“To the Eleusinian philosophers, birth into the physical worlds was death in the fullest sense of the word, and the only true birth was that of the spiritual soul of man rising out of the womb of his own fleshly nature. ‘The soul is dead that slumbers,’ says Longfellow, and in this he strikes the keynote of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Just as Narcissus, gazing at himself in the water (symbolizing the transitory, illusionary, material universe) lost his life trying to embrace a reflection, so man, gazing into the mirror of Nature and accepting as his real self the senseless clay that he sees reflected, loses the opportunity afforded by physical life to unfold his immortal, invisible Self.” ~Manly P. Hall
Birth Into Death
It may seem unreasonable of the Eleusinians to think of birth into the physical realm as death, but in a sense it is. That attitude is exaggerated, but does make the point that physical life is not life at all. It is imitation life, life in illusion.
Suppose you covered a turtle with mud. The mud now seems to be moving around like a living thing. But wash off the mud and you see that it was the turtle under it that was actually moving. That is much how it is with physical live compared to the spiritual. The physical body is like spirit that has been covered with the mud of matter. It moves and seems alive only because of the spirit within. After a while, that physical body dies. That would not happen if it were truly alive. So in that way, the Eleusinians, and some other ancient mystery schools, were correct in considering physical life just a form of death.
The one thing that defies this idea that physical life is death is that while we are in the physical realm, we can awaken our spirit and soul and be come truly living while still on Earth, still physical. In this way, we can redeem that lost “dead” matter that is our physical body and mind and join it with the immortal spirit and soul. That is how we become truly immortal beings, yet still individuals.
In a way, the idea of soul birth is nonsense. Souls are spirit. They were created alive and in a realm where there is no time. So souls are never actually born and never die. So the soul birth mentioned means the awakening of the spirit and soul while trapped in the physical realm.
While this doesn’t sound like birth in the conventional sense, it truly is a kind of birth. It is what St. Francis experienced when he had his spiritual awakening while watching a sunrise. It is what Jesus meant when he said we all needed to be reborn to be saved.
Narcissus falls in love with his own reflection in the water. He dies staring at the image that he loves so much. In today’s world, Narcissistic is interpreted to mean one who is self-centered. Self-centered to the point of not wanting to listen to others and considering anyone who disagrees with them a fool. But the original tale of Narcissus meant more than that.
Narcissus represented anyone who fell in love with the world of illusion, the world of matter. To the ancients who came up with the allegorical myth, the water he looked into represented the constantly moving, changing, temporary world of matter. It was this simple materialism that was the “sin” of Narcissus. Narcissus had not experienced soul birth.
Jesus said we can’t have two masters, or we would have to choose which one to obey at any given time. The Zen masters say you must empty your cup before it can be filled again. Those two allegories represent the same truth as the tale of Narcissus. We cannot experience soul birth if we are in love with matter. Soul birth, and the great knowledge that can be found in he spiritual worlds will elude us as long as we are attached to things of matter. Soul birth comes to those who are not materialistic. It also requires that we take in energy from the spiritual sun.