Thursday, June 4, 2015

Uzdavinys on Theurgy

We should wonder if the Greek term theourgia is not simply a rendering of some now forgotten Egyptian, Akkadian, or Aramaic term related to the complicated vocabulary of temple rites, festivals, and hermeneutical performances that follow the paradigms of cosmogony and serve as a vehicle of ascent conducted by the divine powers (sekhemu, bau) themselves. Accordingly, it would be incorrect to think that the Chaldean Platonists of Roman Syria, those who allegedly created and promoted this term theourgia, also invented the thing itself, that is, the tradition of hieratic arts and of their secret, theurgical understanding. Assuming the latter case, it would follow that this tradition, somewhat related to the solar metaphysics, royal cult, and reascension of the soul through the seven Babylonian planetary spheres (or through the branches and fruits of the Assyrian Sacred Tree) to the noetic Fire, is a dubious creation of those Chaldean philosophers who ‘forged’ (as modern positivists regard it) the so-called Chaldean Oracles, thereby forcing us to believe that the gods themselves, along with the luminous ghost of Plato, suddenly decided to reveal the final version of the Stoicized Middle Platonist metaphysics in the form of seductive ‘manifestos of irrationalism’.
This is the ideological dogma established by E.R. Dodds and his countless predecessors. All of them feel an incredible pleasure in ridiculing the Ephesian theurgist Maximus and in mocking those who, instead of talking about the distant transcendent gods, allegedly ‘create’ them, following ‘the superstitions of the time’.
This almost scandalous ‘creation of gods’ through the methods provided
by certain telestic science (he telestike episteme) is often deliberately
misunderstood. For E.R. Dodds, it is an ‘animation of magic statues
in order to obtain oracles from them’. That sounds like a reinterpretation (employing ‘magic’ in a derogatory sense) of Proclus, who says that the telestic art, by the use of certain symbols (dia tinon sumbolon), establishes on earth places fitted for oracles and statues of the gods (kai chresteria kai agalmata theon hidrusthai epi ges: In Tim. iii.155.18).
Telestike (the term derived from the verb telein, to consecrate, to initiate, to make perfect) is not a kind of rustic sorcery (goeteia). Rather it is a means to share or participate in the creative energies of the gods by constructing and consecrating their material receptacles, their cultic vehicles, which then function as anagogic tokens, as sumbola and sunthemata.
However, one should be careful not to fall into the trap of an improper one-sidedness when approaching the realm of ancient metaphysical concepts and related terms. The word ‘theurgy’ is not the term most frequently used by the ancient Neoplatonists when they discuss cosmological, soteriological or liturgical issues. As A. Louth openly states:
"In Iamblichus, theourgia refers to the religious rituals—prayers, sacrifices, divinations—performed by the theurgist: it is one of a number of words—theourgia, mustagogia, hiera hagisteia, threskeia, hieratike techne, theosophia, he theia episteme—which have all more or less the same meaning and which are frequently simply translated theurgie by E. des Places. ... "
Damascius often prefers the terms hiera hagisteia, hierourgia (hierurgy, holy work, cultic operation) instead, or speaks of ‘theosophy which comes from the gods’ and of the ancient traditions (ta archaia nomina) which contain the rules of divine worship. The Greek terms hieratike and hieratike techne (hieratic art, sacred method) are also rendered simply as ‘theurgy’ by the modern scholars.
For Damascius, hieratike is ‘the worship of the gods’ (theon therapeia) which ‘ties the ropes of heavenbound salvation’, that is, raises the soul to the noetic cosmos by means of the ropes of worship, as in the Vedic and ancient Egyptian hieratic rites or the anagogic recitations of the Qur’an. This hieratike techne is designated as the ‘Egyptian philosophy’ which deals with certain spiritual alchemy consisting in gnostic paideia as well as in transformation, elevation, and immortalization of the soul (the winged ba of the true philosopher or the initiate).
The return of our souls to God presupposes either a fusion with the divine (theokrasia), or a perfect union (henosis panteles). This hieratic method of spiritual ‘homecoming’ is praised as the higher wisdom, namely, the Orphic and Chaldean lore which transcends philosophical common sense (ten orphiken te kai chaldaiken ten hupseloteran sophian).
For the late Neoplatonists, theurgy (including all traditional liturgies, rites, and sacrifices which are ordained, revealed, and, in fact, performed by the gods themselves) is essential if the initiate priest is to attain the divine through the ineffable acts which transcend all intellection (he ton ergon ton arrheton kai huper pasan noesin: Iamblichus De mysteriis). Thus, a theurgic union with the gods is the accomplishment (telesiourgia) of the gods themselves acting through their sacramental tokens, ta sunthemata. The awakened divine symbols by themselves perform their holy work, thereby elevating the initiate to the gods whose ineffable power (dunamis) recognizes by itself its own images (eikones).
Dionysius the Areopagite borrows the term theourgia from Iamblichus and Proclus, but uses it not in the sense of religious rituals which have the purificatory, elevating, and unifying divine force. Now this term designates certain divine works or actions, such as the divine activity of Jesus Christ (andrikes tou Iesou theourgias). Dionysius the Areopagite also speaks of one’s deification and koinonia (communion, participation) with God or an assimilation to God effected through participation in the sacraments. That means henosis (union) accomplished by partaking the most sacred symbols of the thearchic communion and of ‘divine birth’ achieved through the hermeneutical anagoge (ascent) and epistrophe (return to the Cause of All). However, as P.E. Rorem remarks,
"The uplifting does not occur by virtue of rites and symbols by themselves but rather by their interpretation, in the upward movement through the perceptible to the intelligible. ... "
Source: Algis Uzdavinys, "Philosophy and Theurgy in Late Antiquity" (first published in 2010), Chapter 2.
Photograph of Lithuanian philosopher Algis Uždavinys (1962–2010); he unfortunately died of a heart attack, on 25 July 2010, at the relatively young age of 48:

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Proclus on magical signs

"Two passages of Proclus complementary to each other deal with a second group of magical signs. According to this author, the Chaldaeans believed that the "sign" (χαραχτήρ) "set in the heart" of the human soul consisted of a combination of semicircles and of the character X, and that the gods themselves had communicated the psychic signs of several Greek heroes and of Plato as well as their 'mystic names' which bring about their apparition.....While the apparition of Hecate was represented as that of a speaking flame, the philosopher's soul. became visible as a geometrical luminous figure. The belief that the apparition of the soul consists of semi-circles and of the charact derives from Plato's Timaeus, upon which Chaldeean metaphysics are based. For according to this work the Cosmic Soul consists of 2 axes having the shape of the letter X which are bent so as to form semicircles and joined together. We may accordingly surmise that the individual souls, regarded as the offshoots of the Cosmic Soul, were represented by the Chaldeans as being, as it were, her miniature copies. This transmutation of Platonic doctrines into magical diagrams is in entire conformity with the "hermeneutic method" used by the author of the Chaldean Oracles. " - H. Lewy, Chaldean Oracles and Theurgy, 254

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Proclus on Matter

"All beings are the progeny of the Gods, and are produced by them without intermediary, and are established in them. For the procession of things is not brought to perfection solely by continuity … but subsists immediately from the Gods, from whence all things are generated, however distant they may be said to be from the Gods, and this is no less true of matter itself. For a divine nature is not absent from anything, but is equally present to all things. Thus, take even the last of things, in these also you will find divinity present," (Proclus, IT 1.209.13-21).

Friday, February 21, 2014

Burns on gnosis/esotericism/mysticism distinction+terminology debates

"Yet is there moreto be gained from careful attention to this language than ground in scholarly turf-wars? Yes: Precise surveys of terminology are not a matter of philological arcana.For instance, Wouter J. Hanegraaf has argued that the Hermetica assign a spe-cial status to the term “gnosis” as a kind of superior knowledge derived from visionary states, crowning a hierarchy of epistemological initiations

 However, even the casual reader of this volume willsee how relatively unimportant the term “gnosis” was to even the “Gnostics”themselves; rather, a wide range of epistemological lexemes were employed todiscuss matters of revelation and secret knowledge. Moreover, Christian Bull’sarticle in the volume carefully demonstrates that Hermetic mystery-language was ‘more concerned with the hidden forces residing within the cosmos than ith hypercosmic realities’ that are ‘directly accessible’ to a visionary (p.422).If we agree with both analyses, should we draw a systematic distinction betweenHermetic “gnosis” (visionary knowledge of the beyond) and Hermetic “mys-tery” (visionary knowledge of the cosmos)? Of course not, because the sources themselves imply no such grand distinction between “gnosis” and “mystery”.This volume’s attention to the language of mystery and secrecy in ancient religions shows how wary scholars ought to be of over-systematizing the very diverse vocabulary used by a diversity of ancients to discuss a range of discourses and practices. This is not to say that a more generalizing approach to the problem of secrecy and esotericism in ancient religion ought to be avoided in future scholarly  work. On the contrary, the facts that 1) few of the papers explain why we should find mystery-language a compelling subject in the history of religions,2)still fewer engage previous work on thesubject(i.e.,by engaging Simmel and Stroumsa), and 3) no paper engages scholarship on “Western Esotericism” per se should inspire further engagement between the contributors to this volume and readers of this journal. If “esotericism”(or“gnosis”,if the researcher prefers) qua absolute knowledge mediated within a discourse of secrecy and revelation is a modern scholarly construct we can use to understand neglected currentsin the history of Western thought, we should expect a diversity of terminology to have been used by past participants in these currents"


Monday, February 25, 2013

Seth Misunderstood?

Seth – A Misrepresented God in the Ancient Egyptian Pantheon?
Philip John Turner.
ISBN 9781407310848. £25.00.
114 pages; 18 figures.

This study examines aspects of Seth which suggest that throughout Egyptian
history he was continually worshipped and indeed, at times, enjoyed some
prominence, notably in the Pre- and early-Dynastic periods, during the
Hyksos interlude of the Second Intermediate Period and during the Ramesside
era of the 19th and 20th Dynasties. Whilst previous authors have devoted
some scholarship to these various aspects of Seth there have been very few
attempts to bring all these together and to demonstrate that rather than
being something of an ‘outsider’ to the Egyptian pantheon, he actually had
an important role within it, and as such was continually worshipped
throughout ancient Egyptian history. In sum, the author examines the role of
Seth as he was perceived by the Ancient Egyptians at specific times
throughout their history. To achieve this aim a chronological approach is
taken beginning with Seth’s role in Predynastic Egyptian religion and then
progressing through the early Dynastic and Old Kingdom, the First
Intermediate period and the Middle Kingdom, the Second Intermediate Period,
the New Kingdom, the Third Intermediate Period, the Late Period, and
culminating with the Graeco-Roman Period up to the death of Cleopatra.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Philo on the Number Six

Among numbers by the laws of nature the most suitable to productivity is six...It is the first perfect number, being equal to the product of its factors, as well as made up of the sum of them...It is in its nature both male and female, and is the result of the distinctive power of either. For among things that are it is the odd that is male, and the even female.- Philo of Alexandria, De opificio mundi, ch. 13 (tr. LCL)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

John Dillon on "Becoming like God"

The later Platonist ethical ideal of 'becoming like to God' has
generally been accepted without much demur as a reasonable ambition
for mortals, but it is in truth a rather problematic one. In what
respect are we to liken ourselves to God? In respect of immortality?
Or of omnipotence? Or of omniscience? Or, if none of the above, then
what? And yet Plotinus, in Enn. I 2,7, says that our aim is not to be
good men, but to be gods. I suggest, taking my cue from this tractate
of his, that the points of likeness with the gods towards which we are
being exhorted are rationality and impassivity, and that these are
quite reasonable aims -- which, if achieved,will lead, no doubt, in an
afterlife, to immortality, omnipotence and omniscience (though only in
union with the rest of the intellectual realm).