Spiritualism requires discernment. This discernment tends to have both objective and subjective dimensions. Objectively, this entails discerning the influence of one spirit from another. Since spirits tend to come in groupings, working with and through each other, this can be quite a challenge. Subjectively, discernment helps us to clarify ourselves, who we are and what we are capable of achieving.
These two tasks can converge. If we examine our spiritual being closely, we encounter a network of spiritual beings composing it. The self with which we most easily identify is composite and complex.
In this post, I want to discern and distinguish three such elements according to their spiritual function. Let me start with the caveat: while this has been informed by spiritualist sources, the way I draw these distinctions has a lot to do with my own spiritual work. The influence of the Yeatses, for example, shouldn’t be too hard to find. Still, this is anchored in my work, so take that as you will, according to the resonance or discord it provokes.
The heart of the spiritual body is a mute vessel that is not directly accessible to conscious thought. The Yeatses call this opaque presence the ‘ghostly self,’ but I much prefer a simpler and more potent word, ‘soul.’ When the gnostics of antiquity talk about the divine spark, I think they mean soul as I use the term. The term ‘soul’ also gestures toward the work of James Hillman whose discussions of it inform my thought.
(An aside: This will sound strange to some, but I take the soul to be the essential element that defines and distinguishes us as individuals. Conscious thought and experience, while real and vital, seem too permeable and fluid to provide the basis for our spiritual individuality. The conscious thought with which we most easily identify ourselves with is, by virtue of its accessibility, a good deal less ‘ours’ than this more mysterious vessel.
However, you don’t have to agree with me one this in order to accept the utility of soul as a spiritualist concept. This is one of those places where a common experience does not require us all to arrive at a common conception of experience. )
While the soul is mostly inaccessible, it isn’t impenetrable or impermeable. It can undergo profound changes even if the exact nature of those changes lies beyond our ken. The passage of a life is capable of transforming the soul. Those changes ripple outward into our mundane life, but they speak more directly to the spiritual conditions beyond this life.
Notice that I said that these experiences are *capable* of changing the soul. These changes don’t necessarily occur. A life lived in a certain way, as certain forces are brought to bear, makes our experiences capable of transmitting changes into the soul. The Jungian love for alchemical metaphors and the Romantic metaphor of the ‘vale of soul-making’ capture this aptly.
The trick here is that what allows one person to transmit changes to their soul is not exactly the same thing as what allows another person to do so. Discerning what stimulate our subtle and gross bodies to transform the soul is one of the preeminent challenges in spiritualist work. There is no one size fits all process. What is more, what may serve an individual at one point in their life may not serve them at another point.
The alteration of the soul has a lot to do with destiny and fate. Fate facilitates the process while destiny provides guidance for it. Their operations provide the means and materials for transforming the quality of the soul. A change in the soul is not the same thing as a change in consciousness and we need to keep the two distinct, even where they overlap. A dramatic experience that leaves a clear trace in consciousness as memory may or may not correlate with a dramatic shift in the nature of our soul.
Destiny and fate bring us to the two close spiritual companions of the soul, the daimon and the genius. While these terms are often used synonymously, for my purposes they serve to distinguish distinct spiritual beings with their own spiritual functions.
The daimon has a special bond with the fate that unfolds around a soul. It is connected to the forces of life and capable of staging the sorts of events that will make changes in the soul. While some of these changes have to do with the soul’s intentions in entering into life, some have to do with compromises that it must make with the spirits of life in order to pass into life (i.e., our fate isn’t just about us).
The genius has an understanding of the secret sympathies that the soul possesses with other beings and a sense for how sympathies can be used to influence fate. It is closely allied with the soul’s movement toward incarnation and retains a sort of memory of what the soul seeks from its life.
Our daimon is necessarily quite active, involuntary muscles on the bones of our fate. By contrast, the genius can be relatively passive, just a dim sense of direction. The genius may only need to become active when the events of life threaten the aims of the soul. In these situations, the genius helps correct course and set the person back on their way toward fulfilling their soul’s purpose. Look up to the left there to my blog title; the genius is the frontline of repair.
That said, there are fates that can only be achieved by the conscious manipulation of destiny; the genius will play a more prominent role there.
Even though both daimon and genius are personal, they are not necessarily personable. Their concern focuses on the state of our soul rather than on the state of our conscious emotions. Because of this, spiritual work sometimes entails moderating the influence of these spirits to grant an individual reprieve from exceptionally difficult soul work.