Spiritual Substance
Spiritual Substance
Spiritual Substance

Contact With Spiritual Substance Human Essence True Being
Discovering the Spiritual Domain The Great Doing Elemental Nature of Reality
Elemental Mysteries Spiritual Healing Knowledge As Self-Evolvement

"When you expand with your heart . . . you've got to come into contact with spiritual substance . . . one flexible vitality. It is not made up into clothes and houses and bird cages and things [but] enthusiasm, admiration, love--anything that is not made up into articles. That is your real substance. . . You work with them, instead of tools, to create."

Betty and Stewart Edward White, With Folded Wings, 1947

    In this essay, we're examining the nature of spiritual substance. Substance was a concept studied in the early Greek field of physics, originating from the Greek terms φυσικός (phusikos) "physics" and φύσις (phusis) 1 "nature." Physics became the science of the natural world in the broadest sense, dealing with substance, matter, energy, and the fundamental forces of nature that govern the interactions between particles. This field was called natural philosophy until the late nineteenth century.

     The study of physical reality--what we now call science--began with the Egyptians and the Greeks in the tenth to fifth centuries BCE. The Greek thinker Empedocles of Acragas (495-435 BCE) believed that reality is composed of matter consisting of four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. This theory was later developed by Aristotle. According to this view, reality is made up of visible, material elements.

"The term philosophy for the ancient Greeks had a much broader connotation than it does for us today: the realm of philosophy applied to all those domains of reality to which rational thought was applied. Greek philosophy proper begins in the seventh century [BCE] in Ionia with the philosopher Thales. Thales was one of the first thinkers that we know of to reflect rationally on what the primary substance of the universe was. His answer was water. Other thinkers would follow Thales creating their own hypotheses about the primal stuff out of which the universe was created, positing that it was air (Anaximenes), that it was perpetually in a state of flux (Heraclitus), that it was essentially unchanging (Parmenides), or that it was constituted of atoms (Democritus). These early Greek philosophers would lay the groundwork for the entire history of philosophy by presupposing that the universe was intelligible and that its nature could be discovered by using reason properly."

Michael S. Russo, "The Fabulous Fifth Century: Athens During the Age of Pericles"

     One of Plato's most important contributions to Western thought was his alternative explanation of reality. He discerned that there is both a terrestrial realm and a supersensible or spiritual realm. He examined physical objects and discovered that their "matter" is continually changing. Their forms are the only constant element. All things, he concluded, are made up of nonphysical, nonspatial, nontemporal, universal, eternal Forms (ideai, eide) manifesting in the physical universe as individual objects. Most leaders in the new world of quantum physics such as Max Planck, Louis deBroglie, Niels Bohr, Arthur Eddington, Erwin Schrödinger, and Albert Einstein agreed with Plato's view as to the ultimate makeup of reality. 2  

     Plato saw ultimate reality composed of two distinct "worlds" or dimensions of being. The world of physical objects in space and time is known through sense perception and ordinary thought. Apart from this is the supersensible or spiritual realm of Forms known only through philosophical contemplattion-meditation and dialectical interchange--a domain beyond ordinary experience and requiring special capabilities to apprehend.

"There is an intermediate world, the world of Idea-Images, of archetypal figures, of subtile substances, of 'immaterial matter.' This world is as real and objective, as consistent and subsistent as the intelligible and sensible worlds; it is an intermediate universe 'where the spiritual takes body and the body becomes spiritual,' a world consisting of real matter and real extension, though by comparison to sensible, corruptible matter these are subtile and immaterial. The organ of this universe is the active Imagination"

Henry Corbin, Alone With the Alone:
Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi

   The supersensible domain of spiritual energy consists of a substance making up one flexible vitality.This spiritual substance is composed of essences (what Plato called Forms) such as Goodness, Justice, Beauty, Love, Commonwealth, Human, and Wisdom. The world of spiritual energy is discerned entirely with the "heart" of the spiritual body: manifested through a feeling within the terrestrial body of warm existence, like quiet but very active energy forces--like the sun growing things.

   Once you contact the spiritual domain, you're then in a new reality, which has definite substance, much different from the terrestrial substances of air and earth and sealing wax and kings. You can best get a "sense" of this new reality's substance by considering the "substance" of:

   You can't grab onto those earthly "substances" but they're real nonetheless. Just so, this new plane of being you've been born into has a different--but real--kind of substance to it. And it's this new kind of reality that you begin to explore, understand, and work with.

   We learn to maintain these sensations through the feeling of cooperation with a Higher Force pervading all things and creating its own realities relative to its purposes. We learn to recognize and appreciate the Colossal substance of Immortality.

The Soul's Superior instants
Occur to Her - alone -
When friend - and Earth's occasion
Have infinite withdrawn -

Or She - Herself - ascended
To too remote a Height
For lower Recognition
Than Her Omnipotent -

This Mortal Abolition
Is seldom - but as fair
As Apparition - subject
To Autocratic Air -

Eternity's disclosure
To favorites - a few -
Of the Colossal substance
Of Immortality

Emily Dickinson

   The Neo-Platonic writing titled The Theology of Aristotle describes Plato's experience of spiritual substance.

"Often have I been alone with my soul and have doffed my body and laid it aside and become as if I were naked substance without body, so as to be inside myself, outside all other things. Then do I see within myself such beauty and splendour as I do remain marvelling at and astonished, so that I know that I am one of the parts of the sublime, surpassing, lofty, divine world, and possess active life. When I am certain of that, I lift my intellect up from that world into the divine world and become as if I were placed in it and cleaving to it, so as to be above the entire intelligible world, and seem to be standing in that sublime and divine place. And there I see such light and splendour as tongues cannot describe nor ears comprehend. When that light and splendour overwhelm me and I have not strength to endure it, I descend from mind to thought and reflection. When I enter the world of thought, thought veils that light and splendour from me and I am left wondering how I have fallen from that lofty and divine place and am come to the place of thought, when my soul once had the power to leave her body behind and return to herself and rise to the world of mind and then to the divine world until she entered the place of splendour and light, which is the cause of all light and splendour. Wonderful it is too how I have seen my soul filled with light, while she was still in my body like her appearance, not leaving it."

Archytas of Tarentum, Fragments of Pythagoras, (400 B.C.)

   We can gain comprehension of the substance of the supersensible, spiritual domain through contemplating the mundane--yet mystical--reality of Meaning. Intangible meanings of terrestrial entities (persons, events, objects, ideas)--supersensible realities beyond human thought--are appropriated through words, as birds in our hands, and released by the act of discernment, setting the birds free. These Meanings reside in the spiritual domain independent of the books or the sounds in which the words are encased.

     "Yet how and where, in the interval between their setting down and their taking up, do they abide? By what secret tract is their existence in the mind of the author connected with their resuscitation in the mind of the reader? Why at the sight of certain lines and figures on the voiceless page do these particular thoughts spring up into renewed activity? What is the indiscoverable nexus between the physical vibrations of light and these immaterial substances of our noetic life?

"And the riddle does not end here. This phantom world into which my soul is carried by the magic of petrified language has its own scale of degrees and distinctions. All these images and emotions are real in a sense, but not with the same order of reality. As in reflection I separate those which recur and hold me day by day from those which flit accidentally before me and as quickly disappear, I begin to understand that their power depends not simply on their deftness in embodying the past life of this or that eager soul, but on the greater or less correspondence with a world of inanimate Ideas which exist in their own right and cannot be created or destroyed by any mind, and to know which is truly to live. Not every man's thoughts and visions and desires, as by them he would remould the gross material of experience, are capable of passing into enduring literature, but rather those which conform with actual truths, visualizing a beauty finer than that comprehended by the seeing eye, grasping a law of justice more infallible than the tangled events of this earth ever obey, conveying a significance beyond any evaluation of the senses. By such distinctions I lay hold of a strange philosophy which tells me that the soul's assurance of truth is not a dream evoked arbitrarily by any man's imagination, but an intuition more or less perfectly grasped of veritable realities. These books on which I depend for most of my noetic life are effective just as they are a history of what has been known of these realities by other souls in the past and set down for the recreation of any who can spell out the record. So do they charm into peace because they lure us to the belief that some time, if not here and now, our soul may be lifted to that world of immutable Ideas which lie in all their splendour before the eye of Plato's God."

Paul Elmer More. Christian Mysticism


1 See this explication of phusis

2 ... In the philosophy of Democritus the atoms are eternal and indestructible units of matter, they can never be transformed into each other. With regard to this question modern physics takes a definite stand against the materialism of Democritus and for Plato and the Pythagoreans. The elementary particles are certainly not eternal and indestructible units of matter, they can actually be transformed into each other. As a matter of fact, if two such particles, moving through space with a very high kinetic energy, collide, then many new elementary particles may be created from the available energy and the old particles may have disappeared in the collision. Such events have been frequently observed and offer the best proof that all particles are made of the same substance: energy. But the resemblance of the modern views to those of Plato and the Pythagoreans can be carried somewhat further. The elementary particles in Plato's Timaeus are finally not substance but mathematical forms. 'All things are numbers' is a sentence attributed to Pythagoras. The only mathematical forms available at that time were such geometric forms as the regular solids or the triangles which form their surface. In modern quantum theory there can be no doubt that the elementary particles will finally also be mathematical forms but of a much more complicated nature."

Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976), Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science, 1958