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Lumen: Conversation I, Part I


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QUÆRENS: You promised, dear Lumen, to describe to me that supremest of moments which immediately succeeds death, and to relate to me how, by a natural law, singular though it may seem, you lived again your past life, and penetrated a hitherto-unrevealed mystery.
LUMEN: Yes, my old friend, I will now keep my word; and I trust that, thanks to the lifelong communion of our souls, you will be able to understand the phenomenon you deem so strange.
Life and death.
There are many conceptions which a mortal mind finds difficult to grasp. Death, which has delivered me from the weak and easily-tired senses of the body, has not yet touched you with its liberating hand; you still belong to the living world, and in spite of your isolation in this retreat of yours amid the royal towers of the Faubourg St. Jaques, you still belong to the life of Earth, and are occupied with its petty distinctions. You must not, therefore, be surprised if, whilst I am explaining to you this mystery, I beg of you to isolate yourself still further from outer things, and to give me the most fixed attention of which your mind is capable.
QUÆRENS: My one desire is to listen to your revelations; speak, therefore, without fear and to the point, and deign to acquaint me with those impressions, as yet to me unknown, which are experienced upon the cessation of life.
LUMEN: From what point do you wish me to begin my recital?
QUÆRENS: If you can recall it, I shall be pleased if you will begin at the moment when my trembling hands closed your eyes.
LUMEN: The separation of the thinking principle from the nervous system leaves no remembrance. It is as though the impressions made upon the brain which constitute memory were entirely effaced, to be renewed afterwards in another form. The first sensation of identity felt after death resembles that which is felt during life on awakening in the morning, when still confused with the visions of the night, the mind, wavering between the past and the future, endeavours to recover itself, and at the same time to retain the vanishing dreams, the pictures and events of which are still passing before it. At times when thus absorbed in the recollection of a delightful dream, the eyelids close, and in a half slumber the visions reappear. It is thus that our thinking faculty is divided at death, between a reality that it does not yet comprehend and a dream which has completely disappeared. The most conflicting impressions mingle in and confuse the mind, and if, overwhelmed by perishable feelings, a regret comes into the mind for the world that has been left behind, a sense of indefinable sadness weighs upon and darkens the imagination and hinders clearness of vision.
QUÆRENS: Did you feel these sensations immediately after death?
No such thing as death.
LUMEN: After death? There is no such thing as death. What you call death--the separation of the body from the soul--is not, strictly speaking, effected in a material form like the chemical separation of a combination of elements such as one sees in the world of matter. One is no more conscious of this final separation, which seems to you so cruel, than the new-born babe is aware of his birth. We are born into the heavenly life as unconsciously as we were born into the earthly; only the soul, no longer enveloped by its bodily covering, acquires more rapidly the consciousness of its individuality and of its powers. This faculty of perception varies essentially between one soul and another. There are those who, during their earthly life, never lift their souls toward heaven, and never feel a desire to penetrate the laws of creation; these, being still dominated by fleshly appetites, remain long in a troubled and semi-conscious state. There are others whose aspirations have happily flown upwards towards the eternal heights; to these the moment of separation comes with calmness and peace.
Not death but change.
They know that progress is the law of being, and that the life to come will be better than that which they have quitted. They follow, step by step, that lethargy which reaches at last to the heart, and when, slowly and insensibly, the last pulsation ceases, the departed are already above the body whose falling asleep they have been watching. Freeing themselves from the magnetic bonds, they feel themselves swiftly borne, by an unknown force, toward the point of creation, to which their sentiments, their aspirations, and their hopes have drawn them.
QUÆRENS: The conversation into which I have drawn you, my dear master, recalls to my memory the dialogues of Plato on the immortality of the soul; and as Phædrus asked his master, Socrates, on the day he had to drink the hemlock in obedience to the iniquitous sentence of the Athenians, I ask you--you who have passed the dread boundary--what is the essential difference which distinguishes the soul from the body, since the latter dies, whilst the former cannot die?
Life viewed scientifically.
LUMEN: I shall not imitate Socrates by giving a metaphysical answer to this question, nor shall I, with the theologians, reply in a dogmatic way; but I will give you instead a scientific answer, for you, like myself, accept only as of real value the results of positive knowledge.
We find in the human being three principles, different, and yet in complete union: 1. The body; 2. The vital energy; 3. The soul. I name them thus in order that I may follow the a posteriori method. The body is an association of molecules which are themselves formed of groups of atoms. The atoms are inert, passive, immutable, and indestructible. They enter into the organism by means of respiration and alimentation; they renew the tissues incessantly, and are continually replaced by others, and when cast out from the body go to form other bodies.
Renewal of the body.
In a few months the human body is entirely renewed, and neither in the blood, nor in the flesh, nor in the brain, nor in the bones, does an atom remain of those which constituted the body a few months before. The atoms travel without ceasing from body to body, chiefly by the grand medium of the atmosphere. The molecule of iron is the same whether it be incorporated in the blood which throbs in the temples of an illustrious man, or form part of a fragment of rusty iron;
Atoms and molecules.
the molecule of oxygen is the same in the blush raised by a loving glance, or when in union with hydrogen it forms the flame of one of the thousand jets of gas that illuminate Paris by night, or when it falls from the clouds in the shape of a drop of water. The bodies of the living are formed of the ashes of the dead, and if all the dead were to be resuscitated, the last comers might find the material for their bodies wanting, owing to their predecessors having appropriated all that was available. Moreover, during life many exchanges are made between enemies and friends, between men, animals, and plants, which amaze the analyst who looks at them with the eyes of science. That which you breathe, eat, and drink, has been breathed, drunk, and eaten millions of times before. Such is the human body, an assemblage of molecules of matter which are constantly being renewed. The principle by which these molecules are grouped according to a certain form so as to produce an organism, is the vital energy of life. The inert, passive atoms, incapable of guiding themselves, are ruled by vital force, which calls them, makes them come, takes hold of them, places and disposes of them according to certain laws, and forms this marvellously-organised body, which the anatomist and the physiologist contemplate with wonder.
Atoms indestructible.
The atoms are indestructible; vital force is not: atoms have no age; vital force is born, grows old, and dies. Why is an octogenarian older than a youth of twenty, since the atoms of which his body is composed have only belonged to his frame a few months, and since atoms are neither old nor young? The constituent elements of his body when analysed have no age, and what is old in him is solely his vital energy, which is but one of the forms of the general energy of the universe, and which in his case have become exhausted.
Vital energy or force in nature and man.
Life is transmitted by generation, and sustains the body instinctively, and, as it were, unconsciously. It has a beginning and an end. It is an unconscious physical force, which organises and maintains the body of which it is the preserving element. The soul is an intellectual, thinking, immaterial being. The world of ideas in which the soul lives is not the world of matter. It has no age, it does not grow old. It is not changed in a few months like the body; for after months, years, dozens of years, we feel that we have preserved our identity--that our ego, ourself, is always ours. On the other hand, if the soul did not exist, and if the faculty of thinking were only a function of the brain, we should no longer be able to say that we have a body, for it would be our body, our brain, that would have us.
Vital force has limits.
Besides, from time to time our consciousness would change; we should no longer have a feeling of identity, and we should no longer be responsible for the resolutions, secreted by the molecules, which had passed through the brain many months before. The soul is not the vital force; for that is limited and is transmitted by generation, has no consciousness of itself, is born, grows up, declines, and dies. All these states are opposed to those of the soul, which is immaterial, unlimited, not transmissible, conscious.
The development of the vital force may be represented geometrically by a spindle, which swells out gradually to the middle, and decreases again to a point. When the soul reaches the middle of life, it does not become less, like a spindle, and dwindle down to the end, but follows its parabolic curve into the infinite. Moreover, the mode of existence of the soul is essentially different from that of the vital force. It lives in a spiritual way.
The soul has no limits.
The conceptions of the soul, such as the sentiments of justice or injustice, of truth or falsehood, of good and evil, as well as knowledge, mathematics, analysis, synthesis, contemplation, admiration, love, affection or hatred, esteem or contempt--in a word, the occupations of the soul, whatever they may be, are of an intellectual and moral order, which neither the atoms nor the physical forces can apprehend, and which have as real an existence as the physical order of things. The chemical or mechanical work of cerebral cells, however subtle they may be, can never produce an intellectual judgement, such, for instance, as the knowledge of the fact that four multiplied by four is equal to sixteen, or that the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles.
These three elements of the human being are reproduced in the universe at large: 1. The atoms, the material world, inert, passive; 2. The physical forces which regulate the world, and which are continually transformed into one another or into others; 3. God, the eternal and infinite spirit, the intellectual organiser of the mathematical laws which these forces obey, the unknown being in whom reside the supreme principles of truth, of beauty, of goodness. The soul can be attached to the body only by means of the vital force. When life is extinct the soul naturally separates from the organism and ceases to have any immediate connection with time and space.
The soul survives the body.
After death the soul remains in that part of the universe where the Earth happens to be at the moment of its separation from the body. You know that the Earth is a planet in the heavens like Venus and Jupiter. The Earth continues to run in its orbit at the rate of 12,700 kilometres an hour, so that the soul an hour after death is at that distance from its body because of its immobility in space, when no longer subject to the laws of matter. Thus we are in the heavens immediately after death, where, however, we have also been during the whole of our lives; but we then had weight which held us to the Earth. I must add, however, that as a rule the soul takes some time to disengage itself from the nervous organism, and that it occasionally remains many days, and even many months, magnetically connected with the old body, which it is reluctant to forsake. Moreover, it has special faculties by means of which it can transport itself from one point of space to another.
QUÆRENS: Now for the first time I am able to understand death as a natural process, and to comprehend the individual existence of the soul, its independence of the body and of life, its personality, its survival, and its obvious position in the universe. This synthetic theory has prepared me, I hope, to understand and appreciate your revelation. But you said that a singular event struck you on your entrance into the eternal life; at what moment did that take place?
The hour of death.
LUMEN: Well, my dear friend, let me go on with my story. Midnight had just struck, you will remember, on the sonorous bell of my old timepiece, and the full Moon shed its pale light on my dying bed, when my daughter, my grandson, and other friends withdrew to take some rest. You wished to remain with me, and you promised my daughter not to leave me till the morning. I would thank you for your warm and tender devotion if we were not so truly brothers. We had been alone about half-an-hour, for the star of night was declining, when I took your hand and told you that life had already abandoned my extremities. You assured me that it was not so; but I was calmly observing my physiological state, and I knew that in a few moments I should cease to breathe. You moved gently towards the room where my children were sleeping, but concentrating my powers by an extreme effort I stopped you. Returning with tears in your eyes, you said to me, "You are right; you have given them your last wishes, and to-morrow morning will be time enough to send for them." There was in these words a contradiction that I felt without expressing it to you. Do you remember that then I asked you to open the window.
Last impressions of the parting soul.
It was a beautiful night in October; more beautiful than those of the Scottish bards sung by Ossian. Not far from the horizon, just level with my eyes, I could distinguish the Pleiades, veiled by mist, whilst Castor and Pollux floated triumphantly a little higher up. Above, forming a triangle with them, shone the beautiful star with rays of gold, which, on maps of the zodiac, is marked "Capella." You see how clearly I remember it all. When you had opened the window the perfume of the roses, sleeping under the wings of night, ascended towards to me and mingled with the silent rays of the stars. I cannot express to you how sweet were these last impressions that I received from the Earth; language fails me to describe what I felt. In the hours of my sweetest happiness, of my tenderest love, I never felt such an intensity of joy, so glorious a serenity, such real bliss, as I experienced then in the ecstatic enjoyment of the perfumed breath of the flowers and the tender gleam of the distant stars. . . .
Separation of the soul.
When you bent over me I seemed to return to the outer world, and with my hands clasped over my breast, my sight and my thoughts, united in prayer, together took flight into space. Before my ears closed for ever I heard the last words as they fell from my lips: "Adieu! my old friend, I feel that death is bearing me away to those unknown regions where I trust we shall one day meet. When the dawn effaces these stars, only my mortal body will be here. Repeat then to my daughter my last wish: to bring up her children in the contemplation of the eternal goodness." And whilst you wept, as you knelt by my bed, I added, "Recite the beautiful prayer of Jesus," and you began with trembling voice, " Our Father, . . . Forgive us . . . our trespasses, . . . as we . . . forgive those . . . that . . . trespass . . . against us. . . ." These were the last thoughts that passed through my soul by means of the senses; my sight grew dim as I looked at the star Capella, and immediately I became unconscious.
Time does not exist outside the Earth.
Years, days, and hours are constituted by the movements of the Earth. In space, outside these movements time does not exist; indeed, it is impossible to have any notion of time. I think, however, that the event I am now going to describe to you occurred on the very day of my death, for, as you will see presently, my body was not yet buried when this vision appeared to my soul.
As I was born in 1793, I was then, in 1864, in my seventy-second year, so I was not a little surprised to find myself animated by a vivacity of mind as ardent as in the prime of my life. I had no body, and yet I was not incorporeal; I felt and saw that I was constituted of a substance which, however, bore no analogy to the material form of terrestrial bodies. I know not how I traversed the celestial spaces, but by some unknown force I soon found that I was approaching a magnificent golden sun, the splendour of which did not, however, dazzle me. I perceived that it was surrounded by a number of worlds, each enveloped in one or more rings. By the same unconscious force I was driven towards one of these rings, and was a spectator of the marvellous phenomena of light, for the starry spaces were crossed everywhere by rainbow bridges. I lost sight of the golden sun, but I found myself in a sort of night coloured with hues of a thousand shades. The sight of my soul far execeeded that of my body, and, to my surprise, this power of sight appeared to be subject to my will.
Sight of the soul in the heavens.
The sight of the soul is so marvellous that I must not stop to-day to describe it. Suffice it to say that instead of seeing the stars in the heavens as you see them on the Earth, I could distinguish clearly the worlds revolving round each other; and strange to say, when I desired to examine more closely these worlds, and to avoid the brilliance of the central sun, it disappeared from my sight, and left me under the most favorable conditions for observing any one of them I wished. [1] Further, when my attention was concentrated on one particular world, I could distinguish its continents and its seas, its clouds and its rivers, although they did not appear to become larger, as objects seen through a telescope do. I saw any special thing that I fixed my sight upon, such as a town or a tract of country, with perfect clearness and distinctness.
The soul clothed in a new body.
When I reached this ringed world I found myself clothed in a form like that of its inhabitants. It appeared that my soul had attracted to itself the constituent atoms of a new body. Living bodies on the Earth are composed of molecules which do not touch one another, and which are constantly renewed by respiration, by nutrition, and by assimilation. The envelope of the soul is formed more quickly in that far-off world. I felt myself more alive than the supernatural beings whose passions and sorrows Dante celebrates. One of the special faculties of this new world is that of seeing very far.
QUÆRENS: But pardon a rather simple remark. Is it not likely that the worlds or planets that revolve round each star must mingle in a distant view with their central sun; for instance, when you see our Sun from afar with the planets of his system, is it possible for you to distinguish our Earth amongst them?
The soul's power of vision
LUMEN: You have raised the single geometrical objection which seems to contradict all previous experience. In point of fact, at a certain distance the planets are absorbed in their suns, and our terrestrial eyes would have difficulty in distinguishing them. You know that from Saturn the Earth is invisible. But you must remember that this discrepancy arises as much from the imperfection of our sight as from the geometrical law of the decrease of surfaces. Now, in the world on which I had just landed, the inhabitants are not incarnated in a gross form, as we are here below, but are free beings, and endowed with eminently powerful faculties of perception. They can, as I have told you, isolate the source of light from the object lighted, and, moreover, they can perceive distinctly details which at that distance would be absolutely hidden from the eyes of those dwelling upon this Earth.
QUÆRENS: Do they make use, then, of instruments superior to our telescopes?
LUMEN: Well, if, in order to realise this marvellous faculty, you find it easier to suppose that they possess such instruments, you may do so, in theory. Imagine a telescope which, by a succession of lenses and an arrangement of diaphragms, brings near in succession these distant worlds, and isolates each one in the field of view in order to study it separately. I should also inform you that these beings are endowed with a special sense by which they can regulate at will the powers of their marvellous organs of sight.
And you must further understand that this power and this regulation of vision are natural in those worlds, and not supernatural. In order to conceive of the faculties possessed by these ultra-terrestrial beings, reflect for a moment upon the eyes of some insects--of those, for instance, which have the power to draw in, to lengthen out, or to flatten the crystalline lens so as to make it magnify in different degrees; or of those which can concentrate on the field of view a multitude of eyes in order to bring them to bear upon the desired object.
QUÆRENS: Yes, I can imagine it to be possible. Then you are able to see the Earth, and to distinguish from above even the towns and villages of our lower world?
Lumen on a star world.
LUMEN: Let me proceed with my description. I found myself then upon the ring-shaped world, the size of which I told you is great enough to make two hundred worlds like yours. The mountain on which I stood was covered with trees woven into arboreal palaces. These fairy-like chateaux seemed to me either to grow naturally, or else to be produced by a skilful arrangement of branches and of tall flowering plants. The town, when I entered it, was thickly peopled, and on the summit of the mountain I noticed a group of old men, twenty or thirty in number, who were looking with the most fixed and anxious attention at a beautiful star in the southern constellation of the Altar on the confines of the Milky Way. They did not observe my arrival amongst them, so absorbed were they in observing and examining this star, or perhaps one of the worlds belonging to its system.
Lumen learns the language of spirits.
As for myself, I became aware, on arriving in this atmosphere, that I was clothed in a body resembling that of its inhabitants, and to my still greater surprise I heard these old men speaking of the Earth--yes, of the Earth, in that universal spirit-language which all beings comprehend from the seraphim to the trees of the forest. And not only were they talking about the Earth, but about France. "What can be the meaning of these legal massacres?" they said. "Is it possible that brute force reigns supreme there? Will civil war decimate these people, and will rivers of blood run in this capital, at one time so magnificent and so gay?''
I could not follow the drift of this speech, I who had just come from the Earth with the swiftness of thought, and who but yesterday had breathed in the heart of this tranquil and peaceful capital. I joined the group, fixing my eyes, as they did, on the beautiful star, and I tried at the same time to understand what they were talking about. Presently I saw to the left of the star a pale-blue sphere--that was the Earth.
The Solar System in the heavens.
You are aware, my friend, that, notwithstanding the apparent paradox, the Earth is really a star in the sky, as I reminded you just now. Seen from one of the stars comparatively near to your system, it appears to the spiritual sight, of which I have told you, like a family of stars composed of eight principal worlds crowding round the Sun, which is itself reduced to a star. Jupiter and Saturn first arrest the attention, because of their great size; then one notices Uranus and Neptune, and at length, quite near to the Sun-star, Mars and the Earth. Venus is very difficult to make out. Mercury remains invisible because of its too great proximity to the Sun. Such is the appearance of the planetary system in the heavens.
The eath as seen from the heavens.
My attention was fixed exclusively on the little terrestrial sphere by the side of which I perceived the Moon. I soon remarked the white snow of the North Pole, the yellow triangle of Africa, and the outlines of the Ocean. Whilst my attention was concentrated on our planet, the Sun--star became eclipsed before my eyes. Then I was able to distinguish, in the midst of an expanse of azure, a brown cleft or hollow, and pursuing my investigations I discovered a town in the midst of this cleft. I had no difficulty in recognising that this continental hollow was France, and that the town was Paris. The first sign by which I recognised it was the silver ribbon of the Seine, that describes so many graceful convolutions to the west of the great town. By the use of my new optical organs I could see it in detail. At the eastern side of the city I saw the nave and towers of Notre Dame in the form of a Latin cross. The Boulevards wound round the north. To the south I recognised the gardens of the Luxembourg and the Observatory. The cupola of the Pantheon covered like a grey hood the Mount of Ste. Geneviève. To the west the grand avenue of the Champs-Élysées formed a straight line. Farther on I could distinguish the Bois de Boulogne, the environs of St. Cloud, the Wood of Meudon, Sèvres, Ville d' Avray, and Montretout.
The whole scene was lighted up by splendid sunshine; but, strange to say, the hills were covered with snow as in the month of January, while I had left it in October when the country was perfectly green. I was fully convinced that I was looking at Paris; but as I could not understand the exclamations of my companions, I endeavoured to ascertain more details.
My eyes were fixed with most interest upon the Observatory. It was my favorite quarter, and for forty years I had scarcely left it for more than a few months.
Judge, therefore, of my surprise when I came to look more closely at it to find that the magnificent avenue of chestnuts between the Luxembourg and the Observatory was nowhere to be seen, that in its place were the gardens of convents. My indignation as an artist was aroused against these municipal misdeeds, but it was quickly suspended by still stronger feelings. I beheld a monastery in the midst of our beautiful orchard. The Boulevard St. Michel did not exist, nor did the Rue de Medici; instead I saw a confused mass of little streets, and I seemed to recognise the former Rue de l'Est and the Place St. Michel, where an ancient fountain used to supply water to the people of the fauborg, and I made out number of narrow lanes which existed long ago. The cupolas and the two side wings of the Observatory had disappeared.
No Arc de Triomphe visible.
By degrees, as I continued my observations, I discovered that Paris was indeed much changed. The Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile, and all the brilliant avenues that meet there, had disappeared. There was no Boulevard de Sébastopol, no Station de l'Est, nor any other station, and no railway. The tower of St. Jaques was enclosed in a court of old houses, and the Column of Victory was reached that way. The Column of the Bastile was also absent, for I should easily have recognised the figure upon it.
No Column Vendôme.
An equestrian statue filled the place of the Vendôme Column. The Rue Castiglione was an old green convent. The Rue de Rivoli had disappeared. The Louvre was either unfinished or partly pulled down. Between the Court of Francis I. and the Tuileries there were tumble-down old hovels.
No obelisk in the Place de la Concorde.
There was no obelisk in the Place de la Concorde; but I saw a moving crowd, though I was unable at first to distinguish the figures. The Madeleine and the Rue Royal were invisible. Behind the Isle of St. Louis I saw a small island. Instead of the outer Boulevards there was only an old wall, and the whole was enclosed by fortifications. In short, although I recognised the capital of France by some familiar buildings, I was aware of a marvellous metamorphosis, which had completely changed its aspect.
Time merely relative.
At first I fancied that, in place of having just come from the Earth, I must have been many years en route. As the notion of time is essentially relative, and there is nothing real or absolute in the measure of duration, having once left the Earth, I had lost all standard of measure, and I said to myself that years, centuries indeed, might have passed over my head without my perceiving it, and that the time had seemed short to me because of the great interest I had taken in my aerial voyage--a commonplace idea which shows how merely relative is our notion of time. Not having any means of assuring myself of the facts of the case, I should undoubtedly have concluded that I was separated by many centuries from the terrestrial life which was now going on before my eyes in Paris, and I imagined that I saw the period of the twentieth or twenty-first century until I penetrated more deeply into the details of the life picture and examined all its features. Eventually I succeeded in identifying the aspect of the town, and I gradually recognised the sites of the streets and of the public buildings which I had known in my early youth. The Hôtel de Ville appeared to be decorated with flags, and I could distinguish the square central dome of the Tuileries.
Lumen sees a scene in his past life.
A little further examination recalled everything to me; and then I saw, in an old convent garden, a summer-house which made me tremble with joy. It was in that spot that I met in my youth the woman who loved me so deeply, my Sylvia, so tender and so devoted, who gave up everything to unite her life to mine. I saw the little cupola of the terrace where we loved to saunter in the evenings and to study the constellations. Oh, with what joy I greeted those promenades where we had walked, keeping step with one another, those avenues where we took refuge from the curious eyes of intruders! You can fancy how, as I looked at this summer-house, the sight of it alone was enough to assure me, absolutely and convincingly, that I had before my eyes not, as it was natural to suppose, the Paris of long after my death, but in reality the Paris of the past, old Paris of the beginning of this century or of the end of last century. But, in spite of all, you can easily imagine that I could scarcely believe my eyes. It seemed so much more natural to think that Paris had grown old and had suffered these transformations since my departure from the Earth--an interval of time absolutely unknown to me. It was so much easier to think that I beheld the city of the future. I continued my observations carefully, in order to ascertain if it was really the old Paris, now partly demolished, that I was looking at, or if, by a phenomenon still more incredible, it was another Paris, another France, another world.

[1] Physiological anatomy would probably explain this fact by suggesting that a sort of punctum cæcum is displaced in order to conceal the object that one does not wish to see.

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