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Ancient extended Near Death Experience – The vision of Er

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Ancient extended Near Death Experience – The vision of Er
And a Theosophical commentary by DailyTheosophy



The famous story by Plato in his Politeia about the soldier Er who had died on the battlefield but, unlike all others, returned to life after twelve days, is presented in the form of recounting of a vision. As in all visions, the experiences remembered described should be taken allegorical rather than literal. When the mind is no longer hampered by a physical body and functions on the astral level, the perceptions of the ego are colored by its expectations and fore-knowledge. So these perceptions are partly true and partly dependent on the knowledge and development of the seer. A Tibetan of an Egyptian would have seen the same truths in a different shape and have recognized his own gods different from the Greek.

Whether the vision of Er is actually based on a vision – a kind of extended near-death experience under protection – or just a form in which Plato has put his story is difficult to know. Conscious experiences of the after-death states beyond the limits of near-death experiences which are remembered can normally only take place under occult circumstances, when the initiate is protected and guarded by a Master, and when during his absence his body is put under special care as to prevent it from dying and keep it ready for the astral man to return into it.

Plato is known to have been an Initiate in the Mysteries himself. So whether this story is based on his own experience or that of someone else remains to be guessed. Some details and numbers regarding the planets of the solar system are so complex that one can hardly expect a simple soldier, even when dead, to have remembered and brought back such details correctly.

More important is the teaching for humanity which he has chosen to unveil. A number of very important Theosophical teachings are contained in the story. In the light of modern Theosophical teaching it can be better interpreted than before. But it is remarkable to some of the teachings and incorrect or partly incorrect from a Theosophical point of view. Was Plato only partly informed, or has he purposely chosen to hide certain truths for the common public? He himself alone could tell.

Herebelow I have given commentary based on Theosophical information in the form of notes which can be read by one click. The notes are written in such a way that if one reads them in sequence without the original text, they form a comprehensive article in itself.

The Vision of Er

From Book 10 of Plato’s Republic

Well, I said, I will tell you a tale; not one of the tales which Odysseus tells to the hero Alcinous, yet this too is a tale of a hero, Er is the son of Armenius, a Pamphylian by birth. He was slain in battle, and ten days afterward, when the bodies of the dead were taken up already in a state of corruption, his body was found unaffected by decay, and carried away home to be buried. And on the twelfth day, as he was lying on the funeral pile, he returned to life and told them what he had seen in the other world. He said that when his soul left the body1 while he was able to enter the realm he went on a journey with a great company, and that they came to a mysterious place at which there were two openings in the earth; they were near together, and over against them were two other openings in the heaven above2 In the intermediate space there were judges3 seated, who commanded the just, after they had given judgment on them and had bound their sentences in front of them, to ascend by the heavenly way on the right hand; and in like manner the unjust were bidden by them to descend by the lower way on the left hand4; these also bore the symbols of their deeds, but fastened on their backs. He drew near, and they told him that he was to be the messenger who would carry the report of the other world to men, and they bade him hear and see all that was to be heard and seen in that place. Then he beheld and saw on one side the souls departing at either opening of heaven and earth when sentence had been given on them; and at the two other openings other souls, some ascending out of the earth dusty and worn with travel, some descending out of heaven clean and bright. And arriving ever and anon they seemed to have come from a long journey, and they went forth with gladness into the meadow, where they encamped as at a festival; and those who knew one another embraced and conversed, the souls which came from earth curiously inquiring about the things above, and the souls which came from heaven about the things beneath. And they told one another of what had happened by the way, those from below weeping and sorrowing at the remembrance of the things which they had endured and seen in their journey beneath the earth (now the journey lasted a thousand years), while those from above were describing heavenly delights and visions of inconceivable beauty.5

The story, Glaucon, would take too long to tell; but the sum was this: – He said that for every wrong which they had done to any one they suffered tenfold; or once in a hundred years – such being reckoned to be the length of man’s life, and the penalty being thus paid ten times in a thousand years. If, for example, there were any who had been the cause of many deaths, or had betrayed or enslaved cities or armies, or been guilty of any other evil behavior, for each and all of their offenses they received punishment ten times over, and the rewards of beneficence and justice and holiness were in the same proportion. I need hardly repeat what he said concerning young children dying almost as soon as they were born. Of piety and impiety to gods and parents, and of murderers, there were retributions other and far greater, which he described. He mentioned that he was present when one of the spirits asked another, ‘Where is Ardiaeus the Great?’ (Now this Ardiaeus lived a thousand years before the time of Er: he had been the tyrant of some city of Pamphylia, and had murdered his aged father and his elder brother, and was said to have committed many other abominable crimes.) The answer of the other spirit was: “He comes not hither and will never come. And this,” said he, “was one of the dreadful sights which we ourselves witnessed. We were at the mouth of the cavern, and, having completed all our experiences, were about to reascend, when of a sudden Ardiaeus appeared and several others, most of whom were tyrants; and there were also besides the tyrants private individuals who had been great criminals: they were just, as they fancied, about to return into the upper world, but the mouth, instead of admitting them, gave a roar, whenever any of these incurable sinners or some one who had not been sufficiently punished tried to ascend; and then wild men of fiery aspect, who were standing by and heard the sound, seized and carried them off; and Ardiaeus and others they bound head and foot and hand, and threw them down and flayed them with scourges, and dragged them along the road at the side, carding them on thorns like wool, and declaring to the passers-by what were their crimes, and that they were being taken away to be cast into hell.” And of all the many terrors which they had endured, he said that there was none like the terror which each of them felt at that moment, lest they should hear the voice; and when there was silence, one by one they ascended with exceeding joy. These,” said Er, “were the penalties and retributions, and there were blessings as great.

Now when the spirits which were in the meadow had tarried seven days,6 when he on the eighth they were obliged to proceed on their journey, and, on the fourth day after, he said that they came to a place where they could see from above a line of light, straight as a column, extending right through the whole heaven and through the earth, in color resembling the rainbow, only brighter and purer; another day’s journey [sixth day?] brought them to the place, and there, in the midst of the light, they saw the ends of the chains of heaven let down from above: for this light is the belt of heaven, and holds together the circle of the universe, like the under-girders of a trireme. From these ends is extended the spindle of Necessity, on which all the revolutions turn. The shaft and hook of this spindle are made of steel, and the whorl is made partly of steel and also partly of other materials. Now the whorl is in form like the whorl used on earth; and the description of it implied that there is one large hollow whorl which is quite scooped out, and into this is fitted another lesser one, and another, and another, and four others, making eight in all, like vessels which fit into one another; the whorls show their edges on the upper side, and on their lower side all together form one continuous whorl. This is pierced by the spindle, which is driven home through the center of the eighth [Moon]. The first and outermost whorl has the rim broadest, and the seven inner whorls are narrower, in the following proportions – the sixth [Jupiter] is next to the first [Polar Star?] in size, the fourth [Mars] next to the sixth [Jupiter]; then comes the eighth [Moon]; the seventh [Sun] is fifth, the fifth [Saturn] is sixth, the third [Venus] is seventh, last and eighth comes the second [Mercury]. The largest [of fixed stars] is spangled, and the seventh [or sun] is brightest; the eighth [or moon] colored by the reflected light of the seventh [Sun]; the second and fifth [Mercury and Saturn] are in color like one another, and yellower than the preceding; the third [Venus] has the whitest light; the fourth [Mars] is reddish; the sixth [Jupiter] is in whiteness second. Now the whole spindle has the same motion; but, as the whole revolves in one direction, the seven inner circles move slowly in the other, and of these the swiftest is the eighth; next in swiftness are the seventh [Sun], sixth [Jupiter], and fifth [Saturn], which move together; third in swiftness appeared to move according to the law of this reversed motion the fourth [Mars]; the third [Venus] appeared fourth [Mars] and the second [Mercury] fifth. The spindle turns on the knees of Necessity; and on the upper surface of each circle is a siren7, who goes round with them, hymning a single tone or note. The eight together form one harmony; and round about, at equal intervals, there is another band, three in number, each sitting upon her throne: these are the Fates, daughters of Necessity, who are clothed in white robes and have chaplets upon their heads, Lachesis and Clotho and Atropos, who accompany with their voices the harmony of the sirens – Lachesis singing of the past, Clotho of the present, Atropos [literally ‘no-return’] of the future; Clotho from time to time assisting with a touch of her right hand the revolution of the outer circle of the whorl or spindle, and Atropos with her left hand touching and guiding the inner ones, and Lachesis laying hold of either in turn, first with one hand and then with the other.”8

When Er and the spirits arrived, their duty was to go at once to Lachesis [the past] but first of all there came a prophet who arranged them in order; then he took from the knees of Lachesis lots and samples of lives, and having mounted a high pulpit, spoke as follows: “Hear the word of Lachesis, the daughter of Necessity. Mortal souls, behold a new cycle of life and mortality. Your genius will not be allotted to you, but you will choose your genius; and let him who draws the first lot have the first choice, and the life which he chooses shall be his destiny. Virtue is free, and as a man honors or dishonors her he will have more or less of her; the responsibility is with the chooser – God is justified.” When the Interpreter had thus spoken he scattered lots indifferently among them all, and each of them took up the lot which fell near him, all but Er himself (he was not allowed), and each as he took his lot perceived the number which he had obtained. Then the Interpreter placed on the ground before them the samples of lives; and there were many more lives than the souls present, and they were of all sorts. There were lives of every animal and of man in every condition. And there were tyrannies among them, some lasting out the tyrant’s life, others which broke off in the middle and came to an end in poverty and exile and beggary; and there were lives of famous men, some who were famous for their form and beauty as well as for their strength and success in games, or, again, for their birth and the qualities of their ancestors; and some who were the reverse of famous for the opposite qualities. And of women likewise; there was not, however, any definite character in them, because the soul, when choosing a new life, must of necessity become different. But there was every other quality, and they all mingled with one another, and also with elements of wealth and poverty, and disease and health; and there were mean states also. And here, my dear Glaucon, is the supreme peril of our human state; and therefore the utmost care should be taken. Let each one of us leave every other kind of knowledge and seek and follow one thing only, if peradventure he may be able to learn and may find some one who will make him able to learn and discern between good and evil, and so to choose always and everywhere the better life as he has opportunity. He should consider the bearing of all these things which have been mentioned severally and collectively upon virtue; he should know what the effect of beauty is when combined with poverty or wealth in a particular soul, and what are the good and evil consequences of noble and humble birth, of private and public station, of strength and weakness, of cleverness and dullness, and of all the natural and acquired gifts of the soul, and the operation of them when conjoined; he will then look at the nature of the soul, and from the consideration of all these qualities he will be able to determine which is the better and which is the worse; and so he will choose, giving the name of evil to the life which will make his soul more unjust, and good to the life which will make his soul more just; all else he will disregard. For we have seen and know that this is the best choice both in life and after death. A man must take with him into the world below an adamantine faith in truth and right, that there too he may be undazzled by the desire of wealth or the other allurements of evil, lest, coming upon tyrannies and similar villainies, he do irremediable wrongs to others and suffer yet worse himself; but let him know how to choose the mean and avoid the extremes on either side, as far as possible, not only in this life but in all that which is to come. For this is the way of happiness.

And according to the report of the messenger from the other world this was what the prophet said at the time: “Even for the last comer, if he chooses wisely and win live diligently, there is appointed a happy and not undesirable existence. Let not him who chooses first be careless, and let not the last despair.” And when he had spoken, he who had the first choice came forward and in a moment chose the greatest tyranny; his mind having been darkened by folly and sensuality9 he had not thought out the whole matter before he chose, and did not at first sight perceive that he was fated, among other evils, to devour his own children. But when he had time to reflect, and saw what was in the lot, he began to beat his breast and lament over his choice, forgetting the proclamation of the prophet; for, instead of throwing the blame of his misfortune on himself, he accused chance and the gods, and everything rather than himself. Now he was one of those who came from heaven, and in a former life had dwelt in a well-ordered State, but his virtue was a matter of habit only, and he had no philosophy. And it was true of others who were similarly overtaken, that the greater number of them came from heaven and therefore they had never been schooled by trial, whereas the pilgrims who came from earth, having themselves suffered and seen others suffer, were not in a hurry to choose.10 And owing to this inexperience of theirs, and also because the lot was a chance, many of the souls exchanged a good destiny for an evil or an evil for a good. For if a man had always on his arrival in this world dedicated himself from the first to sound philosophy, and had been moderately fortunate in the number of the lot, he might, as the messenger reported, be happy here, and also his journey to another life and return to this, instead of being rough and underground, would be smooth and heavenly. Most curious, he said, was the spectacle – sad and laughable and strange; for the choice of the souls was in most cases based on their experience of a previous life. There he saw the soul which had once been Orpheus choosing the life of a swan out of enmity to the race of women, hating to be born of a woman because they had been his murderers; he beheld also the soul of Thamyras choosing the life of a nightingale; birds, on the other hand, like the swan and other musicians, wanting to be men. The soul which obtained the twentieth lot chose the life of a lion, and this was the soul of Ajax the son of Telamon, who would not be a man, remembering the injustice which was done him in the judgment about the arms. The next was Agamemnon, who took the life of an eagle, because, like Ajax, he hated human nature by reason of his sufferings. About the middle came the lot of Atalanta; she, seeing the great fame of an athlete, was unable to resist the temptation: and after her there followed the soul of Epeus the son of Panopeus passing into the nature of a woman cunning in the arts; and far away among the last who chose, the soul of the jester Thersites was putting on the form of a monkey. There came also the soul of Odysseus having yet to make a choice, and his lot happened to be the last of them all. Now the recollection of former toils had disenchanted him of ambition, and he went about for a considerable time in search of the life of a private man who had no cares; he had some difficulty in finding this, which was lying about and had been neglected by everybody else; and when he saw it, he said that he would have done the same had his lot been first instead of last, and that he was delighted to have it. And not only did men pass into animals, but I must also mention that there were animals tame and wild who changed into one another and into corresponding human natures – the good into the gentle and the evil into the savage, in all sorts of combinations.11

All the souls had now chosen their lives, and they went in the order of their choice to Lachesis, who sent with them the genius whom they had severally chosen, to be the guardian of their lives and the fulfiller of the choice: this genius led the souls first to Klotho or Clotho, and drew them within the revolution of the spindle impelled by her hand, thus ratifying the destiny of each; and then, when they were fastened to this, carried them to Atropos, who spun the threads and made them irreversible, whence without turning round they passed beneath the throne of Necessity; and when they had all passed, they marched on in a scorching heat to the plain of Forgetfulness, which was a barren waste destitute of trees and verdure; and then towards evening they encamped by the river of Unmindfulness (Lethe), whose water no vessel can hold; of this, they were all obliged to drink a certain quantity, and those who were not saved by wisdom drank more than was necessary; and each one as he drank forgot all things.12 Now after they had gone to rest, about the middle of the night there was thunderstorm and earthquake, and then in an instant were driven upwards in all manner of ways to their birth, like stars shooting. He himself was hindered from drinking the water. But in what manner or by what means he returned to the body he could not say13; only, in the morning, awaking suddenly, he found himself lying on the pyre.

And thus, Glaucon, the tale has been saved and has not perished, and will save us if we are obedient to the word spoken; and we shall pass safely over the river of Forgetfulness and our soul will not be defiled. Wherefore my counsel is that we hold fast ever to the heavenly and follow after justice and virtue always, considering that the soul is immortal and able to endure every sort of good and every sort of evil. Thus shall we live dear to one another and to the gods, both while remaining here and when, like conquerors in the games who go round to gather gifts, we receive our reward. And it shall be well with us both in this life and in the pilgrimage of a thousand years which we have been describing.


  1. Er’s ‘soul’ leaves his body – that means, his liṅga śarīra or astral body and his personal consciousness remain intact, making it possible for him to function with his astral senses without being hampered by the restrictions of the physical senses – the same as what seems to happen during a Near Death Experience and out-of-the body experiences in our time – without completely severing the connection with his physical body, which otherwise would have decayed and make return impossible, as in normal death. Near Death Experiences never last that long, and it seems very improbable that a physical body could be kept alive for 12 days while its tenant is out, even by great experts in true occultism. So my conclusion is that Plato’s story is based on a good deal of genuine knowledge of after-death processes, but that he clad it in a story of the event is at least partly a fantasy or inspired by a dream of the author. But we never can be sure of course. []
  2. The places or experiences after physical death called ‘hell’ and ‘heaven’ (devachan and avici in Theosophical terms) are worlds, or rather states of consciousness, of effects, whereas the life on earth, which is a ‘karmabhūmi’ (to use a Sanskrit term) is a world of causal action. After death the reincarnating ego goes through experiences which have been given form, quality and energy during life. Without physical body the result of these causes appear in the form of visions to the mind, because the mind survives death. The lower mind is connected to desire, passion and perhaps with evil and the visions produced are likewise. This sphere in which the disembodied dead man temporary resides is called kāmaloka (world of desires) with a Sanskrit Theosophical term, and the form which he takes in the astral realm is called kāmarūpa (form of desires). This last form, normally unseen by earthlings, can also be the spook which sometimes appears during the circumstances of spiritist séances. The experiences in his sphere are not necessarily terrible – usually they are not unless the dead person has very strong desires that can not be satisfied. For common people who are not particularly good or particularly bad this is a temporary and not very intensive sphere of being. It last not very long –, maybe months, or years, exceptionally longer. Plato speaks allegorically of a thousand years – to which I will come back later. When these energies have worked out, the kāmarūpa will die just as the physical body died and the experience comes to an end. The ego – we ourselves, the experiencer the awakens in the sphere of the higher mind, and has left all misery and even memory of misery behind.

    Even during life or earth one can be translated or elevated from one state of mind to a higher within a second if one’s attention is drawn upwards. But then we may fall back and choose to cling to the lower mind and desire and passion again.

    The ‘heaven’ – nowadays a burdened term – about which Plato speaks is in Theosophical literature called devachan (from the Tibetan bde-ba-chan, place of delight), one of the spheres of being described in Tibetan literature. Here the experiencer, our own reincarnating immortal ego, has left all memory and connection with the earth behind and experiences only joy and accomplishment, which is the nature of the higher mind. Plato refers to devachan as those who descend from it as ‘heavenly delights and visions of inconceivable beauty.’

    At a second death, after kāmaloka, the link with earthly existence is severed, and the lower part of the man or woman will only survive without a human soul for a limited period. The higher part, our true individuality, the one we are in the higher sense now is reborn in and experiences devachan. That higher part of our being can never manifest by spiritism. There only the low remains of personalities, not individualities, occasionally manifest. But still, devachan is the result and nothing but the result of one’s better mind’s activity during life on Earth. On earth one makes up one’s own experiences between death and the next rebirth. Also devachan may vary in length depending on its quality and energy. On average it lasts 1000 to 1500 years, but is may be very much shorter (down to zero) or longer, many thousands or still more, according to the causes creating it. However a ‘normal’ devachan would be about 100 times the length of physical life. Plato refers to small children dying almost immediately. Their kāmaloka will be absent of short and vague I suppose, but the build-up of devachan begins only when a child is about seven, because only then the true mental aspect begins to incarnate and express itself. So small children will generally reincarnate very quickly, as soon as possible. Idiots (whose higher mind is paralyzed or completely hampered in its functioning due to physiological damage during their whole life), or the rather rare people who never have any higher feeling for aesthetics and ethics or spiritual aspiration at all at all during their life on earth, also have no devachan at all and are reborn quickly. Then also there are people – the materialists – who positively cherish disbelief in devachan and everything outside physical matter and they will block themselves from consciously experiencing it. This category of people will ‘sleep’ until their next incarnation – which comes certainly, whether they believe it or not. When speaking of 1000 years as Plato does, this is but an approximation of the average for all people.

    Plato presents us an either/or model: we go to hell or we go to heaven until we return from it, and then reincarnate after a limited number of days. In reality the lower sphere, kāmaloka is experienced first and starts almost immediately after death; when this is exhausted, usually rather quickly as said above, one dies again and then continues life in devachan. Also this is always but temporary, however long lasting, followed by re-attraction to earthly life, at the threshold of which one’s old personal properties and inclinations, mentalities and desires wait to be taken up by the reincarnating ego.

    Plato also refers to after-death states which are truly terrifying, and where the truly evil ‘go’ in their astral bodies, in extreme cases without return ever. This is not the same as kāmaloka. Plato here speaks of the consciously and seriously evil people. This experience is the opposite of devachan and is called avichi in Buddhist and Theosophical literature. Avichi has many layers of suffering, and the highest may not be far from the lowest of devachan. Even on Earth a weak ‘hell’ and a weak ‘heaven’ may be very close. The highest spheres of devachan are transitory to nirvāṇa, which there is no return. Continuously evil egos lifetime after lifetime, such as mentioned tyrants, and pursuing black magicians may reach, through inconceivable numbers of tremendous experiences of suffering the deepest pit of avichi, called avichi nirvāṇa, from which no return is possible – followed by annihilation. No act or thought during life on earth is left without its logical consequence. Such cases are extremely rare. Even a torturer in a concentration camp may still be good and feel genuine love for his family, and this too will have its reward. Moreover criminals have, based on the psychological materials brought from their pursuits in former existences for which they are fully responsible, have been formed by society and their direct environment. As their criminality is then triggered by disappointment regarding the good they expected in their educators and the society, they have become the focal point of the evil of all around them. Their criminality is them born from despair, and despair when can only have when one had espair – hope. Hope can only be felt as long as they have a heart. That does not mean that they are exempted from confrontation in the here-after and their next life with the fruits of the seeds they have planted. But total annihilation of a soul only occurs when no spark of the spirit is left at all. Until that moment return and self-saving is possible. Plato refers to avichi by mentioning terrible tyrants who were responsible for much suffering of other while on earth as cases who are thrown back into hell time after time. Ultimately such beings, when they have entirely severed their connection with all that is humanly good, may be reborn as animals of the worst kinds and still lower mindless beings before ultimate annihilation. But again, this is exceedingly rare. So after this analysis we see that Plato’s teaching partly unveiled and partly kept hidden the teachings of the different possible spheres of experiences after death. []

  3. The judges after death mentioned by Plato should not be taken literally as the judges at our earthly courts of justice – though the last is a reflection of the first. In the visions depicted in the so-called Egyptian Book of the Death (rw nw prt m hrw or Pert em hru) the Judge, accompanied by many assessors, are present at the ‘weighing of the soul against the feather of stainless truth’ The pure heart or soul (rather the reincarnating ego) is left through to continue its way upwards to the gods; the impure soul is devoured by a triple monster: a crocodile head – hippo (or pig) back and front legs with claws which might signify sometime like anger/heartless cruelty – desire and ignorance or violence and ignorance) and will reincarnate. In India the Judge is called citragupta, reacting on what the karmic scribes, called lipika, who have registered in astral symbols every stirring of our soul during life. The real judge is one’s own higher self, the true knower of right and wrong who is always present within ourselves, or rather who we ourselves really are. In the Tibetan Book of the Dead (or Bardo Thödol, describing the events from the moment of the bardos between the moment of dying on earth and rebirth) no such judge is mentioned, but the deceased human being is given a maximum of 49 opportunities to recognize and distinguish high higher Self in the form of various deities and either follow their bright light or fleeing from them by stupidly following a fainter light of greater ease in accordance with their karmas versus their wisdom. Once one succeeds to recognize and follow a deity (a creation of one’s own self) one will be reborn in a higher sphere; if not one will reincarnate quickly through a womb in one of the six realms of experience on Earth itself: as a average human, as one tortured by insatiable desire, as one predominantly living in his or her animal nature, in countries of exceeding heat or cold (or perhaps exceeding stress of loneliness is meant?), as one in semi-divine circumstances but jealous by nature, or as a true god – but even then only as long as life on earth lasts. The truly evil will experience avichi or hell

    Theosophical literature describes how during the dying process all experiences and actions during the last life pass the scene before the inner eye of the dying person and that he of she sees the justice or injustice of his deeds in the higher light of the true Self. On this – not on any divine volition or ‘just by chance’ – one’s destiny is decided according to the absolute laws of higher inner knowledge. There is, of course, no escape or clemency from oneself – in this sense forgiveness does not exist. The cycle of birth and death are the result of one’s own choices exclusively. []

  4. The left and right hand of the Judge, or a heaven above and a hell below are but allegorical. The spheres of experience can not properly be said to have a location where hell and heaven find themselves. Astronomically their location is insignificant because they are mind-created. []
  5. After one’s private experiences in the higher or lower spheres – when the energies giving it life have been exhausted – one returns to the atrium of rebirth. Plato talks only about those who have not emancipated from the cycle of death and birth and thus do not enter the nirvāṇa of transcendental wisdom and non-dual bliss from where there is no return necessary, as the Tibetan Book of the Dead does. Remarkable is that Plato allows conscious recognition and conversation of the beings in their astral bodies. As they have not yet reincarnated they have no physical bodies, but still they are fully self-conscious in the astral. Until they will drink of the river of forgetfulness their memory of their past experiences are still in tact. Also in the Tibetan Book of the Dead self-consciousness remains in tact during the total adventure in the intermediate state between death and birth, until one faints shortly before entering a womb. Theosophy describes how a reincarnating human being shortly before its new incarnation sees an overview or ‘panoramic vision’ of the past, including the justice of all that happened, but that the accent is on the future rather than on the past (at the first and second deaths – physical death and death in kāmaloka respectively such visions also take place, but focus on the past, including at least glimpses of even earlier lives, and the justice regarding from the viewpoint of the higher self or Reality.) Blavatsky mentions that during devachan their remains enough of one’s personal consciousness to realize who one was during life. In that sense it seems that John is still John, and Marian is still Marian, though disembodied and without desire, misery and gloom. []
  6. The number seven is emphasized several times by Plato. It is a sacred number in all cultures from East to West and in pre-Colombian Native American mythology. After they have tarried for seven days, the journey towards rebirth takes again seven days – and in the night of the seventh day one enters actual birth on Earth. I have no hint to the meaning of the seven days in the meadow – apparently symbol of relaxation and pleasantness, but it must mean that in this prenatal period their much be seven phases too. Then during the final journey towards rebirth the total structure of the solar system – our universe – is revealed in the vision including its spiritual meaning, the harmony of the spheres, the law of karma and the taking up of the skandhas – old properties, themselves karmas, waiting on the threshold of earthly or physical rebirth. []
  7. Sirens in Greek mythology are half-goddesses and temptresses who use the power of sound or music to enchant people []
  8. It can hardly be expected that a simple soldier as Er was could have seen in his vision and memorized in details all these complexities and have retold after his revival on Earth. Therefore I assume that this details came from Plato’s knowledge rather than from Er’s actual vision – if such ever has taken place at all. []
  9. Of this person who had cherished strong negative tendencies in a former existence on Earth, the higher mind was darkened by his skandhas, his groups of properties of a lower nature laying in wait from his former lives. Still he could have chosen for wisdom in stead of his low character tendencies of the past which now become his destiny – if only he had developed that wisdom in his former lives. []
  10. Here we see that Plato emphasizes both wisdom and compassion – the core concepts of Buddhism and Theosophy also. []
  11. When Plato talks about humans incarnating as animals and animals as humans he seems to write in direct contradiction to Theosophical teachings. In modern Theosophical literature it is repeatedly emphasized ‘once a human, always a human’ and that animals can only reach manhood in a future cycle of evolution, when humans have passed beyond that states. Humans have a self-conscious mind and is asking himself existential and essential question of a philosophical and religious nature, and the human mind is both actively creative, resulting in technologies and conscious intelligent choices, and he builds culture. Even simple illiterate people are a very large step ahead of the most intelligent animals – because the last rarely show signs of abstract and spiritual thinking – except a certain amount of abstraction when it comes to practical physical matters, such as using a stick, or cunning in inflicting and preventing physical harm. Though some apes and dolphins and even some mollusks are ‘amazing’ in their intelligence, none of them have ever reached even the lowest class of an elementary school, and even less do they show sign of higher intellectual and conscious spiritual activity. At most a lower, kāmic, aspect of the human being might temporarily incarnate in an animal form, leaving out the man’s mental and cultural achievements of the past. Thus a cruel or sensual man may stimulate cruelty or sensuality in the animal kingdom, but then the man who could have curbed his tendencies is more responsible than the animal that acts according to these impulses. On the other hand animals as a species however show ingrained properties far beyond what humans can do, such as flying, smelling, hearing and other sense faculties and skills, including perhaps some not even yet discovered by man. Their bodies and even psychological properties – such as the inbuilt serviceability of ants and bees – may be better than those of humans, but that is not the result of their personal mental capacity nor of their personal self-consciously chosen effort, though to all appearance there is a higher and developing mind behind or within each living being or species etc. steering, guiding and stimulating evolution in a specific direction and specialization. But the desires, mind and impulses of the animal as such is usually only directed towards sensual gratification without self-conscious ethical choices.

    On the other side it would be unthinkable that animals could immediately jump up evolutionary towards the higher human faculties. The belief of transmigration of souls up and down through the realms of nature, including the plant and the mineral kingdom is however almost universal in exoteric religion – and can be found in the Indian systems: Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, and even among the beliefs of Native Americans, and as we see here, the ancient Greeks. According to Theosophy man is really another kingdom, even though he is physically and in part of his psychology an animal. Mentally and spiritually he forms a kingdom of Nature above the animal kingdom because man alone has been and is individually supervised by specific higher divine beings (who have been humans in the past, and are known as mānasaputras) – who a man or woman can recognize daily in their purest and loftiest thoughts and impulses and who consciously and purposely awakened the faculties of Higher Mind in man – a process that did not take place in the animal cycle of evolution. It will happen in the far future though, in a next great cycle of evolution still several billions of years ahead: then only the jīvas or living-consciousness cores of animals will become human jīvas. From a Theosophical point of view animals, and more so plants and minerals and invisible elemental beings are our brothers and sisters, but younger in evolutionary stage who have now gone into different differentiations, as ‘we’ have done in the past. []

  12. The walking through the barren land and finally the drinking of the water of the river Lethe, i.e. forgetfulness, signifies the process of forgetting the more subtle states of consciousness which can not be contained by the physical mind, or also, in the case of entering more subtle states – like devachan or heaven, that one loses all memory and consciousness of past suffering in the lower realms such as those of a worldly nature. It takes place after each night, thus forgetting our dreams. Dreams of a REM sleep, i.e. not the deep sleep, are sometimes partly or wholly remembered, but often forgotten minutes or hours later. Deep sleep dreams are usually not remembered or perhaps at most beautifully for a second or so, if the dreamer is suddenly woken up. In Near-Death Experiences very clear memories of the first stages of the dying process, which are usually very beautiful and spiritual compared to anything on earth, the ‘drinking of the river’ is apparently avoided and the remembered experiences are very clear and lucid – as in the case or Er, who was forbidden to drink. []
  13. Er did not remember his return to his body because it is Nature’s compassion that makes the consciousness faint before it would have to go through experiences it could not (yet) handle consciously. This would apply to each of us before we are reborn and at other transitions of states of consciousness. []