Everyone, probably, a person feels this: outside of his body – or, conversely, somewhere deep inside – there is some kind of limitless, special “I” that existed before birth and will not go anywhere after death.
These vague ideas, sensations, which are complemented by dreams, find expression in various signs, customs, superstitions, which modern man is not going to get rid of completely, and even if science does not recognize the existence of the soul, the best minds of mankind have long been thrown into the study of this concept and the history of its development.
Concept of the soul
What a soul is, how it arises and evolves is explained in different cultures in different ways. But there is still a lot in common in these views – regardless of whether they originated among the peoples of the Far North, or in Egypt before the onset of the era of the pharaohs, or among the ancient Slavs. The soul has always been considered a certain entity associated with the human body but capable of being preserved separately from it. The origins of the concept of the soul lie in the most ancient beliefs in which animals and even plants were endowed with this mysterious substance.
In many cultures, the concept of the soul was inextricably linked with breathing since the human “I” disappeared along with the disappearance of breath at the time of death.
In addition, the ancient people were guided in their philosophy by the fact that in a dream, this “I” lives its own life, separate from the human body, this, in turn, gave rise to the belief that the soul is able to exist autonomously and move through different worlds – for example, from the world of the living to the world of the dead.
It is difficult to find an ancient culture that would deny the existence of a certain spiritual entity, separate from the person himself. The word “spirit” is not particularly deleted in its meaning, which in some cases means the soul or consciousness of a person, existing separately from his body – usually after his death.
How the soul was imagined and what it was called
A simple philosophy of the soul, perhaps, did not appear in any of the religions. But one of the most complexes, ramified concepts was given to culture by the ancient Egyptian civilization. Of course, ideas about the soul have changed throughout the long, centuries-old history of Ancient Egypt, but at least the tradition of building majestic tombs, embalming the dead – not only people but also animals – and filling burial rooms with different values has, as it turns out, a direct relationship to beliefs about the soul.
Unfortunately, many Egyptian tombs fell into the hands of scientists already plundered, but those that have survived in relative integrity, such as the tomb of Tutankhamun, found in 1922, provide a lot of information about the travels and adventures of the soul in its various guises. From the point of view of the ancient Egyptians, there were quite a lot of such “souls” reflecting the personality of a person after his death.
One of them is “Ka”, “double”, which is a kind of entity that, after the death of a person, lives in a sculptural image in a tomb and feeds on the offerings left inside. Ka “knows how” to pass through the false (drawn) door, which is depicted on the inner walls of the tomb. Both people and gods have ka, and the latter, like the pharaohs, have several of them. It was to Ka that those who asked the gods for mercy and help addressed their appeals.
Another similar entity was called “Ba”. She took the form of a bird with the head of a man, consisted of the feelings and emotions of her master, his conscience. After his death, Ba leaves the body and travels around the world, can take possession of sacred animals. Even during the life of a person, Ba wanders through the worlds of dreams. Images of Ba can be seen on various objects of worship, on amulets.
The human body, for all its frailty, was also given a sacred meaning. After mummification, the remains received the name “Sakh” and were considered the embodiment of the human soul, which left the body during burial procedures. In order for Sakh to appear, it was necessary to preserve the life-like appearance of the body as long as possible, having specially processed the mortal shell of a human “Hut”. At the same time, particular importance was attached to the heart, which then appeared on the scales of the god Osiris – this was how it was determined how piously a person lived. The heart, unlike other organs, was left during mummification.
Among these and many other varieties and incarnations of the soul, one can also distinguish shuite – this is a “shadow”, it could exist separately. Like other forms of the human soul, she demanded funeral offerings – hence the tradition of filling the tombs and graves of the Egyptians with various objects – from food to jewelry.
From this detailed complex system of beliefs about the soul and its travels, human culture came to the works of the great sages of antiquity, who reasoned in approximately the same spirit, in some ways even developing the ideas of the Egyptians about the soul.
The “fathers of sciences,” Plato and Aristotle, said a lot on this topic, treating the phenomenon of the soul in somewhat different ways, but attaching to it equally important importance, perhaps not fully comprehended until now.
On these considerations, the Christian culture that arose later was also built, which does not open up to the doctrine of the Greeks, but nevertheless reveals a close connection with it. Concerning the human soul, there have always been three possible approaches to explaining the moment of its origin. According to the first, the soul exists even before the birth of a person – this point of view was adhered to by Plato.
The second point of view, underlying Christianity and other religions, claims that God creates the soul from nothing, this happens when the body is formed. According to the third version, before incarnation in the physical shell, the soul is part of something common. By the way, even among theologians, attempts were made to explain the phenomenon of the soul from different points of view, Christianity was no exception.
Christians believe that the human soul is given one earthly life, and after God’s judgment – either eternal life or eternal punishment. At the same time, a large number of religions are based on the idea of soul reincarnation.
Reincarnation, or transmigration of souls
It is at the core of Hinduism. Atman is an eternal spiritual essence, common to all beings, and a jiva, by the way, having a common root with the word “living”, is a separate soul, something immortal. After the death of one body, the soul migrates to a new one and continues to exist in it. The reincarnation process can go on indefinitely.
Buddhism, in general, denies the existence of an immortal soul but leaves the opportunity for its followers to adhere to any point of view on this issue, to believe in the rebirth of souls or not to believe in it. Gautama Buddha kept a “noble silence” on this issue.
Hinduism is far from the only religion that talks about the reincarnation of the soul. Shinto and Taoism adherents believe in rebirth. Moreover, Christians also spoke about reincarnation, including Giordano Bruno, who paid with his life for such ideas.
In the first centuries of the new era, the issue of reincarnation was raised by the theorists of Judaism, and this is how the doctrine of gilgul arose, the transmigration of souls – from a person into an animal, a plant, or even an inanimate substance. Several authors put forward the point of view according to which everything in the Universe undergoes constant changes, metamorphoses, including angels and God himself.
The Slavic ancestors lived in a world that, in their ideas, was inhabited by spirits – they also believed in a chain of rebirths, and therefore all rituals associated with the wires of the dead or with the birth of babies were performed with special attention. The soul could migrate to livestock and wild animals, and sometimes – here the influence of monotheism is already felt – the soul could leave the earth and go to God.
Whichever culture you consider yourself to, you can find a history of ideas about the spiritual essence of a person in each one. And all these beliefs make modern life, contemporary art only richer. What would literature, music, theater, and cinema be like if they had not touched the theme of the human soul and its wanderings, rebirths? The literature even appeared the term “doppelganger”, and this is the name of the character’s double, the dark side of his personality. The name of Mr. Hyde has become a household name in this sense.
Are the people of the new millennium ready to abandon these old and largely outdated views? Apparently – no.