Papus on reincarnation
In the first of his weighty occult books – Elementary Treatise on Occult Science (Traité Élémentaire de Science Occulte) of 1888 – Papus makes little mention of Reincarnation. In fact by just one word as a passing reference in a single paragraph. And it was not until 1912 that he got round to a book devoted entirely to the subject, La Réincarnation.
His initial reluctance may have been influenced by Eliphas Levi, who in his History of Magic, apart from a brief mention of Pythagoras, was also short on the subject – as follows:
“Pythagoras believed above all things in the soul’s immortality and in the perpetuity of life. The endless succession of summer and winter, day and night, sleeping and waking, illustrated amply for him the phenomenon of death. For him also the particular immortality of human souls consisted in persistence of memory. He is said to have been conscious of his previous incarnations, and if the report is true it was something suggested by his reminiscences, for such a man as he could have been neither imposter nor fool. It is probable that he came upon former memories in his dreams, while simple speculation and hypothesis have been constructed as positive affirmation on his part.”
(A E Waite’s translation, to which he added a typical snooty footnote: “It happens that the hypothesis of reincarnation was personally unwelcome to Eliphas Levi, and he did not know enough of Zoharic Kabalism to realise that it is of some importance therein.”
Whatever Eliphas Levi knew or did not, there was little teaching on the subject in the West until the latter half of the 19th century, via the Theosophical Society and a French version of Spiritualism promoted by Alan Kardac. Generally speaking reincarnation was not on the menu in the great traditions of Western esotericism.
Papus shows an ironic sense of humour in his opening paragraph: “If, as we firmly believe, something of us subsists on another plane, it is a state to which we shall all be called, sooner or later, to experience. So why quarrel about it in advance?”
And goes on to say: “Physical existence is divided between the dead and the living, who are the last to solve the problem, and here the cerebral maturity of each of us comes in.
“For some, Death is the end of all that Nature has made until now. Intelligence, feelings, affections, all suddenly vanish and the body becomes vegetable, mineral or gas according to natural process.
“For others, Death is a liberation. The Soul, all light, departs from the body and flies up to the heavens, surrounded by angels and glorious spirits.
“Between these two extreme opinions all intermediary beliefs exist.
“ Pantheists base the Personality of the Dead in the great currents of Universal Life. Mystics teach that the liberated Spirit, freed from the chains of matter, continues to live, attempting by its sacrifice to save others who still suffer on Earth. Initiates of the various schools follow the evolution of being on diverse planes of nature up to the moment when it will return, and by its desire take on a new physical body on the Planet where it has not yet finished ‘paying’ its dues. Death for one’s country almost always frees the Spirit from a return or reincarnation.”
A classic patriotic sentiment (Dolce et decorum est pro patria mori) probably more popular in 1912 than after 1914 with the exploitation of mechanised slaughter which brought about Papus’s transition in 1916.
How many opinions, disputes, polemics, remarks Papus, for a natural fact of which we are assured to see the solution!
If asked for his opinion, Papus would say the Dead of the Earth are the Living on another plane of evolution. In his opinion Nature is a miser that loses nothing in any of its efforts. The brain of an artist or savant represents years and years of slow evolution. Why should this suddenly be lost?
When a close relation is on a journey in a far country, you can follow them in thought when your heart is calm. He would like to give the reader the realisation that the dead have not disappeared for ever; but are travellers on another plane across a country to which we will all normally go.
“Heaven is where the heart is”, said Swedenborg. After a period of more or less long sleep without suffering, since there is no longer terrestrial matter, the Spirit awakes and begins a new existence. It attaches at first to those it has left on Earth and may seek to communicate with them by dream or some intermediary that might be found. We should not force communication between different planes, which are always delicate and could present certain dangers. When, after a sincere desire, or an ardent prayer accompanied by an act of physical, moral or intellectual charity, the Spirit is allowed to make contact, there is always a way that will not frighten an earthly personality.
On the other hand, if one tries to force communication, one risks being tricked by the brain of the ‘medium’ who, unconsciously repeats ideas dear to the consultant, by temporary images, animated photographs floating in the astral, or via beings who serve themselves or the medium to seize a little material existence.
It is thus wise to wait for news of the traveller. It needs calm to obtain the certainty of their effective existence over there, and then think much of the traveller with the magnet of love and not of despair and tears, and then, very gently, the veil will lift, a sweet murmur fill the heart, the frisson of the presence of the beyond appear, and little by little a great mystery be revealed.
So much for Papus take on psychic communication with the departed, but what about those who have passed on further, to possible reincarnation in a different body or personality? Here he launches into a technical analysis based upon ancient Egyptian religious practice.
(To be continued)