the dead
no less than the dead out of the living;
and this being the case it seems to me to be proof
that it is necessary for the souls to be somewhere,
from where they are born again.
Plato Phaedo 72
Sleep is analogous to death because the soul and the subtler bodies often leave the physical body to travel the inner realms of consciousness.
Out of sleeping is generated waking,
and out of waking is generated sleeping,
and their origins are falling asleep and waking up.
Plato Phaedo 71
The very existence of God, or the absolute and the soul which comprehends this absolute by being one with it, implies the previous existence of the soul.
If there exists what we are always repeating,
beauty and goodness and every such essence,
and we refer all things from the senses to this,
our being already existing before discovering them,
and we compare these with that,
necessarily, this just as these also exists,
and thus our soul also exists before we were born.
Plato Phaedo 76
Socrates explained how the soul may be forgotten when a person is swayed by the body and its senses.
“And then what we have been saying for a long time,
that the soul, when it makes use of the body
to look at something either through sight
or through hearing or through any other sense—
for this is through the body,
to look at something through the senses—
at that time is it dragged by the body
into what never is constant,
and it wanders and is confused and dizzy like one drunk
when touching such things?”
“But when it looks by itself,
it departs there into the pure and eternal
which is also immortal and in the same way,
and as related to its essence it is always with that,
whenever it is by itself and is permitted itself,
and it has stopped its wandering
and concerning that is always constant in the same way,
since it is communing with such;
and has this experience of the soul been called wisdom?”
Plato Phaedo 79
Socrates noted that the body and the senses are visible and changing while the soul is invisible and unchanging.
If from all that was said by us
it results that the soul is most similar to the divine
and immortal and intelligent and uniform and indissoluble
and always the same way being constant in itself,
and in turn the body is most like the human
and mortal and multiform and unintelligent and dissoluble
and never being constant in itself....
Then is it not fitting for the body to be quickly dissolved,
and for the soul to be entirely indissoluble or nearly so?
Plato Phaedo 80
“But God, I think,” said Socrates,
“and the form of life itself,
and if there is anything else immortal,
by all it would be agreed they will never perish.”
“Of course by all people, by God,” he said,
“and even more, I think, by gods.”
“Since then the immortal is also incorruptible,
the soul, if it happens it is immortal,
also would be indestructible?”
“Then when death comes upon a person
the mortal part of one, it seems, dies,
and the immortal, safe and incorruptible,
going away is gone, withdrawing from death.”
“It appears so.”
“Then more than all, Cebes,” he said,
“the soul is immortal and indestructible,
and in reality our souls will exist in Hades.”
Plato Phaedo 106-107
Socrates also discussed how the true philosopher seeks death, by which he meant the purification of the soul from the body to reach the higher life.
“But now I wish to explain to you judges
the reason why it appears to me
a man who has in reality spent his life in philosophy
will naturally be confident when about to die
and has good hopes of obtaining great good there,
when one has died….
For those who happen to grasp philosophy correctly
risk being unrecognized by others,
because it is nothing else
but practicing how to die and be dead.
So if this is true,
it surely would be absurd
to want during all of life nothing but this,
and when it comes, to be troubled by it,
which for a long time they were wanting and practicing….
For they do not recognize in what way the truest philosophers
are for death and deserve death and what kind of death....
Then is it not the release of the soul from the body?
And this is death,
the body being released apart from the soul by itself,
and the soul apart is released from the body by itself?
Then is death anything else but this?...
Then altogether it seems to you,” he said,
“such a person is not concerned with the business of the body,
but as far as possible would withdraw from the body
and turn toward the soul?
So then first in such things it is clear
the philosopher especially releases the soul
from the communion of the body,
differing from other people?”
Plato Phaedo 63-64
Socrates suggested how higher levels of consciousness may be attained.
“Then when does the soul attain the truth?
For when it attempts to look at something with the body,
it is clear that at that time it is deceived by it.
Then must not true existence be revealed to her in thought, if at all?...
But it reasons best at that time
when none of these things trouble it,
neither hearing nor sight nor pain nor any pleasure,
but especially when it of itself says good-bye to the body
and as far as it can does not commune nor connect with it
to reach out to reality.”
Plato Phaedo 65
Absolute justice, absolute beauty and absolute good are not perceived by bodily senses but by the intellectual vision of the soul.
“So then would he do this most purely,
who comes especially with the intuition itself to each,
not comparing sight in the intuition
nor dragging in any of the other senses with the reasoning,
but it of itself using unmixed the intuition attempting
to contemplate each unmixed it of itself of the realities,
being removed especially from the eyes and ears
and so to speak all of the body,
as confusing and not allowing the soul
to attain truth and wisdom, when joined;
then is this one not, Simmias, if anyone is,
the one ready for reality?”
Plato Phaedo 65-66
Socrates explained how the soul attains the higher knowledge when it is apart from the body which also may be achieved through soul travel.
Then out of all this it seems that
the noble philosophers must come to such terms
so that even to talk to each other about such things,
that just as likely there is some path to carry us out,
with the argument which is being considered,
that, as long as we have a body
and our soul is caught up with such evil,
we shall never attain sufficiently what we want;
and we say this is the truth.
For the body constantly keeps us busy
by the need for food;
and if diseases fall upon it,
they hinder our search of reality.
And it fills us with many of the passions and desires
and fears and fantasies of all kinds and nonsense
so that it is said in truthful reality
because of it being inborn in us one can never think at all.
For wars and factions and battles
are caused by nothing other than the body and its desires.
For all wars occur because of the gaining of money,
and we need to gain money because of the body,
slaving in its service;
and out of this we bring no leisure to philosophy
because of all these things.
And worst of all is that
even if some leisure away from it comes to us
and we turn to considering something,
in this seeking it causes trouble to get in the way
and disturbance and distraction,
so that because of it one is unable to observe the truth,
but in reality it has been shown to us
that if we are ever to know anything clearly,
one must be released from it
and observe these same actualities with the soul itself;
and at that time for us there will likely be
what we want and say we are lovers of, wisdom,
when we are dead, as the argument indicates, but not in life.
For if with the body one cannot have clear knowledge,
there are two alternatives,
either knowledge is not to be attained at all or having died;
for at that time the soul will be it of itself
apart from the body, but not before.
Plato Phaedo 66-67
Socrates declared this purification of the soul from the body to be the aim of the true philosopher.
Then if this is true, my friend,
there is much hope in arriving where I am going,
that there, if anywhere, this will be fully attained
for the sake of which much of the business
in the passing of our life has occurred,
so that the journey now is imposed on me with good hope
and for other men,
who think the intuition is prepared as purified….
And is this purification then not corresponding,
as was said long ago in the argument,
to the separating especially of the soul from the body
and the habit of bringing together and collecting
it of itself everywhere out of the body,
and to dwell as far as possible in the now present
and in it alone by itself,
released out of the body as though out of chains.
Then is this not named death,
the soul released and apart from the body?
But to release it, as we say,
the correct philosophers alone are also always most eager,
and is the exercise of the philosopher this same thing,
release and separation of the soul from the body, or not?
Plato Phaedo 67
Thus according to Socrates the initiates, who were born anew into divine life in the mystery celebration, may “dwell with the gods.”
And probably those who established
the initiations for us were not trivial,
but in reality long ago hinted that
whoever arrives in Hades uninitiated and unaccomplished,
will lie in the mud,
but the cleansed and perfected arriving there
will dwell with the gods.
For there are, as they say in the mysteries,
many thyrsus-bearers but few mystics.
And these are according to my opinion
no other than those who have been correct philosophers.
Plato Phaedo 69
Then is the holy life remembered.
But all souls do not easily recall the things of the other world;
they may have seen them for a short time only,
or they may have been unfortunate in their earthly lot,
and, having had their hearts turned to injustice
through some corrupting influence, they may have lost
the memory of the holy things which once they saw.
Few only retain an adequate remembrance of them;
and they when they see here any image of that other world,
are rapt in amazement;
but they are ignorant of what this rapture means,
because they do not clearly perceive.
For there is no light of justice or temperance
or any of the higher ideas which are precious to souls
in the earthly copies of them:
they are seen through a glass dimly;
and there are few who, going to the images,
behold in them the realities, and these only with difficulty.
There was a time when with the rest of the happy band
they saw beauty shining in brightness,
we philosophers following in the train of Zeus,
others in company with other gods;
and then we saw the beatific vision and were initiated
into a mystery which may be truly called most blessed,
celebrated by us in our state of innocence,
before we had any experience of evils to come,
when we were admitted to the sight
of apparitions innocent and simple and calm and happy,
which we saw shining in pure light,
pure ourselves and not yet enshrined
in that living tomb which we carry about,
now that we are imprisoned in the body
like an oyster in his shell.
Plato Phaedrus 250
The divine soul may rule and govern while the mortal body obeys and serves. The soul must master the lower desires.
The courageous soul of the philosopher ...
will reason another way,
and would not think it useful for philosophy to release her,
and released she would be bound herself fast again
in pleasures and pain,...
but she will prepare for calmness from these,
following reasoning and always being in this,
gazing at the truth and the divine and the undoubted
and supported by that,
she thinks it is necessary to live thus, while she lives,
and when she dies, to depart into what is akin and such,
rid of human evils.
Plato Phaedo 84
Socrates described what happens to the soul when separated from the body at death and how its immortality makes the action in life more important as each soul gets its just reward or punishment.
It is right to understand that, if the soul is immortal,
then it is necessary to take care of her
not only for this time which we call life, but for all time,
and the danger now also seems to be terrible
if one does not take care of her.
For if death were a release from everything,
it would be a god-send for the evil
who in dying would be released from the body
and at the same time from their evils with the soul;
but now since it appears to be immortal,
no one can escape from evils nor be saved in any other way
except by becoming as good and wise as possible.
For the soul goes into Hades having nothing else
except her education and nurture,
which it is said greatly helps or harms the dead
in the very beginning of the journey there.
And so it is said, that then each angel
of each of the dead, as assigned in life,
attempts to lead them into a place,
where those gathered must be judged to pass into Hades
with that guide who has been appointed
to conduct them from here to there;
and there occurring that which must happen
and remaining for the necessary time
another guide brings them here again
after many long periods of time.
Plato Phaedo 107
The philosopher who is good and true has no fear of death. The reward of the good and pure soul is initiation into divine life.
But the soul then, the invisible,
departing to another such place,
noble and pure and invisible,
into Hades in truth, to the good and wise god,
where, if God wills, soon also may my soul go,
but is this which for us has such a nature
being released from the body
immediately dispersed and destroyed, as many people say?
Far from it,… but it is much more like this:
if it departs pure, dragging nothing of the body with it,
since it did not join it in life willingly,
but avoided it and gathered itself into itself,
since it always practiced this—
but this is nothing else than correctly loving wisdom
and in reality practicing dying;
or would this not be practicing death?...
Then being so does it go away
into what is similar to itself,
the invisible, divine and immortal and wise,
where arriving it is ready for itself to be happy,
released from wandering and folly and fear
and cruel passion and all other human evils,
and as it is said by the initiates,
in truth spends the rest of time with the gods?
Plato Phaedo 80-81