This article assumes some familiarity with the writings of Plato or Plotinus, it is built on some of their ideas, as well as those of Kashmir Shaivism, a variety of Tantric thought that influenced both Vedantic and Tibetan thought back in the day... let me know what you think!
“There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.” Julius Caesar
What is the Soul? What or who or which of these does the horoscope represent and embody? What is the sense of self we have, and what is its relationship to the ego we hear so much about and to the soul? Is the soul the same as or different from or both when referring to our higher self, the Overself, or Âtman?
Obviously, these are questions that have been answered many times by many priests, mystics, philosophers, seers, and freshmen in the humanities. In the end what we have is more a ‘response’ to these questions than answers—or so it must be until mystic experience and metaphysical training give us the eyes to see and the light by which to see. For now, my own understanding of soul is based upon an amalgam of the teachings of Plotinus, Adi-Shankara, PB, and Anthony. Of all these, Plotinus has the most to say, and since his language so often employs images and terms familiar to astrology, He will best serve as our guide.
So: Soul is not the subject, the ‘who’ that we experience or at least believe we experience. Soul is the relation between Divine Mind and Pure Reality—between God and the Absolute, as it were. This relationship is dynamic, infinitely infinite, and an ever-evolving search for Self-knowledge. When Soul Proper, principial Soul, stands as the relation between or within Nous and the Absolute, it is relatively singular and utterly transcendent to phenomena, individuality, incarnation, or anything else we might find personally significant. When Soul Itself applies these qualities of seeking Self-Knowledge to Itself (rather than simply being the seeking of the Nous), it eternally begins a journey that it cannot take within the place of Being—for such a search would merely duplicate its primary act, an act that is already in motion. Therefore Soul must “stand outside” (existare) being; it must exist, must in a way be existence per se. And as existence, or at least the necessity for existence, Soul infuses existence with the quality of directed evolution. Not evolution into perfection, nor evolution to something ‘better’ than what is, but always evolution towards the Good, towards Self-knowing. Since this quality is eternal, it is in one way unchanged throughout all of time, and in another way is perennially different, evolving moment to moment. In fact, one could say that each evolutionary movement of soul is the engine which generates the sense of linear time within becoming.
Within ourselves, therefore, Soul is that intangible seeking self-knowledge, the awareness of and inspiration for transformation, not mere change. Soul is neither our sense of self, nor our sense subject, much less any sort of sentient ‘me.’ When we are told that the soul is immortal, that it continues in the postmortem condition, that is true—but that simply means that the impulse to seek and evolve which permeated our life (at least in potential) of necessity continues in death, for it is beginningless, and thus cannot end. As to whether or not we shall experience that immortal seeking—it entirely depends upon our seeking now, our awareness now, and to that end we are given a ‘brain up’ thanks to the generosity of Nature, who receives this evolutionary impulse into a vehicle capable of reflective consciousness. If and when that reflective consciousness joins to the seeking of the soul, it begins to be immortal, and once begun, it takes a tremendous catastrophe to stop. In this view the soul is not the Higher Self, or true knower, though it may be said to be the ‘body’ of that knower, where its continuous seeking generates a standing wave, as it were, which gives shape to a knowing subject.
So whither the knower? Knowing, and Knower arise as the Divine Knower called World Mind by PB, Nous by Plato and Plotinus, and Îshvara or Shiva by the Hindus. This ultra-sentient Being does know Itself, for it IS knowing, and thus is Knowing-Itself. However, by that very perfect Self-knowing it is always Other than the Real, which may but need not Know or be otherwise specifically characterized. Thus it happens, as it were, that Nous seeks to know what it does not, and cannot know: Reality. That seeking to Know the Real is a seeking by the original Self-Knower or Who—which ‘who-ness’ thus infuses the very seeking undertaken. As we saw earlier, when soul is touched by this quality of self-seeking from which it is born, it thereafter seeks itself, since this self-seeking arises from the first Knower, the capacity to know is eternally nascent in soul—or, as Plotinus puts it, Soul participates in Intellectual Principal (Nous) and thereby participates in, but does not fully possess either knowing or being, while also not entirely lacking in either. Therefore, when the seeking which is soul turns to self-seeking, it necessarily becomes a seeking for self-knowledge, and self-being. While the soul cannot perfect either self-knowing or self-being (since perfection is the province of Being, and the Perfect Knower is Divine Mind or Being Itself), the soul nonetheless is perennially evolving that knowing and being within itself, and this, in time, generates an authentic Knower, a Knower of himself and of Being; this is the condition of the sage.
But of course we ourselves are not in possession such self-knowing, self-being, or even much in the way of self-seeking; we merely have the potential to achieve the status of a Self-Knower, a true Subject, a potential which, when actualized illuminates the life and personality, and when unused, leaves us “bound in shallows and miseries.” Therefore, it behooves us both materially and spiritually to engage with this seeking, to first seek the seeking, and second to comprehend that there is no goal—only greater Mystery, and ever-spiraling discovery. Leaning to tolerate this state and exercise it takes some doing; specifically the combined efforts of Grace, a teacher or two, and the steady influx of trans-Saturnian transits. When we embrace and seek greater identification with the fluidity of the transiting planets rather than with the inflexible fixity of the natal planets, we will find a deeper harmony in life, and see an order where before there was mere buffeting and respite from outside influences. This is to discover and participate in soul, in our own soul, and this is the beginning of the Royal Road, as the Alchemists called it.
What, then, might be the source and character of our own sense of self or subjectivity if it is not soul, as so many would have us believe? Well, we already have the answer before us: Divine Mind, the true Knower. And that helps us how? Well, the Causing Ideas of the universe are mere Thought within that Mind. When Divine Mind thinks about Being (which is also itself), these causing Ideas arise even as Soul arises when Divine Mind thinks about Reality, and even as the Gods arise when It thinks about Itself. That is, the Ideas (which originally meant ‘images’ or ‘reflections’) are differentiations within the Divine Mind as the innate characteristics of Being appear within knowing as content: thus Being is not “same, different, in motion, at rest, one, true, beautiful, or living” in Itself to Itself, but as Intelligible it IS each of these characteristics and more—and such characteristics as these are the original Ideas which become ever more specific and qualitied as they interact and combine with each other—ultimately producing the living-reason principles which populate and inform ourselves and our world. As for the Gods, they are the counterpoint to the Ideas: as Being reflects, ‘embodies’ the Knower which is Itself, Divine Being-s arise; they are necessary multiple for Unity is original equally to Knowing and to Being—so when the Unity of Knowing is reflected into Being (which in that instance must be unnumbered) a multitude of Unties must arise—for Being has its own unity and cannot ‘borrow’ it from its other half. These multitude of unity-beings are then the Perfect Gods; neither Absolute Knowers nor Absolute Being—but certainly Perfect as Knowing and as Being.
We have already seen [sic] how Soul operates independently of Divine Mind; now let’s look at these causing Ideas and the Gods. The Ideas mingle with the act of exist-ing perennially generated by the Soul, for if the Ideas are to be independent of Being, distinct from Being at all, they must inhere elsewhere; to the extent that they are self-inherent Number arises (its own story), and to the extent that they inhere in something other, they inhere in Soul per se. From thence the Ideas inform phenomena, transforming it from moving chaos into an ordered place of qualities, directions, and meanings. A foggy glimpse into their presence can be found in the realms of natural science, occultism, and mystical imagery; in astrology we best understand them through the Sabian Symbols and their ilk; in ourselves ‘lessons’ of life and the self-identity of things (including ourselves) are the last resting place of the Ideas. In both Hinduism and Buddhism these partial representations of the Ideas are called dharma(s).
A similar process applies to the Gods; in Themselves they are eternal, perfect, and rather more Impersonal states than personified or characterized beings. “Seen” by Soul and informed by the Ideas, these First Gods become characterized and empowered in various ways, only some of which are accessible or relevant to humankind (one of the Ideas). These characterized Deities, standing outside Being due to their complex identity, must Exist; and as blended with Soul, they must evolve, albeit it is perfection perfectly evolving (hence RE-(e)volving) rather than imperfection perfectly evolving (which is soul) or even imperfection imperfectly evolving, which is Nature’s province.
Speaking of which, these Gods image themselves—are reflected into—existence, where they become prefect enlightened entities, entities which we perceive as the Stars and their derivatives, the planets. Finally, when these three, the Mundane Gods, the causing Ideas, and the Soul commingle in Nature’s cauldron, sentient creatures are born, one of which our species may yet grow to be. Within the individual entity these four—the Gods, Ideas, Soul, and Nature—interact and thus generate the subject, content, evolutionary direction, and life-qualities of the individual. When these elements of our heritage are made conscious we begin to exist in our own right, to be a subject, to evolve above and beyond the generic evolutionary mood of Nature, and to reflect something of the wisdom, beauty, and freedom of the Stars themselves.