World Soul


Third Hypostasis

         The Third Hypostasis marks the realm of manifestation and fulfillment that completes the cycle within the process of creation. It is the place where possibility becomes actuality, where the culmination of an Ideal reality blossoms into an existing world of substance and purpose.

          The World Soul in us turns upward to that from which it has descended, the One, and from itself outward to that which it orbits, the Sun. The sun and planets are of the same nature with different characteristics, yet each share a common source in the One. The emanation as radiation, reaches out in dazzling brightness, but grows dimmer as it shades off into darkness where it ends in matter. At its lowest limit, matter forms the last stage of creation, and is in itself an antithesis to the One. For Plotinus, the existence of a great power within the center of the third hypostasis forms a realm that is unique and special, this he calls Nature. The very meaning, purpose, and reason for there to be a universe at all are to be found here. This is where Spirit and matter form in a unity of Life, from the lowest living thing to the highest; it is an ongoing process that continuously feeds life back to the universe. This is the domain of the Sacred, the realm of birth.  

         The One is the Good, and Matter the receptacle of evil, from light to dark, positive to negative; from what is right to what is wrong; it is inevitable that polarities must be, and opposites exist, all this for the sake of balance and neutrality in which stability finds rest. As with the first two hypostases, Thought generates the Ideas, and production follows, but in this sphere there is a definite distinction between what is produced. Nature is the realm of living things. They are ensouled to the extent that their physical, sensory, and mental development allow. Even then, there is a distinction between life that is conscious, and life that is self-conscious.

         Matter is a necessity that supports the universe and everything in it, and provides energy to make everything move and interact. At the same time, if the universe is sentient, then it too must be considered alive. Elmer O’Brien in the “Essential Plotinus” states:

         “That what we call ‘Nature’ is a soul; that it was begotten by a higher soul of more powerful life; and that it contains its contemplation wordless within itself, with no deflection towards what is higher or lower. Abiding within itself its own realm, in self-repose and self-awareness, it sees because of this self-awareness the things that are below it to the extent they can be seen. Without further search, it produces at a stroke the object of its contemplation in all its splendor and beauty.” 9

         The circuit, with the Earth as a member, shares with each and all the knowledge held within the Intellectual-Principle in their ever moving dance around their Prior, the One. The Earth alone has the distinction of bearing what must be a noble responsibility, fulfilling the role set to it as the World Soul. All the planets of the circuit share a portion of their uniqueness, and the whole process comes to pass through the quiet contemplation of the Third Hypostasis.

         “We must admit that the Soul before entering into birth presents itself bearing with it something of its own, for it could never touch body without a large capacity for submission, we must admit some element of chance around it from its very entry, since the moment and conditions are determined by the cosmic circuit: and we admit some effective power in that circuit itself; it is co-operative, and completes of its own act the task that belongs to the All of which everything in the circuit takes the rank and function of part.” Enneads II.3.10.

         Matter itself is neither good nor bad; it is what we make it to be. On the one hand, it makes up what is natural to our planet, such as earth, air, fire and, water. On the other, it takes shape as pencils, refrigerators, and rocket ships, our creations, for we have become what the universe deemed us to be, creators in our own right. But this all comes with some responsibility, Plotinus points out, and he puts great emphasis on matter as the source of evil. Our participation in the physical world has its attractions, for better or worse, temptations constantly assail us. When in doubt we should first look to our higher nature, and in doing so reach for the light of goodness that is our heritage and the source of our being.

         “This is the fall of the soul, this entry into Matter: thence its weakness: not all the faculties of its being retain free play, for matter hinders their manifestation; it encroaches upon the Soul’s territory and, as it were, crushes the Soul back; and it turns to evil all that it has stolen, until the Soul finds strength to advance again. Thus the cause, at once, of the weakness of Soul and of all its evil is Matter. The evil of Matter precedes the weakness, the vice; it is Primal Evil. Even though the Soul itself submits to Matter and engenders it; if it becomes evil within itself by its commerce with Matter, the cause is still the presence of Matter: the Soul would never have approached Matter but that the presence of Matter is the occasion of its earth-life.” Enneads 1.8.14.

          The second hypostasis or Intelligible Realm, focused within the planetary spheres, contains the Ideal Forms as individual entities. The World Soul, centered in the Earth, partakes of this realm in its higher movement, and in turn generates this intelligence to the processes working within the Earth plane at the level of matter. Form unites with substance as Spirit shapes an image of itself in the generation of living things. Plotinus held that form never completely unites with matter to shape the physical object. He may have been thinking that form and matter unite yet remain separable, such as when the soul leaves the body at death. Matter passes away, but Spirit does not; Intelligence can be thought of as the source that guides the hand of creation while not being dependent on it.

         The laws governing the physical world must bind the indwelling power of Spirit while manifest in physical form, but only dependent in terms of how the building blocks of matter are put together structurally, not that it is hampered in fulfilling its purpose in the design of a natural world. As Spirit endows matter at the simplest and most basic level, living forms rise from this universal power. Each primal being partakes of the manifestation of living Soul at the Universal level, while spiritual evolution channels and branches through physical evolution rising into more complex organic forms. Universal Soul takes on individuality as living entities evolve into higher sentient beings. Spirit as Mind carries with it the intelligence empowering living things, and bestows upon them its image, apt to the fullness of their capacity to express it.

        Every living tree in the forest may be thought as a spiritual entity, but not every tree can be said to possess an individual soul, yet each partakes of life given through Spirit. Within the plant realm, we might think of the living forest itself as being a spiritual entity rather than the individual trees. Spirit takes on greater individuality within the animal kingdom, but is still not quite capable of holding on to soul as distinct and separate. All the various species might be thought of as having a group soul driven by instinct and the need to survive. Intelligence marks the evolution of Spirit as sentient beings rise to ever higher levels of mental development. Souls finally break free from their origin in Universality and come to Know themselves; thus, humanity as unique Spiritual Beings attain to an awareness of their potential god-hood. The quest for spiritual enlightenment, and knowledge of creation begins in earnest as souls now recognize their heritage and Spiritual Essence. More simply said, Spirit molds what will be its future home for a while; in life Spirit is free to express itself through art, science, literature, and more generally to experience the beauty of the natural world.

         It has been suggested in various ancient writings and traditions that souls working upwards pass through many lives in their drive to completion. Once free from the duty that has bound them to the earth plane, they are free to leave for duty in other places where life might take a foot-hold. The universe is a process in motion, and since there is a purpose inherent within this movement, there is a goal.

         Plotinus taught that the grand plan is a work of art, the beauty of it all held within the soul, and revealed in all its grandeur to those seeking the answer to the meaning of life. Although lives come and go, soul is forever.


Continue to Concept of the Soul in Plotinus
Return to Table of Contents