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Soma Sema:

The Body as a Prison for the Soul


Cratylus, 400c, Phaedo, 61e-62c, Gorgias, 493a, Republic IX 586a

“…being permitted as initiates to the sight of perfect and simple and calm and happy apparitions, which we
saw in the pure light, being ourselves pure and not entombed in this which we carry about with us and call the
body, in which we are imprisoned like an oyster in its shell.”
(Plato, Phaedrus 250c)

Synthesis:The article deals briefly with the mystic notions of Plato, Pythagoras, and the Egyptians about
the psyche being “imprisioned” in the material body. We make some analogies between notions of a
“netherworld” (Hades/Duat) between greek and egyptian spiritual culture and focus on the notion of a psychic
dimension of consciousness which is beyond sensorial awareness.

1) Coming Forth to Daylight


One of the best known phrases in ancient Greece regarding
the mysteries taught by Pythagoras and Plato is “soma-sema”. It
is a short play of words which literally means “body-prison”,
and it exposes the archaic notion that "the body is the prison of
the soul". Now, as we know that Plato and Pythagoras were
initiated in Egyptian mysteries, it is difficult to see a “Greek
origin” for the notion, even though we might contemplate the
Orphic mystery cults of ancient Greece in search for answers.
There are texts surviving from way before Pythagoras and
Plato which already impose the idea of soma-sema as a
fundamental teaching in Pharaonic mysticism. In Egyptian
mystery cults, the concept of "a tomb" or "a sepulcher" always
refers to the material body, and not to the actual tomb that
archeologists explore and uncover from the desert sands every
now and then.
This association between the material body and a “tomb” or
“sepulcher” is a fact that makes the understanding of Egyptian
texts and mystery doctrines something very hard to follow for
the “scientific” or naturalist-literalist mentality as a whole, because it is blind to spiritual allegory and parable:
the very instrument of the mystic teaching. In other words, if we are not able to see the allegory and parable
encoded in the mysteries, we will not understand the hidden meaning and thus never learn anything from it,
but rather come to make silly excuses of ancient ignorance in order to conceal our own blindness on the
matter. The reading of the Sacred Science demands a penetration into the symbolic expressions, and this is
true for any ancient texts, be it the Bible, the Vedas, or the Pyramid Texts.
A good example of how the Ancient Egyptians managed their use of terms in an esoteric and occult
fashion instead of demanding a literary and explicit reading may be appreciated in one of the chapters of the
Egyptian Book of Coming Forth to Day. Chapter 92 is entitled "Chapter of Opening the Tomb to the Soul
and Shadow". It reads:

The place of bondage is opened,


That which was shut is opened,
And the place of bondage is open to my soul
[According to the bidding of] the Eye of Horus.
I have bound and established glories
Upon the brow of Ra.

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[My] steps are made long,
[My] thighs are lifted up;
I have passed along the great path,
And my limbs are strong.
I am Horus, the avenger of his father,
And I bring the ureret crown to rest upon its place.
The path of souls is opened [to my soul].1

This “place of bondage” is a reference to the material body or khat. The analogy follows the Soma-
Sema principle found in Platonic, Pythagorean, and Orphic mysteries of ancient Greece.
However, one might make the mistake of believing that the opening of the “place of bondage” means
death: the inevitable moment when the soul is supposed to be liberated from the body so as not to return.
However, this is another mistaken supposition which one might follow as long as we are not acquainted with
initiatory religion and the archaic symbolism of “death and rebirth”.
It is not only by death that the soul or ba finds this type of liberation so as to follow “the path of souls.” On
the contrary, it is by a renewed life, a spiritual life acquired by initiation and revelation of spiritual truths
(archetypes).

2) A Practice of Dying
In Plato’s Phaedo, where Socrates deals with the immortality of the soul, we find a mention to the true
philosophy in itself as a “practice of dying”:

“And does not the purification [katarsis] consist in this which has been mentioned long ago
in our discourse, in separating, so far as possible, the soul from the body and teaching the soul
the habit of collecting and bringing itself together from all parts of the body, and living, so
far as it can, both now and hereafter, alone by itself, freed from the body as from fetters?”
(…) the true philosophers practice dying, and death is less terrible to them than to any
other men.2
(…) the truth is much rather this—if it [the soul] departs pure, dragging with it nothing of
the body, because it never willingly associated with the body in life, but avoided it and
gathered itself into itself alone, since this has always been its constant study—but this means
nothing else than that it pursued philosophy rightly and really practiced being in a state of
death: or is not this the practice of death?”3

The idea here is that the “practice of death” for the philosopher consists in “separating” the physical body
from the soul. Now, the analysis of being or ontology is literally a separation of the components of the human
being in order to perceive their own nature. We have analyzed, for example, the ancient cosmology and this
has revealed an inherent notion of being as consisting in three principle forms: Cosmic Mind, Cosmic Soul,
and Cosmic Body, to which we associated three numbers: 3,5 and 8: numbers which conform to a Golden
Ratio and Golden Proportion discussed before that is related in the ancient cosmology to consciousness as the
mean term or “golden bond” between Unity and all multiplicity of units.
The mystic act of separating the body from the soul implies first of all a state of consciousness: an
awareness that being human is being a composite of elements, primordially supernatural or metaphysical
elements which are coagulated into a material unit with temporal limit that makes for the biological
experience of life. The cosmology discussed before evokes an idea of being where the physical body is but a
temporal container for the soul and the intellect, the ba and the khu of Pharaonic philosophy. The idea that the
soul may escape the physical body while we live and experience the biological reality of being human is no
secret in a cosmology where a Cosmic Soul fills all space, and where there is a cosmic medium which is
consciousness itself. It is a well known fact that shamanic cultures continuously recall the voyages of the soul
beyond the physical body, but perhaps it is not so well known that Platonic philosophy recalls this adventure
repeatedly.

1
Wallis Budge, The Egyptian Book of the Dead, p.319.
2
Plato, Phaedo, 67c-d;e
3
Ibid, 80e-81a
2
1787 painting by Jacques-Louis Davidin, La Mort de Socrate (“The Death of Socrates”).

3) Allegories and Shadows


It is interesting to evoke the famous Allegory of the Cavern in Plato's Republic4, for example, which Plato
uses to express the condition of the soul’s entrapment in a false reality of purely sensorial perception of
“shadows,” and how the soul is eventually able to escape this cavern and imprisonment in order to perceive a
higher reality beyond its natural bondage. According to the Allegory of the Cavern from Plato, the soul of
man is entrapped and bound in an underground cavern in which the psyche is only capable of contemplating
the shadows of material existence.
The allegory tells how many inhabitants of a cavern are bound since birth by their hands and feet, while
their head is also shackled in such a way that they are only to contemplate what is directly ahead of them, on a
great wall. Behind these unfortunate beings, and higher upon a platform, there is a great fire blazing whose
brilliance projects the shadows of free men and women who come and go with objects in their hands. The
fire’s light projects images of these passersby and it is the shadows of these figures that the prisoners below
contemplate in their bondage. Naturally, it is this reality of shadows on the wall, a projection of images in
front of them that the prisoners take for the
absolute reality in itself. Spending their lifetime
in this state of slavery, the people of the cavern
grow and learn to appreciate only the shadows of
something else: shadows which Plato makes
analogous to the sensorial reality of matter in the
allegory.
The parable continues and we hear that a
fortunate prisoner manages to free himself from
the shackles, and as soon as he is librated, he
turns around and is able to contemplate the
reality of that blazing fire and the people which
pass before its light. At first, the freed prisoner is
blinded by the sight of the brilliant fire: he has
never seen such a thing and his eyes need time to
adapt, but very soon his vision adapts and allows him to perceive that it is but the shadows which his fellow
prisoners and he himself was contemplating under the constraints and bondage of his iron shackles.
Plato goes on to tell how the prisoner, now freed from that illusion of the shadow world, is able to discern
another light in the cavern, different from that of the blazing flames and found at the end of an ascending
passage by which the people which carry objects come and go in and out of the cave. The freed prisoner
ascends towards this light, and when he is able to make his way out, he is once again completely blinded by
the splendor of the light of day in the exterior realm. Here also, his vision needs time to accommodate itself to
the new environment, but after a while, he is able to perceive the outer world and the reality of how things are

4
Plato, Republic, Book VII 514a
3
beyond the cavern altogether. It is here, under the light of day, that the freed prisoner is able to perceive how
much different indeed the real world is compared to that former shadow world of the prison, and greater even
the outside world is compared to the one he knew under the light of the fire inside.
Now, this “coming forth to day” sounds very much like the original title of the Egyptian Book of the Dead
which is the Book of Coming Forth By Day… In a mystic scenario, the “dead” are those who observe
shadows and believe in their hearts that shadows in a cavern are the truest of realities. In other words,
the Egyptian Book of Coming Forth By Day may be said to be a book for the “dead”, but it is not the deceased
dead, but “consciously dead”… This kind of philosophy seeks to awaken those who, unaware of higher
realities, live as though asleep, It is a philosophy intended to bring back to life the unconscious “dead” who do
not realize the physical body to be the prison of the soul and the mind to be the artisan of sensorial shadows.
Plato is careful, however, in observing that vision and sight of the higher realms, that is, the contemplation of
higher realities as Ideas which are beyond sensorial experience, take a while to be assimilated by the initiate.
The Egyptian formula quoted above which speaks of the soul being “released from bondage” repeats the
idea saying that the soul of man is liberated from its ties by the Eye of Horus: a symbol which invokes a type
of "seeing" that is symbolic of an intellective appreciation of reality. This kind of “vision” evoked by the Eye
of Horus is one will go over later on when we attend the wedjat symbol itself and the cognitive functions it
signifies in Man.
In Plato's Allegory of the Cavern, the soul ascends and departs from the enclosure of the cavern and enters
the outside world where the Sun is shining and things can be perceived in plain daylight. Thus the soul
realizes, after its ascent into daylight, that the “reality” appreciated by most through pure sensorial awareness
is nothing but a shadowy image of another True Reality or Eidos. The Sun in this higher dimension of reality
is the Agathou Idea or the Idea of the Good, which is the Idea of God in Plato, the Idea of ideas. The light
shining forth from that Sun in the Sprit World of the Eidos is Truth (Aletheia).
When the soul is said to “come forth to daylight”, we are no doubt speaking in parables and allegories.
The shadows represent material forms, and the bondage represents the physical constraint of consciousness
which is limited by incarnation to an awareness of sensorial stimuli. The intellect or Nous is thus reduced to
cerebral intelligence, the kind most common to us by nature. The highest reality of “daylight” is symbolically
associated to the light of the sun, but this “Sun” is a noetic sun. The Idea of the Good shines its light of Truth
in the Eidos, and existence there is purely noetic, from Nous, meaning Cosmic Intellect or Spirit. Such a thing
is impossible to perceive in itself from the darkness of the cavern, and never appreciable or imaginable under
the constraints of consciousness in the Sethian or Titanic prison.
In the Republic, the allegory of the Cavern is first preceded by two other allegories, the Allegory of the
Sun, and the Allegory of the Line. These preceding allegories are well known by Platonists as they are the
ones that evoke a vertical cosmology of higher and lower realms of conscious experience. These are later
made into the parable of the cave and the experience of the prisoner. In the Allegory of the Sun, Socrates
relates a comparison between the light of the sun and that of the Supreme or Absolute Unity shining in the
allegorized “light of day”:

“And again, we speak of a Self-Beautiful and of a Good that is in itself good, and so, in the
case of all the things that we then posited as many [i.e. the realm of shadows or material
multiplicity], we turn about and postulate each as a single Idea [i.e. an archetype or “god” in
the archaic language], assuming it to be a unity and call it that which each one really is. (…)
And the one class of things we say can be seen but not thought, while the Ideas can be thought
but not seen.
(...) Have you ever observed –I said– how much closer to perfection the creator of the
senses has made the faculty of seeing and being seen? (…) Though vision may be in the eyes
and its possessor may try to use it, and though color be present in things, without the presence
of a third thing specifically and naturally adapted to this purpose, you are aware that vision
will see nothing and the colors will remain invisible. “
–“What is this thing of which you speak?” –he said.
–“The thing –I said– that you call light. (…) This bond, then, that yokes together visibility
and the faculty of sight is more precious than that which binds the other senses, if light is not
considered something insignificant. (…)
Apply this comparison, also, to the soul in this way. When it is firmly fixed on the domain
where truth and reality shine resplendent it apprehends and knows them [i.e. the Ideas] and
appears to possess reason; but when it inclines to that region which is mingled with darkness,

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the world of becoming and passing away, it has an opinion only and its edge is blunted, and it
shifts its opinions hither and thither, and again seems as if it lacked intellect. (...)
This reality, then, that gives their truth to the objects of knowledge and the power of
knowing to the knower, you must say is the Idea of Good, and you must conceive it as being
the cause of Knowledge, and of Truth in so far as it is knowable. Yet fair as they both
Knowledge and Truth are, in supposing it [i.e. the Idea of Good] to be something better still
than these, you will think rightly of it.
But as for knowledge and truth, even as in our illustration it is right to deem light and
vision sunlike, but never to think that they are the sun itself, so here it is right to consider
these two their counterparts, as being like the Good, but to think that either of them is the
Good in itself is not right. Still higher honor belongs to the condition of the Good.”5

Socrates compares the light, as the mean term between the


faculty of sight and visibility, to the Idea of the Good: the name
Plato gives to the Absolute or One Supreme God. The sun, as a
source of light for this world is compared to the Unity shining in
the highest reality of the Eidos, the intelligible realm beyond the
cavern. Knowledge and Truth, Socrates says, are not that
Supreme Unity of Godhead Itself, but the functions of perception
which allow for the contemplation of this “noetic light”. In
Egyptian mysteries, Knowledge and Truth (both divine) were
represented as Toth and Maat, while that Idea of the Good would
be Ra.
The Eidos where this mystical Light shines and enlightens
the soul is a world of Archetypal Forms or Ideas (ἰδέα) which
Plato presents as the cosmic functions and principles that his
contemporary Greeks knew as “gods” (theoi) and the Egytpians
called neteru. The lesson in the allegory is that the true Reality is
only clearly appreciated beyond the prison of the material cavern,
this enclosure of bondage for the spirit. It is clearly explained that
it is only the soul or psyche which is able to contemplate this
Eidos or higher reality which is allegorically that “light of day”,
and yet it must ascend or perform a shamanic “magic flight”
beyond the sensorial cavern.

4) Mystic Ideas
Platonic philosophy is in every sense mystic, because it is a constant invitation to the perception of things
hidden from plain sight and existent beyond sensual perception where the intellect gets lost in the spheres of
opinion by contemplating only the illusion of multiplicity. Platonic philosophy is an invitation for the soul to
journey out of the cavern, not by literal death, but by a mystic practice of contemplation empowered by a
spiritual power of the Cosmic Intellect or Nous.
Plato invites the philosophical nature in man for the sight of cosmic principles (Forms or Ideas) which are
cosmic functions and universal principles governing all things from a sphere of reality which can only be
intellectually grasped, and yet only as long as there is a true love for wisdom or philo-sophia. The Eidos is of
course invisible (haides), yet it is intelligible (noetic). Thus we read in this Allegory of the Sun that “the one
class of things we say can be seen but not thought, while the Ideas can be thought but not seen.”
It is worthwhile to note that the word "idea" (so common in our language of today) is actually introduced
by Plato to the western world, and yet it is possible to trace the linguistic roots of this word “idea”, as it has an
Indo-European root from *weid meaning “to see". The Germanic word “wizard” from and the Sanskrit “veda”
fall into the same linguistic root which evokes the concept of “seeing”. 6 The Greek Hades, commonly

5
Plato, Republic, Book VI, 507b-509a.
6
In Plato, Cratylus, 403a, Socrates tells that the prefix “a” in “aides” signifies a privation of vision (eidenai), so a-eides
(the root for the word Hades and haides) means a negation of vision or sight.
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regarded as the “underworld” or “netherworld” and thought to be inhabited by the dead, is actually the same
as the Platonic Eidos, and Plato alerts his readers that the Hades or Eidos is indeed the invisible (haides)
aspect of reality: which Man may explore, in life, by that mystic “practice of dying”. It is also worth
mentioning that Plato will speak of Hades not as a place to be feared, but rather a world worth exploring and
knowing, as its archetypal forms (Ideas) have a significant influence upon this reality, just as the figures of
passersby in the cavern would on the shadows projected on the wall that the prisoners contemplate.
Now, it is customary to think that ancient Egyptian formulas such as the one quoted earlier where the soul
is said to escape it’s “bondage” are meant to serve the deceased (not the living) in their journey in the
"underworld" or "netherworld". Unfortunately, here we have another arrangement of modern prejudice and
error in our hands concerning the esoteric and mystic science of old. It is enough to see this when we look at
the several "locations" referred to in the Egyptian texts which are unanimously translated as "underworld" or
"netherworld" in modern translations. Terms such as Neter-Khert, Duat, Akhert, Re-Stau, etc., are simply
translated as "the underworld" or "the netherworld" in practically all translations… However, on occasions,
certain translators such as Wallis Budge and Faulkner are kind enough to leave the original Egyptian words
and hieroglyphs, and it is through this hieroglyphic reading that we are reminded that a simple and common
translation of a variety of metaphysical “places” is insufficiently evoked as “the underworld" or the like.
What becomes quite clear from the beginning is that the Egyptians had a collection of terms in relation to
the "underworld" that we have no parallel terminology to amend in moderns translations. Platonic philosophy
–which we must remember to be initiatory and soaked to a high extent in Plato’s own initiation in Egypt for
over a decade– is extremely helpful if not necessary to understand Egyptian mysteries in all their complexity.
What is lacking for us is not just terminology, but science: actual knowledge of the psychological
processes of initiation which leads one to experience the “underworld” as one would the Platonic Eidos. And
we must face the reality that the initiatory texts are meant for the human who lives, not intended to be read
somehow by the dead as an instruction manual of what is in the “underworld”. The instruction is always for
the living human, for the initiate, for the purpose of unbinding his Osirian nature from the constraints of Seth.

5) Beyond the Psychic


Considering this general lack of understanding in our modern times about ancient “gods” and all that is
spiritual and metaphysical, it would be interesting to make an analogy between Plato's Eidos and the
Egyptian "Duat", as it is well acknowledged that the Duat is the place where the soul enters after death (i.e.
leaving the body) in Egyptian texts, much like the Hades of Greek mythology. But the question of exploring
this hidden reality of “Duat” whilst we live must remain open if we are to find any real privilege in examining
the ancient texts and sacred literature. The mystic formulas were written for the living, to read and examine;
for our enlightenment and insight into the great mysteries of life and being human.
Indeed, Plato's Eidos is a “place” of consciousness where archetypal Ideas may be contemplated once the
soul is released from its material prison. In this sense it is actually one and the same “place” as the legendary
Hades of Greek mystery cults, and so the platonic Eidos seems to be analogous to our Egyptian Duat.
In the dialogue Cratylus, Plato makes notice that the etymology of Hades is related to the word edienai
meaning "knowledge/knowing"7, and it is not difficult to see that our platonic Eidos –as the invisible yet
intelligible reality of archetypal Ideas, shining in the “light of day”– is one and the same as the Egyptian Duat.
Otherwise, how are we to understand that the “Book of Coming Forth By Day” is relating occurrences in the
Duat? Certainly, this kind of “day” is allegoric and expresses that the “underworld” of the Duat is quite bright
and resplandescent inasmuch as it is inhabited by spiritual powers such as the neters and even Ra (our Idea
of the Good) himself…
7
Plato, Cratylus, 404b. Here Plato says that the name of Hades does not refer so much to its invisible quality, but rather
because one is able to know (eidenai) all things beautiful.
6
As we have seen, the Neter-Khert, is a concept speaking of a state of consciousness more than a “place”,
and it is a reality where the human being is in possession (kheru) of the neters or “gods”. Such an event in
the ancient texts of Egypt is firstly registered in the Pyramid Texts, when the initiate is “embraced” by the
Supreme Being Atum.

Oh Unas, your messengers go forth.


Your heralds run towards your Father, towards Atum.
Oh Atum, rise forth towards yourself,
Embrace [ ] him in your arms.8
(…)
Oh Atum, may this Unas come close to you,
Elevate him, embrace [ ] him with your arms.
For he is your son, son of your body,
For all Eternity.9

In like manner, only a certain state of consciousness –elevated to what is religious– can produce the full
potential in Man which is this apotheosis of Unas (“Being”). The Neter-Khert –which we get as “underworld”
in modern translations– cannot be anything else than the spiritualization of Man conceded by a Supreme
Being with Omnipotence. By His (Atum’s) control and lordship over the neteru or “gods”, does Pharaoh
obtain spiritualization, he becomes an akh (“spirit/shining”). His spiriualization is told as the acquisition of
the Ka, a theme we have written about elsewhere.10
Man, in his apotheosis, becomes the living image of God, mortal, but blessed by His Power. The
Urmonotheismus or “Primitive Monotheism” of the Pyramid Texts and the Pharaonic revelation is significant.
The power to dominate oneself, as an image of God, comes by the revelation of a Supreme Being, for as His
image, Man has the “gods” as his vital functions, like his intellect or nous. The encounter with Toth (Hermes)
is a contact with the Intelligence of God, his contact with Ra is with the Truth of God or God’s Light (Plato’s
Aletheia). Such an Idea is registered in the old Caananite religion with the “god” Uri’El, the archangel we
know by that name is “The Light of God”.

The upper realm was opened for us in the lower realm, that we might enter the hidden
realm of truth. This is what is truly worthy and mighty, and we shall enter through symbols
that are weak and insignificant.11

8
The Pyramid Texts, Utterance 215.
9
Ibid., Utterance 222.
10
See: Irigaray, Christian, The Ka of His Mother: Mistic Symbolism of the Ka and Min (Link)
https://www.academia.edu/27605356/3.5_-_The_Ka_of_His_Mother_Mystic_Symbolism_of_the_Ka_and_Min
11
The Gospel of Phillip, NHC II, 3, 84,20–85,21 (Nag Hammadi Scriptures, p.185)