Author: Gregory Shaw

Iamblichus’s doctrine that the immortal soul becomes mortal is puzzling for Platonic scholars. According to Iamblichus, the embodied soul not only becomes mortal; as human, it also becomes “alienated” (allotriōthen) from divinity. Iamblichus maintains that the alienation and mortality of the soul are effected by daemons that channel the soul’s universal and immortal identity into a singular and mortal self. Yet, while daemons alienate the soul from divinity they also outline the path to recover it. Iamblichus maintains that daemons unfold the will of the Demiurge into material manifestation and thus reveal its divine signatures (sunthēmata) in nature. According to Iamblichus’s theurgical itinerary, the human soul—materialized, alienated, and mortal—must learn to embrace its alienated and mortal condition as a form of demiurgic activity. By ritually entering this demiurgy the soul transforms its alienation and mortality into theurgy. The embodied soul becomes an icon of divinity.

In: Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies
Author: Gregory Shaw

For Neoplatonic philosophers, the Delphic oracle had authoritatively characterized their two great teachers, Iamblichus and Porphyry. Later Platonists cited the Pythia’s oracular pronouncement, “The Syrian is full of god; the Phoenican a polymath” as revealed wisdom. The Syrian Iamblichus, “full of god,” was more highly regarded in Platonic circles than the learned Porphyry, but because Iamblichus’ theurgical Platonism vanished after the sixth century, we are left with only “learned” reports about theurgic divination. Contemporary scholars are polymaths; we are the children of Porphyry. So, when Porphyry asks for a precise definition of theurgic divination, it seems entirely reasonable, and it is hard for us to appreciate Iamblichus’ barbed response. He chastises Porphyry for presuming that divination can be discursively explained and says he needs a talisman (ἀλεξιοφάρµακον) to protect him from his discursive addiction. Divination, he says, can only be known through experiences that awaken the soul to an innate gnosis that precedes dualist thinking. This paper will explore that talismanic gnosis.

In: Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies
Author: Gregory Shaw

Scholarship in the last few decades has corrected mischaracterizations of the Hermetica and Iamblichean theurgy as examples of the decline of Hellenic thinking, but questions remain of how to understand them, particularly since Iamblichus claims to follow the teachings of Hermes. This essay attempts to shed light on hermetic rebirth and the immortalization of the soul described in CH XIII and NH VI.6 by examining them according to the principles of Iamblichean theurgy. I argue that hermetic immortalization and rebirth did not culminate in an escape from the body and the world but were realized—to the contrary—as a divine and demiurgic descent into the world and one’s body. While this essay owes a great debt to Garth Fowden’s The Egyptian Hermes, my reading of hermetic rebirth does not follow his dualist understanding of hermetic metaphysics and soteriology. The culmination of both theurgic and hermetic mystagogy is non-dual: deification is realized in the world.

In: Aries
In: Iamblichus and the Foundations of Late Platonism
In: Practicing Gnosis
In: Practicing Gnosis
Author: Gregory Shaw

Abstract

This paper attempts to redefine what we mean by “gnosis.” It begins with a critique of scholars who—in order to maintain their supposed objectivity—avoid wrestling with the subjective experience of gnosis. They reduce gnosis to its literary, political, and religious contexts, and their explanation of these influences passes for our scholarly understanding of gnosis. Yet gnosis remains unknown to them. Once we dare to explore gnosis as a transforming experience, we can recognize it outside of the historical context of the late antique world. What, then, is the gnostic experience? Following Frances Yates, I suggest that there are two kinds of gnosis: the pessimistic, dualist, and anti-cosmic gnosis, and the optimistic, non-dual gnosis that sees the material cosmos as divine. I trace the lineage of this non-dual gnosis from Neoplatonic theurgists who speak of an “innate gnosis” that allows us to see the world as theophany, to its expression in our own American Gnostic, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

In: Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies
Ritual, Magic, Theurgy and Liturgy in Nag Hammadi, Manichaean and Other Ancient Literature. Essays in Honor of Birger A. Pearson
Ritual, magic, liturgy, and theurgy were central features of Gnosticism, and yet Gnostic practices remain understudied. This anthology is meant to fill in this gap and address more fully what the ancient Gnostics were doing. While previously we have studied the Gnostics as intellectuals in pursuit of metaphysical knowledge, the essays in this book attempt to understand the Gnostics as ecstatics striving after religious experience, as prophets seeking revelation, as mystics questing after the ultimate God, as healers attempting to care for the sick and diseased. These essays demonstrate that the Gnostics were not necessarily trendy intellectuals seeking epistomological certainities. They were after religious experiences that relied on practices. The book is organized comparatively in a history-of-religions approach with sections devoted to Initiatory, Recurrent, Therapeutic, Ecstatic, and Philosophic Practices. This book celebrates the brilliant career of Birger A. Pearson.