Eliade, Mircea - On Death
Type of spiritual experience
A description of the experience
Mircea Eliade – Patterns in Comparative religion
The lunar sphere was only one stage in an ascension including several others – the sun, the Milky Way, the outer sphere. The soul rested in the moon, but as in the Upanishad tradition, only to await reincarnation, and a return to the round of life. That is why the moon has the chief place in forming organisms, but also in breaking them apart.
'Omnia animantium corpora et concepta procreat et generata dissolvit' [Firmicus Maternus – De Errore]
Its task is to reabsorb forms and recreate them. Only what is beyond the moon is beyond becoming.
'Supra lunam sunt aeterna omnia' [Cicero De Republica]
To Plutarch, who believed man to be made up of three parts, this meant that the souls of the just were purified in the moon while their bodies were given back to the Earth and their spirit to the Sun.
To the duality of soul and mind correspond the two different itineraries after death to the moon and sun, rather like the Upanishad tradition of the path of the souls and the path of the gods. The path of souls is a lunar one because the soul has not the light of reason, or in other words, because man has not come to know the ultimate metaphysical reality; Brahman.
Plutarch wrote that man has two deaths; the first took place on earth, in the domain of Demeter, when the body became cut off from the psyche and the nous and returned to dust – which is why the Athenians called the dead demetreioi; the second takes place in the moon, in the domain of Persephone, when the psyche separates from the nous and returns into the moon's substance. The soul or psyche, remains in the moon, though holding on to dreams and memories of life for some time.
The righteous are soon reabsorbed; the souls which have been ambitious, self willed, or too fond of their own bodies are constantly drawn towards earth and it is a long time before they can be reabsorbed. The nous is drawn towards the sun, which receives it, to whose substance it corresponds.
The process of birth is the exact reverse; the moon receives the nous from the sun and coming to fruition there, the moon gives birth to a new soul. The earth furnishes the body. Note the symbolism of the moon rendered fertile by the sun, and its relation to the regeneration of the nous and psyche, the first integration of the human personality.
Cumont thinks that the dividing of the mind into nous and psyche comes from the East and is Semitic in nature, and he reminds us that the Jews believed in a 'vegetative soul' which continued to dwell on earth for some time and a 'spiritual soul' (ruah) which departed from the body immediately after death.