The Soul Cluster: Reconsideration of a Millennia Old Concept
By Ede Frecska, Levente Móró and Hank Wesselman
“While I am not so foolish as to make rash assertions about these things [i.e. the substantial nature and possible immortality of the soul], still I do claim to have proofs that the forms of the soul are more than one, that they are located in three different places…”(Galen of Pergamon [129-199 AD], 1978/1984)
Every era is unique, but our age is unprecedented in that for the first time in recorded human history, the myths and spiritual teachings of almost every living tradition have become accessible to all as a common cultural treasure. One hundred years ago, the Rigveda, an ancient Indian sacred collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns and one of the oldest religious texts (cca.1700-1100 BC) in continual use in any Indo-European language was accessible to the curious mind, but information about the Hawaiian mystical Kahuna tradition, or about the worldview of the Inuit circumpolar peoples was entirely lacking. As always, many pieces of the overall human cultural spectrum are still missing, but the teachings derived from a wide variety of cultures about the Great Mystery of human existence can now be studied from different perspectives, and the cross-cultural similarities are stunning.
Ethnographic data collection over the last one hundred years has generated a fertile field for those interested in studying cross-cultural commonalities. Frecska and Luna (2006) have discussed why the ideas of soul, spirit, or rebirth echo across the ages, and why these concepts repeatedly reappear in entirely different cultures. The belief in the existence of soul(s), spirit guides, spiritual forces, and other worldly realms appears to be universal in the human species. Edward Osborne Wilson (1998) has noted that sociology has identified the belief in a soul to be one of the universal human cultural elements, and he has suggested that science needs to investigate what predisposes people to believe in a soul. With our coauthors, we have made efforts to overcome the typical rational interpretations that deem such ideas to be superstition, originating in delusion or the fear of death. We accept that these recurrent, prevailing themes ('elementary ideas' – as they were called by Adolf Bastian, one of the founders of ethnography) are not just products of wishful thinking, but rather represent more than irrational coping mechanisms against the anxiety of ego-dissolution at death.
The focal point of the current paper is the observation that the concept of soul is noticeably complex in aboriginal cultures, and its plural – especially tripartite – nature is the rule rather than the exception. Curiously, this perception is getting clearer and more pronounced when one considers our shamanic origins. Herewith, we refer to Wilhelm Wundt (1920) who gave much attention to the point that the animistic perception of the soul is pluralistic. There are advanced traditions where the number of principles defining the human essence is reduced to a number smaller than three (e.g., the duality of ling-hun in Chinese traditional medicine), but a thorough look reveals that such dualism (or monism) is a deflation of an earlier trinity (Harrell, 1979). Taoism, which has shamanic origins (Stutley, 2003), teaches that there are three souls, one of which remains with the corpse after death (like the Ka of the ancient Egyptians), while another resides always in the spirit world, and the third that transmigrates between the physical back to the spiritual realms.