Rosicrucian Writings Online

The Real Heaven and Hell

By H. Spencer Lewis, Ph. D., F.R.C.
[From The Rosicrucian Digest May 1932]
THE subject chosen for the discourse this evening follows several of those recently given. It particularly follows the last two during which we dealt with the secret teachings of Jesus, and it also follows a recent discourse on what occurs after death. In dealing with the subject of the real Heaven and real Hell, we are dealing with a question that has interested thinking minds for many ages. I dare say that in spite of the opinions of a few that it is this subject, or the subject of Heaven and Hell, that has constituted or brought about a contest of intellects in the various churches and religions throughout the world in recent years. And perhaps these two subjects of Heaven and Hell are responsible for more criticisms and retraction of church doctrines than even the subjects of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, and Ascension.
It is commonly recognized by thinking men and women that the Immaculate Conception and birth and the Resurrection and Ascension are mystical experiences in the life of Jesus and that they can be interpreted and understood only from a mystical viewpoint, and therefore to deal with them and argue about them from any other than a mystical point of view is unfair to the subjects themselves.
However, when we come to the matter of Heaven and Hell, we are not supposed to be dealing with mystical subjects, but with some sort of actuality, or at least with some sort of concrete realities. It is for this reason that many thinking persons refuse to criticize or to analyze any of the present-day religions because of their acceptance of the Virgin Birth, and Ascension and Resurrection. They say that it is not for the average person to attempt to analyze those great experiences. But they say it is proper, it is fitting, that man should stop and think about and analyze any doctrines or any of the religious creeds that include the presentation of a so-called definite Heaven and Hell.
Now, then, it is our purpose, tonight, to tell you some things about this subject that are not commonly known or understood so that you might have a different viewpoint of this matter and come to some conclusion of your own. For, after all, it is you who must form the conclusion that will satisfy you. No living being can ever tell you anything about either Heaven or Hell that will be acceptable to you unless it forms a conclusion in your own mind that is of your own creation.
In the last few discourses on the secret teachings of Jesus, it was pointed out that one of the outstanding mysteries to which He referred and which He dealt with so freely, was the mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven, and He astonished the people of His period, made Himself a modernist, made Himself an outstanding critic in all form of doctrines by claiming that the Kingdom of Heaven was within. It is strange to say, or to note, rather, that while Jesus said much about the Kingdom of Heaven, He said very little about any opposite kingdom that might be called the "Kingdom of Hell." Even His Disciples said very little, and in fact as we start to study the subject, we find that it is not until several centuries after Jesus had established His work, and after the church, itself--the Christian Church--was well established that any attempt was made to specify about Hell as a place or even as a condition of afterlife.
We find in the Old Testament many references to various kinds of Hells, but it is a mooted question among the theologians whether very few of the references in the Old Testament to Hell had any reference to any place or condition that is used today or referred to today in the Christian religion. In other words, Hell had a different meaning, a different term to the Old Testament writers, to all of the people before the Christian period; and Jesus, Himself, did not do much or say much to change that opinion.
Now, let me tell you what the Jews and those in other parts of Palestine and that part of the world thought or knew of Hell before the Christian era. The Jews had a different name for it. There was one place known as Tehenna. Here criminals were destroyed, the bodies burned and buried in fire. That was the beginning of an early conception of Hell. Later on, this place in Palestine in one of the very low valleys, unsuitable for agriculture or civilization, where the bodies of criminals were burned, became a burial place for even those who were not criminals.
Many times in the history preceding the Christian era whenever famine, pestilence, or similar catastrophes brought death to a great many, and there was no time nor money nor facilities for the regular burial, the persons who had died of contagious diseases (and they were many), or those suspected of practicing witchcraft (and they represented another large proportion), and those whose bodies could possibly contaminate others, were burned in this place that might be called Hell, or Tehenna, or some other name.
In fact, we find from not only Christian literature, the Old Testament, but other writings kept by the Jews and other people of the time, that the century just before the Christian era, this one particular place, the largest of all in one of the valleys of Palestine, had so many burials and so many bodies to burn that the deep pit in the valley had fires kept burning day and night in order to consume the bodies that had been put into it. In Egypt, thousands of years before, they had tried the same thing, but they found a way of burying the bodies in the sand and covering them with lime and burning them in that way. Along the Ganges River and other rivers throughout the world, even today persons' bodies are burned openly in order to get rid of the bodies after death. So this place in Palestine became known by a word that is translated as "Hell"--a burning place.
Now there were some outstanding points about it that made it acceptable to the people. One of these was that bodies that had died after they had some contagious, mysterious, or contaminating disease, if burned, helped to eliminate the possibility of continued pestilence. In order that such burning might be acceptable, it was claimed that fire was the only thing that would purge the physical body of its evils, sins, and sickness. Now that is not a strange thing to say or proclaim. Among the ancients, the mystical alchemists, and in the mystery temples of Egypt, fire was considered the one great purger of evil. Water is looked upon as a great solvent of washing and cleaning, but fire is the destroyer or purger of evil. It would turn gross matter into confined metals, as the later alchemists turned baser metals into gold. It is said that out of fire and the consuming flame came all the goodness of life because fire could only live on that which was evil or bad; and so the people of Palestine, not only Jews, but Gentiles, many nationalities, accepted the Roman place--the Palestine place--for the burning of the bodies in this great valley called "Hell."
Now with this in your mind, if you read passages in the Old Testament, referring to Hell and its fire, you will see that all of those references did not pertain to any theologian Hell, but to an actual Hell there in Palestine. You will notice in other places the references are allegorical; that is, that some of the prophets and Wise Men in speaking would use as an analogy, as a comparison, some of the things that were familiar to them, and you find, therefore, that in the Old Testament some of the Wise Men said to another, "Thy sins will have to burn out in Hell before Thou canst come before God." It was an analogy. The reference did not mean that they believed there was a Hell in this afterlife of reality. Other references plainly show they were used as analogies; for instance, when they said that "Before your soul will come before God, it will have to be purged," even like going through the fires of Hell would purge. This meant not a physical place, except the one in Palestine. I might go on and quote hundreds of passages in the Old Testament, some of which are indefinite, but even the present-day theologians are not sure the Old Testament positively had in its pages any reference to an actual Hell or Hell fire anywhere away from this earth or in future life.
Now, as Jesus came with His story that the Kingdom of Heaven is within, that it is being born within you and can be born without regeneration through cleansing yourself and redeeming yourself, He naturally aroused in the minds of the people some thought about Hell and fire that purged man's body. Yet Jesus did not make such reference to Hell that would positively indicate that He believed that there was a place, a definite, material place, in the hereafter, with real fires such as have been referred to in later Christian doctrines.
It is true; records said Jesus went down into Hell, but again it is an analogy. In fact, in looking up this matter I find in the life of Buddha in ten days of wandering in the wilderness where all evil characters tempted him, he descended into Hell for three days. Why, it is said that Krishna went into Hell for three days, and Zoroaster was claimed to have gone to Hell for three days, and, in fact, there are eighteen of the greatest Avatars whose biographical sketches include the statements that they had descended into Hell, and in every case the explanation that follows shows it was not a material place that these men descended to, but was a state of mental torment and analysis and study where they purged themselves of contaminating influences of evil that had surrounded them for a few days preceding.
So the reference of Jesus descending into Hell, as we find in the Apostle's Creed, is not necessarily a reference to a physical place. If you study how the Apostle's Creed was composed, and how they debated on what it meant before they included it, you will find that none of the Holy Fathers, when they talked, included it in the Apostle's Creed, and not one believed it meant that Jesus actually descended into a material place where bodies are burned and purged.
Now we come to the interesting point of how we come to have in our present-day Christian doctrines a different understanding of Hell, as well as Heaven. Since these ancient writers in both the Old Testament and New Testament use the symbol of Hell with which they were familiar as something that was analogous of what must take place in man's life before he could become holy, we have before us the picture of the ancient writers presenting in their syllogies, allegories, and metaphores certain thoughts that meant something to the people of the time and which, when translated later, did not mean the same things.
So when the Christian doctrines were gradually put into concrete form, we find this doctrine of Hell presented a very complicated situation. "It must either be one thing or another," said St. Jerome in one of the meetings of the Council in Rome. "Hell must be a place of fire and purging or some place of conscious condemnation."
It must be understood that the Christian doctrine was reaching the land of people which was not familiar with Hell as it was described. In fact, when the Greeks and Romans and others heard of this Hell of the future into which man must go, it was a revolting, shocking thing, something they would not accept for a long time. It seemed to be so inconsistent with the teachings of a loving, merciful, and just God. Yet the Disciples had made statements about Hell fires in their early writings, and these later Fathers of the church, centuries later, found these statements and said, "They are the traditional writings of the Apostles; we cannot do otherwise, but assume that there is a real Hell with real fire for the future." They knew better; they knew it just as we know today that the after-life is not pictured with any such situations as the early fathers of the church gave us in their descriptions of both Heaven and Hell. Why, even the Sufi religion, that is so old and long in existence before the Christian era, contained a description about Heaven and Hell. We have it in the one poem of Omar Khayyam in which he said, "I sent my soul out into space, A little of the after-life to spell, And bye and bye my soul came back to me; I, myself, am Heaven and Hell."
Think of it! That was religion hundreds of years before the Holy Fathers established this present-day doctrine of Heaven and Hell; and so these people in Persia, India, Greece and Rome, and the other lands where culture and education, and even morals, were highly developed, were shocked at any such idea of a living and just God, a merciful God, a Father of all Beings, condemning any one of his children to any such purging because they were with sin.
Then what do we find? We find that several hundred years later a second Hell--a second form of Hell--was invented. It was not a matter of trying to understand something already referred to as the first Hell, but now it was a matter of inventing something entirely new. We find that the Council took up the great subject of Purgatory, not mentioned anywhere in the Bible, and something Jesus and his Disciples never referred to, something absolutely unknown. In reading about it just the last few days in some of the official writings of the Roman Catholic Encyclopedia, we find nine pages describing how Purgatory became invented as a doctrine. (Notice that it had been "invented.") They had two passages in the Bible which they found might be used to substantiate the idea that there was a Purgatory.
Before giving you those two passages let me tell you what the early idea of Purgatory was before it was invented. It was supposed to be a one-half-way place between this life and Judgment Day. It had been commonly understood in the Christian doctrine that at time of transition or time of passing into a state of unconscious existence, it was necessary to await a Judgment Day when the souls of the dead would be judged, and the sinful sent to Hell and the good admitted to Heaven. That Judgment Day might be millions and trillions of years away. In the meantime, billions and billions of human souls would be living in an unconscious, spiritual state, good and bad alike, all sleeping peacefully awaiting Judgment Day.
But some said, "Is it not possible that these souls might be semi-conscious and that some of them might be uneasy over some minor sins, some little sins that they forgot to confess before they passed on, that they forgot to tell their priest about, and forgot to ask redemption before their transition, and are now worrying about it, and there is some test, some little fire, some little purging process that can be used to cleanse them and let them wait in peace until Judgment Day instead of mental worry and torment?"
I admit if you and I and all of us assembled here tonight were to call this meeting to order for the purpose of inventing a doctrine we would begin to argue and say, "Let's see I don't think waiting for the Judgment Day is a nice thing; it is too long a wait. I would like to know sooner whether I am going to Heaven or Hell." And suppose someone said, "I don't think we should wait that long either. I think there should be a preliminary examination to let us know whether we are on one track or another, and some of us will at least be more comfortable." And someone else thinks there ought to be periodic examinations, and we go on and argue it out, and come to the conclusion, as far as we are concerned, that we would like to have a few way stations until Judgment Day, with periodic stops to see whether we are gaining or slipping back, and whether we are getting clean or still sinful; and after analyzing it, we come to the decision, not that it should be, or ought to be, but that there is a way station where there will be, not God, but some able assistant, maybe Moses or a few others, or Jesus, or maybe some of the clergymen of the churches. We could pick them out and say, "Here and now at this great Council, held the fourteenth of February, 1932, we decide that there are passages in some of the sacred writings that warrant us in claiming there is a way station between here and Judgment Day," and that settles it. When going out of the double doors tonight, you might say, "I have a way station between here and Judgment Day," and another would reply, "I have one, too." And when walking down the street, you might say to someone else, "I have a way station between here and Judgment Day," and he would say, "I haven't one." "Well, you were not at the meeting to pass on it, so you don't have one."
Then came the question as to what to call it. "Purgatory" was a good name, and that is how it was made. In all seriousness, that is how Purgatory came into existence. If you want to verify what I am going to tell you, go to the library and ask for the Roman Catholic Encyclopedia, where nine pages are devoted to the subject.
I am not criticizing the Roman Catholic Church or these Fathers who did this. Man's mind wanted creeds in those days; they wanted them cut and dried and wanted religion handed to them on slabs, just as Moses knew as he came down from the mountain that God did not extend His hand out of Heaven and carve these laws. What really happened is that he was inspired. The people wanted some sign, some proof, so he found it necessary to give them an allegorical explanation. That is what was wanted in the days when the Roman Catholic Fathers were confronted with the theologian necessity of having something definite and concrete, and they proclaimed by a holy synagogue, "There is a Purgatory." It was a great relief to know that this sort of thing would take place between now and Judgment Day.
Now, what were the two passages in the Bible that warrant such an idea? One of the Apostles, it is told, prayed for the departed souls, that they might get to Heaven. Why pray for a soul now, if it is not going to do it any good until Judgment Day? Why not wait until Judgment Day? The only idea of praying for the soul now is that maybe a temporary or intermediate judgment will be given; and there was another passage in the Bible that was similar; but you could plainly see such passages might be interpreted two or three ways.
So it is with Hell in all of its features; it has been invented as we have it today. In fact, there passed only the fact that fire burns up all the gross material in matter and washes it off in a pure state. You can take a big building, with all of its rottenness, and reduce it to ashes pure enough to clean teeth with it. You can take fire and kill germs, kill everything harmful. The ancients knew this, and the people of Palestine knew this--that fire was the symbol of purging, and yet they had this pit that was called "Hell," or "Tehenna." And that is how the story of fire and brimstone came into existence.
Today there are millions of men questioning whether it is good any longer to attempt to sway the minds of people and affect their moral ethics and standards of living by telling them allegories instead of telling them the truth; and it is this questioning on the part of the men and women that forms a problem for the churches of today.
Don't forget that within the last hundred years there have been high council meetings held in England and other lands by representatives of the leading churches, except the Roman Catholic, for the purpose of revising these doctrines and gradually eliminating some of these things that were objectionable to the thinking persons. You know and I know, that if every word were true about Hell, they would not dare eliminate one word of it. When you start to take a doctrine and leave out a word here and there and soften one or two adjectives so they would not be so hard and harsh any more, then you are admitting the whole thing is a lie. We cannot alter God's word; we cannot modify Cosmic principles.
The old Rosicrucians knew that the only laws that man ever broke were the laws man made. The only doctrine or creed that men can come together and patch up and take off some of its shine or tarnish is something they made themselves. If God made it, man cannot touch it. And so they decided to cut out some of the words and they cut out the "brimstone," as they were not sure there was enough brimstone to keep the fires burning, so brimstone today is eliminated for some other odor.
I remember a story a clergyman told. When Satan came to earth to get his annual supply of coal, he went by a hospital, and in passing he said, "My, what is that odor?" And he called one of the orderlies and said, "Can you tell me what the odor is?" "Yes; that is iodoform." Satan said, "Then that is what I am going to order instead of brimstone." Now these clergymen tell stories among themselves because it was only at the time of their ordination that they had to swear they believed in the actual existence of fire and brimstone, and now they tell jokes about it, and say, "Well, it was a theologian necessity, and now it has passed, we let it pass through." As though that could be done with anything with the least bit of truth connected with it.
The story of being washed in holy water does not mean anything to the thinking mind. How is the average man or woman here that wants to be redeemed and wants to be saved against his own will power--how is he going to wash himself in the blood of the lamb and holy water? God says it can be done. But God has never said it can be done only through going to church or during ritual or preaching. God said if you ask and pray for forgiveness it can be and will be given. Man has come to the realization that just as he stops in the middle of the street and says, "I am on my way to a place of gambling, or a saloon, or a bootlegging place, or a house of questionable character," so can he change his mind; so he believes he could stop transgressing in his life any moment he pleases and direct himself rightly from that hour on. It is right; it is what God and Jesus taught. Nothing was said in any of the fundamental principles that Jesus taught that redemption would come only when in service, or high mass, or any of these. Jesus showed that it was possible to turn the blackest bodies and the most sinful souls into the purest white with the twinkling of an eye. He stood before the accused woman who admitted her sin, and what did he say? "Go on and sin no more." It was all over. No blood of the lamb nor ritual was necessary, neither did her body have to be burned in any sense except by her conscience; and that is the story; Heaven is within us, so is Hell.
If it is angelic music you wish to play, don't expect to find a harp with catgut strings. Don't wait to be an angel; it can be done now before your transition. There can be angels treading the streets of San Francisco, New York, and even Los Angeles, if anyone wants to have it now, and even Chicago, too. There is no need of waiting for some special day or for some special purpose. Heaven is within you and when Heaven is not manifesting, it is Hell. When there is no daylight you have night; and when you have night, the sun is not shining. The opposites are all through life. Evil is the absence of color. Sorrow is the absence of joy. Misery is the absence of peace. They are negative things. Disease and ill health are all negative. The one grand, glorious, positive side of life is health, peace, mercy, happiness--all of these things. If you have not goodness in your heart, don't look to Heaven. It must be there and is a great thing that must be worked out. It can be made to appear with the twinkling of an eye. The moment you proclaim to yourself, "I am holy; I am clean," and start to live that thought with the positive element in you, you begin to journey through Hell and Purgatory and you end it when you find it has consumed all the evil in you.
The Rosicrucians have been teaching, for many centuries, truths about man's unfoldment, and that man inherits no original sin, pain, or suffering. These things he has created just as man created Purgatory; in fact, time has added to the conception until it is the blackest living thing like the Frankenstein creature. Many people today are living in fear of an artificial, negative something they have built up in their own lives. It may be fear of death, of passing over the borderline from this life of experience into a life of beauty, peace, harmony, of great lessons, great experiences and great unfoldment; and yet they live in fear of that hour. Do you go to bed at night fearing your eyes may close and your consciousness leave you for several hours in an unknown state? No, you have learned to trust sleep. You have learned from the first experience that it is painless, beautiful, that it contributes to the health. You have learned that after sleeping you come back to consciousness again and know what sleep is; so you should look upon "death," as they call it--that transition from this state into another--yet millions and billions live in fear of it. They live in fear of God, that God might point his finger and say, "Die, die, die!" in accordance with some mystical law of annihilation.
Churches tell you about walking around and going about your affairs as good Christians, living in the fear of God. Did Jesus say that? Live in the love of God. Walk with God; talk with God; make a friend of God; tell your best story to Him. A story you can tell to God is clean and you can tell it to anyone. Tell Him your problems, your interesting incidents. When you sit down along the countryside and see a beautiful sunset or scenery, say, "God, you know this is a lovely day, a beautiful scene. Your sun is magnificent. I am glad I am living today. God, I wish you would tell me how you made those things. I am going to listen," and sit quietly and see if God will inspire you with an idea. If you are going some place, say, "God, come along with me. God, I am going to listen to some good music, maybe you can nudge me in the side when there is some particular divinely inspired harmony." Make a companion of God; do not fear him.
That is what the mystics do. They live in a world of reality--a real Kingdom of Heaven. That is what the Rosicrucians teach--that health is easy to maintain, that disease can be eliminated here and now by living in harmony with positive laws.
Not many years ago it was considered that persons who joined certain sects or movements that were instructive and helpful came into lucky spells because they found the average one of those persons was more fortunate. If we were to judge the Rosicrucian Order by that, we would think there was a mystical key that they carried on a watch chain, but it is not that. They have the power of understanding.
Life is not a path filled with unsurmountable obstacles. Today is an easy path. The problems of yesterday seemed unsurmountable, but they are simple today when we understand them. That is what Jesus started to teach--the Kingdom of Heaven is within. When the time comes for you to face your judgment, the judgment is going to be merciful. If you have sinned, you are going to have another opportunity of living again. You will not be condemned to live in eternal ignorance. God is not so unjust. The whole system is not so unfair that every individual will be given just one lifetime or one period of existence. Suppose you were sent out into this world of ignorance, unguided, to stumble, fall, and learn bitter lessons, and when, the last day at the end of the path, you stumbled, you must go into eternal Hell. Your brother who escaped is to be eternally blessed. Is that fair? Does that sound like the loving, merciful Father of all creatures? Is your conception of God like that? If so, your conception of God is wrong; so I tell you, as a concluding thought, that the real Heaven and Hell are within you, just as is God.

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