Demon est Deus Inversus: Honoring the Daemonic in Iamblichean Theurgy

in Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies
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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.

Demon est Deus Inversus: Honoring the Daemonic in Iamblichean Theurgy

in Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies

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References

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  • 7

    Emerson 200036.

  • 8

    IamblichusIn Nic.78.22–28 (Pistelli 1994).

  • 9

    IamblichusDe Anima 30.19–23 (Finamore and Dillon 2002). Translation modified. This teaching Iamblichus said was shared by “Plato Pythagoras Aristotle and all of the Ancients” (Finamore and Dillon 2002 30.24–27).

  • 11

    SimpliciusDe Anima 89.33–3790.21–23 (Hayduck).

  • 17

    SimpliciusIn de An. 223.26 (Hayduck) allotriōthen; he also says that according to Iamblichus the embodied soul is also “made other to itself” heteroiousthai pros heautēn” 223.31 (Hayduck).

  • 18

    IamblichusDe Anima44.25–25 (Finamore and Dillon]). Cf. De Myst. 148.12–14 translated by E. Clarke J. Dillon and J. Hershbell 2003; references will follow the Parthey; all my translations of are based on Clarke Dillon and Hershbell.

  • 21

    IamblichusComm. Math. 15.6–14 (Festa) speaks of the “principle of the Many” (archē tou plethous) which allows the One to acquire “being” and says it is like “a completely fluid and pliant matter” (hugra tini pantapasi eupladei hulē).

  • 24

    Trouillard 196523–25.

  • 26

    IamblichusDe Myst. 233.9–13. It should be noted that in many respects the Iamblichean trajectory of Platonism was simply the extension of Plotinus’s own thinking. Plotinus Enn.iv.4.35.68–70 also spoke of the presence of divinity in the “nature of stones and herbs with wondrous results”. Iamblichus was simply following Plotinus’ lead and theurgy could be seen as extension of this trajectory of Plotinus’s Platonism. However in his effort to explain the problems of the soul Plotinus seems to have adopted the dualist language he disparaged in the Gnostics.

  • 27

    IamblichusDe Anima 54.20–26 is citing with approval the view of Calvenus Taurus a 2nd century Platonist on the purpose for the soul’s descent into a body. The rest of the quotation includes the following: “For gods come forth into bodily appearance and reveal themselves in the pure and faultless lives of human souls.” The translation of this passage is my own but I have consulted the translations by Finamore and Dillon 2002 as well as that by Dillon 1977 245.

  • 28

    IamblichusDe Myst. 292.1213.

  • 29

    Milbank and Riches 2014v–xvii. See also Milbank 2009 45–86.

  • 30

    IamblichusDe Myst.184.1–8.

  • 31

    Dillon 2013a487: “It is the purpose of this essay to enquire as to why given that Plotinus was acquainted with the theory [of the soul’s ochēma] he is not inclined to make any use of it.”

  • 32

    Dodds 1963xix–xx: “Not only can we trace to him [Iamblichus] many individual doctrines which have an important place in the later system but the dialectical principles which throughout control its architecture the law of means terms the triadic scheme of monē prohodos and epistrophē and the mirroring at successive levels of identical structures . . . appear to have received at his hands their first systematic application”; cf. Iamblichus In Tim. Frag. 53 331 (Dillon 1973).

  • 35

    IamblichusDe Myst. 67.1–68.2.

  • 36

    IamblichusDe Myst. 16.17–17.4.

  • 37

    IamblichusDe Myst. 79.9–10.

  • 38

    IamblichusDe Myst. 19.9–10.

  • 39

    IamblichusDe Myst. 115.4–5: “the god uses our bodies as its organs.” Cf. Iamblichus De Myst. 82.1 where he says that when the soul is possessed the noetic light it “reveals the incorporeal as corporeal to the eyes of the soul by means of the eyes of the body.”

  • 40

    Butler 201437puts it this way: “The entire body of the hero in returning this way has become a sign and heroes return because they have become signs: the sēma (sign) is the hero’s body (sōma).” He then notes (37) the play on sēma as the tomb/body of the hero which becomes a pilgrimage site: “The sēma or tomb stands as the sign of this process in which the mortal has been metabolized into a fossil a crystal in which a mortal’s unique characteristics and the unrepeatable incidents of a mortal’s life become pure return.” Layne (2) and Butler (30; f.n. 29) both explain that heroes are manifestations of our erōs for divinity. They cite Proclus’s etymology of hērōs from erōs. Thus the soul’s epistrophē to the One which is driven by erōs makes the soul into a hero. As Proclus In Cratyl. 71.8–10 puts it: “It is reasonable that heroes should be named after Eros inasmuch as Eros is a ‘great daemon’ and the heroes are engendered through the cooperation of daemons;” Duvick 2007 69–70.

  • 49

    IamblichusDe Myst. 272.4–11.

  • 52

    I borrow this term from Carlos Castaneda 199898who refers to the “fortress of the self” as the mental and emotional condition that pre-occupies human beings and makes us incapable of becoming sorcerers; Castaneda also refers to this state as “the dominion of self-reflection” (210) which is analogous to Adi Da’s “logic of Narcissus” supra f.n. 51.

  • 54

    IamblichusDe Myst. 65.4–5.

  • 57

    ProclusIn Alc. 150.4–23 (Westerink and O’Neill) translation modified.

  • 58

    Trungpa 1973.

  • 59

    ProclusIn Alc. 150.20 (Westerink and O’Neill).

  • 62

    DamasciusIn Phaed. 128.1–8 Westerink. Immediately following this Damascius (129.1–4) explains how the soul’s descent into a body is effected by the mirror of Dionysus and how souls (= Dionysus) recover their divinity: “The myth describes the same events as taking place in the prototype of the soul. When Dionysus projected his reflection into the mirror he followed it and was thus scattered over the universe. Apollo gathers him and brings him back to heaven for he is the purifying God and savior of Dionysus.”

  • 63

    DamasciusIn Phaed. 9.3–8 (Westerink).

  • 64

    IamblichusDe Myst. 249.11–250.4 says theurgic rites mirror the “demiurgic energy of the gods” and reveal the “invisible measures” through “visible images;” he De Myst. 65.5–6 describes these invisible measures of demiurgy as the eternal measures (metra aidia) engaged in theurgic ritual.

  • 65

    IamblichusDe Anima 70.1–5 (Finamore and Dillon) (my translation).

  • 66

    DamasciusIn Phaed. 1.3 (Westerink) says that Dionysus rules over the “divided demiurgy” while Zeus rules over the “undivided demiurgy.” Dionysus is also said to be the “cause of individual life (merikē zoē)” (10.2–3). For Olympiodorus he is lord of the sublunary world: “Dionysus is ruler of this lower world where extreme division prevails because of ‘mine’ and ‘thine’ ” (Olympiodorus In Phaed. 10.1–2; Westerink 1976). According to John Lydus (Dillon 1973 246) the sublunary demiurge is identified by Iamblichus with Ploutōn / Hades who is later transformed by Christians into the Devil.

  • 68

    Iamblichus quoted by SimpliciusDe Anima 6.14.

  • 69

    Iamblichus quoted by SimpliciusDe Anima 90.20–24.

  • 70

    Steel 197865on this point and for his articulation of Iamblichus’s critique of Plotinus.

  • 71

    SimpliciusIn Cat.135.24 (Kalbfleisch 1907); my translation. See discussion of this passage in Steel 1978 65.

  • 72

    Steel 197865.

  • 75

    Ellman 194899. Yeats surely borrowed this phrase from his former teacher Helena Blavatsky the oft-maligned founder of the Theosophical Society. In her immensely influential treatise The Secret Doctrine Blavatsky has an entire chapter entitled “Demon est Deus Inversus” in which she contrasts the non-dualism of the ancient Greeks and Hindus with the dualism of Christianity. Espousing what seems to be a later Platonic understanding of the mystery of the Demiurge Blavatsky 1964; 1888 i 411–424 speaks of “the reflection of the first in the dark waters showing the black reflection of the white light. . . .” In the language of the Neoplatonists Demon est Deus Inversus points to the sublunary demiurge Dionysus-Hades as the inverted reflection of the super-celestial demiurge Zeus. In the esoteric psychology of the Platonists these demiurgoi represent levels of psychic reality. According to Olympiodorus In Phaed. (Westerink) 4.8–10 “these . . . kingdoms of the Orphic tradition are not sometimes existent and sometimes non-existent but they are always there and represent in mystical language the several degrees of virtues that our soul can practice.”

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