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Lumen: Conversation IV, Part III



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FOURTH CONVERSATION

ANTERIORES VITÆ
PART III

Plurality of lives.
QUÆRENS: Reflection and study had already inclined me, Lumen, to believe in the plurality of the existences of the soul. Yet this doctrine lacks proofs, logical, moral, and even physical, as numerous and as weighty as are those in favour of the plurality of the inhabited worlds. I own that until now I had grave doubts on the subject. Modern optics and marvellous calculations, which enable us to touch, as it were, the other worlds, show us their years, their seasons, their days, and make us acquainted with the varieties of nature living on their surface. All these elements have enabled contemporaneous astronomy to establish the fact of human existence in the other worlds on a strong and imperishable foundation. But I repeat that it is not so with palingenesis, though I am strongly inclined towards the doctrine of the transmigration of souls in the actual heaven, since this is the only way by which we can gain an idea of eternal life. My desires, however, need to be sustained by the help of a light, and inspired by a confidence I do not yet possess.
LUMEN: It is precisely this light which we have under consideration, and will be brought out by this interview.
I have, I own, an advantage over you, since I speak de visu, and that I strictly limit myself to interpret with exactitude the events with which my spiritual life is actually woven. But since you can see the possibility and probability of the scientific explanation of my statement, you cannot fail as you listen to increase your light and augment your knowledge.
QUÆRENS: It is for this cause chiefly that I am always eager to hear you.
LUMEN: Light, you understand, is the means of giving to the disincarnated soul a direct vision of its planetary existences.
Constellations.
After having reviewed my earthly existence, I saw once more my life previous to my last one, upon one of the planets of Gamma in Virgo, light bringing to me the former only after 72 years, and the latter after 172 years. I see myself at present from Capella as I was upon the earth 72 years ago, and as I was upon Virgo 172 years ago. Thus two existences, both past and successive, are here shown me as present and simultaneous, by virtue of the laws of light which transmit them to me.
Andromeda.
Nearly five hundred years ago, I lived upon a world whose astronomical position as seen from the earth is precisely that of the left breast of Andromeda. Assuredly the inhabitants of that world do not suspect that the denizens of a little planet in space have joined the stars by fictitious lines, tracing figures of men, women, animals, and divers objects, incorporating all the stars in figures more or less original, in order to give them a name. It would greatly astonish some of these planetary people if they were told, that upon the Earth certain stars bear the names of Heart-of-the-Scorpion (what a heart!), Head-of-the-Dog, Tail-of-the-Great-Bear, Eye-of-the-Bull, Neck-of-the-Dragon, Brow-of-Capricorn.
Effects of perspective.
You are, of course, aware that neither the constellations drawn upon the celestial globe, nor the position of the stars upon that globe, are either real or absolute, but are only the result of the position of the Earth in space, and thus are simply a question of perspective. Go to the top of a mountain and fix upon a map the respective positions of all the summits surrounding you in that circular panorama, its hills, its valleys, its villages, its lakes; a map so constructed could only serve for the place from whence it was drawn. Now transport yourself ten miles further; the same summits are visible, but their respective positions in regard to each other are different, resulting from the change in perspective. The panorama of the Alps and of the Oberland, as seen from Lucerne, and Pilatus does not in the least resemble that seen from the Fulkhorn, or from the Schynige Platte above Interlaken. Yet these are the same summits and the same lakes. It is exactly so with the stars. The same aspect is seen both from the star Delta in Andromeda and from the Earth; but there is not a constellation that can be recognised, because all the celestial perspectives have changed; stars of the first magnitude have become of the second and of the third; whilst others, of lesser magnitudes, seen nearer, shine with increased brilliancy; and, above all, the respective situation of the stars as regards one another has completely changed in consequence of the different position of that star and of the Earth.
QUÆRENS: Therefore the appearance of the constellation which one has so long believed to be ineffaceably traced upon the vaulted sky is only due to perspective. In changing our position we change our perspective, and our sky is no longer the same. But, then, ought we not to have a change of celestial perspective every six months, since during this interval the Earth has greatly altered its position, having removed to a distance of seventy-four millions of leagues from the place it formerly occupied?
LUMEN: This objection proves that you have perfectly comprehended the principle of the deformation of the constellations as one moves in any direction in space.
It would be, as you suppose, if the Earth's orbit were of a dimension sufficiently vast for the two opposite points of this orbit to change the view of this celestial scenery.
QUÆRENS: Seventy-four millions of leagues----
LUMEN: Are as nothing in the order of celestial distances, and can no more affect the perspectives of the stars, than taking a step in the cupola of the Pantheon would change the apparent position of the buildings in Paris to the eye of the observer.
The charts of the Middle Ages.
QUÆRENS: Certain charts of the Middle Ages represent the Zodiac as an arch in the heavens, and place some of the constellations, such as Andromeda, the Lyre, Cassiopea, and the Eagle, in the same region as the Seraphim, the Cherubim, and the Thrones. That, therefore, was simply fancy, since constellations have no real existence, but are simply appearances due to perspective.
LUMEN: Certainly the old heaven of theology has no legitimate place to-day, and simple common sense shows that it does not exist. Two truths cannot oppose one another; it is a necessity that the spiritual heaven should accord with the physical heaven, and the object of my various conversations is the demonstration of this truth. Upon the world of Andromeda of which I speak, there is nothing resembling the constellation of Andromeda. Seen from the Earth, those stars which appear joined and have served on the celestial landscape to distinguish the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopea, are in reality spread out in space at all sorts of distances, and in every direction. One cannot find either there or elsewhere the least vestige of the tracings of terrestrial mythology.
The poetry of the heavens lost.
QUÆRENS: All its poetry is lost. . . . I shall feel, however, a certain satisfaction in believing that for a part of my life I have rested on the bosom of Andromeda. It is a pleasant fancy. There is in it a mythological perfume and a comforting sensation. I should like to be transported there without fear of the monster, and without solicitude for the young Perseus bearing the head of the Medusa, and mounted on his famous Pegasus. But now, thanks to the scalpel of science, there is no longer an unveiled princess bound to a rock on the sea-shore, nor a virgin holding an ear of golden corn, nor Orion pursuing the Pleiades; Venus has vanished from our evening sky, and old Saturn has let fall his scythe in the night. Science has caused these ancient myths to disappear! I regret its progress.
The facts of astronomy grander than its fancies.
LUMEN: Do you, then, prefer illusion to reality? Do you not know that truth is immeasurably more beautiful, grander, and infinitely more marvellous than error, however that may be embellished? What can be compared in all the mythologies past and present, to the rapt scientific contemplation of celestial grandeurs and the sublime movements of nature? What impression can strike the soul more profoundly than the fact of the expanse crowded with worlds, and the immensity of the sidereal systems? What voice is more eloquent than the silence of a star-lit night? What wild flight of imagination could conceive an image surpassing that, of the interstellar voyage of light, stamping with the seal of eternity the transitory events of the life of each world?
Throw off, then, my friend, your old errors and become worthy of the majesty of science. Listen to what follows:--
Description of the world of Andromeda.
By reason of the time light employs in coming from the system δ of Andromeda to Capella, I have seen again, in this year of 1869, my ante-penultimate existence, already ended five hundred years ago. That world is very singular according to our ideas. It has only one kingdom on its surface, and that is the animal kingdom. The vegetable kingdom does not exist there. But that animal kingdom is very different from ours, and of a superior kind, although it is endowed with five senses similar to those on the Earth. It is a world without sleep and without fixity. It is entirely enveloped in a rose-coloured ocean, less dense than terrestrial water, and more dense than our atmosphere. It is a substance holding a middle place as a fluid, between air and water. Terrestrial chemistry does not produce any similar substance, therefore it would be in vain to try and represent it to you. Carbolic acid gas that can be held invisible at the bottom of a glass, and can be poured out like water, will give you the nearest idea of it. This is due to a fixed quantity of heat and electricity held in permanence upon that globe.
The elements.
You are aware that the composition of all things upon the Earth, whether mineral, vegetable, or animal, is in three states, solid, liquid, and gaseous, and that the sole cause of these different conditions is the heat radiated from the Sun upon the surface of the Earth. The interior heat of the globe has now hardly any appreciable effect upon its surface.
Degree of heat fixes the condition of matter.
Less solar heat would liquefy gases and solidify liquids. Greater heat would dissolve solids and evaporate liquids. A more or less quantity of heat would produce liquid air (yes, liquid air), and marble would be turned into gas. If by any cause whatever the earthly planet were one day to fly off from its orbit at a tangent, and rush away into the glacial obscurity of space, you would see all the water on the Earth become solid, and gases in their turn become liquids; then as to solids themselves . . . you would see!
Effect of the Earth flying off at a tangent.
No, you could not see this by remaining upon the Earth, but you could from the depths of space witness this curious spectacle, should your globe ever indulge in the freak of escaping from its orbit at a tangent. And note further, that should this colossal cold ever take place suddenly, all creatures would find themselves immediately frozen on the spot, and the globe would carry into space the singular panorama of the whole human race, and every animal immovably congealed for all eternity, in the various attitudes assumed by each individual and each creature, at the moment of the catastrophe.
Worlds in a glacial state. Life arrested.
There are worlds now in this state. They are eccentric worlds, the life of whose inhabitants has been insensibly arrested by the rapid flight of their planet away from the Sun, and they have been transformed into millions of statues. Most of them are lying down asleep, seeing that this profound change of temperature takes many days in its accomplishment. There they are by millions, pell-mell, dead, or, to be more accurate, sunk in a complete lethargy. The cold preserves them. Three or four thousand years later, when the planet returns from its dark and frozen aphelion to its brilliant perihelion, towards the sun--whose fertilising heat caressing its surface with welcoming rays will rapidly increase--and when it has reached the degree which betokens the normal temperature of these beings, they will be resuscitated at the age at which they were when overtaken by sleep;
The awakening out of glacial repose.
they will take up their affairs from the moment of their interruption (long interruption indeed!) without any consciousness that they had slept a dreamless sleep for so many ages. One may see some continuing a game, or finishing a phrase whose first words have been uttered four thousand years ago. All this is perfectly simple, for we have seen that time does not in reality exist. This, on a large scale, is exactly what passes on a small one on the Earth when you revive infusoria, which take a fresh lease of life under the rain, after several years of apparent death.
World of Andromeda.
But to return to our world of Andromeda; the rose-coloured and quasi-liquid atmosphere, surrounding it entirely as an ocean without islands, is the abode of living beings, who are perpetually floating in the depths of that ocean which none have ever sounded: from their birth to their death they have not one moment's repose. Incessant activity is the condition of their existence. Should they become stationary they would perish. In order to breathe, that is to say, to enable this fluid element to penetrate to their bosom, they are constrained to keep their tentacles in unceasing motion, and their lungs (I use this word the better to be understood) constantly open.
Process of nourishment.
The external form of this human race resembles that of the sirens of antiquity, but is less elegant, and their organism approaches that of the seal. Do you see the essential difference between their constitution and that of terrestrial man? It is that on the Earth we breathe without being conscious of the act, and obtain oxygen without exertion, not being compelled with difficulty to convert venous into arterial blood by the absorption of oxygen. Upon this other world, on the contrary, this nourishment is only obtained with labour, and at the price of incessant effort.
QUÆRENS: Then this world is inferior to ours in the scale of progress?
LUMEN: Without any doubt, seeing that I inhabited it before coming upon the Earth. But do not think that the Earth is much superior by reason of our being able to breathe whilst we are asleep. Doubtless, it is a great advantage to be furnished with a pneumatic mechanism, which opens involuntarily every time that our organism needs the least breath of air, and which acts automatically and unceasingly night and day. But man does not live on air alone; his earthly organism requires to be nourished with something more solid, and this solid something does not come to him involuntarily as does air.
Labour of life on the Earth.
What is the result? Look for a moment at the Earth. See what sorrow, what desolation! What a world of misery and brutality! Multitudes bowed down with bent backs to the soil, which they dig with toil and pain, that they may gain their daily bread! All these heads bent down to the grossness of matter, in place of being raised up to the contemplation of nature! All these efforts and these labours, bringing in their wake feebleness and disease! All this trouble to amass a little gold at the expense of others! Man taking advantage of his brother man! Castes, aristocracies, robbery and ruin, ambitions, thrones, wars! In a word, personal interests, always selfish, often sordid, and the reign of matter over mind. Such is the normal state of the Earth, a condition forced by the law which rules over your bodies, compelling you to kill in order to live, and to prefer the possession of material goods that cannot be carried beyond the grave, to the possession of intellectual gifts, which the soul can keep as a rich and inalienable possession.
QUÆRENS: You speak, master, as if you thought it were possible to live without eating.
LUMEN: Do you, then, believe that the beings of every world in space are subject to an operation so ridiculous as this? Happily, in many of the worlds, the spirit is not subjected to such ignominy.
Atmospheric nutrition.
It is not so difficult as you may suppose, on first thoughts, to believe in the possibility of atmospheric nutriment. The maintenance of life among man and the animals depends upon two causes, respiration and nutrition. The first is found naturally in the atmosphere; the second is derived from nourishment. Nutrition produces blood; from the blood come the tissues, the muscles, the bones, the cartilages, the flesh, the brain, the nerves, in a word, the organic constituents of the body. The oxygen we breathe can itself be considered as a nutritive substance, inasmuch as it combines with the principal aliments absorbed by the stomach, and completes the formation of the blood and the development of the tissues.
Now, to imagine nutrition passing entirely into the domain of the atmosphere, it is only necessary to observe that, as a whole, a complete aliment is made up of albumen, of sugar, of fat, and of salt, and to imagine also that an atmospheric fluid, in place of being composed of azote and oxygen only, should be formed of these different substances in a gaseous state. These aliments are found in the solids that you absorb; digestion is the function which separates them, and which causes them to assimilate with the organs to which they belong.
The process of alimentation.
When, for example, you eat a morsel of bread, you introduce into your stomach a grain of starch, a substance insoluble in water, and which is not found in the blood. The saliva, and the pancreatic juice, transform the insoluble starch into soluble sugar. The bile, the pancreatic juice, and the intestinal secretions, change the sugar into fat. Both sugar and fat are present in the blood, and it is by the processes of alimentation that substances are separated and assimilated in your body.
It astonishes you, my friend, that after living five years--according to terrestrial reckoning--in the celestial world, I can remember all these material terms, and condescend to make use of them. But the memories that I have brought from the Earth are still vivid, and as we speak on this occasion on a question of organic physiology, I do not feel ashamed of calling things by their own names.
If, then, we suppose that in place of being combined or mixed in the constitution of bodies, solid or liquid, these aliments could be found in a gaseous state in the composition of the atmosphere, we should create by this means nutritive atmospheres, which would dispense with digestion and its attendant coarse and humiliating functions.
That which man is capable of imagining in the restricted sphere of his observation, Nature has put in practice in more than one spot of the universe.
Besides, I can assure you that when one has ceased to be accustomed to this material process of the introduction of nourishment into the digestive tube, one cannot avoid being impressed with its coarseness. This was the reflection I made a few days ago whilst observing one of the richest countries on your planet. I was struck by the suave and angelic beauty of a maiden, reclining in a gondola as it floated gently on the blue waters of the Bosphorus before Constantinople. Red velvet cushions, embroidered with brilliant silks, whose heavy tassels of gold touched the water, formed the divan of this young Circassian. Before her knelt a little black slave playing upon some stringed instrument. Her form was so juvenile and graceful, her bended arm so elegant, her eyes so pure and innocent, her pensive brow so calm under the light of heaven, that for an instant I was captivated by a kind of retrospective admiration for this masterpiece of living nature.
Well! while this pure vision of awakening youth, sweet as a flower opening its petals to the sun's rays, held me in a kind of passing enchantment, the bark reached the landing-stage, and the maiden, leaning on a slave, seated herself on a couch near a well-spread table, around which others had already gathered. She began to eat! Yes! for near an hour she was eating!
I could scarcely tolerate the earthly recollections recalled by this ridiculous spectacle. To see a being like that partaking of food through the mouth, and making her charming body the receptacle for I do not know what substances! What vulgarity! Masticating morsels of some kind of animal which her pearly teeth did not disdain to chew, and again fragments of another animal which her virginal lips opened without hesitation to receive and swallow! What a diet: a medley of ingredients drawn from cattle, or from deer, which have lived in the mire and afterwards been slaughtered. Horror! I turned away with sadness from this strange contrast, and directed my gaze to the system of Saturn, where humanity need not stoop to such necessities.
Victims to the struggle for existence.
The floating beings belonging to the world of Andromeda, where my antepenultimate existence was passed, are submitted to a still more degrading manner of sustaining life than are the inhabitants of the Earth. They have not the advantage of finding three parts of their nutriment supplied by the air, as is the case on your globe: they must work to obtain what may be called their oxygen, and, without ceasing, they are condemned to use their lungs in order to prepare the nutritious air they need, without sleeping, and without ever feeling satisfied, because, despite their incessant toil they cannot absorb more than a small quantity at a time. Thus they pass their entire life, and finally die victims to the struggle for existence.
QUÆRENS: Better far never to have been born! But does not the same reflection apply to the Earth?
What is the use of being born, to weary one's self with endless work and worry, to turn in the same daily treadmill for sixty or a hundred years; to sleep, to eat, to work, to speak, to run, to err, to agitate, to dream, ad infinitum? Of what use is all this? Would not one be just as advanced if one were extinguished the day after birth, or, better still, if one did not take the trouble to come into the world? Nature would not go on in any worse fashion, and even if it did, no one would be the wiser. And one might ask, of what use is Nature herself and why does the universe exist at all?
Humanity in Andromeda.
LUMEN: That is the great mystery. Yet must all destinies be accomplished. The world of Andromeda is decidedly an inferior one. To give you an idea of the poor mental calibre of its inhabitants, I will cite two examples, selecting the subjects of religion and politics, as these are generally the best criterions of the value of a people. In religion, in place of seeking for God in nature, and of basing their judgment on science, instead of aspiring to the truth, and of using their eyes to see and their reason to comprehend--in a word, in place of establishing the foundations of their philosophy upon knowledge as exact as possible of the order which governs the world--they are divided into sects,
Humanity.
who are voluntarily blind, and believe they render homage to their pretended God by ceasing to reason, and think they adore Him, in maintaining that their anthill is unique in space; by reciting phrases and in injuring other sects, and alas! by blessing swords, and burnings at the stake, and in authorising massacres and wars. Their doctrines contain assertions which seem expressly imagined to outrage common sense. These are precisely those which constitute the articles of their faith and belief!
They are stupid in politics. The most intelligent and pure-minded do not understand each other. Therefore the Republic seems to be a form of government which cannot be realised. Tracing the annals of their history as far back as possible, one sees a people, cowardly and indifferent, deliberately choosing, rather than govern themselves, to be led by an individual claiming to be their Basileus, their king. This chief deprives them of three-fourths of their resources, keeping for himself and his, the atmosphere containing the greatest amount of rose-essence--that is to say, that he keeps the best in the land for his own use; he numbers his subjects, and from time to time sends them to fight with neighbouring peoples, who, like themselves, are subject to a similar Basileus.
Marshalling them like shoals of herrings, he directs them on either side towards the field of battle, which they call the field of honour, they then destroy one another like furious fools, without knowing why, and without, for that matter, the power to comprehend, as they do not even speak the same language.
And do you imagine that those who, most favoured by chance, live to return, feel any hatred against their Basileus?
Nothing of the kind. The remnant of the army who live to see their homes again, think nothing more natural than to celebrate their thanksgivings in company with the dignitaries of their sects, supplicating their God to grant long life to, and to pour blessings upon, the worthy man whom they designate their father and king.
Organisation of the beings on Andromeda.
QUÆRENS: I gather from this narration, that the inhabitants of Delta Andromeda are, both physically and intellectually, greatly our inferiors, for upon the Earth we do not regulate our affairs in this manner . . . In short, upon their globe there is only one living kingdom, and that a mobile one, without repose, without sleep, kept in perpetual agitation by reason of an inexorable fate. A world like this strikes me as being very fantastic.
LUMEN: What, then, would you say of the one I inhabited fifteen centuries ago? A world also containing only one kingdom, and that not a movable one, but, on the contrary, as fixed as is your vegetable kingdom?
QUÆRENS: How! Animals and men held down by roots?


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