Allan Kardec

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Intuition of future punishments – The Christian Hell an imitation of the Hell of the Pagans - Limbo – Picture of the Pagan Hell – Picture of the Christian Heaven


1. In all ages, human beings have intuitively believed that their future lives will be happy or unhappy according to the good or the evil done by them in the earthly life; but the idea they form to themselves of that future state of existence is always in keeping with the development of their moral sense and with more or less enlightened views of right and wrong at which they have arrived. Thus their idea of the rewards and punishments of the future is always the reflex of their predominant tendencies. Warlike nations make the supreme felicity to consist in the honors done to valor; tribes who live by hunting, in an abundance of game; peoples addicted to sensuality, in voluptuous pleasures. While human beings remain under the domination of materiality, they can have only an imperfect comprehension of spirit life; they suppose that they will eat and drink, in the other world, as they do in this one, but of better quality. * At a later period, we find in the beliefs of humankind concerning the future a mixture of spirituality and materiality; and accordingly, juxtaposed with a heaven of contemplative beatitude, humans then place a hell with its array of physical tortures.

* A little Savoyard, to whom the village priest was describing the delights of the future life, asked him whether everybody “eat white bread there, as they do in Paris?”

2. Being unable to conceive of anything that they do not see, the humans of the primitive period naturally formed their notion of the future based on the present; in order to comprehend the possibility of other modes of existence than those which they saw around them, they would have needed an intellectual development which they could only have acquired in the course of ages. The picture that they imagined to themselves of the chastisements of the future life was, therefore, only a reflex of the ills of human existence, but deepened and intensified. They brought together, into that picture, all the tortures, all the sufferings, all the afflictions that they saw upon the Earth; in hot climates, they imagined a hell of fire, and, in the cold ones, a hell of ice. The special sense which, at a later period, enabled them to comprehend the spiritual world, not being yet developed, they could only conceive of physical penalties; and for this reason, with the exception of some slight differences of form, the “hell” of all religions is the same.


3. The “Hell” of the Pagans, described and dramatized by the poets of antiquity, is the grandest of the forms that have been assumed by the idea of a place of punishments for the souls of humanity, although its principal features have been perpetuated in the “Hell” of the Christians, which, also, has been sung by their poets. On comparing these two conceptions of the infernal regions, we find them to be closely allied, notwithstanding their differences of names and details; in both, physical fire is the basis of the tortures of the damned, because it is the cause of the most excruciating suffering. But, strange to say, Christians have made their hell, in many respects, still more horrible than that of the Pagans. The latter had their hell in the Sieve of the Danaides, Ixion’s Wheel, the Stone of Sisyphus, etc.; but these were merely torments of individuals, whereas the Christian hell has its boiling cauldrons for the vast majority of the human race, and the Christian “angels” lift up the covers of those receptacles to feast their eyes upon the contortions of the damned, * which are also watched by the “elect” with lively satisfaction, ** while their God hears, unmoved, the groans that will ascend, throughout eternity, from the bottomless pit! The Pagans never depicted the dwellers in the Elysian Fields as gloating over the horrors of Tartarus.

* A sermon preached, in 1860, by an eminent Catholic divine, at Montpellier, seat of a University Faculty.
** 8 “The blessed, without quitting the place they occupy, will yet quit it in a certain manner—through the intelligence and the distinctness of vision with which they are endowed—in order to contemplate the tortures of the damned; and, on seeing these, they will not only not feel any sorrow, but they will be overwhelmed with joy and will give thanks to God for their own happiness in witnessing the unutterable misery of the impious.”—SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS.

4. Like the Pagans, the Christians have their king of the Infernal Regions, Satan; with this difference, viz., that Pluto, while governing the gloomy realm which had fallen to his share, was not malicious; he retained as captives those who had done wickedly, because it was his mission to do so; but he did not seek to draw humans into evil in order to give himself the pleasure of seeing them suffer; whereas Satan recruits his victims everywhere, and takes pleasure in having them tortured by his legions of demons, who are armed with pitchforks for the purpose of stirring them about in the fire. Christian theologians have gravely discussed the nature of the “fire,” which burns the damned incessantly, and yet does not consume them; some of them have even gone so far as to inquire whether that fire may not perhaps be of bitumen.* The Christian hell is, therefore, in no respect less horrible than the Pagan hell.

* In a sermon preached in Paris in 1861.

5. The same considerations which led the Ancients to localize the realm of felicity led them also to imagine a place of torment, like the former, fixed, localized, and circumscribed; and, having placed their heaven “on high,” they naturally placed their hell “down below,” that is to say, in the center of the Earth, of which certain dark and gloomy caverns were supposed to be the entrance. The Christians, also, for a long time, placed the region of perdition in the center of the Earth. Nor were these the only analogies between the Pagan and the Christian conceptions of hell.

The hell of the pagans contained, on the one hand, the Elysian Fields, on the other, Tartarus; Olympus, the dwelling-place of the gods and of deified men, was in the “upper regions.” According to the letter of the Gospels, Jesus descended into Hell, into a region below the surface of the Earth, on a mission to rescue the souls who were awaiting his coming. The hell of the Christians, like that of the Pagans, was, therefore, in the beginning, not simply a place of torment, but, like the latter, included “the lower regions.” And the Christian heaven, the abode of the angels and the saints, was also, like the Pagan Olympus, up “on high,” somewhere beyond the region of the stars, which, as previously remarked, was supposed to be limited.

6. This mixture of Pagan and Christian ideas should cause us no surprise. Jesus could not, at once, destroy beliefs that had taken firm root in the human mind. The people of this day lacked the scientific knowledge that alone could enable them to conceive of the infinity of space and the infinity of worlds. The Earth was, for them, the center of the universe. They knew nothing of its form or of its internal structure; for them, the universe was limited to what they saw around them, and their notions, in regard to the future, could not extend beyond the narrow circle of their knowledge. It was, consequently, impossible for Jesus to initiate them into the truth of things; and being unwilling, on the other hand, to give the sanction of his authority to the prejudices of his hearers, he abstained from touching on subjects for which they were unprepared. Leaving to time the work of rectifying their ideas, he confined himself to vague allusions to the future happiness of the good, and to the punishments that await the wicked; but we nowhere find, in his teachings, the distinct pictures of corporeal tortures which the Christians churches have made an article of their creed.

We have seen how it is that the ideas of the Pagan hell have been perpetuated to the present day. The diffusion of knowledge, which is the characteristic of modern times, and the general development of human intelligence, were indispensable to the clearing away of those ideas. But as, up to this time, no sound and rational basis of belief has been substituted in place of those old ideas, the long period of blind belief has been followed by a transitional period of unbelief, to which the new revelation is destined to put an end. It was necessary to demolish the old belief before bringing in the new; for true ideas are more readily accepted by those who have no belief and who feel the need of some sound basis of conviction, than by those who cherish a robust belief in absurdities.

7. Owing to their having localized their idea of “Heaven” and of “Hell,” the various Christian sects have been led to admit the existence of only two situations for the souls of the departed—viz., perfect happiness and utter misery. Purgatory, according to the Catholic dogma, is only a temporary and intermediate position, where the soul goes without any other transition into the abode of the Blest. It could not do otherwise, according to the belief that assumes that the fate of the soul is decided forever at death. If there are but two abodes for souls, —viz., that of the elect and that of the damned, —and if the fate of the soul, as belonging to the one or the other category, is definitely settled at death it is impossible to admit the existence of degrees in either of those abodes; for, if such degrees existed, it must be possible for the soul to pass through them, and, consequently, to progress: but, if the soul can progress after death, its state, on dying, is not definitive, since, if it were definitive, progress would be impossible. Jesus settled this weighty question when he said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” *

* Vide “The Gospel According to Spiritism,” chap. III


8. The Catholic Church admits, it is true, a special position of the soul in certain special cases. Children who have died in infancy, having committed no sin, cannot be condemned to eternal burning; on the other hand, having done nothing good, they have no right to the supreme felicity. They are, therefore, according to the doctrine of that Church, in Limbo, which is a mixed state (that has never been clearly defined), in which, although they do not suffer, they still do not enjoy perfect happiness. But, since their fate is irrevocably fixed at death, they are excluded from the enjoyment of perfect happiness to all eternity; and, consequently, this privation, though incurred through no fault of theirs, practically amounts to the undeserved infliction of an eternal punishment. It is the same with savages, who, having received neither the grace of baptism nor the light of religion, go wrong through ignorance, and through obeying their natural instincts, and who, consequently, can neither have incurred the guilt, nor acquired the merit of those who have acted with a clear discernment of right and wrong. The simplest effort of reasoning suffices to repel such a doctrine as contrary to the justice of God. The justice of God is, in fact, summed up entirely in the words of Christ, “To each, according to the deeds done in the body;” but this law must be understood as referring to deeds whether good or evil, that have been done freely and voluntarily; those being the only ones for which we can justly be held responsible. There can be no responsibility on the part of a child, a savage, or anyone else who, through no fault of his own, has failed to obtain enlightenment.


9. We know little of the Pagan Hell except through the recitals of the ancient poets; the descriptions given by Homer and Virgil are the most complete, but, in these, we have to make allowance for the necessities imposed by the poetic form. On the contrary, the description of the infernal regions given by Fénélon, in his Telemachus—though drawn, as regards the fundamental beliefs of the Ancients, from the same sources—has the greater simplicity and precision of prose. Even while describing the bleak and cheerless aspect of those regions, he takes care to show the kind of suffering endured by the guilty; and, if he gives special prominence to the fate of bad kings, he does so for the sake of impressing the mind of his royal pupil with the gravity of the responsibility that will one day rest upon him. However popular the work referred to, there are doubtless many who have not retained any clear remembrance of its details, or who have not reflected on them with sufficient attention to establish a comparison between the idea of “Hell” thus presented and the “Hell” of the Christians; and we therefore think it useful to reproduce portions of the work referred to which treat directly of the subject we are considering, that is to say, of the punishment of the individuals in the other life.

10. On entering, Telemachus heard the groans of a shade who appeared to be inconsolable. ‘What,’ he inquired, ‘is the cause of you unhappiness? Who were you when upon the Earth?’

‘I was Nabopharzan, king of proud Babylon,’ replied the shade; ‘all the people of the East trembled at the mere sound of my name. I caused myself to be adored by the Babylonians in a marble temple wherein I was represented by a statue of gold, before which were burned, night and day, the most precious perfumes of Ethiopia. Whoever dared to contradict me was immediately punished; and my servants invented new pleasures each day in order to render my life more and more delightful. I was still young and robust; alas! How many kinds of prosperity still remained for me to enjoy upon the throne! But a woman whom I loved, and who did not love me, has shown me very plainly that I was not a god; she has poisoned me; and I am reduced to nothingness. My ashes were placed, with great pomp, yesterday, in a golden urn; the people wept, and tore their hair; they made a pretense of longing to throw themselves into the flame of my funeral pyre, in order to die with me. They will come in crowds to groan and lament at the foot of the superb tomb in which my ashes have been deposited; but no one regrets my death; my memory is detested, even by my own family, and, down here, I am already undergoing horrible treatment.’

Telemachus, touched by this spectacle, asked the shade: ‘Were you really happy during your reign? Did you feel the inner peace without which the heart remains oppressed and blighted in the midst of pleasures?’

‘No,’ replied the Babylonian; ‘I know nothing of the sentiment of which you speak. The sages praise this peace as the only good; but I never felt it; my heart was incessantly agitated by new desires, new fears, and new hopes. I sought to stun myself with the shock of my passions, and I did my utmost to render this sort of intoxication perpetual. The shortest interval of calm reason would have been too bitter an awakening. Such is the only peace I ever enjoyed; any other seems to me to be only a fable and a dream; such are the pleasures I regret.’

While speaking thus, the Babylonian wept like a craven, who, weakened by prosperity, has not accustomed himself to support misfortune with equanimity. Near him were several slaves who had been put to death to honor his funeral; Mercury had delivered them over to Charon with their king, and had given them absolute power over this sovereign whom they had served upon the Earth. These shades of slaves no longer feared the shade of Nabopharzan; they kept him in chains, and wreaked upon him the most galling insults. One of them said to him, ‘Were we not men just as you? How could you be so insensate as to fancy yourself a god, and ought you not to have remembered that you were of the same race as other men?’ Another, to mortify him, said to him, ‘You were right in trying to make people believe that you were not a man; for you were a monster, with nothing human about you!’ A third scornfully asked him, ‘Where are now your flatterers? Wretch! You have no longer anything to give. You can no longer do harm to anyone. You have become the slave of your former slaves. The gods are slow to punish; but they punish at last!

At these cruel words, Nabopharzan threw himself down with his face upon the ground, tearing his hair in a fit of rage and despair. But Charon said to the slaves, ‘Pull him up by his chain; make him stand up in spite of himself; he shall not even have the satisfaction of hiding his shame. All the shades on the banks of the Styx must witness his punishment in order that they may recognize the justice of the gods, who allowed this impious mortal to reign so long upon the Earth.’

“Soon afterwards Telemachus perceived, near at hand, the gloomy realm of Tartarus that exhaled a thick black smoke, the pestiferous smell of which would have caused death, had it penetrated into the abode of the living. This smoke rose from a river of fire, and was full of masses of flame, the roar of which, like that of the most impetuous torrents when they leap from the summit of the highest rocks into the deepest abysses, rendered it impossible to hear anything distinctly in the dreary place.

Telemachus, secretly urged on by Minerva, entered fearlessly into the yawning gulf. He at once perceived in it a great number of men who had lived on Earth in low conditions, and who were being punished for having sought to obtain wealth through frauds, treasons, and cruelties. He remarked there many impious hypocrites who, feigning to love religion, had made their pretended piety a pretext for serving their ambition and deceiving the credulous; these men, who had thus insulted virtue itself, the greatest gift of the gods, were punished as being the very worst of criminals. Children who had murdered their parents, husbands who had killed their wives, traitors who, breaking their vows, had betrayed their country, underwent punishments less severe than those that were meted out to these hypocrites. The three judges of the infernal regions had thus ordered it, and for this reason, viz., that hypocrites are not satisfied with being wicked, like other impious people, but also seek to pass themselves off as being good, and thus, by their false virtue, make it impossible for men to trust the truest virtue. The gods, whom they have mocked, take pleasure in employing all their power to avenge the insults of these wretches.

Near to these were the shades of other men whom the vulgar scarcely regard as guilty, but who are pitilessly pursued by the Divine vengeance, viz., those who are ungrateful, liars, flatterers of vice, malicious critics who have sought to malign the good, and those who have rashly pronounced judgment on matters of which they had no clear and thorough knowledge, and who have thus injured the reputation of innocent persons.

Telemachus, seeing the three judges seated at their tribunal, in the act of passing sentence on a man, ventured to inquire of them what crimes he had committed, when the condemned immediately exclaimed, ‘I have never done anything wrong; all my pleasure was in doing good. I was magnificent, liberal, just, and compassionate; with what then can I be reproached?’ But Minus replied, ‘You are not reproached with any wrongdoing as regards to men; but did you not owe yet more to the gods than to men? What is the justice of which you boast? You have not failed in any of your duties towards men, who are nothing; you were virtuous, but you took all the credit of your virtue to yourself, instead of attributing it to the gods, who had given it to you, for you wished to enjoy the fruit of your virtue as something of your own and you thus shut yourself up in yourself; you were your own divinity. But the gods, who are the authors of all things, and to whom the honor of all things should revert, cannot renounce their rights; you forgot them, they will now forget you. They now give you over to yourself, since you chose to live for yourself instead of living for them. You must now find your happiness, if you can, in your own heart. You are separated, forever, from those whom you sought to please, and you are left alone with yourself, the self which was your idol; for you have now to learn that there can be no true virtue without the respect and love of the gods, to whom all things are due. Your false virtue, which has so long deceived men, who are easily taken in, will now be seen in its true light. Men, judging of vices and virtues only according to the convenience or inconvenience caused to them thereby, are blind to the real nature of good and of evil. Here, all their superficial judgments are overthrown by the Divine light, for that light often condemns what is admired by men, and shows the excellence of what is condemned by them.’

At these words, the vainglorious philosopher was struck, as though by the thunderbolt, with horror of himself. The pleasure that he had formerly felt contemplating his own moderation, his courage, and his generous tendencies, was changed into despair. The sight of his own heart, as an enemy of the gods, became a torture for him; he saw himself as a spectacle of which he could never escape the sight; he saw the worthlessness of the judgment of men, whose approbation had been the aim and motive of all his actions. An entire revolution took place in his inner being, as though his very entrails had been overturned. He seemed to himself to be no longer the same; his heart failed him; and his conscience—whose flatteries had hitherto been so agreeable to him—now raised its voice against him, reproaching him bitterly with the unsound and illusory nature of his imaginary virtues, that had not had the worship of the Divinity for their motive and aim: he was overwhelmed with confusion, consternation, shame, remorse, and despair. The Furies exercised no torments upon him, because it sufficed, for his punishment, to abandon him to himself, and because the action of his own heart was all that was needed to avenge the gods, whom he had forgotten. He tried to find some dark recess in which to hide himself, at least, from the shades about him, since he could no longer hide himself from himself. He sought for darkness, but could not find it, for an unwelcome and persistent light incessantly accompanied him; wherever he went, the piercing rays of truth went with him, avenging the truth that he had neglected to follow. * All that he had formerly loved became odious to him, as being the source of his misery; —a misery that would have no end!

‘Insensate fool that I have been!’ he cried aloud, speaking to himself; ‘I see that I have never truly known either the gods, my fellow-men, or myself! No, I have never truly known anything, since I did not set my affections on the only real good! Every step of my life was but a wandering out of the right road; my wisdom was only folly; my virtue was only a blind and impious pride; I was my own idol!’

Telemachus next perceived the Kings who had been condemned for having made a bad use of their power. On the one hand, an avenging Fury held up before them a mirror that showed them all the deformity of their vices; they saw, and could not help seeing, their gross vanity and their avidity for the most ridiculous praises; their hardness towards their fellow-men, whose happiness they ought to have ensured; their indifference for the virtuous; their unwillingness to hear the truth; their preference for base and cowardly flatterers; their want of application; their indolence and idleness; their unjust suspicions; their pomp and magnificence based on the ruin of their peoples; their ambition, which caused them to purchase a little empty glory with the blood of their subjects; their cruelty, which sought, each day, for new delights in the tears and despair of their innumerable victims. They beheld themselves incessantly in this mirror; they saw themselves to be more horrible and monstrous than was the Chimaera, vanquished by Bellerophon, or the Hydra destroyed by Hercules, or even Cerberus himself, though, from his three yawning mouths, he vomits streams of black and venomous blood that would poison the whole race of mortals living upon the Earth.

At the same time, on the other hand, another Fury repeated, insultingly, all the praises that had been offered to them by their flatterers during their life, and held up to them a second mirror, in which they beheld themselves as they had been depicted by these flatterers. The contrast between these pictures was torture for their vanity, and all the more excruciating because the kings on whom the most magnificent encomiums are lavished during their life, are usually those who are the most wicked of all; for wicked kings are always more feared than the good ones, and have no scruple in exacting base adulation from the poets and orators of their day.

The groans of these wretches resound through the thick darkness by which they are surrounded, and which allows them to perceive only the insults and mockeries they are condemned to endure. Everything around them repels, contradicts, and confounds them, whereas, when they lived upon the Earth, they sported with the lives of men and imagined that everything existed for their service. In Tartarus, they are abandoned to the caprices of their former slaves, who, in their turn, cause them to feel all the bitterness of slavery; they serve these tormentors in pain and suffering, and without any hope of a mitigation of their misery, for they are subjected to the blows and ill-treatment of their former victims, as completely as is the anvil to the strokes of the hammer of the Cyclops, when Vulcan urges them to their tasks in the fiery furnaces of Etna.

Pale, hideous, filled with consternation, were the countenances of the criminals seen by Telemachus in that abode of retribution. Gnawed by despair, they are objects of horror to themselves, and can no more shake off this sense of self-loathing than they can shake off their own nature; they need no other chastisement, for their former crimes, than those crimes themselves, which are beheld by them incessantly, in all their deformity, glowering on them, and pursuing them, like so many horrible specters. To escape from them, they seek for a death that shall be more potent than that which has separated them from their body. In their despair, they would call to their help a death that should extinguish in them all feeling and all consciousness; they call upon the abyss to swallow them up and hide them from the avenging rays of truth that pierce them like arrows, but they are condemned to suffer the vengeance that falls slowly upon them, drop by drop, as from a spring that will never be dried up. Truth, which they formerly shunned, is now their torment; they see it, and it alone, always standing before them as an accusation: a sight that pierces them through and through, that rends them, as it were, limb from limb, and tears them from themselves. For Truth is like lightning; without destroying them outwardly, it penetrates the most hidden recesses of their being.

Among these woeful spectacles, which caused the hair of his head to stand on end, Telemachus beheld the fate of several of the ancient kings of Lydia, punished for having preferred the pleasures of an idle and luxurious life to nobly laboring for the amelioration of the condition of the mass of their subjects, which is an aspiration that should be inseparable from the concept of royalty.

Those kings reproached each other with their former blindness. One of them, addressing the other, who had been his son, exclaimed, ‘Did I not urge you, repeatedly, in my old age, and before my death, to repair the evils that I had caused by my negligence?’ ‘Ah! Wretched father!’ returned the son, ‘it is you who have been my ruin! It was your example that inspired me with the love of vainglorious pomp and voluptuous delights, with pride, and hard-heartedness for the rest of mankind! It was through seeing you reign with such luxurious indolence and surrounded by base flatterers, that I acquired the love of pleasure and of flattery. I thought that all other men, in relation to kings, were only what horses and other beasts of burden are in relation to men; that is to say, animals valued only for the services they render and the uses they sub-serve. I believed this, because you made me believe it; and now I suffer all this misery for having followed your example!’ To these reciprocal reproaches they added the most frightful curses, and manifested such violent rage against one another that they seemed to be about to tear each other to pieces.

Around these unfaithful kings there hovered, like so many birds of the night, the cruel suspicions, the baseless terrors and mistrust, which avenge, upon them, the sufferings caused to their subjects by their hard-heartedness; —the insatiable thirst for riches, the tyrannous desire for false glory, and the base indolence that intensifies every suffering, and fails to yield any solid satisfaction.

Many of these kings were seen undergoing severe punishment, not for any evil that they had done, but for not having done the good that they might have done. All the wrongdoing, on the part of their subjects, caused by their lax administration of the laws, was laid to the charge of the kings, who only reign in order that the laws may reign through their instrumentality. All the disorders that result from the display of pomp, luxury, and all the other excesses that tempt men to violate the laws in their haste to be rich, were imputed to these unfaithful kings. And those kings, who, instead of being the kind and watchful shepherds of their people, had only sought to devour them, like hungry wolves, were the most severely punished of them all.

But what most astounded Telemachus was to see, in this abyss of darkness and of suffering, a great number of kings who, although they had been reputed, upon the Earth as tolerably good, had been condemned to the sufferings of Tartarus for having allowed themselves to be governed by wicked and artful counselors. They were punished by the evils that they had allowed to be done under their authority. Moreover, the greater number of these kings had been neither good nor bad, weakness having been their distinguishing characteristic. They had never had any desire to know the truth; they had never had any aspirations after virtue; and they had never taken any pleasure in doing good.

* Vide Chap. VII, “The Punishment of Light.”


11. The opinion of Christian theologians in regard to Hell is summed up in the following quotations. * This description, derived from the writings of the Fathers of the Church and the Lives of Saints, may be presented with all the more confidence as conveying a correct idea of the orthodox belief in regard to the subject we are considering, because it is perpetually set forth, with some slight variations only, in the sermons of Protestant divines, as well as in the pastoral teachings of Catholic priests.

* Vide “L’Enfer,” by AUG. CALLET.

12. “Demons are purely spiritual beings, and the damned, who are now in hell, may also be considered as purely spiritual beings, because it is only their soul that is in hell, for their bones, returned to dust, are being incessantly transformed into grass, plants, fruit, minerals, and liquids, undergoing, unconsciously, the continual metamorphoses of matter. But the damned, like the Saints, will be resuscitated at the Last Day, and will again put on, nevermore to be cast off, a fleshly body, the same body by which they were known during their earthly life. What will distinguish the one class from the other is that the elect will be raised with a purified radiant body, and the damned, with a body degraded and deformed by sin. There will then be no longer in hell purely spiritual beings only; for there will be in it men, such as we now are. Hell is, therefore, a place, physical, geographical, material, since it will be peopled with terrestrial creatures, having feet, hands, a mouth, a tongue, teeth, ears, eyes, like ours, and veins with blood in them, and nerves capable of feeling pain.

“Where is hell situated? Certain doctors of the Church have placed it in the entrails of the Earth itself; others, in some planet; but the question has never been decided by any Council. We are, therefore, in regard to this point, reduced to conjectures; the only thing that is affirmed in regard to it is that hell, whatever the part of the universe in which it is situated, is a world composed of material elements, but a world without sun, without moon, without stars; more gloomy, more inhospitable, more utterly devoid of every germ and appearance of good, than are the most inhospitable regions of the world in which men are now sinning.

“Christian theologians prudently abstain from painting, after the fashion of the Egyptians, the Hindus, and the Greeks, all the horrors of that abode; they confine themselves to showing us, as a sample, the little that the Scriptures unveiled to us in regard to it; the lake of fire and brimstone of the Apocalypse; the worms of Isaiah, that are forever writhing on the carcasses of Tophel; demons, tormenting the men they have brought to perdition; and men, weeping and gnashing their teeth, according to the statements of the Evangelists.

“Saint Augustine does not admit that these miseries can be regarded as merely physical images of moral sufferings; he sees, in a real lake of sulfur, real worms and real scorpions attacking every part of the bodies of the damned and adding their stings to those of the fire. He asserts, basing this assertion on a verse of Saint Mark, that this wondrous fire, although as material in its nature as the fire we know upon the Earth, and although it will act forever upon material bodies, will preserve the bodies of its victims as salt preserves flesh. But the damned, perpetually sacrificed and yet perpetually living, will feel the agony of this fire that burns without destroying; it will penetrate under their skin; they will be soaked and saturated with it in all their limbs, and in the marrow of their bones, and in the pupils of their eyes, and in the most secret and sensitive fibers of their being. The crater of a volcano, could they throw themselves into it, would be for them, in comparison with the fire of hell, a cool and refreshing resting place.

“Thus speak, with the fullest confidence, the most timid, most discreet, and the most reserved theologians. They do not deny that hell has other kinds of corporeal torments; they only say that they have not a sufficient kind of knowledge of these to warrant their speaking of them, or, at least, as positively as they are able to do in regard to the horrible torture of fire and the disgusting torture of worms. But there are other theologians, bolder, or more enlightened, who give, in regard to hell, descriptions that are more detailed, more varied, and more complete; and, although it is not known in what region of space hell is situated, there are saints who have seen it. They did not enter its gloomy portals carrying a lyre in their hands, like Orpheus, or a sword, like Ulysses; they were transported thither in spirit. Saint Theresa is one of those who have thus beheld it.

“It would seem, according to the recital of that Saint, that there are cities in hell; at all events, she saw a sort of narrow alley, such as those which are so often found in old towns. She entered this alley, stepping, with horror and loathing, upon the muddy, filthy, and stinking ground, covered with monstrous reptiles; but her progress was speedily arrested by a wall which barred the alley, and in this wall was a niche, in which Saint Theresa placed herself, without quite understanding why, or how, she did so. It was, she said, the place reserved for her, if she made ill use, during her earthly life, of the grace so abundantly shed by God, on her cell at Avila. Although she had entered, with wonderful facility, into this niche, she could neither sit, nor lie, nor stand upright in it; still less could she get out of it: the horrible walls had closed in upon her on all sides, enveloping her whole person in a stony shroud, and pressing in upon her, as though they were alive. It was as though she were being stifled, strangled, and, at the same time, flayed alive, and chopped into pieces; she felt as though she were being burned, and experienced, at once, every species of torture and anguish. As for obtaining any help, none was to be hoped for; around her there was nothing but thick darkness, and nevertheless, through this darkness she still, to her utter amazement, beheld the hideous alley in which she was kept a prisoner, and all the vile and filthy creatures about her; a spectacle fully as intolerable for her as the pressure of her prison walls. *

“The alley thus seen was, doubtless, only a little corner of Hell. Other spiritual travelers have been favored with wider views of it, and have seen within its precincts, vast cities all on fire; Babylon, and Nineveh, and Rome itself, with their palaces and temples, wrapped in flames, and all their inhabitants chained, each to his place, in the midst of the burning; the dealer at his counter, priests and courtesans in the halls of festivity, shrieking on the seats from which they could never again get loose, and lifting to their lips, to quench their torturing thirst, wine cups that vomited flames; lackeys on their knees in burning sewers, and princes, upon whom there flowed, from the hands of those lackeys, a devouring lava-stream of molten gold. Others have beheld, in Hell, enormous plains that were being dug and sown by armies of famishing peasants, and as these plains, steaming with their sweat, and this sterile seed produced nothing, the starving peasants devoured one another, after which, as numerous, lean, and famishing as before, they wandered off in bands, towards every part of the horizon, seeking in vain for some more favored region, while their places were taken, at once, by other wandering columns of the damned. Other saints, again, have seen, in Hell, mountains full of precipices, groaning forests, wells without water and fountains fed with tears, rivers of blood, whirlwinds of snow in deserts of ice, boats full of shipwrecked wretches blown hopelessly about, on shoreless seas. In short, all these seers have seen, in Hell, all that the Pagans formerly saw in it, viz., an exaggeratedly dismal reflex of the Earth, a shadow, incommensurably magnified of its miseries, with its natural sufferings rendered infinite and eternal, even to its dungeons and its gallows, and all the instruments of torture that our own hands have forged.

“There are, moreover, in Hell, demons who, in order to more thoroughly torture the fleshly bodies of the damned, take upon themselves bodies of flesh. Some of these have wings like bats, horns, scaled, sharp claws, and pointed teeth; they are described to us as being armed with swords, pitchforks, pincers, red-hot nippers, saws, gridirons, bellows, and clubs, and as discharging throughout eternity the functions of cooks and of butchers of human flesh; others, transformed into enormous lions or vipers, incessantly drag their human prey about in solitary caverns; others, again, changing themselves into crows, peck out, forever, the eyes of some of the guilty, or, taking the form of winged dragons, carry them away upon their backs, terrified, bleeding, shrieking, athwart vast wastes of darkness and then shake them off into the lake of brimstone. Some of these demons present the appearance of clouds of gigantic grasshoppers and scorpions of which the sight causes shuddering, the smell, the nausea, the slightest touch, convulsions; others assume the form of many-headed open- throated voracious monsters, whose hideous faces are surmounted by manes of snakes, that crunch the reprobate in their gory jaws and them vomit them out again crushed and formless, but living, because they are immortal.

“These demons, with forms perceptible to the senses, and that so nearly resemble the gods of the Amenthi, and of Tartarus, and the idols worshipped by Phoenicians, the Moabites, and the other Gentiles around Judea, do not act from their own caprice; each of them has his own function and his own work, and the tortures they inflict in Hell are in close connection with the crimes they have inspired, and caused to be committed upon the Earth. ** The damned are punished in all their senses and in all their organs, because they have offended God by all their senses and by all their organs; they are punished in different ways according to the nature of their sins, they are punished as gluttons by the demons of gluttony, as lazy by the demons of laziness, as fornicators by the demons of fornication, and in as many other ways as there are different ways of sinning. They will freeze in burning and burn in freezing; they will hunger for rest while hungering for movement; they will be always hungry, always thirsty, a thousand-fold more weary than the weariest slave at the close of day, more diseased than the dying, more broken, more bruised, more covered with wounds than the martyrs, and they will continue to exist forever and ever.

“No demon ever yet tired, or ever will tire of his hideous task. All the demons are, in regard to the work appointed to them, thoroughly disciplined and faithful in executing the avenging orders they have received. Were it otherwise, what would become of hell? The victims would obtain relief if their executioners quarreled among themselves or wearied of their work. But there is no relief for the former because there is no quarreling among the latter; however wicked they are, however innumerable, the demons have a perfect understanding with one another throughout the length and breadth of the abyss, and there have never been seen, upon the earth, nations more docile to their princes, armies more obedient to their chiefs, monastic communities more humbly submissive to their superiors, than are the demons to their rulers, from one end of hell to the other. ***

“We know, however, but little of the populace of demons, of the vile spirits who make up the legions of vampires, ghouls, toads, scorpions, crows, hydras, salamanders, and other beasts that have no name for us, and that constitute the fauna of the infernal regions; but we know and have the names of many of the princes who command those legions, among others, Belphegor, the Demon of lust; Abaddon or Apollyon, the Demon of murder; Beelzebub, the Demon of impure desires, Master of the flies that engender corruption; Mammon, the demon of avarice; and Moloch, and Belial, and Baalgad, and Astaroth, and many others; and, above these, their universal chief, the somber archangel who bore, in Heaven, the name of Lucifer, and who bears, in Hell the name of Satan.

“Such, in brief, is the idea which is given us of hell, considered from the point of view of its physical nature and of the physical sufferings of which it is the theater. Open the writings of the Fathers and the ancient Doctors of the Church; interrogate our pious legends; examine the carvings and the paintings of our churches; listen to what is said in our pulpits, and you will learn many particulars in regard to it.”

* This vision presents, so distinctly, all the characteristics of nightmare, that Saint Theresa’s experience may doubtless be regarded as of that nature.
** A strange sort of punishment, in sooth, which consists in enabling these demons to continue, upon a wider scale, the evil done by them upon the Earth! It would be more reasonable for them to be made to suffer themselves the consequences of that evil than to be allowed to gratify themselves by inflicting suffering on those whom they have led astray.

*** Those demons, rebellious to God’s goodness, present an exemplary mildness to practice evil. None of them display ill will throughout eternity. What a strange metamorphosis took place. They were created pure and as perfect as angels! Is it not odd for the demons to be examples of perfect harmony, comprehension and unalterable agreement, while humans do not know how to live in peace and mutually tear each other apart? Viewing the amount of punishment reserved for the condemned and comparing their situation, which are more deserving of compassion more our pity, the criminals or their victims?

13. The author from whom we are quoting follows up the foregoing picture with the following reflections, the importance of which will be easily perceived by the reader:

“The resurrection of the body is in itself a miracle; but God will work a second miracle in giving to the mortal bodies thus raised—bodies that have already been worn out by the passing trials of life, that have already been annihilated—the power to subsist, without dissolving in a furnace in which all the metals would be converted to vapor. If it be urged that the soul is its own executioner, that God does not persecute the sinner but abandons him to the state of misery he has brought upon himself by his own choice, that statement may be admitted as true, although the eternal abandonment of a lost and suffering being would seem to be but little in conformity with the goodness of the Creator; but what may be admissible in regard to the soul and to spiritual sufferings cannot be, in any degree, admissible in regard to the resuscitated bodies and corporeal suffering of the damned. In order that these sufferings may be perpetuated throughout eternity, it is not enough that God should withdraw His hand; it is necessary, on the contrary, that He should show His hand that He should intervene, that He should act; for, without the constant action of His power in maintaining their existence, those bodies would be immediately destroyed.

“Theologians, therefore, assume that God operates, after the resurrection, the second miracle to which we have just referred. He draws, in the first place, from the sepulcher that has devoured them, our bodies of clay. He raises them, from the grave, such as they were when they were committed to its keeping, with all their original infirmities and all the degradations they have successively undergone from age, vice, and disease; He gives them back to us in that state, decrepit, shivering, gouty, full of physical needs, sensitive to the sting of the minutest insect, covered with the ignoble stains that our life and our death have left in them; this is the first miracle. Next, to these weak wretched bodies, ready to crumble away into the dust from which they have been taken, He imparts a property that they never before possessed; and this is the second miracle: that is to say, He inflicts upon them the gift of immortality, that same gift which, in His anger—or, should we not rather say, in His mercy? — He withdrew from Adam when the latter was driven out of Eden.

“While Adam remained immortal, he was invulnerable; and, when he ceased to be invulnerable, he became mortal: death followed close upon the heels of pain.

“The resurrection, then, does not restore to us either the physical conditions of the innocent man or the physical conditions of the guilty man; it is a resurrection only of our miseries, but with the addition of new miseries infinitely more horrible; it is, in fact, and as regards the immortality of the bodies thus raised, a new creation, and the most malicious act the human imagination has ever dared to conceive of. God alters His mind and, in order to add to the spiritual torments of sinners fleshly torments that shall endure forever, He suddenly changes by an act of His power, the laws and properties that He Himself assigned in the beginning, to all bodies formed from matter: He resuscitates diseased and rotten flesh, and joining in an indestructible union, the material elements which tend spontaneously to separate from each other, He maintains and perpetuates this living rottenness; He throws it into the fire, not in order to purify it, but to preserve it just as it is, sensitive, suffering, burning, horrible, and in this state by His will, He renders it immortal.

“By attributing such a miracle to God, Christian theologians represent Him as one of the executioners of Hell; for, although the damned can only attribute their spiritual sufferings to themselves, they can only attribute their fleshly sufferings to a direct exercise of His power. It is not enough, apparently, for God to abandon the souls of the guilty, after their death, to sorrow, to remorse, to the anguish of knowing that they have shut themselves out from happiness forever; His power, according to theologians, pursues them through the darkest recesses of this abyss of horror, seeks them out from this night of misery and drags them back, for a moment, to the light of day, not to console them, but to clothe them with a hideous, putrid, flaming, but imperishable body, more pestiferous than the robe of Dejanira; and it is only then that He abandons them to their fate.

“But, no; He does not, even then, simply leave them to their fate; for Hell only subsists, like the Earth, like Heaven, in virtue of a permanent action of His will, and, like them, would vanish into nothingness if He ceased to sustain its existence. His hand will therefore be laid upon the damned, throughout eternity, to prevent their fire from burning itself out and their bodies from being consumed; and He will do this, incessantly, in order that the sight of the perennial tortures of these wretched beings, thus cursed by Him with immortality, may intensify the happiness of the elect.”

14. We have said, and with truth, that the Hell of the Christians is more hideous than that of the Pagans. In Tartarus, we see the souls of the guilty, tortured by remorse, perpetually confronted with their crimes and their victims; we see them fleeing from the light which transpierces them, and seeking in vain to hide themselves from the sight of those whose glance follows them wherever they go. Their pride is abased and mortified; each of them bears the stigma of his past; each is punished by the recoil of his own evil deeds, and so certainly that for a great number of them, it is judged to be quite enough to leave them to themselves, without adding any other chastisements. But they are shades, that is to say, souls clothed with their fluidic bodies only, images of their terrestrial existence; we do not see, in the Pagan Hell, men re-clothed with their fleshly body, in order that they may be harrowed with the additional misery of physical suffering, nor any material fire “penetrating under their skin and saturating them with physical agony to the very marrow of their bones,” nor the lavish variety and ingenious refinements of the tortures that constitute the basis of the Christian Hell. We find, in Tartarus, judges who are inflexible but just, and who apportion the severity of the punishment to the degree of the faultiness for which it is inflicted; whereas, in the empire of Satan, all are subjected to the same tortures, and all these tortures are based on physical suffering; everything else is banished, including equity.

Undoubtedly there are, at the present day, and even in the churches themselves, many sensible men who do not accept these descriptions of Hell as literally true, and who regard them as being only allegories which are to be interpreted in a spiritual sense; but the opinion of such persons is merely individual, and is not the rule. The belief in a physical Hell, with all the consequences implied in that belief, is nonetheless, even at the present day, an article of the Christian creed.

15. It may be asked, “If these horrors do not really exist, how can they have been seen by ecstatics, even in a state of trance?” This is not the place for explaining the source of the fantastic images that are sometimes produced to the consciousness of the spirit, with all the appearances of reality. * We can here only remark that the fact of their production proves the truth of the principle laid down by us,** viz., that trance is the least reliable of all the modes of revelation, because this state of super-excitement is not always the result of a complete disengagement of the soul from the body, but is often complicated with reflexes of the subjects with which the mind of the seer has been busied in his waking state. The ideas that have been assimilated by the spirit of the seer, and of which his physical brain, or, rather, the perispiritual envelope corresponding to the brain has preserved the impress, are reproduced in trance but distorted as though in a mirage under vaporous and shadowy forms that cross each other, blend together, and make up unreal and fantastic pictures. The visions of ecstatics of all religions are always conformed to the religious belief with which they are imbued; and it is therefore not surprising that those who, like Saint Theresa, are strongly imbued with theological ideas of Hell, as conveyed by verbal or written descriptions and by paintings, should have visions which are, properly speaking, only the reproduction of these ideas and which partake of the nature of nightmare. A Pagan ecstatic, if he believed in the creed of his day would have seen in trance Tartarus and its Furies, just as in a vision of Olympus he would have seen Jupiter holding the thunderbolts in his hand.

* Vide “The Mediums’ Book,” No. 113. – Tr. 17
** Vide “The Spirits’ Book,” Nos. 443, 444.

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