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It is said that the Magi taught the immortality of the soul and its

reincarnations, but that they considerably limited the number of

these latter, in the belief that purification was effected after a

restricted number of existences on the soul returning to its heavenly


Unfortunately we know nothing definite on this special point in

Chaldaean teaching, for some of the most important sources of

information were destroyed when the library of Persepolis was burnt by

the Macedonian vandal, Alexander the Great, whilst Eusebius--whom

Bunsen criticises so harshly[120]--made such great alterations in the

manuscripts of Berosus, that we have nothing to proceed upon beyond a

few disfigured fragments.[121] And yet Chaldaeism comprises a great

mass of teachings; he whom we know as "the divine Zoroaster" had been

preceded by twelve others, and esoteric doctrine was as well known in

Chaldaea as in Egypt.

The descendants of the Chaldaeans--Fire-worshippers, Mazdeans, Magi,

Parsees--according to the names they received at different

periods--have preserved the main points of palingenetic instruction up

to the present, and, from time to time, have set them forth in the

most charming style of Oriental poetry. Book 4 of the great Persian

poem, Masnavi i Ma'navi, deals with evolution and its corollary,

reincarnation, stating that there is one way of remembering past

existences, and that is by attaining to spiritual illumination, which

is the crown of human evolution and brings the soul to the threshold

of divinity.

"If your purified soul succeeds in escaping from the sea of ignorance,

it will see, with eyes now opened, 'the beginning' and 'the end.' Man

first appeared in the order of inorganic things; next, he passed

therefrom into that of plants, for years he lived as one of the

plants, remembering naught of his inorganic state, so different from

this, and when he passed from the vegetable to the animal state he had

no remembrance of his state as a plant.... Again the great Creator, as

you know, drew man out of the animal into the human state. Thus man

passed from one order of nature to another, till he became wise and

intelligent and strong as he is now. Of his first soul he has now no

remembrance, and he will be again changed from his present soul. In

order to escape from his present soul, full of lusts, he must rise to

a thousand higher degrees of intelligence.

"Though man fell asleep and forgot his previous states, yet God will

not leave him in this self-forgetfulness; and then he will laugh at

his own former state, saying: 'What mattered my experiences when

asleep, when I had forgotten the real state of things, and knew not

that the grief and ills I experienced were the effect of sleep and

illusion and fancy?'"

These lines are concise, but they sum up the whole of evolution, and

render it unnecessary to quote at greater length from Chaldaean

tradition on this point. Still, those who desire other passages

relating to the same doctrine may find them in the "Desatir."[122]