Demon est Deus Inversus: Honoring the Daemonic in Iamblichean Theurgy

In: Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies
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  • 1 Stonehill College

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.

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  • 7

    Emerson 2000, 36.

  • 8

    Iamblichus, In Nic., 78.22–28 (Pistelli 1994).

  • 9

    Iamblichus, De 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).

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  • 11

    Simplicius, De Anima 89.33–37,90.21–23 (Hayduck).

  • 17

    Simplicius, In 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).

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  • 18

    Iamblichus, De Anima, 44.25–25 (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.

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  • 21

    Iamblichus, Comm. 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).

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  • 24

    Trouillard 1965, 23–25.

  • 26

    Iamblichus, De 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.

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  • 27

    Iamblichus, De 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.

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  • 28

    Iamblichus, De Myst. 292.1213.

  • 29

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

  • 30

    Iamblichus, De Myst., 184.1–8.

  • 31

    Dillon 2013a, 487: “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 1963, xix–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

    Iamblichus, De Myst. 67.1–68.2.

  • 36

    Iamblichus, De Myst. 16.17–17.4.

  • 37

    Iamblichus, De Myst. 79.9–10.

  • 38

    Iamblichus, De Myst. 19.9–10.

  • 39

    Iamblichus, De 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.”

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  • 40

    Butler 2014, 37, puts 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

    Iamblichus, De Myst. 272.4–11.

  • 52

    I borrow this term from Carlos Castaneda 1998, 98, who 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

    Iamblichus, De Myst. 65.4–5.

  • 57

    Proclus, In Alc. 150.4–23 (Westerink and O’Neill), translation modified.

  • 58

    Trungpa 1973.

  • 59

    Proclus, In Alc. 150.20 (Westerink and O’Neill).

  • 62

    Damascius, In 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.”

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  • 63

    Damascius, In Phaed. 9.3–8 (Westerink).

  • 64

    Iamblichus, De 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.

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  • 65

    Iamblichus, De Anima 70.1–5 (Finamore and Dillon) (my translation).

  • 66

    Damascius, In 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.

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  • 68

    Iamblichus quoted by Simplicius, De Anima 6.14.

  • 69

    Iamblichus quoted by Simplicius, De Anima 90.20–24.

  • 70

    Steel 1978, 65, on this point and for his articulation of Iamblichus’s critique of Plotinus.

  • 71

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

  • 72

    Steel 1978, 65.

  • 75

    Ellman 1948, 99. 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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