Consciousness & Unconsciousness
Consciousness is knowledge and life; unconsciousness is ignorance and death. If we are conscious of the existence of a thing, we know that a relation exists between ourselves and that thing. If we become unconscious of its existence, neither we nor that object ceases to exist, but we fail to recognise its relation to us.
As soon as we begin to realise that relation, the character of the object perceived in the sphere of our mind becomes a part of our mental constitution, and we begin to live in relation to it. We then possess it in our consciousness, and may retain it there by the power of our Will. If it disappears, we may recall it by the power of recollection and memory. To know an object is to live relatively to it, to forget it is to cease to exist in relation to it.
Unconsciousness, ignorance, and death are therefore synonymous terms, and everyone is dead in proportion as he is ignorant. If he is ignorant of a fact, he is dead relatively to it, although he may be fully alive relatively to other things. We cannot be conscious of everything at once, and therefore, as our impressions and thoughts change, our consciousness and relation to certain things change, and we continually die relatively to some things and live relatively to others.
There can be no absolute unconsciousness; because the One Life is self-existent and independent of its manifestations. It manifests itself in our forms, and even if our forms dissolve, Life continues to be and to evolve other forms.
There can be no cessation of absolute consciousness as long as there is absolute being, because the "Absolute" never ceases to be in relation to itself. Relative death and unconsciousness occurs every moment, and we are not aware of its occurrence. We meet hundreds of corpses in the streets, which are entirely dead and unconscious in regard to certain things of which we are alive; and we are dead in regard to many things to which others are alive and conscious.
Only simultaneously occurring omniscience in regard to everything that exists would be absolute life without any admixture of death, but such a state is an impossibility as long as man is bound to a personality and limited form, and has therefore only a limited existence and consciousness.
Each principle in man has a certain sphere of activity, and its perceptions can only extend to the limits of that sphere. Each is dead to such modes of activity as are in no relation with it. Minerals are unconscious of the action of intelligence, but not of the attraction of Earth; the spirit is dead to earthly attraction and mechanical pressure, but not to love. If we can change the mode of activity in a form, we call into existence a new state of consciousness, because we establish new relations of a different order; the old activity dies and a new one begins to live.
If the energy which we are now using for the purpose of digesting food, for performing intellectual labour and for enjoying sensual pleasures, were used for the purpose of developing the spiritual germs contained within the constitution of man, we would be in a comparatively short time rewarded for our labour by becoming superior beings, of a state so far above our present condition, that we can at present not even conceive of it, because we have no experience about it.
All we know about such states is that which has been told to us by those who have entered it, and in moments of tranquillity and exaltation the soul of even not highly spiritually developed people may occasionally pass by the temple of divine wisdom, when the door is left ajar, and from the glance caught of the interior light that streams through the Gates of Gold it may form a conception about the beauties contained therein.
In the constitution of average man life is especially active in the physical body, and he clings to the life of that body as if it were the only possible mode of existence. He knows of no other mode of life, and is, therefore, afraid to die. A person who has concentrated his life and consciousness into his astral body will be conscious of another existence, and his physical body will be only so far of value to him, as by its instrumentality he can act on the physical plane. Physical death is a continuation of the activity of life in other principles. If we, by an occult process, concentrate all our life into our higher principles before our body ceases to live, we master death, and live independent of our physical body.*
* Such beings exist and are called "Nirmaanakaayas." See H. P. Blavatsky, "The Voice of the Silence," Part III. They are not to be confounded with the so-called "Theosophical Mahatmas," who are terrestrial men and Adepts; but who have been represented by some fanatical admirers as "spirits" or ghosts.
Such a transfer of life and consciousness is not beyond possibility. It has been accomplished by many, and will be accomplished by others. The material elements of the physical body are continually subject to elimination and renewal. By permitting the physical body gradually to die, while the spiritual organism becomes developed, the astral body assumes the functions of the physical form.
No one would be willing to look upon such a change as death, and nevertheless it would be nothing else but a mode of dying slow as far as the physical body is concerned, while at the same time it is a raising of the real man into a superior form of existence. Death -- whether slow or quick -- is nothing but a process of purification, by which the imperfect is eliminated and rendered unconscious. Nothing perishes but that which is not able to live. Principles cannot die, only their manifestations cease in one plane, to appear in another.
Only that which is perfect can remain without being changed. God does not redeem the personal man by the process of death; he redeems himself by freeing himself from the personality of the man. Truth, wisdom, justice, beauty, goodness, &c., cannot be exterminated; it is merely the forms in which they become manifest that can be destroyed.
If all the wise men in the world were to die, the principle of Wisdom would nevertheless continue to exist, and manifest in due time in other receptive forms; if Love were to leave the hearts of all human beings, it would thereby not be annihilated, it would merely cease to exist relatively to men, and men would cease to live, while love would continue to be. Eternal principles are self-existent, and therefore independent of forms, and not subject to change; but forms are changeable, and cannot continue without the presence of the principles whose instruments for manifestation they represent.
The human body is an instrument for the manifestation of life, the soul is an instrument for the manifestation of spirit. When life leaves the body, the body disintegrates; if the spirit leaves the astral form, the latter dissolves. A person in whom the spiritual principle has become entirely inactive is morally dead, although his body may be full of life and his earthly soul full of animal desires. Such spiritless living corpses or shells are often seen in fashionable society as well as in the crowds where the vulgar assemble.
A person in whom the principle of reason has become inactive is intellectually dead, although his body may be full of animal life; lunatics are dead people, in whom reason has ceased to live. If the soul leaves the body, the form dies, although the soul lives if endowed with spirit; but if its connection with spirit ceases, either before or after the death of the body, it dissolves into the elements of the astral plane.
The astral soul, like the body, is a compound organism, composed of various elements. Some of these elements may be fit to assimilate with the spirit, others are not fit to do so. If a person, during his earthly life, has not purified his soul sufficiently, so as to enter the spiritual state immediately after the death of the physical body, a gradual separation of the pure and impure elements from the still impure remains takes place in the state after death. When the final separation is accomplished, the spiritual elements enter the spiritual state (which, in fact, they have never left); and the lower elements remain in the lower plane, where they gradually disintegrate.
If the organisation of the physical body becomes impaired to such an extent, that the principle of life cannot employ it any longer to serve as an instrument for its manifestation, it ceases to act. Death may begin at the head, the heart, or the lungs, but life lingers longest in the head, and is still active there to a certain extent after the body, to all exterior appearances, has become unconscious and ceased to live.
The power of thought continues for a time to work in its habitual manner, although sensation has ceased to exist in the nerves. This activity may even grow in intensity as the principles become disunited; and if the thought of the dying is intensely directed upon an absent friend it can impress itself upon the consciousness of that friend, and perhaps cause him to see the apparition of the dying. At last vitality leaves the brain, and the higher principles depart, carrying with them their proper activity, life, and consciousness, leaving behind an empty form, a mask, and illusion.
There need not necessarily be any loss of consciousness in regard to the persons and things by which the dying person is surrounded; the only consciousness which necessarily ceases is that which refers to conditions concerning his personality, such as physical sensation, pain, weight, heat and cold, hunger and thirst, which affected the physical form.
As his life departs from the brain, another state of consciousness comes into existence, because he enters into relation to a different order of things.
"The principle, carrying memory, emerges from the brain, and every event of the life which is ebbing away, is reviewed by the mind. Picture after picture presents itself with living vividness before his consciousness, and he lives in a few minutes his whole life again. Persons in a state of drowning have experienced that state. That impression which has been the strongest, survives all the rest; the other impressions disappear to reappear again in the devachanic state.
"No man dies unconscious, whatever external appearances may seem to indicate to the contrary; even a madman will have a moment, at the time of his death, when his intellect will be restored. Those who are present at such solemn moments should take care not to disturb, by outbursts of grief or otherwise, that process by which the soul beholds the effects of the past and lays the plan for its future existence." *
* Extracted from the letter of an Adept.
Perispirit [astral body]
The process of the parting of the astral form [in the 8th edition, the "perispirit"] from the physical remains is described by a clairvoyant as follows: "At first I saw a beautiful light of a pale blue colour, in which appeared a small egg-shaped substance about three feet above the head. It was not stationary, but wavered to and fro like a balloon in the air. Gradually it elongated to the length of the body, the whole enveloped in a mist or smoke. I perceived a face corresponding in features to that which was so soon to be soulless, only brighter, more smooth, more beautiful, yet unfinished, with the same want of expression that we observe in a new-born infant.
With every breath from the dying body the ethereal form was added to and became more perfect. Presently the feet became defined, not side by side, as the dying man had placed himself, but one hanging below the other, and one knee bent, as new-born infants would be in an accidental position. The body appeared to be enshrouded in a cloudlike mist. A countless host of other presences seemed to be near. When the whole was complete, all slowly passed out of sight."*
* A. J. Davis  describes a similar scene.
[1. Alexander Jackson Davis (1826-1910), trance medium, "the Seer of Poughkeepsie," aka "the John the Baptist of modern Spiritualism," author of Stellar Key to the Summerland. ]
This ethereal body is the soul-body or perisprit of the person that died. It is not the spirit itself, but still connected with the spirit, as it was connected with it during life. It still contains the good and evil tendencies which it acquired during life, unless its attraction towards one pole or the other was already so great that a separation of the highest principle has taken place before physical death.
The real man is an impersonal power, and his existence does not depend on a physical form, he only acquires such a form to manifest his activity on the lower planes. If his spirit rises above the attractions of his lower self, his lower self will be unconscious and disintegrate; but if he clings to his animal nature with a great intensity of desire, a centre of consciousness may become established therein, and its sense of personality still continue to exist for a while even after the physical body is dead. His soul will in such cases be a semi-conscious inhabitant of the Kama loca state.
[2. The place of desire; see below.]
The time during which an astral corpse may remain in this state before it is entirely dissolved depends on the density and strength of its elements. It may differ from a few hours or days to a great many years. Man is made up of a great many living elements or principles, of which each one exists in its own individual state while they all receive their life from the spirit. When the spirit withdraws they become separated, while each retains for a while its own particular life in the same sense as a wheel which is once set into motion will continue to run until after the force is exhausted, even if the original motive power is withdrawn.
Kama Loca State [kama-loka, or purgatory]
The remnant of a man in the Kama loca state  is therefore not the man, but an elementary part of him which may or may not be conscious that it exists.
This Kama loca state is the "land of the shadows," the Hades of the ancient Greeks, and the "purgatory" of the Roman Catholic Church. Its inhabitants may or may not possess consciousness and intelligence, but the astral souls of average men and women possess no intelligence of their own; they can, however, be made to act intelligently by the power of the Elementals, who infuse their own consciousness into them.
Paracelsus says: "Men and women die every day, whose souls during their lives have been subject to the influence and guidance of Elementals. How much easier will it be for such Elementals to influence the sidereal bodies of such persons and to make them act as they please, after their souls have lost the protection which their physical bodies afforded! They may use their soul-bodies to move physical objects from place to place, to carry such objects from distant countries, and to perform other feats of a similar kind that may appear miraculous to the uninitiated." 
[4. Exact quote not found, but see Hartann's Life of Paracelsus on this site: /magic/paracelsus/hartmann-life-of-paracelsus/ ]
The state of consciousness of the fourth principle (the animal soul) after the lower triad has become unconscious and lifeless, therefore, differs widely in different persons, according to the conditions that have been established during its connection with the body. The soul of an average person in Kama loca with only moderate selfish desires is not conscious and intelligent enough to know that its physical body has died, and that it is itself undergoing the process of disintegration; but the soul of a person whose whole consciousness was centred in self, chained to earth by fear, remorse, greed, or desire for revenge,* may be conscious and intelligent enough to make desperate efforts to enter again into physical life. Feeling its impending fate, seeking to prolong its existence, it clings for protection to the organism of some living being, and causes obsession. Not only weak-minded human beings but also animals may be subject to such an obsession.
* Chinamen kill themselves for the purpose of fastening their soul upon an enemy and taking revenge. Let those who "know" that this is a superstition try the experiment.
Consciousness After Death
To a body without sensation or consciousness it can make no difference under what conditions it may continue to exist or perish, because it cannot realise its existence; but to a soul in which the divine spark of intelligence coming from the sixth principle has kindled consciousness and sensation, its surrounding conditions will be of importance, because it realises them more or less fully according to the degree of its consciousness.
Such surroundings, in the state after death, each man creates for himself during life by his thoughts, his words, and his acts. Man is creating all his life the world wherein he will live in the hereafter.
Thought is substantial and objective to those who live on the plane of thought. Even on the physical plane, every form that exists is materialised thought, grown or made into a form; the world of the souls is a world in which thought itself appears material and solid to those who exist in that world.
Man is a centre from which continually thought is evolved, and crystallises into forms in that world. His thoughts are things that have life and form and tenacity; real entities, solid and more enduring than the forms of the physical plane. Good thoughts are light and rise above us, but evil thoughts are heavy and sink. The world below us to which they sink is the sphere of the grossest, most diseased, and sensual thoughts evolved by evil-disposed and ignorant men. It is a world still more material and solid to its inhabitants than ours is to us; it is the habitation of man-created personal deities, devils, and monstrosities invented by the morbid imagination of man.
They are only the products of thoughts, but nevertheless they are relatively real and substantial to those who live among them and realise their existence. The myths of hell and purgatory are based on ill-understood facts. "Hells" exist, but man is himself their creator. Brutal man creates monsters by the working of his diseased imagination during life; disembodied man will be attracted to its creations.
There are few persons who are not subject to evil thoughts; such thoughts are the reflex of the lurid light from the region of folly, but they cannot take form unless we give them form by dwelling on them and feeding them with the substance of our own will. Love is the life of the good, malice the substance of evil.
An evil thought, evolved without consent of the heart, is without life; an evil thought, brought into existence with malice, becomes malicious and living. If it is embodied in an act, a new devil will be born into the world. The horrors of hell exist only for those who have been conscious, voluntary, and malicious colaborers of the imagination, peopling the mind with the products of fancy; the beauties of heaven are only realised by him who has created a heaven within himself during his life.
Pain is only caused if a being exists under abnormal conditions. Allegorically speaking, devils do not suffer in hell, because they are there in their own natural element; they would suffer if they had to enter into heaven. A man suffers if his head is kept under water: a fish suffers if he is taken out of the water.
We can only be conscious of the existence of things, if a relation exists between ourselves and these things. A person who has created nothing during life that could have established a conscious relationship with his immortal self will have nothing immortal with which to remain in relation with after death.
If his whole attention is taken up by his physical wants, the sphere of his consciousness during life will be confined to those material wants. When he leaves his material habitation material wants will no longer exist for him, and his consciousness of them ceases. Having created nothing in his soul that can enter into relation with his own spirit, his soul will neither lose that which it never possessed nor gain that which it never desired, but remain a blank.
Death will clear away that which hinders our spiritual perception of truth; but it cannot enable us to develop that power. If we hire a priest or a professor to do our thinking for us, and to be guardian of our knowledge and spiritual aspirations, we create no spiritual aspirations or living thoughts for ourselves.
If we are contented to live in the opinions of others, we have no truth of our own. The artificial consciousness, which has thus been created by the illusive reflection of the thought of others on the mirror of the individual mind, has no roots in the spiritual soul, and mere opinions have no immortal existence. Those minds which have been fed on illusions will have no substance after the illusions have passed away. The only knowledge which can remain with the soul is that which it loves and knows and is itself.
"Whatever thou lovest, man,
that too, become you must.
God, if thou lovest God;
dust, if thou lovest dust."
-- Angelus Silesius [1624–1677] [Wikipedia]
Every cause is followed by an effect. Illusions that have been created in the mind are forces that must become exhausted before they can die. They will continue to act in the subjective state and produce other illusions by the law of harmony that governs the association of ideas, and all illusions will end in the sphere to which they belong.
Selfish desires will end in the sphere of self, unselfish aspirations and thoughts will bring their own rewards if they were good, and their own punishment if they were evil. But after all the good and evil thoughts have been exhausted in Kama loca and Devachan,  there can be left nothing of the individual but the self-consciousness of his spirit, that existed during his life in the innermost sanctuary of his heart.
[5. Theosophy: "Dwelling of the Gods." [Wikipedia] ]
If no such consciousness existed, if there were nothing in him to cause him to feel his own divine nature, the presence of truth, there will be nothing left but a blank, an empty mind, to become reincarnated for the purpose of trying again to attain the knowledge of self.
Death is a transformation or change of conditions under which we exist. Our desires for things change as the conditions under which we exist assume a different character. Before we are born our state of life depends on the state of the mother's womb; but having been born into the world, we care nothing more for that which furnished us with nutriment and life during our foetal existence.
Being infants, our interests are centred upon the breasts of the mother, but these breasts are forgotten after we need them no more. Things which absorbed the whole of our consciousness during our youth are discarded as we grow older. If we throw off the physical body, the desire for that which was attractive to it and important for its existence is thrown off with it, or perishes soon afterwards.
But if the soul again approaches the material plane, and again enters into relationship with it, the old consciousness and the old desires, that were gone to sleep, reawaken, and its physical sensations return, but vanish again after the influence of the medium is withdrawn. The "Elementary" then relapses in his unconscious state.*
* The non-remembering of previous appearances is an essential feature in returning ghosts.
The Mystic Death
There are innumerable varieties of conditions and possibilities in the world of spirit and on the astral plane, as there are upon the physical plane. If the mind begins to investigate these things separately, and without understanding the fundamental laws of nature upon which such phenomena are based, it may as well despair of ever being able to form a correct conception of them.
If a botanist were to examine separately each one of the thousands of leaves of a large tree which he has never seen, for the purpose of finding out the true nature of that tree, he would never arrive at an end; but if he once knows the tree as a whole, the colour and shape of the individual leaves will be of secondary importance. If we once arrive at a correct conception of the spiritual nature of man, it will be easy to follow the various ramifications of the one universal law.
There is no death for that which is perfect, but the imperfect must perish sooner or later. So-called death is simply a process of elimination of that which is useless. In this sense we all are continually dying every day, and even wishing to die, because every reasonable person desires to get rid of his imperfections and their consequences and the sufferings which they cause.
No one is afraid to lose that which he does not want, and if he clings to that which is useless, it is because he is unconscious and ignorant of that which is useful. In such a case he is already partly dead to that which is good, and must come to life and learn to realise that which is useful, by dying to that which is useless. This is the so-called mystic death, by which the enlightened come to life, which involves the unconsciousness of worthless and earthly desires and passions, and establishes a consciousness of that which is immortal and true.
The reason why men and women are sometimes afraid to die is because they mistake the low for the high, and prefer material illusions to spiritual truths. We ought not to live in the fear of death; but in the hope of coming to life. There is no death for the perfect, and the dead in life must throw away their imperfectness, so that that which is perfect in him may become conscious and live. This mystic death is recommended by the wise as being the supreme remedy against real death. This mystic death is a spiritual regeneration.*
* John 3:3 [Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again."]
Hermes Trismegistus  says: "Happy is he whose vices die before him"; and the great teacher Thomas de Kempis writes: "Learn to die now to the world" (to the attractions of matter), "so that you may begin to live with Christ"; and Angelus Silesius writes: "Christ rose not from the dead, he is still in the grave for those who do not know him." The true and only saviour of every man or woman is the self-knowledge of divine truth.
A person whose vices have died during his earthly life does not need to die again. His sidereal body will dissolve like a silver cloud, being unconscious of any desires for that which is low, and his spirit will be fully conscious of that which is beautiful, harmonious, and true; but he, whose conscience is centred in the passions that have raged in his soul during life, can realise nothing higher than that which was the highest to him during his life, and cannot gain any other consciousness by the process of death.
Physical death is no gain; it cannot give us that which we do not already possess. Unconsciousness cannot confer consciousness, ignorance cannot give knowledge. By the mystic death we arrive at life and consciousness, knowledge and happiness, because the awaking of the higher elements to life implies the death of that which is useless and low. "Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision availeth, but a new creature."*
* Galat. vi. 15.
There are Esprits soufrantes, our suffering souls. They are the "revenants" or "restants" the astral bodies of victims of premature death, whose physical forms have perished before their time. They remain within the attraction of the Earth until the time arrives that should have been the termination of their physical lives according to the law of their Karma.
They are under normal conditions, not fully conscious of the conditions in which they exist; but they may be temporarily stimulated into life by the influence of mediumship. Then will their half-forgotten desires and memories return and cause them to suffer. To rouse such existences from their stupor into a realisation of pain for the purpose of gratifying idle curiosity is cruel, and very injurious to such irrational souls, as it reawakens their thirst for life and for the gratification of earthly desires.
The soul of the same suicide, however, or that of a malicious person, may be fully conscious and realise the situation in which it is placed. Such shadows wander about earth, clinging to material life, and vainly trying to escape the dissolution by which they are threatened. Partly bereft of reason, and following their animal instincts, they may become Incubi and Succubi, Vampires stealing life from the living to prolong their own existence, regardless of the fate of their victims.
The soul-bodies of the dead may be either unconsciously or consciously attracted to mediums for the purpose of communicating with the living. By using the astral emanations of the medium they sometimes become materialised, visibly and tangibly, and appear like the deceased person himself. But if a deceased person was in possession of high aspirations and virtues, his soul-corpse will not be the actual entity which it represents, although it may act in some respect as the person whose mask it wears.
If one blows into a trumpet it will give the sound of a trumpet and no other. The soul-corpse of a good person, if infused artificially with life, will produce the thoughts it used to produce during life; but there needs to be no more of the identity of that person in the corpse than there is the identity of a friend in a phonograph.
The revelations made by such "spirits" are the echoes of their former thoughts, or of thoughts impressed upon them by the living, as a mirror reflects the faces of those that stand before it. They do not give us a true description of the spirit's condition in the world of souls, because they are themselves ignorant of that condition.
At the time when Plato was living, such souls returned, giving descriptions of Hades and of the deities that were believed to exist in that place. At the present day the souls of Roman Catholics will return and ask for masses to be relieved from purgatory, while the Protestants refuse to be benefited by the ceremonies of the Catholic Church. The souls of dead Hindus ask sometimes for the performance of sacrifices to their gods, and every such "spirit" is domineered by those ideas in which he believed during his life. The discrepancy in their reports prove that their tales are only the products of the imagination of the irrational soul.*
* We do not deny the occurrence of so-called spiritual phenomena; and we are not opposed to "spiritualism"; but we are opposed to the misunderstanding of it. We believe in Spiritualism as belonging to the department of natural science and as having been very useful in overthrowing the blind materialism of the past. We also make a distinction between Spiritualism, which implies Spirituality and ennobling elevation of soul, and Spiritism, which consists in dealing with the inhabitants of the Astral plane, an intercourse whose dangers are unfortunately not sufficiently known.
If man has a "spirit" that spirit must be immortal, but a man is not immortal if he does not realise the presence of the immortal spirit in him. Having become conscious in man, it cannot become unconscious again, because it is self-existent and independent of all conditions but those which it creates itself.
In him who IS, the consciousness of the I Am is indestructible, because it exists in the absolute eternal One. If that consciousness were to perish, the world would perish with it; because in the consciousness of the I Am the world came into existence, and by its power does it continue to exist. Its consciousness upholds the world, its unconsciousness would be annihilation, but that which not truly IS cannot have the true consciousness of being; it may at best fancy to be. It exists; but as an illusion and not in truth.
The object of man's life is to become conscious that He is -- not an illusive personal form -- but an impersonal, immortal reality, to render the unconscious spirit conscious and enable the immortal soul to realise its own immortality; the object of death is to release that which is conscious from that which is unconscious, and to free the immortal from the bonds of matter.
The tree of life grows and produces a seed, and this seed has to be planted again, to grow into a tree and produce another seed, and this process will have to be repeated over and over again, until at last the soul slumbering in the seed awakens to the realisation of its immortal life.
Unconscious of any relation to personalities, unconscious of its own self, it [the seed of life] will be attracted to such conditions as may be best suited for its further development, as its Karma decides. It will be attracted to overshadow a man whose moral and intellectual tendencies and qualities correspond to its own, careless whether it enters the world as a new-born babe through the door of the hut of a beggar or through the palace of a king.
It does not care for its future conditions, because it is unconscious of their existence. The unconscious spiritual monad, descending into the lower plane, gathering again the elements which belonged to the previous man of earth, building again the thought-body which it had created in former lives and which constituted its terrestrial character, and entering again into connection with a human physical organism, is born once more into the world of sorrow, builds up the house of flesh, and takes up once more the battle with life, the strife with its lower nature, to make a step forward and come nearer to God.
Thus a man that reigned as a king in a former incarnation may be reborn as a beggar, if his character was that of a beggar; and a liberal beggar may create as his future successor a king or a being of noble birth. Both act without freedom of choice at the time of their visit to the Earth, following unconsciously their Karma.
But the Adept, who knows his own real self and has learned to realise his immortal existence, will be his own master. He has grown above the sense of personality, and thereby gained immortal consciousness during his earthly life. He has thrown away his lower self, and death cannot rob him of that which he no longer possesses and to which he attaches no value. Being conscious of his existence and of the conditions under which he exists, he may follow his own choice in the selection of a body, if he chooses to reincarnate, either for the benefit of humanity or for his own progression. Having entirely overcome the attractions of Earth, he is truly free. He is dead and unconscious to all earthly temptations, but conscious of the highest happiness attainable by man. The delusion of the senses can fashion for him no other tabernacle to imprison his soul, and before him lies open the road to eternal rest in Nirvana.*
But now, them builder of the tabernacle, thou!
I know thee! Never shalt thou build again
These walls of pain,
Nor raise the roof-tree of deceits, nor lay
Fresh rafters on the clay.
Broken thy house is, and the ridge-pole split!
Delusion fashioned it.
Save pass I thence. Deliverance to obtain.
If a person has once attained spiritual self-knowledge he will not need to follow the blind law of attraction, but he will be able to choose the body and the conditions most suitable to him. He may then reincarnate himself in the body of a child, or in the body of a grown person, whose soul has been separated by disease or accident from the body, and that person will thus be brought to life again, if no vital organ is too seriously injured, to carry on the functions of life again.
Cases are known in which a certain person apparently died, and finally came to life again, when from that time he appeared to be an entirely different man; he may have died as a ruffian and after his recovery become suddenly like a saint, so that such a sudden change appeared inexplicable on any other theory than that an entirely different character had taken possession of his body. Such people may, after their recovery takes place, speak a language they never learned, talk familiarly of things they never saw; call people by their names, of which they never heard, know all about places, where their physical bodies never have been, &c., &c. If phenomena could prove anything, such occurrences might go to prove the theory of the reincarnation of living adepts.
"Shall we know our loved ones after death?" is a question which is often asked, and which answers itself if the true nature of the "Ego" is known. In all planes rules the law of harmony, and like is attracted to like; but an illusion can only know illusions. We do not know each other in this life, if we have not the knowledge of our own self.
He who, having become self-conscious of his own spiritual nature, knows his own real self, may rise up in his soul to the planes of the blessed, and by entering their individual spheres join their own happiness and partake of their joys; but the souls dreaming in heaven, being immersed in bliss, do not descend and join in the circus of life, before the time of their reincarnation arrives. Such a descent would be degradation. Heaven does not descend to earth; but if earth ascends to heaven it becomes heaven itself.
To die is to become unconscious in relation to certain things. If we become unconscious of a lower state, and thereby become conscious of a higher existence, such a change cannot properly be called death. If we become unconscious of a higher condition, and thereby enter a lower one, such a change is followed by degradation, and therefore degradation is the only death to be feared.
Degradation takes place if a human faculty is employed for a lower purpose than that for which it was by nature intended. Degradation of the most vulgar, the lowest material type takes place, if the organs of the physical body are used for villainous purposes, and disease, atrophy, and death are the common result.
A higher and still more detrimental and lasting degradation takes place if the intellectual faculties are habitually used for selfish and degrading purposes. In such cases the intellect, that ought to serve as a basis for spiritual aspirations, becomes merged with matter, its consciousness is bound down to the plane of materiality and selfishness, and becomes inactive in the region of spirituality.
The lowest and most enduring degradation takes place if man, having reached a state in which his personality has, to a certain extent, merged with his impersonal I, degrades his spiritual self by employing the powers which such an amalgamation confers for villainous purposes of a low character. Such are the practices of black magic. A person who, for want of any better understanding, employs his intellectual faculties for his own selfish purposes, regardless of the principle of justice, is not necessarily a villain, but simply a fool.
The murderer may commit a murder to save himself from being discovered of some crime, and not for the purpose of robbing another person of life. A thief may steal a purse for the purpose of enriching himself, and not for the purpose of rendering another man poor. Such acts are the result of ignorance; persons usually act evil for selfish purposes and not for the pure love of evil. Such acts are the result of personal feelings, and personal feelings cease to exist when the personality to which they belong ceases to exist. Such a personal existence ceases when his life on the lower plane ceases to act. The higher spiritual I of the man is neither a gainer nor loser on such an occasion, it remains the same as it was before the compound of forces representing the late personality was born.
The real villain, however, is he who performs evil for the love of evil without personal considerations. A person who is no more influenced by his sense of personality, and has attained spiritual knowledge, is a magician. Those who employ such a power for the purposes of evil have been called black magicians or Brothers of the Shadow, in the same sense as those who employ their spiritual powers for good purposes have been called Brothers of Light.
The white magician is a spiritual power for good; the real black magician is a living power of evil attached to a personality that performs evil instinctively and for the love of evil itself. This power of evil may kill the man or the animal that never offended it, and by whose death it has nothing to gain, destroys for the love of destruction, causes suffering without expecting any benefit for itself, robs to throw away the spoils, revels in torture and death.
Such an individuality attracts and calls to its aid other impersonal evil powers, which become a part of it, and which continue to exist after the personality ceases to live on the physical plane. Many incarnations may be needed before such a power will come into existence, but when it once lives it will perish as slow as it grew. "Angels," as well as "devils," are born into the world, and children with villainous propensities and malicious characters are not very rare. They are the products of such forces as in former incarnations have developed a spiritual consciousness in the direction of evil.
A power which may be employed for a good purpose, can also be used for an evil purpose. If we can by magnetism decrease the rapidity of the pulse of a fever-patient, we may also decrease it to such an extent, that the subject ceases to live. If we can force a person by our will to perform a good act, we may also force him to commit a crime. Everything is either good or evil according to the purpose for which it is used.
It is unnecessary to enter into details in regard to the practices of Black Magic and Sorcery. It is more noble and useful to study how we can benefit mankind than to satisfy our curiosity in regard to the powers for evil. To show to what aberrations of mind a craving for the power of working black magic may lead, it may be mentioned that the would-be black magician and great vivisector, Gilles de Rays,  marechal of France, and better known as "Blue Beard," who was executed for his crimes at Nantes, killed and tortured to death during a few years not less than one hundred and sixty women and children in the interest of his science, and for the purpose of gratifying his curiosity in regard to Black Magic.
[7. Hanged in 1440. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilles_de_Rais ]
Truth is Everywhere
The white magician delights in doing good, the servant of the black art revels in cruelty. The former co-operates with the Divine Spirit of Wisdom, the latter co-operates with certain spiritual forces of nature; the former will be exalted in God and united with him; the latter will ultimately be absorbed by the beings with which he has associated and which he called to his aid.
To ennoble our character and to raise our consciousness into the spiritual plane is to live; to let it sink to a lower level is to die. The natural order of the universe is that the high should elevate the low; but if the high is made to serve the low, degradation is the result.
Everywhere in the workshop of nature the high acts upon the low by the power of the highest. The highest itself cannot be degraded. Truth itself cannot be turned into falsehood, it can only be rejected or misapplied. Reason itself cannot be rendered foolish, it can only be misused by reasoning foolishly. The universal and impersonal cannot itself become limited, it can only come into contact with such personalities as are able to approach it. The Law does not suffer by breaking its connection with the form, the form alone suffers and dies.
The truth is everywhere, seeking to manifest itself in the consciousness of man. Man's consciousness rotates between the two poles of good and evil, of spirit and matter. The omnipresent influence of the great spiritual Sun renders him strong to overcome the attraction of matter, and assists him to come victorious out of the struggle with evil.
Man is not entirely free as long as he is not in possession of perfect knowledge, which means, realisation of truth; but he is free to allow himself to be attracted by a love for the truth or to close his door against it. He may become united with the principle of wisdom, or he may sever his connection with it and sell his inherited rights to immortality for a comparatively worthless mess of pottage. The Centaur in his nature, whose lower principles are animal, while the upper parts are possessed of Intellect, may carry away his spiritual aspirations and lull them into unconsciousness by the music of its illusions.
Bodies may be comparatively long-lived, and some forms, compared with others, may be very enduring; but there is nothing permanent but the self-consciousness of love and the self-consciousness of hate. Love is light, and hate is darkness, and in the end love will conquer hate, because darkness cannot destroy light, and wherever light penetrates into darkness, there will love conquer, and evil and darkness will disappear.