I finished my Goodreads annual book challenge about a month ahead. There are still more books I absolutely need to read. Such is the struggle of a bookworm 📖🐛.
From Theurgy and the Soul
“Heat” (tapas/yoga : thermon/theurgy) is awakened by, or directly related to, the “breath” (prana/yoga : pneuma/theurgy). When sufficiently heated, it flows up the “channels” (nadis/yoga : ochetai/theurgy) of the mystical body to divinize the soul. It may be possible also to compare the fiery goddess Hecate, invoked by the theurgists, with the goddess Kundalini, invoked by yogins, since both were responsible for the salvation or punishment of souls depending on their purity and preparation for the encounter. (p. 249)
When I started reading more Plato, I was struck by many similarities to the teachings I had encountered practicing yoga. It seemed strange that few scholars had actually looked into it because the comparative parallels seem like they could fuel multiple dissertations. Shaw pulls from yoga sometimes in the book because, according to an interview I have heard, he did a lot of yoga when he was younger. This footnote was interesting for the parallels drawn between the two types of vocabulary.
The psychic organ that received the divine light was the pneumatic or luminous body. […] The imaginal body, however, should not be confused with ordinary imagination. Iamblichus distinguished not only the “god-sent” dreams from the “human” (DM 103, 2-10) but also the “divine appearances” given by the gods from the images concocted by man. The former possessed transformative power while the latter were merely reflections of embodied life. Just as the horizontal expressions of sunthēmata were distinguished from their vertical or divine dimension, so with the imagination. On the horizontal level phantasia was merely the play of the discursive mind, but if properly purified and trained, the vertical dimension that sustained it could be awakened. The imaginal body of the ordinary person, however, was “diseased” (Synesius, De Insomniis, 136d, 1) and until purified it could not serve as a vehicle for the god. (p. 247)
This clarifies some aspects of what Iamblichus said — mostly for UPG experiences. Note the discussion of purity here and how purity and training are required to ensure that the imagination is filled with divine light.
[W]henever a soul was touched by the gods it entered the condition of a mantis, and just as a traditional mantis exchanged ordinary consciousness for a divine possession, so Iamblichus believed that each transformation of the soul was a theurgic exchange, a theia mantikē In effect, Iamblichus generalized the specific phenomenon of the mantis or the enthousiastēs to describe theurgic transformations […]. (p. 260)
In this section, Shaw is arguing for Iamblichus’ broadening of the idea of the mantis to encompass theurgists. Going into reading De Mysteriis in late spring, I didn’t realize how much divination would come up and how often it would be used to talk about divine matters.
This Saturday morning — because I transcribed the quotation last night and it was on my mind — I was praying to Apollôn. The not-poem-but-conceptual-sequence begins with his role as the one who makes the harmonies that the Mousai dance to, and then transitions to his role in the Mysteries as the burier of Dionysos, and proceeds to his office as the ruler of the mantic arts. One of the things that makes me self-conscious as a devotee of Apollôn is that I am less focused on divination (in the sense of divining about the future) than many others; even in my weekly divination, I focus more on asking about the skills and virtues I need to build to weather whatever comes my way than on knowing the what of it. I paused, and my mind connected the idea of the theurgic mantis to what had been said in the lecture notes that Hermias had taken down — the broadening out of the term in Iamblichus collided against what had been said in the section about divine madness, in which “Apollo and mantic madness [are] what bring together the whole before the parts” (Hermias, On Plato Phaedrus, ~94,25-30). And of course if, in Iamblichus, true divination were just a side effect of being filled with the Gods, there can just be different foci of that state. Apollôn, as a harmonizer and holder of light who is associated with Hêlios and the Sun, is important in upper-level theurgic work; Shaw summarizes this elsewhere in the sense of Iamblichus. The connection should have been obvious months ago, but we see what we see when we see it, right?
In one sense theurgy was the logical correlate to the law of arithmogonic procession; namely, that the higher and more unified a principle, the more extensive or more piercing (drimutera) its effects. Because theurgy provided a more direct and simplified participation in the One, it had a wider circle of application and was available to the common man as to the intellectual. Rather than falling outside the circumference of Platonism — as many have suggested — theurgy penetrated to a deeper center, one that extended the boundaries of the Platonic world. (p. 267)
Platonism for the 99%. But more seriously — this part of the conclusion does tackle some assumptions people make about theurgy or Platonism being somehow haughty when it is, in fact, equalizing.
Because theurgy has erroneously been portrayed as an attempt to manipulate the gods it has been dismissed as a debased and superstitious form of Platonism. It was nothing of the kind. Rather, Iamblichus’s prestige in his own and subsequent eras was due to his success in creating — like his fictional Pythagoras — a synthesis of worship and divine philosophy. In theurgy the highest thought of Platonic philosophy was fully integrated with common religious practices, and the immaterial gods were connected to the lowest sublunary daimons: in sum, heaven was joined to earth through the common mathematical structures of Pythagorean science. (p. 271)
This is the part right before the discussion shifts to Christianity. However, Shaw says something important about the reception and study of theurgy and Platonism in Late Antiquity within academic circles. (I am constantly floored, for instance, that E. R. Dodds spent his entire career studying something that he seemed to hate with every fiber of his being. The contempt in his endnotes is occasionally just venomous.) Shaw, among several other scholars, is swinging the pendulum back, even if there was that weird bit about Christianity in the Foreword (written by people other than Shaw) and then at the end.
From The Great Path of Awakening: The Classic Guide to Lojong
Jamgon Kongtrul, trans. Ken McLeod
Always concentrate your full energy — physical, verbal, and mental — on virtuous activity. (p. 35)
This reminds me of the chapter on virtue in The Unfolding Wings (Tim Addey). The Prometheus Trust’s original publications are very good, and one of my sources of dismay is that the Trust hasn’t made ebook versions of books that could really help people (like this one). I wonder if they’d need a volunteer with a background in ebook formatting to donate time to get that done or if the Trust has just decided to do print-only.
It is usual to translate arete as “virtue”, but perhaps it would be better for the student to think of it as “excellence” or “strength” — as befits a word which shares its root with both Ares and aria (oak tree). There is a tendency to think of virtue as something which is added to the self and is consequently something other than the self: whereas if we consider virtue as the flowering of the self and its powers we are closer to the original meaning as understood by the ancient Platonists. Arete is the self, fully unfolded. (p. 65)
Addey continues to describe a progression of virtues: physical, ethical, political, cathartic, theoretic, and paradigmatic, which build on one another — like a plant grows from the seed, sending down roots, and gradually builds its capacity to flower over months or years. Even though the teachings of Kongtrul’s specific Buddhist school have a different ultimate aim (and a different perspective about Gods, from reading this commentary — Gods and negative daimons are often mentioned together), there are commonalities in the building of virtue and the exercise towards right relation that really do complement what I already have learned.
Now, back to Kongtrul.
When someone has caused you trouble, the tendency is to fix it in mind and never forget it though many years go by. When there is an opportunity to ambush the person and to return the injury, revenge is taken. Give up this approach and be as helpful as you can in your response to troublesome situations. (p. 40)
I feel attacked. 😂 More seriously, though, it is always good to have this reminder — as I have said before on this blog, we can make monsters of others just because we get so trapped in our own heads.
[E]ven though you may not like a person who has arrived at a proper outlook and ethics, your dislike doesn’t make the dharma mistaken. For example, a merchant may sell gold or glitter, but it doesn’t make him a better or worse merchant. (p. 42)
In the polytheist community, sometimes, I think we mistake how much we like someone for how good of a person le is — we see our friends as infallible and thus good, our enemies as mistake-riddled and thus awful. The truth is somewhere in between. Some very good people are not blessed with bedside manner, and some truly awful people (or just a set of ideas) have a lot of charisma.
Those are all of the quotations I’m sharing for now!
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