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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]

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