Death and Life in Purgatory


    Amid all the uncertainties which are the characteristics of the world, there is but one certainty--Death. At one time or another, after a short or a long life, comes this termination to the material phase of our existence which is a birth into a new world, as that which we term "birth" is, in the beautiful words of Wordsworth, a forgetting of a past.

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature's priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.

    Birth and death may therefore be regarded as the shifting of man's activity from one world to another, and it depends upon our own position whether we designate such a change birth or death. If a man enters the world in which we live, we call it birth, if he leaves our plane of existence to enter another world, we call it death; but to the individual concerned the passage from one world to another is but as the removal to another city here; he LIVES, unchanged; only his exterior surroundings and condition are changed.

Unconsciousness at Birth and Death

    The passage from one world to another is often attended by more or less unconsciousness, like sleep as Wordsworth says, and for that reason our consciousness may be fixed upon the world we have left. In infancy heaven lies about us in actual fact; children are all clairvoyant for a longer or shorter time after birth, and whoever passes out at death still beholds the material world for some time. If we pass out in the full vigor of physical manhood or womanhood, with strong ties of family, friends, or other interests, the dense world will continue to attract our attention for a much longer time than if death occurred at a "ripe old age," when the earthly ties have been severed before the change we call death. This is on the same principle that the seed clings to the flesh of unripe fruit, while it is easily and cleanly detached from the ripe fruit. Therefore it is easier to die at an advanced age than in youth.

    The unconsciousness which usually attends the change of the incoming spirit at birth, and the outgoing spirit at death is due to our inability to adjust our focus instantly, and is similar to the difficulty we experience when passing from a darkened room to the street on a light, sunny day, or vice versa. Under those conditions some time elapses before we can distinguish objects about us; so with the newly born and to the newly dead, both have to readjust their viewpoint to their new condition.

    When the moment arrives which marks the completion of life in the physical world, the usefulness of the dense body has ended, and the Ego withdraws from it by way of the head, taking with it the mind and the desire body, as it does every night during sleep, but now the vital body is useless, so that too is withdrawn, and when the "silver cord" which united the higher to the lower vehicles snaps, it can never be repaired.

Weighing the Vital Body

    We remember that the vital body is composed of ether, superimposed upon the dense bodies of plant, animal, and man during life. Ether is physical matter, and has therefore weight. The only reason why the scientists cannot weigh it is because they are unable to gather a quantity and put it upon a scale. But when it leaves the dense body at death a diminution in weight will take place in every instance, showing that something having weight, yet invisible, leaves the dense body at that time.

    In 1906 Dr. McDougall, of Boston, weighed a number of dying persons by putting their beds upon scales, which he balanced. It was noted that the platform bearing the weights came down with startling suddenness at the moment when the last breath was drawn. The news was flashed all over the Union that the soul had been weighed, an achievement that can never be accomplished, for the soul is not amenable to physical laws. Later Professor Twining, of Los Angeles, supposedly weighed the soul of a mouse, but what the scientists really did was to weigh the vital body as it leaves the dense body at death.

Sins Against the Dying

    A word should be spoken in regard to the treatment of dying persons, who suffer unspeakable agony in many cases through the mistaken kindness of friends. More suffering is caused by administering stimulants to the dying than perhaps in any other way. It is not hard to pass out of the body, but stimulants have the effect of throwing the departing Ego back into its body with the force of a catapult, to experience anew the sufferings from which it was just escaping. Departed souls have often complained to investigators, and one such person said that he had not suffered as much in all his life as he did while kept from dying for many hours. The only rational way is to leave Nature to take its course when it is seen that the end is inevitable.

    Another and more far-reaching sin against the passing Spirit is to give vent to loud crying or lamentation in or near the death chamber. Just subsequent to its release and from a few hours to a few days afterwards, the Ego is engaged upon a matter of the utmost importance; a great deal of the value of the past life depends upon the attention given to it by the passing spirit. If distracted by the sobs and lamentations of loved ones, it will lose much, as we shall see, but if strengthened by prayer and helped by silence, much future sorrow to all concerned may be avoided. We are never so much our brother's keeper as when he is passing through Gethsemane, and it is one of our greatest opportunities for serving him and laying up heavenly treasure for ourselves.

The Need for a Science of Death

    We have studied the phenomenon of birth, and have evolved a SCIENCE OF BIRTH. We have qualified obstetricians and trained nurses to minister in the best possible manner to both mother and child to make them comfortable, but we are sadly, very sadly, in need of a SCIENCE OF DEATH. When a child is coming into the world we bustle about in intelligent endeavor; when a lifelong friend is about to leave us we stand helplessly about, ignorant of how to aid, or worse, worse than all, we bungle, and cause suffering instead of helping.

    Physical science knows that whatever the power which moves the heart, it does not come from without, but is inside the heart. The occult scientist sees a chamber in the left ventricle, near the apex, where a little atom swims in a sea of the highest ether. The force in that atom, like the forces in all other atoms is THE UNDIFFERENTIATED LIFE OF GOD; without that force the mineral could not form matter into crystals, the plant, animal, and human kingdoms would be unable to form their bodies. The deeper we go the plainer it becomes to us how fundamentally true it is that in God we live, move, and have our being.

The Seed Atom and the Silver Cord

    That atom is called the "seed-atom." The force within it moves the heart and keeps the organism alive. All the other atoms in the whole body must vibrate in tune with this atom. The forces of the seed-atom have been immanent in every dense body ever possessed by the particular Ego to whom it is attached, and upon its plastic tablet are inscribed all the experiences of that particular Ego in all its lives. When we return to God, when we shall all have become one in God once more, that record, which is peculiarly God's record, will still remain, and thus we shall retain our individuality. Our experiences we transmute, as will be described, into faculties; the evil is transmuted into good and the good we retain as power for higher good, but THE RECORD of the experiences is OF God, and IN God, in the most intimate sense.

    The "silver cord" which unites the higher and lower vehicles terminates at the seed-atom in the heart. When material life comes to an end in the natural manner the forces in the seed-atom disengage themselves, pass outward along the pneumogastric nerve, the back of the head and along the silver cord together with the higher vehicles. It is this rupture in the heart which marks physical death, but the connecting silver cord is not broken at once, in some cases not for several days.

    The vital body is the vehicle of sense-perception. As that remains with the body of feeling and the etheric cord connects them with the discarded dense body, it will be evident that until the cord is severed there must be a certain amount of feeling experienced by the Ego when its dense body is molested. Thus, it causes pain when the blood is extracted and embalming fluid injected, when the body is opened for postmortem examination, and when the body is cremated.

    A case was told the writer where a surgeon amputated three toes from a (living) person under anesthetics. He threw the severed toes into a bright coal fire, and immediately the patient commenced to scream, for the rapid disintegration of the material toes caused an equally rapid disintegration of the etheric toes, which were connected with the higher vehicles. In like manner molestations affect the discarnate Spirit from a few hours to three and one-half days after death. Then all connection is severed, and the body begins to decay.

    Therefore great care should be taken not to cause the passing Spirit discomfort by such measures. If laws or other circumstances prevent keeping the body quietly in the room where death took place for a few days, it can at least be interred for that length of time and then treated in any desired way. Quiet and prayer are of enormous benefit at that time, and if we love the departed Spirit wisely we shall be able to earn its lasting gratitude by following the above instructions.

The Life Panorama

    In a past lecture we saw that the vital body is the storehouse of both the conscious and subconscious memory; upon the vital body is branded indelibly every act and experience of the past life, as the scenery upon an exposed photographic plate. When the Ego has withdrawn it from the dense body, the whole life, as registered by the subconscious memory, is laid open to the eye of mind. It is the partial loosening of the vital body which causes a drowning person to see his whole past life, but then it is only like a flash, preceding unconsciousness; the silver cord remains intact, or there could be no resuscitation. In the case of a Spirit passing out at death, the movement is slower; the man stands as a spectator while the pictures succeed one another in the order from death to birth, so that he sees first the happenings just prior to death, then the years of manhood or womanhood unroll themselves; youth, childhood and infancy follow, until it terminates at birth. The man, however, has no feeling about them at that time, the object is merely to etch the panorama into the desire body, which is the seat of feeling, and from that impress the feeling will be realized when the Ego enters the Desire World, but we may note here that the INTENSITY OF FEELING REALIZED DEPENDS UPON THE LENGTH OF TIME CONSUMED IN THE PROCESS OF ETCHING, AND THE ATTENTION GIVEN THERETO BY THE MAN. IF HE WAS UNDISTURBED FOR A LONG PERIOD, BY NOISE AND HYSTERIA, A DEEP, CLEAR-CUT IMPRESS WILL BE MADE UPON THE DESIRE BODY. HE WILL FEEL THE WRONG HE DID MORE KEENLY IN PURGATORY, AND BE MORE ABUNDANTLY STRENGTHENED IN HIS GOOD QUALITIES IN HEAVEN, and though the experience will be lost in a future life, THE FEELINGS WILL REMAIN, as the "still, small voice." Where the feelings have been strongly indented upon the desire body of an Ego, this voice will speak in no vague and uncertain terms. It will impel him beyond gainsaying, forcing him to desist from that which caused pain in the life before, and compel him to yield to that which is good. Therefore the panorama passes BACKWARDS, so that the Ego sees first the effects, and then the underlying causes.

    As to what determines the length of the panorama, we remember that it was the collapse of the vital body which forced the higher vehicles to withdraw; so after death, when the vital body collapses, the Ego has to withdraw, and thus the panorama comes to an end. The duration of the panorama depends, therefore, upon the time the person could remain awake if necessary. Some people can remain awake only a few hours, others can endure for a few days, depending upon the strength of their vital body.

    When the Ego has left the vital body, the latter gravitates back to the dense body, remaining hovering above the grave, decaying as the dense body does, and it is indeed a noisome sight to the clairvoyant to pass through a cemetery and behold all those vital bodies whose state of decay clearly indicates the state of decomposition of the remains in the grave. If there were more clairvoyants, incineration would soon be adopted as a measure of protection to our feelings, if not for sanitary reasons.

The Ego in the Desire World

    When the Ego has freed itself from the vital body, its last tie with the physical world is broken, and it enters the Desire World. The ovoid form of the desire body now changes its form, assuming the likeness of the discarded dense body. There is, however, a peculiar arrangement of the materials out of which it is formed, that has great significance in regard to the kind of life the departed will lead there.

    The desire body of man is composed of matter from all the seven regions of the Desire World, as a dense body is build of the solids, liquids, and gases of this world. But the quantity of matter from each region in the desire body of a man depends upon the nature of the desires which he cherishes. Coarse desires are built of the coarsest desire stuff, which belongs to the lowest region of the Desire World. If a man has such, he is building a coarse desire body, where the matter from the lowest regions predominates. If he persistently puts coarse desires away from himself, yielding only to the pure and the good, his desire body will be formed of the materials of the higher regions.

    At present no man is wholly evil, and none wholly good; we are all mixtures of both; but there may be and is a difference in our make-up. In the desire bodies of some there is a preponderance of coarse and in others of fine desire stuff; and that makes all the difference in the environment and status of the man when he enters the Desire World after death, for then the matter of his desire body, while taking on the likeness of the discarded dense body, at the same time arranges itself so that the subtlest matter which belongs to the higher regions of the Desire World forms the center of the vehicle, and the matter from the three densest regions is on the outside. When the Ego's earth life is ended it exerts centrifugal force to free itself from its vehicles. Following out the same law which causes a planet to throw that part of itself which is most dense and crystallized out into space, it first discards its dense body. When it enters the Desire World this centrifugal force also acts so as to throw the coarsest matter in the desire body outwards, and thus man is forced to stay in the lower regions until he has been purged of the coarser desires which were embodied in the densest desire matter. The coarsest desire matter is therefore always on the outside of his desire body while he is passing through Purgatory, and is gradually eliminated by the purging centrifugal force; the force of Repulsion, which tears the evil out of man and then allows him to pass upwards into the First Heaven in the upper part of the Desire World, where the Force of Attraction alone holds sway and builds the good of the past life into the Ego as soul power. The discarded part of the desire body is left as an empty "shell."

The Soul-less "Shell"

    When the Ego has left its dense body, that dies QUICKLY. Physical matter becomes inert the moment it is deprived of the quickening, life-giving energy; it dissolves as a form. Not so with the matter of the Desire World; once life has been communicated to it, that energy will subsist for a considerable time after the influx of life has ceased, varying as to the strength of the impulse. The result is that after the Ego has left them these "shells" subsist for a longer or a shorter time. They live an independent life, and if that Ego to which they belonged was very much given to worldly desires, perhaps cut off in the prime of life, with strong and unsatisfied ambitions, this soul-less shell will often make the most desperate efforts to get back to the Physical World, and much of the phenomena of spiritualistic seances are due to the actions of these shells. The fact that the communications received from many of these so-called "Spirits" are utterly devoid of sense is easily accounted for when we realize that they are not Spirits at all, but only a soul-less part of the garment of the departed Spirit, and therefore without intelligence. They have a memory of the past life, owing to the panorama which was etched after death, which often enables them to impose upon relatives by stating incidents not known to others, but the fact remains that they are but the cast-off garment of the Ego, endowed with an independent life for the time being.


    It is not always, however, that these shells remain soul-less, for there are different classes of beings in the Desire World, whose evolution naturally belongs there. They are good and bad, as are human beings. Generally they are classed under one heading as "elementals," although differing vastly in appearance, intelligence and characteristics. We will only deal with them so far as their influence touches the postmortem state of man.

    It sometimes happens, especially where a man has been in the habit of invoking Spirits, that these beings take possession of his dense body in earth life and make him an irresponsible medium. They generally lure him at first with seemingly high teachings, but by degrees lead to gross immorality, and worst of all, they may take possession of his desire body after he has left it and ascended into heaven. As the impulses contained in the desire body are the basis of the life in heaven, and also the springs of action which cause man to reincarnate for renewed growth, this is indeed a very serious matter, for the whole evolution of a man may be stopped for ages, before the elemental releases his desire body.

    It is these elements who are the originators of many of the spiritualistic phenomena where more intelligence is displayed than can be accounted for by the action of soul-less shells, particularly at materializations, at least. Though shells may take part, phenomena are always directed by a being with intelligence. The difference between a materializing medium and an ordinary person is that the connection between the dense body can be withdrawn, and also some of the gases and even liquids of the medium's dense body may be used to form the bodies of apparitions. This withdrawal and the process of clothing the shells is generally performed by the elemental who extracts the vital body of the medium out through the spleen. As a rule, the body of the medium shrinks horribly in consequence. When the dense body is thus deprived of its vital principle, it becomes terribly exhausted and unfortunately the medium often seeks to restore the equilibrium by strong drink, becoming a confirmed drunkard.

Dangers of Hypnotism

    In a past lecture it was pointed out how dangerous it is to allow a hypnotist to dominate our will and deprive us of our liberty, but in that case the victim can at least see, and may form an opinion of the hypnotist who controls him. In the case of the medium the danger is multiplied a thousandfold, for the dominating influence cannot be seen. The death of the hypnotist releases his victims, but the gravest danger to the medium is after death. Therefore, a negative state in which the whole body or even the hand of a person is used automatically, apart from the individual's own volition, is hazardous. It is not denied that sometimes there are genuine communications from a departed Spirit, or that there are cases of benevolent communications from beings outside our volition, but our purpose is to point out the dangers to those who meddle with that they know not. Philanthropists do not grow on every bush in the Desire World any more than here. They are positively not great and good beings, angels, who enjoy knocking a man's hat over his ears, spilling water down his neck, or doing any other of the foolish tricks exhibited at the ordinary spiritualistic seance; those are emphatically either the soul-less shells of scapegraces, or elementals on a prank.

The Persistence of Character

    When a man wakes up in the Desire World he is with one exception the very same man in every respect as before death. Anyone seeing him there would know him if they had known him here. There is no transforming power in death; the man's character has not changed, the vicious man and the drunkard are vicious and dissipated still, the miser is a miser still, the thief is as dishonest as ever, but there is one great and important change in them all--they have all lost their dense body, and THAT MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE IN REGARD TO THE GRATIFICATION OF THEIR VARIOUS DESIRES.

    The drunkard cannot drink; he lacks the stomach, and though he may and at first often does, get into the whiskey casks of the saloons, it is no satisfaction to him, for whiskey in a cask does not give out fumes as it does during chemical combustion in the alimentary canal. He then tries the effect of getting into the dense body of drunkards on earth. He succeeds easily for the desire body is so constituted that it is no inconvenience to occupy the same space with another person. "Dead" people, at first, are often annoyed when their friends sit down in the chair they are occupying, but after a while they learn that it is not necessary to hurry out of their seat because a friend yet in earth life is approaching to sit down. It does not hurt the desire body "to be sat on"; both persons can occupy the same chair without inconveniencing each other's movements. So the drunkard enters into the body of people who are drinking, but even there he receives no real satisfaction, and in consequence he suffers the tortures of Tantalus, until at last the desire burns itself out for want of gratification, as all desires do, even in physical life.

The Purging of Bad Habits

    This is "PURGATORY," and we note that it is not an avenging deity who measures out the suffering, or a devil who executes the judgment, but the evil desires cultivated in earth life, incapable of gratification in the Desire World, that cause the suffering, until in time they burn out. Thus the suffering is strictly proportionate to the strength of the evil habit. Take the case of the miser; he loves gold as dearly after death as before, but cannot gather any more; he has no physical hand wherewith to grasp, and worst of all, cannot protect what he had. He may sit watching in front of his safe, but the heirs may come and put their hands right through him, take away his cherished gold, perhaps laughing at the "stingy old fool" while he is nearly in a spasm with rage and mortification. He suffers terribly because unable to check them. At last, however, he learns to content himself; he is automatically purged of grasping, as was the drunkard of drink, by the Law of Consequence, which eradicates from each person his faults IN AN IMPERSONAL WAY. There is in truth no punishment, all suffering is entirely due to our self-acquired habits, is strictly proportionate to them. Benevolently it rids us of our faults, so that in consequence of purgation we are born innocent and may more easily acquire virtue when tempted anew, by listening to the voice that warns. Each evil act, at least, is therefore an act of free will.

    While our EVIL HABITS are dealt with in this general way, our SPECIFIC EVIL ACTIONS in the past life are dealt with in the same automatic manner by means of the life panorama which was etched into the desire body. That panorama begins to unfold BACKWARDS from death to birth, upon our entrance into the Desire World. It unfolds backwards at the rate of about three times the speed of the physical life, so that a man who was 60 years of age at the time of death would live over his past life in the Desire World in about twenty years.


    We remember that when viewing this panorama just after death he had no feeling at all about it, standing there merely AS A SPECTATOR, looking at the pictures as they unrolled. Not so when they appear in his consciousness in Purgatory. There the good makes no impression, but all the evil reacts upon him in such a way that in the scenes where he had made another suffer he himself feels as the injured one. He suffers all the pain and anguish his victim felt in life, and as the speed of the life is tripled, so is the suffering. It is even more acute, for the dense body is so slow of vibration that it dulls even suffering, but in the Desire World, where we are minus physical vehicles, suffering is more acute, and THE MORE CLEAR CUT THE PANORAMIC IMPRESSION OF THE PAST LIFE WAS ETCHED INTO THE DESIRE BODY AT THE TIME OF DEATH THE MORE THE MAN SUFFERS AND THE MORE CLEARLY HE WILL FEEL IN AFTER LIVES THAT TRANSGRESSION IS TO BE AVOIDED.

    There is a peculiar phase of this suffering, which also adds to its disagreeable character. If in life a man had injured two men AT THE SAME TIME, and one is living in Maine, the other in California, at the time when their tormentor is undergoing his purgatorial realization of the sufferings he caused them, HE WILL FEEL HIMSELF AS PRESENT WITH BOTH at the same time, as if one part were in Maine and the other in California. It gives him a peculiar but indescribable feeling of being torn to pieces.

The Suicide

    There are two classes of people for whom the purgative process does not commence at once, namely, the suicide and victim of murder. In the case of the suicide it does not commence until the time when the body would have died in the course of natural events, but in the meantime he suffers for his act in a way that is as dreadful as it is peculiar. He has a feeling of being hollowed out, as it were, and of inhabiting an aching void, due to the continued activity of the archetype of his form in the region of Concrete Thought. In the case of people, young or old, who die naturally or by accident, archetypal activity ceases; the higher vehicles undergo a modification at death, so that the loss of the dense body in itself gives no feeling of discomfort; but the suicide experiences no such change until the archetype of his body ceases to work, at the time when death would have naturally occurred. The space where his dense body ought to have been is empty, because the archetype is hollow, and it hurts indescribably. Thus he also learns that it is not possible to play truant from the school of life without bringing about unpleasant consequences, and in later lives when the way seems hard he will remember in his soul that the cowardly attempt to escape by suicide only brings added suffering.

    There are people who commit suicide for unselfish reasons, to rid others of a burden, and they of course have their reward in another way, but do not escape the suffering of the suicide, any more than the man who enters a burning building to save others is immune from burns.

The Victim of Murder

    The victim of murder escapes this suffering because he is in a comatose state as a rule, until the time when natural death should have occurred, and is taken care of in that respect, like the victims of so-called accidents, but the latter are always conscious at once or shortly after death. If the murderer is executed between the time of the murder and the time when his victim would naturally have died, the comatose desire body of the latter floats to its slayer by magnetic attraction following him wherever he goes, without a moment's respite. The picture of the murder is always before him, causing him to feel the suffering and anguish which must inevitably accompany this incessant reenactment of his crime in all its horrible details. This goes on for a time corresponding to the period of life of which he deprived his victim. If the murderer escaped hanging, so that his victim has passed beyond Purgatory before he dies, the "shell" of his victim remains to act the part of Nemesis in the drama of reenactment of the crime.

    Thus the Ego is purged of evil of every kind, by the impersonal action of the Law of Consequence, made fit to enter heaven and become strengthened in good, as it has been discouraged in evil.


Written by Max Heindel, founder of
The Rosicrucian Fellowship

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