Souls: What’s the Deal?

Posted: March 12, 2010 in Braak, crushing genius, Horror
Tags: , , , ,

After this io9 article about a woman that sold two souls for nearly $2000, I made a fairly lengthy comment about what, precisely, you might do with the captured spiritual essences of your two dead neighbors.  A few people were surprised that I had that much to say on the subject!  Peculiar, I think.  But, anyway, it got me thinking, and because I’m up late and sick with fever, I’ve decided to treat you all to a discourse on the nature of souls.

I thought all of this was common knowledge, but maybe it’s not, so here we go.

While we generally talk about the human soul as being a single, indivisible spiritual unit, that’s not wholly accurate — it’s better to understand it as a complex arrangement of spiritual colloids, of varying shapes and sizes.[1]  The basic unit of psychic energy (that is, the energy of psyche) is the platon;[2] this is the sum total of spiritual energy in the average human, or the amount of psychic energy that can be stored in ten pints of water.[3]

(Astute observers will note that, even accounting for blood, there is more than ten pints of water in the human body — in fact, the psychic capacity of the human body is even greater, as the dissolution of salt in water increases the amount of potential storage;[4] suffice it to say, the average human soul actually constitutes substantially less energy than capacity.)

Typically, though, most calculations regarding the transformations of the soul are conducted in orphics.  The orphic is the smallest indivisible unit of spirit, approximately the same amount of psychic power that can be stored in one mustard-seed.[5]  There are 823,543 (7 to the power of 7) orphics in a single platon.[6]  A single orphic is the amount of moral energy required to not kill a puppy that hasn’t bitten you (the smallest indivisible moral choice in human experience).[7]  Human experience, of course, requires a constant expenditure of psychic energy, but certain investments of energy produce substantial returns.[8]

In any case, orphics are not distributed evenly among the different aspects of the soul.  The smallest aspect is composed of only two orphics; this is what Catholics refer to as the “immortal soul”.[9]  The basic arrangement of these two orphics, which is usually a lop-sided elliptical orbit, imprints upon the orphic energy produced by the human body, and governs the patterns in which this energy is arranged.  This pattern is what we call “consciousness”– a kind of reflection of the basic relationship of the immortal soul.[10]

After the immortal soul and the intellectual consciousness are three more “souls”:  the inverted consciousness (what we understand as the “subconscious” — this soul has precisely the same amount of energy as the consciousness in a healthy individual), the asphyx, and the motis vivarium.[11]  The asphyx, or “death spirit”, is the most energetic orphic element of the soul, and is the membrane through which the energies of the higher souls are filtered into the body, which is itself empowered by the motis vivarium (the second-highest energetic element of the soul).[12]

“Death” as a condition generally refers to a state in which the asphyx has departed; the departure itself, or the Death Event, represents the moment at which the motis vivarium is overcome by the natural entropic effects of the ordinary world, lacking the higher energy of the asphyx to maintain it.  As you might expect, throughout one’s life the asphyx gradually loses energy, and the motis vivarium, as a consequence, is worn away by entropy (what we understand as “aging”).[13]

Manipulations of the asphyx are fairly common in history, and it can have a peculiar reciprocal arrangement with the body.  Koschei the Deathless notably stored his asphyx in a duck’s egg[14] — eggshell is a spiritually-permeable substance, permitting the energy of the asphyx to continue to support the motis vivarium, which is why Koschei remained largely ageless.[15]  By contrast, a lich, which stores its asphyx in a phylactery usually made of stone or ceramic, suffers a disharmony between the motis vivarium and the asphyx, resulting in the lich’s rotten, dessicated appearance.[16]  Malaclypse the Elder, at the massacre of Melos, absorbed the asphyxes of the many killed during that battle; the subsequent infusion of energy well exceeded the natural capacity of the human body (something to the order of a few hundred thousand platons);[17] Malaclypse’s physical body was destroyed, but sufficient energy existed to form a binding mass (considering the average viscosity of the asphyx,[18] Chandrasekhar’s equation suggests at least 30,000 platons would be required to form such a stable mass), enabling his conscious and subconscious souls to manufacture a mutable structure out of the remaining platons.

Voodoo bokor are, through certain arcane rituals performed precisely at the time of death, able to bind the asphyx into the body of the deceased, while permitting the three higher souls to escape.  This results in what is typically understood as a “voodoo zombie” — an unliving though non-decaying, soulless entity that uses a sorcerously-constructed facsimile of consciousness in place of will.[19]  It is moreover possible, again, in very rare circumstances, to bind the asphyx in such a way that it can be released at the time of one’s own death, or shortly thereafter, to in effect, cheat it (see the Marquis de Carabas, non-feline).[20]

In certain cases, however, the asphyx passes entirely away — zombies, for instance, are entities that have retained motis vivarium post death-event. [21] Their bodies retain motive power (reasons for this are numerous, and largely uncertain; I will not engage in baseless speculation here), but the asphyx that moderates between the body and the higher souls is gone.  The motive power of the zombie will eventually bleed off, and they will gradually rot to death.

Unlike zombies, the vampire is an entity that has retained conscious and subconscious souls after the death-event.  These two souls orbit each other in a way that mirrors an erratic, elliptical orbit of the immortal soul base pair, though the immortal soul is long departed.  This is, in fact, one of the many ironies of the vampiric condition; while most vampires understand that they cannot go to Heaven (or Hell) due to their nature, what they often fail to realize is that this is because the aspect of their souls that could go to the afterworlds in the first place has already left.[22]  Consciousness and subconsciousness are unstable reflections of the immortal soul, and are always discarded by the base pair during the death event.  Typically, these souls go to Hell; a base pair with an erratic orbit is indicative of a disharmonious or “sinful” life, and usually only a wildly erratic immortal soul imprints a consciousness strongly enough to remain post death-event.[23]  (Interestingly, some rare instances have shown that an orbit can be erratic enough for the two orphics to actually leave the body, causing the divestment of the immortal soul pre-death; this results in an effect that we generally understand as sociopathy).[24]

Without an immortal soul or an asphyx, vampires are forced to maintain the connection between the conscious and subconscious souls and the motis vivarium by taking the orphic energy of others, generally via the draining of blood.[25]  (Zombies, interestingly, plainly understand instinctively a similar need, thus their constant attempt to consume human flesh, but lack the capacity to actually absorb it.)[26]  It should be noted here that Dracula is an exception to the typical vampire, in that he managed to bind his own warped immortal soul into his body, purposefully extracting only the asphyx.[27]  The result is a kind of orphic resonance that accounts for many of the discrepancies between the ordinary vampire and the Prince of the Undead.[28]

This is similar, in fact, to the nature of mummies, which also preserve their immortal souls in their dead bodies.  Unlike vampires, they rarely require additional sustenance, as the motis vivarium of their bodies is preserved using traditional Egyptian mummification methods (the extraordinary infusion of salt — natron — into the mummified corpse provides for the storage of well beyond the ordinary capacity of psychic energy);[29] in addition, the resonance between the immortal soul and the remaining lower souls provides a kind of proof against destruction (for this reason, Imhotep could not be destroyed until he suffered a forced higher-soul transmigration).[30]

Ghosts, as we understand them, are obviously conscious or subconscious souls that have remained earthbound post death-event.[31]  Obviously, since the conscious-subconscious relationship reflects the base pair of the immortal soul, the remaining psychic aspect is a reflection of the moral stability of the immortal soul.  Since psychological well-being is a reflection of a stable rotation of the immortal base pair, it is generally unusual for ordinary, well-adapted humans to become ghosts; it’s much more likely in situations in which, due to base pair misalignment, the consciousness and subconsciousness are in radically erratic orbits with each other.[32]  It’s erroneous to think of ghosts that “move on” as going to the afterworlds; as with ordinary vampires, the immortal soul has already moved on post death-event.  A ghost that “moves on” is simply permitting its remaining consciousness fragments to dissolve.

The spiritual essences that this New Zealand woman sold on ebay were, obviously, ghosts; as such, they have relatively little orphic energy remaining to them.  Suspended in water, as they are, they can maintain puissance for a substantial length of time, but will eventually sublimate.  Water is a common substrate for spiritual essence, but only still water (bogs, swamps, even lakes are often the subjects of repeat hauntings); running fresh water disrupts the psychic arrangement, causing the energy to dissipate.[33]  Salt water is an exception [34] — the oceans of the world are, in fact, a gigantic battery of psychic energy, suffused with the conscious orphic remnants of countless dead men.

Given the nature of the ghost, zombie, and vampire, it is probably most accurate to understand the vampire as a ghost that haunts its own corpse, and is able to sustain that corpse’s apparent vitality by draining the asphyx of others.

Finally:  cannibalism and the soul.  It is possible to devour human flesh and to obtain additional orphic energies through this process;[35] such an act necessarily creates an uneven distribution of psychic energy throughout the body, often resulting in a conscious-subconscious and base-pair orbit so erratic that it result in a premature departure of the asphyx.  In such cases, the radically warped lesser soul is likely to remain earthbound and made unusually potent by the excess of orphic energies absorbed through the consumption of flesh.  Such a creature is usually referred to as a wendigo:  a cannibal ghost that can persist for centuries on stolen psychic energy.[36]  As the psychic energy bleeds off (as it inevitably must), only the most primal motivations will remain; that is to say, the longer the cannibal ghost persist, the more refined it will become in purpose.

Anyway, I believe that explains basically every supernatural creature related to death or dying.  There you go.

[1]  Anon., Spells of Going Forth By Day, trans. E. A. Wallis Budge, 1890
[2] Plotinus, Enneads, trans. A. H. Armstrong, 1984
[3]  MacDougall, Dr. Duncan, American Medicine, “Mass of Soul Dissolved in Solution,” (10.8) 1907
[4] Ibid
[5] Santorio Santorio, Sanctorii Sanctorii de Medicina Statica Aphorismi, 1770.
[6] Newton, Isaac, De Mundi Systemate, 1728
[7] Aquinas, Thomas, Summa Theologica, 1265
[8] Santorio, see “Insensible perspiration”
[9] Aquinas
[10] Steiner, Rudolph, Theosophy, 1910
[11] Burroughs, William S., The Western Lands, 1987
[12] Peter Newbrook, director, The Asphyx 1973
[13] Ibid
[14] Frazer, Sir James George, The Golden Bough, 1922
[15] Crookes, William, The Journal for Pyschical Research, “Being Certain Experiments on the Qualities of Psychical Waves,” 2.7, 1874
[16] Gygax, Gary, Monster Manual, 1974
[17] Shea, Robert, and Robert Anton Wilson, Illuminatus!, 1986.
[18] Crookes, “Certain Experiments”
[19] Kolchak:  The Night Stalker, “The Zombie,” September 20, 1974.
[20] Gaiman, Neil, Neverwhere, 1996.
[21] Wolfram, Harcout, New England Journal of Medicine, “Experiments on theUn-Dead,” 10.1, 1902.
[22] Wilder, Thorton, Our Town, 1937.
[23] Wolfram, Harcout, New England Journal of Medicine, “Orbital Mechanics of the Soul,” 11.3, 1903.
[24] John Carpenter, director, Halloween, 1978
[25] Summers, Montague, The Vampire:  His Kith and Kin, 1928
[26] George Romero, Director, Day of the Dead, 1985.
[27] Stoker, Bram, Dracula, 1897.
[28] Freddie Francis, director, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, 1968.
[29] Karl Freund, director, The Mummy, 1932.
[30] Stephen Sommers, director, The Mummy, 1999.
[31] Sidney J. Furie, director, The Entity, 1981.
[32] Wolfram, “Orbital Mechanics of the Soul.”
[33] Crookes, “Qualities of Psychical Waves”
[34] Macdougall, “Mass of Soul Dissolved in Solution.”
[35] Antonia Bird, director, Ravenous, 1999.
[36] Brightman, Robert A., Ethnohistory, “The Windigo in the Material World”,  35.4, 1988.

  1. Carl says:

    Well, you have my attention. I’m gobsmacked by the encyclopedic command you obviously have of these topics. Any chance we can get a foot-noted version of this?

  2. RickRussellTX says:

    I’m just amazed there were no references to ether or phlogiston. Or Dr. Duncan MacDougall.

  3. Lethargi says:

    I did not have the patience to read the entire post. But good for you for clearing that up for the two people that did.

  4. Moff says:

    You should probably stay up late, sick with fever, as often as possible.

    What about barrow-wights?

  5. Jeff Holland says:

    I have to admit, as soon as I clicked ‘read more’ all I could think of was this:

  6. braak says:

    Yeah, you should check it out now that I’ve added footnotes.

  7. braak says:

    @Moff: Barrow-wights are ghosts. You have to understand them in terms of psychogeography, though; I recommend Agrippa’s Fourth Book on Occult Philosophy.

  8. Moff says:

    @braak: But Frodo CUTS OFF A WIGHT’S HAND.


  9. Jeff Holland says:

    RE: Footnotes

  10. braak says:

    @Moff: Right, okay, so here’s what you have to realize. A ghost generally has very little ability to affect the material world, unless a specific confluence of criteria has occurred: a powerful imprinted consciousness and an effusion of psycho-spiritual energy. The later is generally only possible in circumstances in which the ghost dies in a psychogeographical location that is ordinarily puissant, as the haunting spirit does not have the orphic structure to retain such energy on its own. Certain other elements can assist in this: in particular, if the body remains in a nearby location, the physical form can retain puissance that the haunting entity can siphon.

    If, as is the case in barrow-wights, the body has been preserved with salt (an accident of choice in burial), the consciousness is exceptionally powerful, and the location is a psychically significant one, it is possible for a haunting spirit to, like a vampire, inhabit its own corpse. In fact, if the confluence of body and location is powerful enough, the haunting consciousness can actually be trapped in its own corpse, often believing that it is a soul lost on its way to the afterworld (this is, as stated earlier, not really accurate).

    @Holland: blame Carl.

  11. Moff says:

    @braak: Oh, I thought you were just gonna say it was because Frodo had a magic sword. I mean, really that ought to be enough.

    Are black people’s ghosts more powerful? Because they have more soul? Is that the explanation for Candyman?

  12. rodriguez says:

    This is so great. I was tempted not to read, because of the large block of text and all. But!

  13. Kyle L. says:

    I blame you Carl! Those footnotes are insane.

  14. braak says:

    @Moff: Well, “magic sword” is really a very glib description of what is actually a complex and wildly-varied category of psychoactive armaments, though certainly, if we’re to accept the simplified premise of the “magic sword”, then yes, that certainly comes into play.

    Also, re: black people’s ghosts — Yes. Duh.


    The body of soul legend James Brown has reportedly been stolen from a family crypt.

    The self-styled Godfather of Soul’s body was kept in the grounds of his daughter Deanna’s South Carolina house while a public mausoleum was being constructed. However another daughter, LaRhonda Pettit, told newspapers on Friday that the body was missing, presumed stolen.

    PRESUMED stolen! Now we know the truth! He’s unliving in America!

  16. Carl says:

    Uh. Mazing.

    Forget GOING to gradschool– you’re telling me that you can’t find an institution of higher learning the greater Philadelphia area that wouldn’t be interested in offering a course in this? There’s the reading list for a syllabus right there. Hell, if Temple offered this as a course I’d at least audit it. You could easily do fourteen weeks on this.

  17. Moff says:

    @Carl: I don’t think YOUR POPE would like that.

  18. Carl says:

    P.S. I’d approach the Communications and Theology departments with a pitch for an interdisciplinary project. Those are pretty hot right now.


    “A single orphic is the amount of moral energy required to not kill a puppy that hasn’t bitten you (the smallest indivisible moral choice in human experience).[Aquinas]”

    When I read this the first time through, I thought it had to be a joke. Now I see it Thomas! I am digging out my Summa as we speak to hunt it down.

  19. Jeff Holland says:

    @Moff: That is the best explanation for Candyman that I have seen so far.

    And it certainly explains the fur coat.

  20. Carl says:

    @Moff: Well, we’re lucky he isn’t in charge of public institutions of higher learning (anymore), aren’t we?

  21. braak says:

    @Carl: Yeah…uh…make sure you read the whole thing. It’s definitely in there.

  22. Carl says:

    Hm. Well, if it turns out your making half of this up as you go, you’re still good. I can attest that if you’re ONLY inventing half your material on the fly in any class you teach, you’re still better qualified to be an educator than many of those I have encountered in academia.

  23. braak says:

    Make…making it up!?!?!? Good god, Carl, what kind of person do you think I am? Are you seriously suggesting that a person might make up an 1800 word article and then INVENT thirty-six fake footnotes just to lend it authenticity?

    Who would do such a thing?

  24. Hsiang says:

    Truly stunning work, Chris. And to think that if you had taken the NyQuil we would have deprived of this brilliant treatise on the supernatural.
    I too have time to kill and would like to share (stuff down your throat) some ideas.

    Lately I’ve been thinking about the state of Genre Literature today (okay, I spend much of my waking life doing that). We’ve seen a serious decline of Hard SF with all the rigid conformity to physics (math is HARD!) At the same time there has been a huge growth in fantasy, lots of it lame Paranormal Romance and weak-tea Victorian wannabes but there is some promising stuff out there. There’s been a maturity, or at least a late adolescence, in modern Epic Fantasy as seen in the likes of GRR Martin, Steven Erikson, Scott Lynch, and Joe Abercrombie–more believable treatments of politics and economics with morally ambiguous characters.

    More intriguing are recent attempts to treat magic as a logical system with intractable laws and likely explanations. Mark Teppo has been doing a grittier, less silly version of the Urban Fantasy tough guy*. Teppo uses his extensive research of OTO/Alastair Crowley-style Magick. It has a more convincing feel than “Bibbity, Bobbity, Boo! I hurl a magic lightning bolt at you!”

    J. Gregory Keyes did a surprisingly enjoyable teratology called the Empire of Unreason, kind of a twisted twin to Neal Stephenson’s kick-ass Barouque Cycle. He has Issac Newton, Peter the Great, and Edward Teach along with Ben Franklin as a swashbuckling science-hero in a world where alchemy works and the universe is based on the worst fears of Manichaeism.

    I just read _Spellwright_ the first novel by Blake Charlton. It’s just okay as storytelling goes, but there is some very original work at making an magic system that has a firm internal logic. It’s all based on language, words are generated in the muscles of the wizards (like the Binu-Prana methods of the Bene Geserit?) to form glowing sentences that shoot out the hands to manipulate the external world. The specialized languages each jealously gaurded by their own groups of different magic-user seem similar to computer programming. there is a legendary Language Prime that was used by the Creator deity at the dawn of time to bring life to the world, it has only four letters. I should have figured it out before the Big Reveal, but it really is brilliant. The protaganist is a young wizard-in-training with a prophetic scar and dyslexia. You’d think hilarity would ensue but Charlton is going for something darker and bigger. I hope he grows as a writer and can really pull this off. Ideas great, prose…meh.

    So, what I want–nay DEMAND–is a more fantasy novels that approach magic and the supernatural with the hardcore research and zealous devotion of the Hard Science Fiction Authors. The three I mentioned are a start. We’ve seen similar attempts in the past from Randall Garret and Larry Niven, great stuff but not hard enough, it could go much bigger. I’d like to see an equivalent to Greg Egan or Peter Watts writing about orphics and such.

    “Any magic, sufficiently advanced, is indistinguishable from technology.”

    Get busy Chris, my patience is limited.


  25. braak says:

    Hahah. I love love love Age of Unreason. (If you didn’t think A Calculus of Angels is the title of a book I would snatch off the shelf at the first opportunity, maybe you don’t know me at all.)

    I’m actually of two minds about this. I feel like any universe in which magic was a regular part of the function of reality would be a universe in which there was as much specific, scientific study of “magic” as there is of anything that occurs in nature now, and any reasonably advanced society ought to reflect that.

    But I’m also interested in the idea that magic is specific and eclectic — Milarepa could call down hailstorms, but not make it rain, if you take my meaning. How interesting is the character that knows five spells that do very particular things, and has to find ways to make those spells work for him? (Well, he’s a D&D mage, I guess, except in my imagination he’s actually interesting.)

    I’ve been vaguely planning a series of three or four novels, with each one taking a different idea of what magic is as the central premise. I’ll add this guy in to my list of premises.

    It shall be: Hieronymous P. Frankenstein: Professional Necromancer.

  26. Dmart says:

    I may have missed it in this awesome primer, but does this comment have anything to do with vampires’ weakness towards garlic? Because if so, we’re getting less in “cool fantasy premise” territory and more into “theory being supported by observable facts = SCIENCE!” (And it is an observable fact; I love garlic and have never been attacked by a vampire, especially while preparing or eating it).

  27. braak says:

    EVERYTHING IS SCIENCE!, Mr. Dmart. Even vampires.

  28. Dmart says:

    Fair enough, if only because the image of Dracula in a lab coat is pretty wonderful. But man, vampires are dangerous enough! I don’t want them performing some kind of undead Manhattan project! We already had Zombie Feynman, we can’t survive a more powerful undead SCIENCE! attack!

  29. dagocutey says:

    Do you hear that wooshing sound? No? Probably because these ideas are flying over only my head at the speed of light. I think I should take a double dose of Nyquil and give it another go. Dudes — ya’ OK? (From here out, I’m shall be called Dumby McDumbass.) So what I want to know is, do our souls already know all of this? And more? I’m thinking yes.

  30. braak says:

    Some people say they do. Rudyard Kipling was a famous advocate for transmigration. It seems to me, though, that what souls know must be clearer and simpler than the rampant imaginings of our conscious minds. The soul knows things, I suppose, but what the soul knows is beyond the scope of what the mind thinks.

  31. southwer says:

    I salute you sir.

  32. dagocutey says:

    What if you have the kind of mind that doesn’t do much thinkin’? Would someone with a “thinkier” mind have a matching soul? Would the latter type be aware of things that the former knows only on a soul-level? Could this explain why some folks tend to be much more “tortured” than others– are they picking up on soul stuff with their conscious, mortal brain? (I think I just sprained my left hemisphere.)

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