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Soul mates. Even the words conjure up images of romance, candlelit evenings, laughter, moonlit walks, passionate embraces, unconditional love, and coming together as one. Such a relationship has often been perceived as one's "other half" who longs only to cling to oneself. It has been described as divine love made manifest in the earth. It is an individual's twin, a physical embodiment of one's spiritual complement. A soul mate relationship is the ultimate connection with another human being. It is the ideal union, portrayed to us by our peers, our parents, our teachers, our hopes, our stories, and our legends. It is a bond in which dreams are realized and one's selfhood is encouraged to blossom and grow - cultivated by the one we call "soul mate."
Who doesn't desire such a relationship?
For some, a soul mate relationship is one in which there are no challenges, no conflicts, no strife, only the opportunity to explore one another as equals, sharing joys, consoling sorrows, and being indivisible when united as one. Others, perhaps more realistic, see such a relationship not so much as an immediate reality but rather as a goal toward which they can grow. Regardless of whether it is seen as something created or something destined from birth, most individuals perceive a soul mate relationship as being preferable to "just a relationship." It is somehow superior to what others have settled for - oftentimes, even better than the kind of relationship in which an individual may currently be involved. After all, if more people had truly found their soul mates, wouldn't far less than half of all marriages end in divorce?
Just what is a soul mate? Where did the idea originate and why are we so fascinated by the topic? Although I had heard of the concept of soul mates previously, the first real discussion I had about the subject was nearly twenty years ago. At the time, a dear friend of mine surprised me with the news that she was divorcing her husband because she had found her "true soul mate." A beautiful woman, wife, and mother of two children, she confided to me that she didn't feel complete with her husband. For years, she had felt as if a piece of herself were missing. She was convinced that, at last, she had found her other half. Although not wanting to appear cynical, I couldn't help but think she had once felt the very same way about her husband, whom she was now divorcing. Maybe there was more going on in her situation than either of us was aware.
I remember wondering aloud whether or not there couldn't be more than one soul mate for each individual? If so, couldn't her husband be one of these, as well? If each of us only had one soul partner, what were the odds of ever finding one another in the first place? In the face of such an enormous planetary population, the prospect didn't appear very promising.
In the end, my friend followed through on her desire to leave her husband. The attraction she had toward this "soul mate" was overpowering. She divorced her husband, began the new relationship, and eventually moved to another state. Unfortunately, her "other half" relationship was not long in duration. In spite of the undeniable attraction between the two, troubles began almost immediately and her soul mate relationship came to an end within six months.
Since that time, the idea of every person possessing at least one soul mate somewhere in the world has grown in Western culture. Best-selling books by many individuals including Jess Stearn, Brian Weiss, Shirley MacLaine, Richard Bach, and Thomas Moore have gained widespread attention. Perhaps the notion of soul mates is inextricably linked to the concept of reincarnation, which has continually gained acceptance during this same period of time. But the idea of soul mates is not new. It has existed for thousands of years in many different cultures.
In both myth and legend, the original concept of soul mates appears to be that at some point in the ancient history of the world there occurred either a literal or a metaphorical division of humankind. Essentially, the idea is that the human soul was once whole and complete and somehow became separated or fragmented. Since that time, each individual has felt incomplete and now finds himself or herself searching for wholeness and his or her other half.
According to the Greek philosopher Plato (ca. 427-347 B.C.), humans are forever looking for their counterpart because they were once divided in half by the god Zeus. In Symposium, one of Plato's most famous dialogues, he states that the original human creation was somewhat different than at present. To begin with, there were three kinds of human creatures: men, women, and individuals who were of both sexes in one. In addition, each of these creatures had four legs, four arms, two faces, four ears, and two sets of genitalia.
Sometime after their creation, humans apparently became arrogant and began to question whether or not humankind might take the place of the gods. Some even planned to climb toward the heavens and replace the gods with themselves. The idea put all of the heavens in an uproar, and all of the lesser gods debated with Zeus about what should be done. On the one hand, it would be relatively simple for the gods to destroy humankind; but on the other, the gods very much liked receiving offerings and tribute and if humanity ceased to exist, so would the devotion.
Finally, Zeus had an idea. He proposed cutting all humans in half. Not only would such an act cause the human creature to be only half as strong, but it would also double the number of humans - the gods would have even more individuals providing them with offerings and tribute. The plan was met with great enthusiasm by the gods, so each human was cut in half. The place where the two creatures had once been united was "closed up" and a new creature was formed, one with two legs, two arms, one face, two ears, and one set of genitals. The plan worked. However, in addition to stopping the human creature from supplanting the gods, Zeus's act had also left each individual with a deep longing for its other half. To help these human creatures find some solace, Zeus enabled each half to have intercourse with another half, thus creating one whole. Those creatures that had originally been only male would forever seek out another male with which to join. Those creatures that had originally been female would find comfort in the arms of another woman. And those creatures that had been both male and female would seek after its opposite sex half, enabling the species to propagate itself.
Although Plato's mythic account of humanity's division may appear far-fetched to some, it is not unique. A similar idea exists in Judeo-Christianity within the Old Testament. In the first chapter of Genesis, on the sixth day of Creation, God fashions a creature " . . . in his own image . . . male and female created he them" (Genesis 1:27). In its origin, God's creation seems to be androgynous, containing both sexes in one, and comprised of the essence of spirit. Not only are we told this creation is in the image of God (Spirit), but after the seventh day of Creation (when God rests), He suddenly realizes that "there was not a man to till the ground." Finally, God decides to make His spirit-creature "a living soul," by breathing into its nostrils the breath of life and Adam comes into physical existence. Afterward, the Creator does not want His human creature to be alone and He creates Adam's counterpart out of the man's rib:
And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman . . .
In the New Testament, Jesus reminds the Pharisees that God, during the Creation, had originally made them "male and female . . . For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh . . . no more twain, but one flesh" (Matthew 19:4-6). As in Plato's story, the human creature was once whole but was divided by the creation of its mate. These accounts have led some to believe that human beings are imperfect creatures and can only find some sense of wholeness - whether literal or psychological - as they are reunited through love, relationship, or marriage.
Apart from the Old Testament, several accounts of the creation of men and women exist in rabbinical literature. The Midrash states that God originally created Adam "two-faced" before deciding to cut him in half into the male and female creature. Elsewhere, it is suggested that Adam was originally androgynous and contained both sexes in one. A corresponding idea is found in Hinduism as the universal soul becomes conscious of itself, desires companionship, and, therefore, brings forth from its own Being the male and the female:
In the beginning this was Self alone, in the shape of a person. He looking round saw nothing but his Self . . . But he felt no delight. He wished for a second. He was so large as man and wife together. He then made his Self fall in two, and thence arose husband and wife.
The Portable World Bible
Because the East and the West perceive wholeness as containing the polarities of male and female, yang and yin, anima and animus, many individuals contend that the human soul is ultimately androgynous and will eventually return to the same state. Regardless of the origin of this idea of a one-time division of human beings, it appears as though personal wholeness is achieved only through the process of having relationships with those who are external to oneself.
Perhaps the oldest written account of soul mates dates back approximately 5,000 years ago to the legend of the Egyptian gods Osiris and Isis. The story is one of eternal love in which the male and female deities are described as brother and sister as well as husband and wife. Destined to be together, Osiris and Isis begin their connection in the womb, where they are conceived together and from which they emerge as twins. From birth, each is beloved to the other. Their love is so strong and pure that even death cannot quench their feelings or ultimately tear them apart.
Because of envy and jealousy, Osiris is kidnapped and eventually killed by his brother, Set. In spite of Osiris's death, Isis is able to merge with her husband's spirit and conceives a god-child, Horus. Set is further angered and manages to have his brother's dead body cut into fourteen pieces. Although deep in mourning, Isis shows her eternal love by traveling throughout the country, gathering the pieces of her husband together and reassembling them until he eventually comes back to life. Her undying commitment to Osiris keeps their relationship alive. To the Egyptians, Isis was the goddess of fertility and motherhood, Osiris the god of the dead, and their offspring, Horus, the god of the sun and the sky.
Throughout history, humanity's search for wholeness has been depicted in myth, fairy tale, and legend. It is the consummate story of the prince's search for the woman who wears the glass slipper in Cinderella. It is that perfect kiss that brings one back to life in Sleeping Beauty. It is Beauty's love that causes the Beast to be transformed. It is the legends of frog-princes, the need for Romeos to be with Juliets, and Cupid's arrow causing an individual to change her or his direction; all reminding us that there is something incomplete about the lone human condition, so we find ourselves in search of wholeness.
There is no question that individuals are drawn toward one another, but what causes it? Is a chance meeting between two people simply accidental or is it destined? What motivates people to search for something they cannot quite define or have a sense of looking for someone that they've never even met? Is some undefinable impulse responsible for that inevitable intersection of lives which eventually brings two people together? Is it lawful and purposeful or is it random and unintentional? Is that something biological, emotional, or intellectual, or is it even more than we have perhaps allowed ourselves to imagine? Does fate play a role in our lives? Just what are the dynamics of soul mates and soul attraction and what effects do these forces have upon all individuals? Unique answers to questions like these can be found within the work of Edgar Cayce (1877-1945) - one of the truly remarkable men of the twentieth century.