The Descent into Hell

Since the Fall, Earth’s karma is death. Everything we do will result in decay, disappointment, or death. It is a common misunderstanding that the ancients believed the Earth to be a privileged place, at the centre of the universe. That is not true. Esoterically, Earth not centre of universe, but rather quite far from God. It is separated from it by the hierarchy of angels, the astral layer and the planetary layers. Moreover, Earth is closest to Hell, located at its very centre.

Knowing this, the secular world dares not to hope for more. On the contrary, the world worships death and sterility. It denies that human life is breathed into matter by a living god. Rather, it claims that the human spirit spontaneously arises from matter. Its goal is the creation of a golem, the artificial man. It wants to overcome death by technology, like the Frankenstein monster. Ultimately, the goal is the replacement of human beings by androids as though, somehow, a soul will spontaneously arise out of electronic circuitry and Python code. Only mechanical and logical memory matter, as there is not even an awareness of moral and vertical memory.

That is the world Jesus is incarnated into.

The Death of Jesus

The incarnation must include death as the end of life. However, although death is a fact, it is not a positive principle willed by God. The spirit cannot die, so it is more appropriate to refer to death as “dormition”.

Since Jesus is not subject to Adam’s curse, his death is voluntary. Death did not end his earthly ministry; the time of the entombment is analogous to the Sabbath rest. Since his death was voluntary, i.e., not necessary, it is thereby sacrificial and redemptive.

Human death is the separation of the soul and spirit from the body. The animal soul does not possess immortality, so, at death, the soul receives the life principle from the spirit. Yet is also retains the possibility of death due to sin. Without the body, the soul is mere potency, so it becomes petrified, retaining what it accumulated during life. This is illustrated in the novel Laurus:

Arseny’s soul wanted to touch Ursina’s soul … Get used to separation, said Death, it is painful, even if it is only temporary. Will we recognize each other in eternity? asked Arseny’s soul. That depends in large part on you, said Death: souls often harden during the course of life and then they barely recognize anyone after death.

That is, the soul has forgotten its life. In the Meditation on the Arcanum of Death, this is related to the loss of mechanical and logical memory. To the extent that the soul, during its life, had a strong moral memory, the soul will not have become so hard. Thus, the soul can either burden the spirit after death or else leave it free for its postmortem being. Death is the entry into the spiritual world, so it is both initiatic and cathartic. As such, it is not just a punishment, but also a blessing.

As Hermetists, we desire initiation while alive, understanding initiation as the entry into the spiritual world. This is facilitated through “vertical memory”, “which links the plane of ordinary consciousness to planes or states of consciousness higher than that of ordinary consciousness”. It provides us with the certainty of God and the spiritual world.

Christ experienced this human death. The cry of “into thy hands I commend my spirit” refers to the separation of the body from the spirit. The body was then buried in the cave. In the postmortem state, Christ descended into Hell. Hell referred to the postmortem state of all human souls before Christ; this is the case not just in the Old Testament, but also in paganism.

Of course, hell is not a “place” in the sense that Ohio is a place, so the descent was not a movement from one place to another. Rather, it is the movement from one state of being to another. Since Christ’s divine nature never separated from this human nature, his ministry continued after death, including to those who had previously died. Like the two thieves, there are two possible destinies for those souls in hell: continuation in hell or else in paradise.

Even though Christ’s body was incorruptible, it was nevertheless a real experience of death. This is revealed by the descent into hell, i.e., the separation of the soul from the body. Death was voluntary, and that is why it had to be an unnatural death, viz., death by execution.

The Possibilities

If our karma is death, we must learn to act without concern for results. That is, the act may not bear fruit right away, not until certain obstacles will have fallen away. There is the tendency today to expect instant results, irrespective of the karmic possibilities, or the facticity, of the moment. If we believe that death has been overcome, we can be assured that “everything sown in the field of death will rise again one day” [~ Valentin Tomberg]

Sergius Bulgakov, The Lamb of God: The Death of Christ and His Descent into Hell
Anonymous, Meditations on the Tarot: Letter XIII Death
Eugene Vodolazkin, Laurus