Thought Archive

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Theurgy in Neoplatonism

Theurgy means 'divine-working'. The source of Western theurgy can be found in the philosophy of late Neoplatonists, especially Iamblichus. In late Neoplatonism, the universe is regarded as a series of emanations from the Godhead. Matter itself is merely the lowest of these emanations, and therefore not in essence different from the Divine. Although the number and qualities of these emanations differ, most Neoplatonists insisted that God was both singular and good. Although Neoplatonists were technically polytheists, they also embraced a form of monism: reality was varied, with varied gods, but they all represented aspects of the one reality.
For Plotinus, and Iamblichus' teachers Anatolius and Porphyry, the emanations are as follows:

Plotinus urged contemplations for those who wished to perform theurgy, the goal of which was to reunite with God. Therefore, his school resembles a school of meditation or contemplation. His student, Iamblichus of Syria, taught a more ritualized method of theurgy, that involved invocation and religious, as well as magical, ritual. Iamblichus believed theurgy was an imitation of the gods, and in his major work, On the Egyptian Mysteries, he described theurgic observance as "ritualized cosmogony" that endowed embodied souls with the divine responsibility of creating and preserving the cosmos.
Iamblichus' analysis was that the transcendent cannot be grasped with mental contemplation because the transcendent is supra-rational. Theurgy is a series of rituals and operations aimed at recovering the transcendent essence by retracing the divine 'signatures' through the layers of being. Education is important for comprehending the scheme of things as presented by Aristotle, Plato and Pythagoras but also by the Chaldaean Oracles. The theurgist works 'like with like': at the material level, with physical symbols and 'magic'; at the higher level, with mental and purely spiritual practices. Starting with correspondences of the divine in matter, the theurgist eventually reaches the level where the soul's inner divinity unites with God.



Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

You make me want to go back and re-read the pre-socratics and neoplatonists. They set forth the philosophical notions and questions upon which all Western philosophical thought has been a footnote.

Hazar Nesimi said...

Thank you very much for wise words. Neoplatoics are widely overlooked by further European traditions and their thoughts continued in Ishraqi filosophy of Sukhrawardi or Mullah Sadrah for example.

Riri said...

Hmm, I only know one thing and one thing only - too much theurgy could turn out to be bad for you.

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