Allan Kardec

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Plato and the doctrine of the chosen trials

In the interesting Celtic documents, published in the April issue of our Review, we saw that the doctrine of reincarnation was professed among the Druids, according to the principle of the ascending march of the human soul that progressed along the several degrees of our spirits’ scale.

Everybody knows that the idea of reincarnation goes back to the antiquity and that Pythagoras himself learned it from the Hindus and the Egyptians. Thus it is not surprising that Plato, Socrates and others shared an opinion admitted by the most distinguished philosophers of those times. What is perhaps even more remarkable to find, since those days, is the principle of the chosen trials, taught by the spirits today, and that presupposes the reincarnation, without which it would be meaningless.

Today we shall not discuss that theory that was far from our thoughts when the spirits revealed it to us, that surprised us in a strange way because – we humbly confess – what Plato wrote about this special subject was then completely unknown to us, another proof among thousands that the communications given to us did not absolutely reflect our personal opinion. As for Plato, we only attest the central idea, leaving to each one the easy task of imagining the format under which it is presented and judge the contact points that, in some details, it can have with our current theory.

In his allegoric “Spindle of Necessity”, he imagines a dialogue between Socrates and Claucon and attributes to the first one the following speech, about the revelations of Er, the Armenian, a very likely fictitious character, although some take him by Zoroaster. It can be easily seen that the description is nothing but an imaginary situation, with the aim of developing the main idea: the immortality of the soul; the succession of the existences; the choice of the existences through the free will; and last but not least the happy or unhappy consequences of the choices, sometimes reckless. All those propositions are found in the Spirits’ Book and confirm the numerous facts cited in this Review.


“... the story I want to tell you, Socrates tells Glaucon, is of a heartedly man, Er the son of Arminius, a Pamphylian by birth. He was slain in battle, and ten days later, when the bodies of the dead were taken up already in a state of decomposition, his body was found untouched and in good condition.

“He was then taken home to be buried and on the twelfth day, lying on the funeral pile, he returned to life and told them what he had seen in the other world.”

“As soon as his soul left the body he went onto a journey with a number of souls, coming to a wonderful place where one could see two openings in the earth, close to each other, and two other openings in heaven above them. Between the regions there were judges seated. As soon as a sentenced was passed they commanded the just, after they had passed judgment on them and had bound their sentences in front of them, to ascend by the heavenly way on the right hand; accordingly the unjust were commanded by them to descend to the abyss; these also bore the symbols of their deeds stuck on their backs.”

“His time came, and the judges told him that he was to report the news of the other world to men, and they ordered him to hear and see all that was to be heard and seen in that place.”

“Then he noticed that the souls had gone: some gone to heaven others to Earth through the corresponding openings. And then he saw at the two other openings other souls, some rising from the earth, dusty and dirty, and some coming down from heaven pure and shiny.”

“They seemed to have come from a long trip, gladly stopping in the meadow, as in a gathering place; and those who knew one another greeted and talked, the souls which came from earth curiously inquiring about the things above, and the souls which came from heaven about the things underneath. And they told each other what had happened, those from below weeping and sorrowing at the memory of the things which they had endured and seen in their journey, while those from above were describing heavenly delights and visions of the Divine beauties.”

It would take too long to tell the story of the Armenian but in summary, this is what he said:

“Each soul was condemned to 10 times the suffering imposed by their wrong doings; or once in a hundred years - such being the natural length of man's life, and the penalty being thus paid ten times in a thousand years. If, for example, there were any who had been the cause of many deaths, or had betrayed or enslaved cities or armies, or been guilty of any other evil behavior, for each and all of their offences they received punishment ten times over, and the rewards of goodness and justice and holiness were in the same proportion.”

“What he said concerning young children dying almost as soon as they were born deserves little attention. But to the impiety to gods and parents, and of murderers, there were cruel retributions while to the religious man and worthy children great happiness.”

“He was present when one of the souls asked another, “where is Ardiaeus the Great?” Ardiaeus lived a thousand years before Er: he had been the tyrant of a city in Pamphylia, and had murdered his aged father and his older brother, and was said to have committed many other repulsive crimes. The answer of the other spirit was: “He does not come and will never come here”. This was one of the dreadful sights that we ourselves witnessed. Having completed all our experiences, and were about to leave, we saw Ardiaeus and several others, most of whom tyrants like him; and there were also many individuals who had been great criminals in private situations: they tried in vain to return into the upper world, but the mouth, instead of admitting them, answered with a roar, whenever any of these incurable offenders or someone who had not been sufficiently punished tried to ascend; and then wild men of blistering aspect, who were standing by and heard the sound, seized and carried them away; and Ardiaeus and others they tied head and foot and hand, and threw them onto the ground and bashed them, and dragged them along the road through the bloody thorn bushes, repeating to the passers-by what were their crimes, and that they were being taken away to be cast in the Tartarus.”

“Such a soul declared that there was nothing worse than the roar of the abyss and that it was an unspeakable happiness to leave in silence. Such were more or less the penalties of the souls, their punishments and rewards.”

“Now when the spirits, which were in the meadows had waited seven days, on the eighth they were obliged to proceed with their journey, and, on the fourth day after, he said that they came to a place where they could see from above a beam of light, straight as a column, extending right through the whole heaven and through the earth, like a rainbow, but brighter and purer; and it was only another day's journey to reach the place, and there, in the midst of the light, they saw the ends of the chains of heaven: because this light is the belt of heaven, and holds together the circle of the universe. From these ends the Spindle of Necessity extends, around which all the circumferences turn.”

“... and around the Spindle, at equal intervals, there is another band, three in total, each sitting upon her throne: these are the Fates, Daughters of Necessity, dressed in white robes, having chaplets upon their heads, Lachesis and Clotho and Atropos, who follow with their voices the harmony of the sirens - Lachesis singing the past, Clotho the present, Atropos the future; Clotho from time to time assisting with a touch of her right hand the revolution of the outer circle of the spindle, and Atropos with her left hand guiding the inner ones, and Lachesis taking turns with either hand assisting the inner circles.”

“Once the souls arrived, their duty was to go to Lachesis at once; but first of all a hierophant arranged them in order; then he took from the knees of Lachesis the numbers of each soul to be called as well as the multiple human conditions that were offered to their choice, and having mounted a high pulpit, spoke as follows: “Hear the word of Lachesis, the Daughter of Necessity.
Mortal souls, behold a new cycle of life and mortality. Your genius will not be assigned to you, but you choose your genius; and let him who draws the first lot have the first choice, and the life that he chooses shall be his destiny. Virtue belongs to none and as a man honors or dishonors her, he shall have more or less of her; the responsibility is with the chooser - God is innocent.”

“Following those words he scattered the numbers indifferently among them, each taking the lot which fell near him, all but Er himself who was not allowed. Then the interpreter placed on the ground before them the samples of lives; and there were many more kinds of lives than the souls present almost an infinite variety. There were lives of every animal and of man in all conditions. And there were tyrannies among them, some outliving the tyrant's life, others which broke in the middle and came to an end in poverty and exile and beggary; and there were lives of famous men, some who were famous for their form and beauty as well as for their strength and success in games, or, again, for their birth and the qualities of their ancestors; and some who were the reverse of famous for the opposite qualities. There was the same variety also to the women.”

“Evidently, my dear Glaucon, it is the supreme peril to humanity. May each one of us leave every other kind of knowledge and seek Science that brings happiness. Let us find a master to make us able to learn and discern between good and evil, and so to choose always and everywhere the better life as he has opportunity. He should know what is the effect of beauty when combined with poverty or wealth in a particular soul, and what are the good and evil consequences of noble and humble birth, of private and public station, of strength and weakness, of instruction and ignorance, and of all the soul, and the operation of them combined. Enlightened by consciousness, let us decide the fate of our souls. Yes, the worst destiny is the one that yields an unjust soul and the best is the one that incessantly shapes virtue. All the rest is nothing to the soul. We would forget that there isn’t healthier choice after death than during life. Ah! May this sacred dogma be forever identified with our souls so as not to be fascinated by richness nor the other evils of the same sort and that ardently embracing tyranny or similar be not exposed to a large number of irrevocable evils to suffer them even more. For this is the way of happiness.”

“According to the report of the messenger from the other world this was what the hierophant said at the time: “Even for the last comer, if he chooses wisely and will live diligently, there is a happy existence appointed. Let him who chooses first not be careless, and let the last not despair.” And then he who was first came forward and chose the greatest tyranny of all; his mind having been darkened by imprudence and avidity, he had not thought out the whole matter before he chose, and did not notice at first sight that he was destined, among many other crimes, to devour his own children. But when he had time to reflect, and saw what was in the fate, he began to lament over his choice, forgetting the teachings of the hierophant; instead of throwing the blame of his misfortune on himself, he accused destiny and the gods, and everything but himself.” *

“He was one of the souls who came from heaven, and in a previous life had dwelt in a well- ordered State, had done the good deeds but his virtue was a matter of habit rather than philosophy. Among the souls who fell over similar mistake many came from heaven and therefore had never been tested by suffering, whereas the pilgrims who came from Earth, having themselves suffered and seen others suffer, were not in such a hurry to choose. Thus, irrespective of the classification by chance, many of the souls exchanged a good destiny for an evil or an evil for a good. For if a man over every new life on Earth had always on his arrival dedicated himself to sound philosophy, and had been moderately fortunate in the draw, he might, as the messenger reported, be happy here, and also his journey here as well as on his return to the other world, instead of being rough and underground, would be smooth and heavenly.”

“Most curious, he said, was the spectacle of the soul’s choice, it was sad and laughable and strange, in most cases based on their experience of a previous life. Er saw the soul which had once been Orpheus choosing the life of a swan. He chose out of hostility towards women, hating to be born of a woman because they had been his murderers. He saw the soul of Thamyras choosing the life of a nightingale; birds, on the other hand, like the swan and other musicians, wanting to be men.”

“Another soul who held the twentieth ticket chose the life of a lion, and this was the soul of Ajax the son of Telamon. He hated humanity for the judgment passed upon him about the weapons of Aquiles. Agamemnon came next, who took the life of an eagle, because, like Ajax, he hated human nature for his sufferings. Towards the middle came the lot of Atalanta; she, seeing the great honor given to an athlete, was unable to resist the temptation of being one of them. Epeu, builder of the Horse of Troy, became an industrious woman. The soul of Thersites, the jester, took the form of a monkey.”

“There came also the soul of Ulysses having yet to make a choice, and his lot happened to be the last of them all. Now the recollection of former tolls had disenchanted him from ambition, and he went about for a considerable time in search of the life of a private man who had been forgotten; and when he saw it, he said that he would have chosen that even if his lot came first instead of last, and that he was delighted to have it. The animals, whatever they may be, equally change into one another and into human bodies. Those who were evil become ferocious animals and the good ones, domesticated. After all souls had chosen their lives, they approached Lachesis, in the order of their choices. Fate sent with them the genius whom they had severally chosen, to be the guardian of their lives and the fulfiller of their choices. That genius led the souls first to Clotho who drew them within the revolution of the spindle impelled by her hand, thus ratifying the destiny of each one. Then the genius carried them to Atropos, who spun the threads and made them irreversible. Next the soul and the genius passed beneath the Throne of Necessity. When they had all passed, they marched on in a blazing heat to the plain of Forgetfulness **, which was a sterile waste destitute of trees and plants. Evening came and they camped by the river Ameles (absence of serious thoughts) ; there they drank the water. The reckless drank too much hence lost their memory. Now after they had gone for their sleep, about mid night, there was a thunderstorm and an earthquake. Soon the souls were dispersed in all directions towards their birth places, like shooting stars. As for himself, said Er, he was hindered from drinking the water; however, he could not say where neither when his soul had been bonded to his body. Suddenly awaking in the morning he found himself lying on the pyre.”

“And thus, Glaucon, the tale has been saved and has not perished, and will save us if we are faithful to the spoken word; and we shall pass safely over the river of Forgetfulness and will keep our soul purified from every stain.”

* In the antiquity the word “tyrant” did not have the same meaning as given today. The name was attributed to those who had the sovereign power, whatever their actions, good or bad. History cites good tyrants. However, as it happened in the majority of the cases, in order to satisfy their ambitions or to stay in power, they acted criminally and then later the word became a synonym of cruelty, applied to every person who abuses authority. By choosing the greatest tyranny, the soul mentioned by Er was not looking for cruelty but for the greatest power as the condition of their new existence. When such a choice became irrevocable the soul understood that such a power would drag her through a life of crime and regretted the decision, blaming everybody else but her. It is the story of the majority of men who are the designers of their own disgrace, but who refuse to confess it.
** Reference to the forgetfulness that happens to the soul from one existence to the next.

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