This is Part 3 of the review of The Soul after Death by Fr. Seraphim Rose. In this part we review his analysis of the soul’s post-mortem journey through the toll houses in the first 40 days after death and its contact with discarnate higher intelligences.
The next part will deal with the experience of Heaven and Hell.
⇐ Part 2
In discussing angles, Fr. Rose makes an important point about the damaging influence of Descartes, who regarded everything that is not “matter” to be “spirit”. This would be the angels on the same level as God, since they are all spirit. This is a warning that everything spiritual is not the same, and may not even be good. Thus the demonic, the angelic, even human imagination are not material, yet are quite different. Hence, we understand the angelic orders as consisting of purely spiritual beings, i.e., they are beings but without a material form. This agrees with Guenon and Thomas Aquinas.
Yet, scripture and tradition say that angels can be “seen”, typically as “arrayed in white”. To speak of their form is a metaphor and “they have need to be clothed in a subtle body whenever God permits them to act on bodies,” and that “when God opens the spiritual eyes of a man, he is capable of seeing spirits in their own form.” Nevertheless, Fr. Rose goes to great lengths to make it clear that angels “look like” men. In support, he quotes St. Augustine, who said that the soul after death experiences himself as a body. Well, this makes some sense since the soul is indeed the “form” of the body.
In my opinion, one can go too far in that direction of assuming our only experience of angels (or demons) is in the outward form of a man. It encourages a craving for the unusual and the spectacular. Actually, our experience of such beings is through our intellect, since they are themselves pure intellect. That is, they will come as thoughts, or a constellation of ideas, an inspiration, or a temptation. It behooves us to pay close attention to our thoughts and how they affect us. We exist truly in a vast noosphere, although in more depth and complexity than its merely humanized form described by Teilhard de Chardin. Some, then, may even experience these thoughts as real beings.
That leads Fr. Rose to the teaching of the two angels, one of whom is the guardian angel, who meet the soul at the hour of his death. Of course, Fr. Rose backs this all up with extensive examples from tradition and the experiences of sinners and saints alike. Since it was established that the soul has a human form, these angels grasp the soul’s subtle body to lead him on his journey into the afterlife.
Hence, Fr. Rose dismisses the common experience of a formless being of light in near death experiences, suspecting that it is most likely satanic. He relates some stories of sinners on their deathbeds who experience great horrors, in a manner reminiscent of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Fr. Rose makes an interesting point about the experience of Americans who seldom report such experiences. He attributes it to the unjustified optimism of Americans or the Protestant presumption that they are “saved”. In these cases, the temptation is more like a seduction than terror. That is why the spirits must be “tested”.
Spirits of the Air
Fr. Rose describes man in the primordial state: his body was immortal, without infirmities, unbothered by heaviness or sinful land fleshly feelings. His senses are most subtle and totally free. Man was capable of the sensuous perception of spirits.
Man’s soul and body were changed after the fall. The soul separated from the body, which is the definition of death. The body was subject to infirmities and subject to hostile influences. The body became like the bodies of the beasts. Where, previously, man was in communion with the angels, he is now more comfortable with the fallen spirits.
Fr. Rose points out that demons usually assume the appearance of bright angels in order to deceive men, typically by mixing truth with error. Of course, we would say they appear as lovely thoughts, thoughts that claim to be compassionate or progressive. They make the hearer “feel good about himself”, or superior. Fr. Rose warns about engaging such spirits in conversation when they appear in human form. However, as this is quite unlikely, my opinion is that he should have spent more time on revealing how those spirits infiltrate the mind. He does quote Bishop Ignatius in this regard:
The fallen spirits act on men, bringing them sinful thoughts and feelings; but very few men attain to the sensuous perception of spirits.
We find ourselves in the realm of fallen spirits, surrounded by them, enslaved b them. Having no possibility to break in on us, they make themselves known to us from outside, causing various sinful thoughts and fantasies.
It is interesting that Fr. Rose places the demons in the “air”. In the Hermetic diagram of the spiritual hierarchy, the air is the lowest level of subtle beings. The density of these fallen spirits in the air acts to block access to all the superior levels.
Finally, Fr. Rose brings us to the teaching of the toll houses. Again, there is a warning to avoid picturing the tollhouses in crude sensuous imagery, but to understand them in a spiritual sense. This does not mean that the tollhouses are not real, but rather that the experience of time and space in that realm is different from that of the physical world. The debate about whether the souls “sees” these images or finds it necessary to “express” them in sensual terms is moot. The important thing is that the experience itself is real.
Although I am not bringing in all the details in this review, Fr. Rose backs up his account through the teachings of the major theologians. Christians, he points out, need to keep the fact of death always in mind; in this, they are like the Buddhists and even others. St. Isaiah the Recluse writes:
Christians should daily have death before our eyes and take care how to accomplish the departure from the body and how to pass by the powers of darkness who are to meet us in the air.
There are other eerie similarities to the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which gives credence to the idea that this teaching is based on actual experience and not mere dogma. For example, St. Cyril writes:
What fear and trembling await you, O soul, in the day of death! You will see frightful, wild, cruel, unmerciful and shameful demons, like dark Ethiopians, standing before you. The very sight of them is worse than any torment. The soul, seeing them, becomes agitated, is disturbed, troubled, seeks to hid, hastens to the angels of God.
I cannot go into the complete teaching here, but can only briefly summarize it. The soul is guided by the two angels past a series of up to twenty tollhouses. Each one is dedicated to a different test, and the demons test the soul in regard to the particular tollhouse. That is, they will point out how the soul was guilty of a particular sin at any point in this life. The guiding angels then would point out his repentance or good acts that outweighed those sins. If the soul passes the test, it moves on to the next tollhouse; otherwise, the guiding angels abandon him to the demons.
Once again, it needs to be emphasized that these tests are to be understood in a spiritual, not material, sense. I would also be remiss if I didn’t point out that this is something you can try at home without waiting for death and the tollhouse tests. As a matter of fact, if you have the fact of your death always in mind, you would make it a high priority.
The fact of death is certain, the time of death is unknown.