A WORLD WITH SOUL

‘Not in the entire living world is there to be found anything so deformed as that which does not have the gift of soul.’ Marsilio Ficino The Planets

“Soul is an elusive word. For many, soul has an invisible but finite essence, made of some spiritual substance, that keeps the body together and functioning in life and flies off to another dimension at death. In relation to the body, it is like a genie in a bottle …

“The soul that Ficino places at the center of his professional and personal life is not this creature of folk religion. For him soul is a quality of existence, and the human soul is precisely that which makes one a human. Soul is a quality rather than a quantity. For that reason it a better to speak of soul rather than a soul. …

” … Having soul, we feel a reverberation carrying through and beneath the surface of everyday experience. With soul, events are not merely two-dimensional; they carry an invisible but clearly felt dimension of depth. These resonances do not appear as meaning and explanation, nor even as understanding – that would be height, the work of intellect. Soul cannot be fabricated by evaluating experience, trying to figure it out, or through intense introspection. The significance of soul is clearly downward, away from the head, closer to the stomach where the outside world is absorbed, internalised and broken down …

” … In Greek mythology the natural world accessible to our senses is mirrored by an underworld where there is no flesh or bone but only phantasms or immaterial images. Here again are labyrinthine passages leading to numerous chambers where strange happenings reflect the world above … Soul, then, involves a dying to the natural world and indeed imagination is not unlike digestive transformation, To live with soul requires a willingness to descend into the depths of events, to let their literalness and our own literal reactions die in favour of another perspective, to see the world as if from below. Like Orpheus, we can sing of our exploits, having become acquainted with the underworld through a descent.” (1)

In my last post (2) I discussed a recognition in modern Druidry of three dimensions of experience: physical, psychic and causal. I said that my awen work was nudging me to strengthen the psychic level, the level of soul. The word soul itself appears in a variant form of the triad using the terms body (or matter), soul and spirit. In order to embrace this language again, I am reframing these terms as traditionally understood. On psyche, or soul, I find Thomas Moore’s interpretation of Marsilio Ficino’s (3) work very helpful for this purpose. My only reservation is that although he attributes ‘soul’ to books, art and music, he has little to say – at least here – about non-human beings or the land itself.

(1) Thomas Moore The Planets Within: The Astrological Psychology of Marsilio Ficino Hudson, NY: Lindisfarne Press, 1990

(2) https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/2020/05/23/beyond-mindfulness/

(3) Marsilio Ficino lived in the fiftenth century Florence, the Florence of the Medici’s. He is remembered as one of the great minds of the Italian Renaissance, and Cosimo Medici supported him in the creation of the Florentine Academy. The Academy revived the perspectives of the last generations of Pagan philosophers in the Roman Empire. Ficino was grounded in the work of Plato and the Neo-Platonism of the later Roman period. He also translated the key texts of Hellenistic-Egyptian Hermetics. Ficino is a cultural ancestor for both humanist scholarship and esoteric spirituality.