Spiritual Death and Rebirth

  Perennialist teachings concerning spiritual death and rebirth involve esoteric concepts and practices containing extraordinary dimensions:

  • Death

  • Second death

  • Resurrection: rebirth, palingenesis, metamorphosis

  • Baptism through trance induction

The Meaning of Death

     At the heart of the mysteries was the allegory of the death and resurrection of an incarnated god, known by different names in different cultures: in Egypt he was Osiris, in Greece Dionysus, in Asia Minor Attis, in Syria Adonis, in Italy Bacchus, in Persia Mithras. The name "Osiris-Dionysus" was sometimes used to denote his universal and composite nature.

  As we examine various references to the death of the incarnated god in ancient Egyptian, Chaldean, and Greek Mystery writings, we come upon a concept of death which is entirely at variance with the meaning in ordinary interpretations of philosophic and religious thought. Death was seen as the descent of the soul into the terrestrial realm, the immersion of the Higher Self in the "tomb" of the earthly body.

     In ancient Egyptian writings, Osiris, the Father, is assigned the functions, prerogatives and sovereignty of the "king of the dead." He is hailed as the Ruler of the Underworld, or as Lord of Amenta. As we examine these writings in detail it becomes evident that the Egyptian Amenta and the Greek Hades are terms referring to the terrestrial plane. Osiris, the incarnating deity, is indeed the king in the realm of the dead. For humans are the dead, and the god within us has come to rule this kingdom, according to the arcane meaning of Egyptian, Chaldean, and Greek teachings.

"The earth was the coffin of Osiris, the coffin of Amenta . . . The buried Osiris represented the god in matter . . . The soul is now dwelling in 'the grave which we call the body.'"

Gerald Massey, Ancient Egypt, the Light of the World

     In the Egyptian Mystery writings we find Osiris referred to as the god who "descended into Hades, was dead and buried" in Amenta. Amenta, Tanenet, Aukert, Shekhem, Abydos, Tattu were designations for earth as the place of burial for the incarnate soul. Osiris-Dionysus was seen as the symbol of the initiate in the Mystery rituals, God made flesh, the immortal Spirit embodied in human flesh.

     The Egyptians called the coffin "the chest of the living." The shrine in the Egyptian temples, representing the vessel of salvation, was in the form of a funeral chest, the front side of which was removed so that the god might be seen.

     Plato taught that the soul, until purified by philosophy, "suffers death through this union with the body."

"But indeed, as you say also, life is a grievous thing. For I should not wonder if Euripides spoke the truth when he says: 'Who knows whether to live is not to die, and to die is not to live?' And we perhaps are in reality dead. For I have heard from one of the wise that we are now dead; and that the body is our sepulchre; but that the part of the soul in which the desires are contained is of such a nature that it can be persuaded and hurled upward and downwards."

Plato, Gorgias

     The soul was seen by the Egyptians and Greeks as possessing a composite nature. It was related to the eternal world as it emanated from God, partaking of Divinity. It also had connection with the phenomenal world through incarnation, subject to carnal passions. In the ancient Mysteries, to incarnate was to be plunged into the condition of bodily existence. The soul dwells in the body as in a prison or a grave. "Death" was terrestrial embodiment, comprised of two aspects: waking and sleeping, living and dying. The earthly life is a dream rather than a reality. When this esoteric knowledge was lost, the concept of death was reduced to the termination of terrestrial existence.

The Necessity of Incarnation

     Though incarnation is seen as death in the Perennial Tradition--as taught in all the Mysteries--this does not make terrestrial existence an abode of evil and desolation. Plotinus taught that the soul need not regret her contact with matter and body if she does not allow herself to become totally enmeshed in carnal existence. It is a part of the divine order that humans come to dwell in mortal bodies, just as a seed must be buried in the ground. The soul descends into the terrestrial realm to become germinated, quickened, so she may experience a new birth, a resurrection of her latent faculties at a higher level of capability.

"He said:
'I was a hidden treasure;
creation was created
so that you might know me.'"

Hakim Sanai, The Walled Garden of Truth

  All the Mystery schools engaged seekers in a nature allegory, an experiential participation in the action of life in the vegetable world with the changing of the seasons. Each year nature passes through the cycle of the burial of the seed, its apparent death, and its Palingenesis into a new being. In winter, vegetable life is dead and Demeter, the giver of life, grieves for the loss of her daughter Persephone who has been taken underground by Pluto. But with the coming of spring the life of nature revives again, and the sorrowing mother receives her daughter back with rejoicing. Through the summer the mother abundantly maintains the life of nature until autumn, when again her daughter returns to the underworld and earth becomes desolate once more. Thus year after year nature re-enacted the Mystery of Eleusis.

     It is within the divine plan that we descend into the terrestrial domain--as seeds are planted in the ground and die there. The soul immerses herself in matter for the purpose of bringing to fruition her latent capacity for spiritual perfection into conscious realization and actualization.

"The soul, says Plotinus, would never know her powers, indeed she would never really exist, if she did not manifest her potentialities and actualize her nature by progression into matter and form. But this requires that she subject herself to the same inexorable necessity as that which confronts the acorn if it is to engender the new oak. She must bury herself in the dark soil of the kingdom just below her, and seize upon and transform by her fiery energy the elements of that kingdom into the likeness of her own divine essence, and so lift it up. This is the logic of the incarnation, this is the ground-fact in all religion. And this was the deftly hidden meaning carried in the minds of the initiates in the Mysteries of old by the use of the term 'death' in all the grand schools of the arcane teaching."

Alvin Boyd Kuhn, The Lost Meaning of Death

The Second Death

  The first death is a kind of perishing to a higher form of life through incarnation. But the Mystery teachings spoke of two deaths: the descent into a terrestrial body which places the soul under the heavy influence of fleshly existence. But a second death was possible if the individual allowed himself to sink farther down and become lost in ignorance and intemperance to a degree that made a return to his heavenly state next to impossible. If he allows himself to become overpowered by his animal nature, a person suffers the "second death."

  Pluto, the lord of the underworld, represents the body intelligence of man; and the rape of Persephone is symbolic of the divine nature assaulted and defiled by the animal element and dragged downward into the somber darkness of Hades, the symbol for the material sphere of consciousness.

     The soul in its essence was said to stand in fear and terror of this second death, the failure to rise and "return unto the Father."

"When the soul had descended into generation (from this first divine condition) she partakes of evil and is carried a great way into a state the opposite of her first purity and integrity, to be entirely merged in it . . . and death to her is, while baptized or immersed in the present body, to descend into matter and be wholly subjected to it. . . . This is what is meant by the falling asleep in Hades, of those who have come there."

Plotinus, Enneads I, lviii

     Plotinus refers to the first death as a state the opposite of the original purity and integrity of the soul. But the second death--total death to the soul--was to become consumed by ignorance and intemperance to the point of completely forgetting one's higher essence: "falling asleep in Hades."

"The first death is merely the coming to dwell in body; the second is to fail to effect an escape from it. Proclus warns us that we may undertake the transformation of the lower nature on condition that we do it 'without merging ourselves in the darkness of body.' Plotinus enforces this with a statement that the soul need not regret her contact with matter and body 'if she flee promptly from here below.' That is to say -- and it is a matter of the most vital import for humanity -- that it is in the order of nature for us to come to dwell in mortal bodies, but it is in contravention of the normal flow of evolutionary currents for us to become so involved in body as to go down to dissolution with it. By natural analogy it is no ill hap for the seed to fall into the ground and even die there; but nature is defeated if in dying the seed does not germinate again in a new generation of life."

Alvin Boyd Kuhn, The Lost Meaning of Death

     The Mystery teachings all speak of this second death. Paul, the only apostle of Jesus to understand the Mysteries, taught: "To be carnally minded is death." In the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the triumphant soul at the conclusion of its earthly trials exults: "I have not died the second death." In the New Testament book of Revelation one of the rewards given to those who overcome is to escape "the second death."


  The soul's going out from the realm of eternity, does not mean that it ceases to be. It suffers diminution of its power as it descends from its primal source, until at last it is incarnated in the inert realm of matter. In this state of death, its living quality can become completely quiescent, smothered in the meshes of matter. The "dying away" of a voice or other sound, as in the Hymn of the Pearl, is allegorical of the type of "death" here signified. The soul departs from its Origin and meets its death in the terrestrial realm. But this is not its absolute annihilation or extinction, merely an entrancement. The soul is merely held quiescent in the grip of an element able to silence its activities. The soul has not ceased to be. Its powers have only gone into latency. They can emerge again; they can experience resurrection.

"Just as the Lesser Mysteries discussed the prenatal epoch of man when the consciousness in its nine days (embryologically, months) was descending into the realm of illusion and assuming the veil of unreality, so the Greater Mysteries discussed the principles of spiritual regeneration and revealed to initiates not only the simplest but also the most direct and complete method of liberating their higher natures from the bondage of material ignorance."

Manly P. Hall, The Secret Teachings of All Ages

     The Mysteries were created as instruction and guidance for "those in their graves" of earth-life, participation allegories and rituals for "the dead," in the dark underworld of the terrestrial realm: Hades, Sheol, Amenta. Unfortunately, the esoteric wisdom concerning human resurrection from the tomb of the physical body has largely been lost through ignorance, neglect, and deliberate misinterpretation.

     To reconnect with this Mystery wisdom, it's first necessary to realize that "resurrection" does not connote the mere raising of decaying physical bodies from a grave or tomb. The essence of resurrection is the re-arising of the soul buried in a physical prison, its bursting the bondage of death in the body. The Mystery rituals and myths are a series of spiritual allegories, designed to reveal the nature of our own personal soul-life, the history of every person's experience in the world of flesh and matter, and our rebirth into the Higher realm.

     Our resurrection constitutes being quickened, awakening from this lethargic state of terrestrial consciousness, and attaining a new dynamic of spiritual energy that revitalizes all of our faculties into vibrant activity. "Awake, thou that sleepest," Paul entreats us, "and arise from the dead, and the Anointed One will shine upon thee."

     The entire Mystery of resurrection is found in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, written as early as 6000 B.C. E. In this primeval teaching, humans are identified as "mummies in their graves", "the sleepers in their coffins," as well as "the prisoners in their cells." The Perennialist resurrection teaching originated as an allegory, and it remains a metaphorical rite in Perennialist practice even today.

Resurrection Baptism Through Trance Induction

     As Plato and all other Perennialist savants taught, resurrection is our final release, in an ecstatic experience, from bodily incarnation. In the section of the Hermetic Corpus describing baptism, Hermes inducted Tat into the realization of the Blessed Sight by putting himself into a higher state of consciousness. Tat, the initiate, was baptized in his Master's spiritual beatitude--the Cup of the Mind. Hermes described the change that took place in himself when he passed into the high spiritual consciousness: "Whene'er I see within myself the Simple Vision. . . I have passed through myself into a Body that can never die. And now I am not what I was before; but I am born in Mind."

     The Master entered the trance state by focusing his consciousness on the higher part of his spiritual nature. The way to do this is only taught to initiates, and it cannot be understood through any ordinary sensory or intellectual experience. No physical sight can penetrate this Mystery. "Thou seest me with eyes, my son," said Hermes, "but what I am thou dost not understand." The outer physical form of the Master was there, but his soul had been liberated from the body. This mystery could only be understood by one who himself had attained Higher Consciousness.

     Tat's spiritual senses were awakened by experiencing the Master's higher state of consciousness. Tat said, "Into fierce frenzy and mind fury hast thou plunged me, father, for now no longer do I see myself." Tat had transcended the physical plane of consciousness, but something more was necessary. Hermes explained: "I would, my son, that thou had'st e'en passed right through thyself." That is, Tat had to pass into his higher "body that can never die," into his transcendent spiritual being. It was not enough to separate from the physical body; it was necessary to relocate one's consciousness in the Higher Self. The Mystery cannot be explained fully in words, it must be experienced; the initiate must himself participate in the higher state of unity with the Divine.

"Now this initial process towards discovering the '[Philosopher's] stone' . . . was accomplished in a condition of magnetic trance mesmerically induced upon the aspirant by some wise and skilled operator. . . .

"The separation was that of the aspirant's sense-nature and objective mind from his subjective [subconscious] nature. The former needed to be reduced to quiescence that his consciousness might function in the latter alone and in a necessarily quickened, vivid manner. The aspirant therefore would be placed in the condition of a person at the moment of death or in anaesthesia; but with this difference, that, whilst thus reduced to subjectivity, he would be at the mercy of the compelling will and direction of the operator into whose power he had committed himself. His consciousness, withdrawn from externals, would be restricted to and focused upon the mind's internal content, and these inania regna he would be directed to explore and to consider."

Walter Leslie Wilmhurst, Introduction to M. A. Atwood,
Hermetic Philosophy and Alchemy

     To examine the process of resurrection baptism through trance induction, we'll refer to a book written by Dr. Paul Brunton entitled A Search in Secret Egypt. I have reasonable certainty that Brunton's accounts are reliable, because I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Brunton in person and get to see just what kind of person he was.

      I had just completed my master's at Yale Divinity School and was about to enter Yale Graduate School for my work toward a doctorate in philosophy. I traveled from New Haven and met with Dr. Brunton in his New York City apartment. During that visit, I got the distinct impression that he was a man of unimpeachable character. At the end of our session, we meditated together for a short time, at the end of which time Dr. Brunton told me that he had imparted a vital energy to my inner being which would remain with me.

     Dr. Brunton described the mystical initiation procedure in these terms in his book:

"Although this process of initiation [into the Higher Mysteries] bore all the outward semblance of expert hypnotism, it was something that went far beyond the entrancement methods of our modern experimenters, who tap the subconscious mind of man but who cannot make their subjects conscious of still profounder planes of existence."

"Moreover, to confuse such a sublime experience with the mental handiwork of the modem hypnotist would be a grave error. The latter plunges his subject into a strange condition which neither fully understands, whereas the hierophant of the Mysteries was in the possession of a secret traditional knowledge which enabled him to exercise his power as one fully armed with complete understanding. The hypnotist taps the subconscious mentality of his entranced subject down to a certain level, without himself sharing the change of condition, whereas the hierophant watched and controlled every such change by his own percipient powers. Above all, the hypnotist is only able to elucidate from his subject such matters as concern our material world and life, or to perform abnormal feats with the material body. The hierophant went deeper, and could lead the mind of the candidate step by step through an experience involving the spiritual worlds--a feat beyond the power of any modern hypnotist to achieve."

"There existed an exalted and final degree of initiation where the souls of men were not merely freed temporarily from their bodies in a condition of simulated death, in order to prove the truth of survival, after the great change, but where they were actually carried up to the loftiest spheres of being, to the realm of the Creator Himself. In this marvelous experience the finite mind of man was drawn into contact with the infinite mind of his superior divinity. He was able for a brief while to enter into silent, spell-bound communion with the Father of All, and this fleeting contact of incomparable ecstasy was enough to change his entire attitude towards life. He had partaken of the holiest food that exists in life. He had discovered the ineffable ray of Deity which was his true innermost self, and of which the soul-body which survives death was merely the intangible vesture. He was, in verity and fact, born again in the highest sense. He who had thus been initiated became a perfect Adept, and the hieroglyphic texts speak of him as one who could expect the favor of the gods during life and the state of paradise after death.

"Such an experience came with an entrancement which, although outwardly similar, was inwardly completely different from the hypnotic entrancements of the earlier degrees of initiation. No hypnotic power could ever confer it, no magical ceremony could ever evoke it. Only the supreme hierophants, themselves at one with their divinities, their wills bent with his, could by their astonishing divine force arouse the candidate to consciousness of his superior nature. This was the noblest and most impressive revelation then possible to Egyptian man, and still possible, albeit through other ways, to modern man."
Paul Brunton, A Search in Secret Egypt, 1936