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Once when I was reflecting upon the creation of the universe, some spirits from the Christian world approached, who had been in their time among the most celebrated philosophers, and had been regarded as wiser than all others; and they said, "We perceive that you are thinking about creation; tell us what your idea is about it." But I replied, "Tell me your own first."
And one of them said, "It is my opinion that creation is from nature, and thus that nature created itself, and that it has existed from eternity; for there is no vacuum, and there can be none. In fact, what else do we see with our eyes, hear with our ears, smell with our nostrils, and breathe with our breasts, but nature, which being outside of us must be also within us?"
Another having heard this, said, "You speak of nature and make her the creator of the universe; but as you do not know how nature operated in producing the universe I will tell you. Nature infolded herself in vortices, which dashed together like clouds, or like houses when overthrown by an earthquake; and by such collision the grosser materials brought themselves together into one mass which formed the land; and the more fluid portions separated themselves from these and brought themselves together into one body which formed the seas; and again the still lighter parts separated themselves from these, forming the ether and air; and finally from the lightest of these the sun was formed. Have you not seen that when oil, water, and the dust of the earth are mixed together they freely separate themselves, and arrange themselves in order one above another?"
Then another, hearing this, said, "Both of you are talking from mere fancy. Who does not know that the first origin of all things was chaos, which in magnitude had filled a fourth part of the universe; that at the center of it was fire; round about this ether, and round this matter; that this chaos opened in fissures, through which the fire broke forth, as from AEtna and Vesuvius, and formed the sun; after this the ether issued forth and poured itself about, and formed the atmosphere; and finally the remaining matter solidified into a globe and formed the earth? As to the stars, they are only luminaries in the expanse of the universe, which sprang from the sun and its heat and light; for at first the sun was like a fiery ocean; but, that it might not burn up the earth, it sent off from itself small masses of bright flame, which locating themselves in surrounding space, completed the universe, forming its firmament."
But there stood one among them who said, "You are mistaken. You seem to yourselves to be wise, and I seem to you to be simple; and yet in my simplicity I have believed and continue to believe that the universe was created by God; and as nature pertains to the universe, that universal nature was then simultaneously created. If nature created herself must she not have existed from eternity? But O what madness!"
And then one of the so-called wise men ran up closer and closer to the speaker, and put his left ear near to the speaker's mouth-for his right ear had been filled with something like cotton-and asked him what he had said; and the statements were repeated. Then he who had come up looked around to see if any priest were present, and seeing one at the side of the speaker he replied, "I also confess that universal nature is from God; but..." Then he went off and whispered to his companions, saying, "I said that because there was a priest near; you and I know that nature is from nature; but as this makes nature to be God, I said that universal nature is from God; but..."
The priest hearing their whispers, said, "Your wisdom, which is purely philosophical, has misled you, and has so closed the interiors of your minds that no light can flow into them from God and His heaven and enlighten you; you have extinguished this light." And he said, "Consider, therefore, and decide among yourselves where your souls, which are immortal, originated- whether in nature or whether they also were in included in that great chaos."
Having heard this the former went to his companions and asked them to join him in the solution of this knotty question. And they came to the conclusion that the human soul is nothing but ether, and thought nothing but a modification of ether by the sun's light, and ether a property of nature. And they said, "Who does not know that we speak by means of the air? And what is thought but speech in a purer air, which is called the ether? Therefore thought and speech make one. Who cannot see this in man during his infancy? He first learns to talk, then he gradually learns to talk with himself-and that is thinking. What, then, is thought but a modification of the ether? And what is the sound of the voice but a modulation of that? From which we conclude that the soul which thinks is a property of nature."
But some of them-not exactly dissenting, but to make the matter clear- said that souls came into existence when the ether separated itself from that great chaos, the ether then dividing itself in the highest region into innumerable individual forms, which pour themselves into men when they begin to think from the purer air; and these are then called souls.
Another, having heard this, said, "I admit that there were innumerable individual forms formed out of the ether in the higher region; nevertheless there have been a still greater number of men born since the creation of the world; how then could there have been enough of these ethereal forms? Therefore I have thought to myself, that souls departing from the mouths of men when they die, return to them again after some thousands of years, and enter upon and pass through a life similar to their former life. That many of the wise believe in something like this, and in metempsychosis, is known." Other conjectures beside these were broached by the rest; but as they were mere ravings I pass them by.
In a short time the priest returned, and then the one who had before spoken about the creation of the universe by God told of their conclusions about the soul; having heard which the priest said to them, "You have spoken precisely as you thought in the world, not knowing that you are not in that world, but in another, which is called the spiritual world. All those who have become corporeal-sensual by confirming themselves in favor of nature are unaware that they are not in the same world in which they were born and brought up.
This is because they there had material bodies, while here they have substantial bodies; and a substantial man sees himself and his companions about him precisely as a material man sees himself and his companions; for the substantial is the primitive of the material. And you believe that the same nature exists here, for the reason that you think, see, smell, taste, and talk in the same way as you did in the natural world; when in fact the nature of this world is as different and distinct from the nature of that world as the substantial is from the material, or the spiritual from the natural, or the prior from the posterior.
And as the nature of the world where you formerly lived is comparatively dead, so have you, by confirming yourselves in its favor, become as it were dead, that is, in respect to what pertains to God, to heaven, and to the church, and also in this matter which relates to your souls. And yet every man, the bad and the good alike, may in understanding be elevated even into the light in which the angels of heaven are; and then they are able to see that there is a God and a life after death, and that man's soul is not ethereal, and therefore not of the nature of that world, but is spiritual, and therefore will live to eternity. The understanding may be in such angelic light, provided those natural loves are set aside which are derived from the world, and which favor it and its nature, and which are derived from the body and favor it and what belongs to it."
Then instantly these loves were taken away from them by the Lord, and they were permitted to speak with angels, from whose conversation they in that state perceived that there is a God, and that they were living after death in another world; wherefore they were covered with shame, and exclaimed, "We were mad! we were mad." But as this was not their own proper state, and as after a few minutes it became tiresome and unpleasant, they turned away from the priest and were unwilling to listen to him any longer; so they returned to their former loves, which were merely natural, worldly, and corporeal, and they went away toward the left, passing from one society to another; and finally they came to a path, where the delights of their own loves breathed upon them, and they said, "Let us go this way;" and they went; and descending, they came at length to those who were in the delights of similar loves; and they went on. And as their delight was a delight in doing evil, and as they did evil to many on the way, they were imprisoned and became demons. And then their delight was changed to undelight, because by punishments and fears of punishment they were curbed and restrained from their former delight which constituted their nature.
And they asked those who were in the same prison if they were to live in that way forever; and some answered, "We have been here for some ages, and are to remain for ages of ages, because the nature that we contracted in the world cannot be changed, nor can it be expelled by punishments; for whenever it is so expelled, after a short lapse of time it returns."
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