Demon est Deus Inversus: Honoring the Daemonic in Iamblichean Theurgy

in Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies
Restricted Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.


Have Institutional Access?

Access content through your institution. Any other coaching guidance?


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



  • ArmstrongArthur H. Plotinus Enneads 1966–1988 Vols. I–VI Cambridge Harvard University Press Translation and commentary

  • BaltzlyDirk Proclus Commentary on Plato’s Timaeus 2009 Volume IV Book 3 Part II: Proclus on the World Soul Cambridge Cambridge University Press

  • BebekBorna The Third City 1992 London Routledge & Kegan Paul

  • BlavatskyHelena P. The Secret Doctrine 1964; 1988 Vols. I and II Los Angeles CA The Theosophy Company

  • ButlerEdward “Time and the Heroes.” Walking the Worlds: A Biannual Journal of Polytheism and Spiritwork 2014 Winter 23 44

  • CastanedaCarlos The Active Side of Infinity 1998 San Francisco Harper Perennial

  • ClarkeEmma C.DillonJohn M.HershbellJackson P. Iamblichus. On the Mysteries 2003 Atlanta Society of Biblical Literature Translation introduction and notes

  • CombèsJosephWesterinkLeendert G. Damascius Commentaire du Parmenide de Platon 2003 Vol. IV Paris Les Belles Lettres Text and translation

  • De HaasFrans A. J.FleetBarrie Simplicius On Aristotle’s Categories 5–6 2001 Ithaca Cornell University Press Translation

  • DillonJohn M. Iamblichus Chalcidensis. In Platonis Dialogos Commentariorum Fragmenta 1973 Leiden Brill Translation. and commentary

  • DillonJohn M. “Iamblichus of Chalcis,” Aufsteig und Niedergang der Römischen Welt 1987 36 2 New York de Gruyter Part ii

  • DillonJohn M. CorriganK.RasimusTuomas “Plotinus and the Vehicle of the Soul.” Gnosticism Platonism and the Late Antique World: Essays in Honour of John D. Turner 2013a Leiden Brill 485 496

  • DillonJohn M. Paidea Platonikē: Does the Later Platonist Programme of Education Retain any Validity Today?” 2013b Hvar Croatia.

  • DoddsEric R. Proclus: The Elements of Theology 1963 Oxford Clarendon Press Text with translation introduction and commentary

  • DuvickBrian Proclus On Plato’s Cratylus 2007 Ithaca Cornell University Press Translation

  • EllmanRichard Yeats: The Man and the Masks 1948 New York W.W. Norton & Company

  • EmersonRalph Waldo AtkinsonBrooks The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson 2000 New York Modern Library

  • FestaNicola Iamblichus. De Communi Mathematica Scientia additions and corrections by U. Klein 1891; 1975 Stuttgart Teubner

  • FinamoreJohnDillonJohn M. Iamblichus: De anima 2002 Leiden Brill Text translation and commentary

  • GaskinRichard Simplicius On Aristotle’s Categories 9–15 2000 Ithaca Cornell University Press Translation

  • HayduckMichael Simplicius = Priscianus. De Anima [DA] 1882 Berlin B. Reimeri

  • KalbleischC. Simplicius In Aristotelis Categorias Commentarium 1907 Berlin G. Reimeri

  • LayneDanielle “The Platonic Hero (Work in Progress).” 2014 unpublished

  • MajercikRuth Chaldean Oracles 1989 Leiden Brill Publishing Text translation and commentary

  • MilbankJohn PabstAdrianSchneiderChristoph “Sophiology and Theurgy: The New Theological Horizon.” Encounter Between Eastern Orthodox and Radical Orthodoxy: Transfiguring the World Through the Word 2009 Farnham, UK Ashgate 45 85

  • MilbankJohnRichesAaron ShawGreg “Neoplatonic Theurgy and Christian Incarnation.” Theurgy and the Soul: the Neoplatonism of Iamblichus 2014 2nd edition Kettering, OH Angelico Press v xvi

  • OpsomerJanSteelCarlos Proclus: On the Existence of Evils 2003 Ithaca, NY Cornell University Press Translation

  • PistelliHermenegildus Iamblichus. In Nicomachi Arithmeticam Introductionem 1894; 1975 Stuttgart Tuebner

  • PistelliHermangildus Iamblichus. In Nicomachi Arithmeticam Introductionem Liber additions and corrections by U. Klein 1994; 1975 Stuttgart Teubner

  • SamrajAdi Da The Knee of Listening 2004; 1972 Middletown, CA Dawn Horse Press

  • ShawGregory Theurgy and the Soul: The Neoplatonism of Iamblichus 2014; 1995 Kettering, OH Angelico Press

  • SteelCarlos HaaslE. The Changing Self: A Study on the Soul in Later Neoplatonism: Iamblichus Damascius and Priscianus 1978 Brussels Paleis der Academien

  • TrouillardJean Proclos: Éléments de Théologie 1965 Paris Aubier

  • TrungpaChögyam Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism 1973 Berkeley Shambhala

  • WesterinkLeenedert G.O’NeillWilliam Proclus Commentary on the First Alcibiades 2011; 1965 Dilton Marsh The Prometheus Trust Text translation and commentary

  • WesterinkLeenedert G. Olympiodorus Commentary on Plato’s Phaedo 2009; 1976 Dilton Marsh The Prometheus Trust Text and translation

  • WesterinkLeenedert G. Damascius Commentary on Plato’s Phaedo 2009; 1977 Dilton Marsh The Prometheus Trust Text and translation

  • 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.”

Index Card

Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 137 134 15
Full Text Views 207 207 0
PDF Downloads 8 8 0
EPUB Downloads 1 1 0