Athena's Web Weekly Column

  Week of January 12th - January 18th,  2001

The Immortality of the Soul

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   Astrology represents the choreography of life. The stars and planets author the script of this Earthly stage wherein our personalities, passions and pitfalls are celestially cued. The Chinese termed this the mandate of heaven, but different cultures have given it their own particular twist throughout time.

Mercury (Hermes)- guide of the dead

Mercury (Hermes) was considered the guide of the souls recently departed

   While water represented the spiritual medium of Christianity, where rebirth was symbolized and facilitated through baptism, so the Classical World saw fire as the divine conduit through which the soul attained its immortality. There was both trial and purification by fire. The Greeks, Romans, Celts, Persians and even Jews all demonstrated a special devotion to this particular element. Posidonius clearly states that a contemplation of the sky and study of the stars was a preparation for another existence, wherein at death the soul soared to the higher regions of heaven, and was at last reabsorbed by the divine fire of the stars. On the way, it discards the tools used in its Earthly sojourn, casting them aside like garments at each of the seven planetary levels. This notion originally arose among the stars cults of Asia, where the soul acquires the dispositions and qualities particular to each of the planets at birth, and then reascends to heaven via the same route at death, discarding these qualities as it passes through the various planetary orbits. This Chaldean philosophy was not only to captivate paganism at its height, it was even to survive it.

   As the soul leaves the body, the essential nature of this divine fire raises it up above the Earth, passing first through the level of the Moon, our closest neighbor. Here it surrenders its vital and alimentary energy. To Mercury was given cupidity, and to Venus amorous desires. The Sun was offered the soul's intellectual capacities, products of the daylight mind. Mars found warlike ardor cast off like used armor at his alter, while to Jupiter was lain one's ambitions. Finally, to Saturn went slothful tendencies.

Pluto- Lord of the Underworld

Pluto (Hades), Lord of the Underworld

   While there were various philosophies which vied for attention throughout the cultures of early Mediterranean civilization, such as the soul's descent into the Underworld in the earlier Greek tradition, the notion of catasterism is an old one. At a very early date, the heroes of mythology ascend to take their roles amongst the stars. Hercules, Orion, and the Twins are a few of the personalities which ascended to the celestial vault. Even Cicero, who was known to have doubted the existence of the gods, wrote that the soul was composed of a fiery breath (anima inflammata), the lightest of the four elements of the universe. Because of its fiery nature, its heat carried it aloft, for it was warmer and more subtle than the dense air which encircles the Earth. The freshly freed spirit easily cleaves through this heavier atmosphere, passes through the clouds and rain, and then to the regions ruled by the winds, until at last it ascends to the spaces filled by that rarefied air warmed by the Sun, and encounters elements similar to its own substance. Henceforth it forever dwells in these regions, which are its natural home, continually vivified by the same principles which feed the everlasting fires of the stars.

   This cosmological framework of the levels of heaven were to be revisited by Dante centuries later, as the seven levels of heaven and hell.

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