I now perceived that those Brothers of Hope, who like myself had been assisting the poor wounded spirits, all belonged to the same company as myself, and they were all collecting together, the little starry lights we each carried looking indeed like emblems of hope in darkness. Faithful Friend and I joined the others and were soon interchanging greetings and congratulations, like a brigade of soldiers about to return home after a successful campaign.
Before we again passed through the fiery ring that encompassed this region, the leader of our band conducted us to the top of a high pinnacle of rock from which we beheld the cities and plains and mountains of that Land of Darkness, through which each of us had passed in our pilgrimage. And standing on that mountain peak we could survey the mighty panorama of Hell stretched out at our feet. He then addressed us in grave, solemn tones:
"This scene upon which we look is but a small, a very small, fractional portion of the great sphere which men have been wont to speak of as 'Hell.' There are dark spheres above this which may seem to many to deserve the name until they have seen this place and learned in it how low a soul can sink and how much more terrible in this sphere can be both the crimes and the sufferings. The great belt of dark matter of which is composed this, the lowest of the earth spheres, extends for many million miles around us, and has received within its borders all those multitudes of sinful souls whose material lives have been passed on earth, and whose existences date back to the remote far-off ages in which the planet Earth first began to bear its harvest of conscious immortals, destined to sin and suffer and work out each their own salvation till they should be purified from all earthly stain all taint of their lower nature. The multitudes of such lives have been, and shall yet be, as the stars of the sky and the sands of the sea in number, and as each builds for himself his own habitation in the higher or in the lower spheres, so are the vast spheres peopled and their many dwelling places and cities formed.
"Far beyond the power of any mortal to carry even his thoughts, lie the myriad dwelling places of the spheres, each spot or locality bearing upon it the individual stamp of the spirit whose life has created it, and as there are no two faces, no two minds, exactly similar in all the countless beings that have peopled the earth so there are no two places in the spirit world exactly alike. Each place yea, even each sphere is the separate creation of the particular class of minds that have created it, and those whose minds are in affinity being drawn to each other in the spirit world every place will bear more or less the peculiar stamp of its inhabitants.
"Thus in giving a description of this or any other sphere you will naturally be able to tell only what you have seen, and to describe those places to which you were attracted, while another spirit who has beheld a different portion of the same sphere may describe it so very differently that men on earth, who limit all things too much, and measure them by their own standards of probability, will say that since you differ in describing the same sphere you must both be wrong. They forget that Rome is not Genoa, Milan, or Venice, yet these are all in Italy. Lyons is not Paris, yet both are in France and both will bear certain characteristic features, certain national traits of resemblance. Or to extend the simile still further, New York and Constantinople are both cities upon the planet Earth, yet there is between them and their population so great a difference, so wide a gulf, that it requires that we should look no longer for national characteristics but only for the broad fact that both are inhabited by the human race, differing, however widely, in manners and appearance.
"And now I would have you each observe that in all your wanderings in all the sad sights you have seen all the unhappy beings you have known groveling in this sink of their own iniquities, there were yet the germs of human souls inextinguishable and undestroyable, and you have each learned, I trust, that long as may be the probation of the soul greatly as it may retard the hour of its release by the perversion of its powers yet to all is given the inalienable birthright of hope, and to each will come at last the hour of awakening, and those who have sunk to the lowest depths will arise even as a pendulum swung to its farthest limit will arise and swing back again as high as it has sunk low.
"Bitter and awful is the reckoning the sinful soul must pay for its wild indulgence in evil, but once paid there is not again that reckoning to be met, there is no inexorable creditor whose ears are deaf to the voice of prayer or who will say to the repentant prodigal, "Begone, for your doom is sealed and the hour of your redemption past. Oh, Brethren of Hope! Can man in his littleness measure the power of the Almighty whose ways are past his finding out? Can man put a limit to his mercy and say it shall be denied to any sorrowful sinner however deep has been his sin? God alone can condemn, and he alone can pardon and his voice cries out to us in everything, in every blade of grass that grows, in every ray of light that shines: 'how great is the goodness and mercy of our God how long-suffering and how slow to anger.' And his voice calls with trumpet tongue, through his many angels and ministering spirits, to all who repent and seek for mercy that mercy is ever given pardon, full and free, is granted unto all who earnestly seek it and would truly labor that they may win it. Even beyond the grave, even within the gates of Hell itself, there is yet mercy and pardon, yet hope and love held out to all. Not one atom of the immortal soul essence which has been breathed into man and become a living conscious individuality is ever again truly lost, wholly doomed either to annihilation or eternal misery. They err, I had almost said they sin, who teach man otherwise, for by so doing they shut a door upon his hopes and render the erring soul yet more desperate because more hopeless, when, as he deems, Death has put the final seal of damnation upon his fate. I would when each of you returns to the earth plane that you proclaim to all this truth which you have learned in these your wanderings, and strive ever that each and all may feel the sense of hope and the need there is to take heed to their ways while there is yet time. Far easier were it for man in his earth life to undo his misdeeds than if he wait till Death has placed his barrier between him and those to whom he would atone.
"In those Hells which you have seen all has been the outcome of men's own evil lives the works of their own past either upon earth or in its spheres. There is nothing but what has been the creation of the soul itself, however horrible to you may appear its surroundings. However shocked you may have felt at the spiritual appearance of these beings, yet must you ever remember that such as they are, have they made themselves. God has not added one grain's weight to the burden of any, and equally must it be the work of each to undo what he has done, to build up again what he has destroyed, to purify what he has debased. And then will these wretched dwellings, these degraded forms these fearful surroundings be exchanged for brighter and happier scenes purer bodies more peaceful homes, and when at last in the fullness of time the good on earth and in its spheres shall overcome the bad, the evil sights and evil places will be swept away as the froth upon the sea is swept on by the advancing tide, and the pure Water of Life shall flow over these spots and purify them till these solid black mountains, this dense heavy atmosphere, and these foul dwelling-places shall melt in the strong purifying fire of repentance, even as the hard granite rock is melted in the crucible of the chemist till it is dissipated into the atmosphere and floated away to form other rocks elsewhere. Nothing is ever lost, nothing ever destroyed. All things are imperishable. Those atoms which your body has attracted to it to-day are thrown off again tomorrow, and pass on to form other bodies eternally, as these emanations of men's spiritual natures are formed into the earth spheres, and when there is no longer magnetism sufficiently gross to hold together these gross particles which form the lower spheres, these atoms will become detached from following the earth and its sphere in their rushing journey through the limitless ether of space, and will float in suspension in the ether till drawn to another planet whose spheres are congenial and whose spiritual inhabitants are on an equally gross plane. Thus these same rocks and this country have all formed in the past the lower spheres of other planets which have now grown too highly developed to attract them and they will, when this, our earth, has ceased to attract them, be drawn off and form the spheres of some other planet.
"So too are our higher spheres formed of matter more etherealized, yet still matter, which has been cast off from planet spheres much in advance of ours, and in like manner these atoms will be left by us and reabsorbed in turn by our successor. Nothing is lost, nothing wasted, nothing is really new. The things called new are but new combinations of that which exists already, and is in its nature eternal. To what ultimate height of development we shall reach, I know not none can know since there can be no limit to our knowledge or our progress. But I believe that could we foresee the ultimate destiny of our own small planet, as we can in part judge of it from seeing the more advanced ones around us, we should learn to look upon even the longest earthly life and the longest, saddest probation of these dark spheres as but stepping stones on which man shall mount to the thrones of angels at last.
"What we can see what we do know and may grasp is the great and ever present truth that hope is truly eternal and progression is ever possible even to the lowest and most degraded and sin-stained soul. It is this great truth we would have each of you to preach both to mortal and immortal man, when you return to the earth planes and to your work there, and as you have been helped and strengthened and taught, so do you feel bound by the obligations of gratitude and the ties of Universal Brotherhood to help others.
"Let us now bid farewell to this Dark Land, not in sorrow over its sadness and its sins, but in hope and with earnest prayer for the future of all who are yet in the bonds of suffering and sin."
As our great leader concluded his speech we took our last look at the Dark Country, and, descending the mountain, we passed once more through the Ring of Fire, which, as before, was by our will power driven back on either side of us that we might pass through in safety.
Thus ended my wanderings in the Kingdoms of Hell.