All Souls' Day
[Chapter (pp. 296-309) from the book The Inner Side of Christian Festivals. The St. Alban Press (London, Ojai, Sidney), 1985. 319 pp.]
It seems natural that, along with the thankfulness to God for His holy saints not especially named, we should also think of those other dead who perhaps can hardly yet claim the honour of sainthood – our own dead, those whom we have known and loved and perhaps, alas! in many cases have mourned. So it comes that the next day after All Saints is set apart for the celebration of All Souls, of all the mighty host of the dead, especially with a view to remembering those who have passed away during the year since the last of these celebrations.
It has become the custom that on this day members of congregations should send in to the priest-in-charge the names of all those in whom they are personally interested, who have passed away during the year, in order that those names may be specially mentioned at the Altar, and that they may take part in the outpouring of force which accompanies the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.
It is important that we should understand exactly what that force is, and exactly what good it does to the dead. It is natural, it is only human nature, that we should desire to pray for the dead. It would be wise to follow the teaching of the Church and of her Lord, and to realize that there is no death, but only a life of continuous evolution, and that at any point in that life (whether it be the part of it which is spent down here in a physical body or that which is spent in another world in a subtle body) the man can be reached by thought and by love and can be helped just as much in one stage of that eternal progress as in another.
Before we can understand what good we can do to the dead we must think for a little of the state of the dead. Unfortunately the Christianized part of the world has for some centuries lain under the illusion that nothing can be certainly know with regard to states after death. The idea seems to be that the Church my have some teaching on that subject; there may be some speculations; there may be pious beliefs, but nothing can be definitely known. That is absolutely untrue. It is possible to know all about the state of the dead; it is possible to explore and to investigate that higher part of the world precisely as countries hitherto unknown may be explored on the physical plane. How do we obtain information about the South Pole and the North Pole, or about the interior of Africa? Men learn the conditions under which it is possible for them to penetrate to these remote regions, and to bring back news from there. It is equally possible for the man still in the physical body to penetrate to these other higher regions and come back and give his report.
That has been done many hundreds of times, and we now know about this other world (though in reality it is not another world, but only a part of this) as clearly, as definitely as we know about the less visited parts of the earth, and there is just as much evidence for the existence of that spiritual world as for any of the little known parts of the physical plane. In fact there is more for only one or two people have penetrated to those remote regions, whereas many scores of people have brought back recollections from the world of those whom we foolishly call the dead. The dead laugh us to scorn for using such a word; they maintain always that they are more living than they were, and not less, now that they have got rid of the physical body which was so heavy a veil, so great an obstacle in the way of real knowledge of the facts of life. What then is the state of the dead? There is a large literature on the subject, to which I must refer those who desire a detailed answer to that question. My own book, The Other Side of Death, gives much information, but new volumes are constantly being published. I can give only an outline here.
To understand even that outline, we must first fix in our minds some fundamental ideas. I want it quite clearly understood that in putting forward these ideas I am not offering them as mere pious beliefs or as probabilities, nor am I speaking from hearsay. I am explaining facts which I myself personally know by repeated investigation and experiment. Furthermore any man who is willing to take the trouble may convince himself of these great central truths by, verifying them at first hand. The first of these great principles is the utter overwhelming certainty of God’s love. Another is the absolute continuity of life – the immortality of man; and yet another is the reasonableness and justice of the whole scheme of evolution. The scriptural axiom that all things work together for good is a matter not of belief, but of knowledge, to those who have really studied these subjects.
The very air around us is charged with so many and such serious misconceptions about death that it is almost impossible for us to escape their influence, unless we put ourselves especially on our guard against them. One of the worst of these is the idea that after death men are either rewarded or punished for what they have done during physical life. This is absolutely not so – not so in any sense whatever; though it is true that, because the life is continuous, its later conditions after death do depend upon its earlier conditions before death, just in the same way as the life of the adult depends to a considerable extent upon the previous part of that same life, as it was spent during childhood and youth. It might be thought that, after all, this comes to much the same thing; but that is not so. Let us take an example from school-life to help us to understand. If a boy works well, he receives perhaps a medal or a prize; if he works badly, if he acts foolishly, he receives a certain number of bad marks, or perhaps has an imposition to write out. These, you will observe, are rewards and punishments, but they are in no sense results. They have no actual connection with what the boy has done or not done; they express only the master’s opinion of him. On the other hand, the result of good work is that the boy knows more, and is therefore more capable of learning; while the result of laziness is ignorance, and lack of power to understand future lessons. The true result is not imposed from without, but is inherent, natural, inevitable. So is it exactly with the life after death. This death is a change through which all men must pass. They may be well or ill-equipped to profit by it, according to the way in which they have lived this previous stage which we call the physical life.
Again, our tendency is to regard this life after death from the point of view of the survivors, not of the dead man. Let us take yet another example from school life. Suppose we have two comrades at a school strongly attached to each other, and suppose that in due course one of them passes on into college life. We can see at once how selfish it would be if the younger boy thought only: “I have lost my friend; he should have stayed here at school for my sake.” Obviously no boy would think that; he would be more likely to think: “He is continuing his studies and development; I shall presently follow him, but he will certainly not return to me.” And if he were especially affectionate and helpful, he might also think: “Can I help him in any way? Can I do anything that will be useful to him in his new surroundings? Yes; I can write to him, I can show him that I have not forgotten him, I can send him my love, and try to encourage him in every possible way.”
These analogies hold good; keeping them in mind, let us try to grasp a few leading facts about our dead. First of all, they are more keenly alive than we. They are not far away in some unknown imaginary heaven or hell; they are very near us still. They are not changed suddenly either into angels or into demons; they are precisely and exactly what they were before they slipped off the vehicle of flesh, that outer coat which we call the physical body. They are themselves just as they were before. Their love remains the same; nay, it is greater than ever before, because there is less to clog its expression. Their knowledge or their ignorance is just what was before. They have indeed opportunities of learning a great deal. So have we down here on the physical plane, but we do not always take advantage of our opportunities. It is just the same with the dead. There is no one to compel them to learn; so some of them make little advancement, while others acquire a vast amount of information. It is well for them to know, because knowledge is power, but not all the dead are wise, any more than all the living. Let it be quite clear then, that their life is the same as our life except for the fact that they have no longer a physical body.
Let us ask ourselves what difference it would make to us if we had not these physical bodies; then we shall realize exactly what is the condition of the dead. We can see that it would not be by any means the same to all of us. Some of us live very much in our physical bodies; some of us think chiefly about the things which appertain to those bodies, such as comfort, enjoyment, pleasant sensations, good food and drink, and so on. Some think a great deal of what the physical body brings to them, but there are other people who are comparatively indifferent to these matters, whose joys are all joys of the intellect or of the higher emotions. The great artist and the great musician almost forgets his physical body, and often neglects it, just because he is swept away out of it into the higher and subtler vehicles.
When that artist dies he will not change. If the physical body has been little to him while he had it, it will mean but little to him that he has dropped it, and he will continue to live the same life; the life of art or of music. The man of that other type, who has lived mainly in relation to his physical body down here, will find himself distinctly at a loss when he has dropped it. He will have to evoke for himself a new set of interests; otherwise life without the body would seem to him dull and uninteresting. These considerations operate all the time; so when we think of someone who has passed away, we have only to try to image to ourselves how much difference it would make to that man if he had not his physical body, and we shall have a very fair idea of the condition in which he finds himself.
There is another side to all that which must not be forgotten. The physical body is the cause of much of our trouble and worry; nearly all our work, the daily work at which we have to slave, has to be done because we have a physical body, because we must provide it (and other physical bodies round us) with food and clothing and shelter. Without the physical body the man is utterly free, and perhaps for the first time in his life he does only those things which he wants to do. Most of us spend our lives in doing things we would rather not do if we were not compelled. There is no such compulsion for the dead man. Being absolutely free, he may therefore be gloriously happy. On the other hand, if his life down here has been a purely material life, he may be somewhat bored; he may find the whole thing uninteresting. I suppose many an uneducated man attending a church service would not know in the least what was being done. The music would be over his head; if he could not read he would not to be able to follow the liturgy; the whole thing would weary him. Yet those who can understand and can follow know that there is a vast amount to be gained out of such services; that they offer us not only a means of grace for ourselves, but the means of helping others by the force which is poured out. Yet the ignorant man would know nothing about that; he would find the whole thing monotonous, wearisome. It is just the same with the dead.
All this being so, how can we help them? Not by our physical actions, because they have no longer physical bodies. What have they still in common with us? They have the subtle body, which St. Paul called the spiritual body. We divide it as students into two parts, the astral body and the mental body. Those the dead man still has and we have them in common with him. If we are to help him, then, it must not be by our physical acts, but by the acts of these higher vehicles. What can we do with them that will help?
One thing that I am afraid many of us have done is to mourn the dead whom we have loved. That is the very worst thing that we can do for the dead man. I do not wish for one moment to seem unsympathetic, but if we are not afraid to face facts, we must admit that to mourn is after all selfish. What are we mourning about? That he whom we love has passed into a higher and fuller life, that he stands more nearly in the presence of God, that the opportunities opening before him are far grander than they were before? Surely that would be a strange thing about which to mourn!
If we come to think of it, we are mourning because we think we have lost him. That is an illusion; we have not lost him. All we have lost is the power of seeing him. He is still there, he is still near us, as much within reach as he ever was, but not within reach of our physical eyes. The moment we fall asleep each night our physical eyes are no longer of any use to us; we have passed away from the world in which these senses operate; we are using the astral body and we are therefore using its senses; and to these senses the dead man is as obvious as the living man was to our physical sight. We may be under the delusion, while we are what we call awake (but what he calls asleep) that we have lost the dead man. When we have waked up to his world, when we have put aside temporarily the clog of the physical body, we stand side by side with him and talk to him exactly as before. We may think down here that we have lost him; he never for one moment thinks that he has lost us, because he holds that higher consciousness continually. He sees us fade away from him when we wake up (or down as he would call it); we fade away from him then, but he knows that we shall come back into his world after a few hours. It is just as when we see a man lie down to sleep for a few hours: we do not mourn because he has left us; we know that he will presently wake up rested and will be with us as before.
To mourn for our dead friend is the worst thing we can do for him, because when we allow the mournful feeling to come over us, we surround ourselves with a cloud of depression. A clairvoyant would see it around us as a dark mist. To our dead friend that mist is something that he can not only see, but that he can feel acutely. He feels the depression, it reacts upon him, and it does him harm, because it holds him back in his onward progress. We must forget ourselves; I know very well how hard it is, but we must be unselfish; we must forget ourselves and our presumed loss, and we must think only of our friend and of his great gain. So when we think of him we will not mourn. What can we do but mourn? We can do something infinitely nobler; we can love. Let us pour out our love upon him whenever we think of him; let us think of him as living still; let us think of how we loved him in the past, and how we love him more and more now as time goes on. That, too, he will feel and to that he will respond. Then we are helping our brother, we are surrounding him with sunlight which will call out all the best that is in him, which will help his evolution, and make his onward path easier. That is what we have to do.
Shall we pray for the dead? Yes, if you will; but even then do not misunderstand. Though many have foolishly thought it wrong to pray for the dead, it is not in the least so; but if we are to take the words in their ordinary meaning, it does perhaps show a little ignorance. If by prayer we mean that we are going to ask God to help them or bless them, or remember them, then we may as well save ourselves the trouble, because God knows far more than we know about what they need and God is watching the evolution of every one of His creatures every moment. We are within His Consciousness, wherever we are, and He Who is Lord of the living and the dead does not lose sight of a person who draws nearer to Him. For that is what it is – to cast aside the physical body is to draw the consciousness a little nearer to God, not further away. So He does not need our prayers to remind Him.
What then is prayer? Prayer is a strong and earnest wish; and that is a power. Such thought is a great reality; it sends out a stream of force, as is well known to all who have investigated the subject. There is a science of all these things, just as there is a science of chemistry or of geology, and these matters can be investigated and tested. All that has been done, not once, but hundreds of times. There is no reason why people should remain ignorant of the results of that investigation. One would think that people wished to mourn, that they wished to be miserable, so obstinately do they decline to accept the truth when it is laid before them. Some cannot believe that it is the truth. One would like to say to them: “If your intuition is not yet sufficiently developed to guide you in such matters, at least let your intellect guide you. There are books by the hundred on this subject; read them. If you will, and if you must, investigate for yourself.” I did so; forty or fifty years ago I devoted a vast amount of time to first-hand inquiry into this matter of life after death, and because I did so I am able to speak quite definitely about these things now. I know these things to be so. He who finds it difficult to accept that testimony should study the subject for himself, and he will eventually come to the same conviction. A man is quite right to desire a firm foundation for faith on so important a matter; it is of the very greatest importance, for whatever else may happen to us, this at least is certain – that every one of us must die. Surely we ought to know all we can about this state beyond death, even if it were only for our own safety and happiness, and far more because those whom we love pass behind this veil, and the more we know the more we can help them.
We may be absolutely sure that every thought of ours reaches those whom we call the dead, and that if we send out an earnest and loving wish for them, that loving wish is a definite power which will reach them and affect them. We do not need to evoke the power of God. In God’s power we live and move and have our being. There is nothing which is outside of Him. He has made laws for the world, and under those laws every cause produces an effect. Our strong loving thought is a cause and will assuredly produce its effect. It must produce it. We may see it or not; that does not matter, but it must produce an effect – otherwise the whole of the universe has lost its law-abiding character.
The dead indeed see us, but (except during our sleep) not exactly as they used to do; they do not observe our physical actions, but they are thoroughly cognizant of all our feelings and of all such thoughts as are in any way connected with the lower personal self. That is why it is of such supreme importance that we should never allow ourselves to be filled with depression or despair, because if we made that mistake, we should inevitably infect them with feelings of the same description – the very last thing we should desire to do in the case of those whom we love dearly.
What then can we give to them? What shall we wish for them? The ancient prayer of the Church Catholic shows us this most beautifully and effectively. The antiphon for the dead runs: “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them.” This is not to be taken as meaning that life in the astral world is necessarily indolent – quite the contrary; but it does mean that we desire for them perfect rest from the worries and troubles of this physical world, so that they may lay themselves open more fully and completely to the influence of that glorious divine light which is ever shining upon all His creatures. For His love pours out like the sunlight; it is for us and for them to see that we open our hearts to its beneficent influence.
The greatest help of all that you can give to your dead is to remember them before the altar of God – to send in their names to be laid before Him at the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. I have explained in The Science of the Sacraments that to every name mentioned at the altar the Directing Angel assigns a definite portion of the mighty outpouring of divine force which descends at the Consecration. What will that force do for the dead man? That is at the discretion of the messenger Angel who bears it. He knows better than we what is wanted, but it will undoubtedly be applied to the calming, the strengthening, the uplifting of the man. Some dead people may still be in a condition of unconsciousness. Then if that unconsciousness is in any way prejudicial, if it would be better for the man to be aroused, the Angel would use that power to arouse him. If the Angel sees that the rest is doing him good, the force would be stored up within his aura, to pour itself out upon him in any way that may seem best, so soon as he rises out of that condition of unconsciousness and wakes up into his new life.
Whatever may be the condition of the dead man, the force we send will reach him and will be used for his good. None need doubt that, for we have seen thousands of cases, and we know of what we speak. Any one may study the matter, and verify our statement. Our dead are often very near to us, but the veil between us is at its thinnest on such an occasion as All Souls’ Day, for the very fact that so many people are simultaneously thinking along the same line opens the channels more widely, and calls the attention of a vast number of the dead who would otherwise be pursuing their own affairs.
One family we dwell in Him,
One Church, above, beneath,
Though now divided by the stream,
The narrow stream, of death.
We are all brethren, we can all help one another; we can aid them, as they can aid us, by kindly thought and loving memory. Let us then not neglect the special opportunity given to us by the Church on All Souls’ Day to draw closer the bonds between the seen and the unseen.