19 January, 2015

Carry Water, Chop Wood?

This has come up a few times today. Okay, it came up once and then I brought it up again, but I'm going with it (and apparently this will be more rambling than usual). It seems to me there is an importance to the integration of spiritual work with our everyday lives. I've haven't always looked at it this way. A decade or so ago I would have gone in for the "magical schizophrenia" approach, keeping my mundane and esoteric lives strictly separate. Today, not so much. True, not all magical traditions are also spiritual traditions, but where they are, it seems that our spiritual work should have a practical effect on our lives. That is, doing the Work should change us.

Change us into what? Well, ourselves, I guess. That’s the carry water, chop wood part. Except, it sort of isn’t. According to Iamblichus (you knew I’d bring him up eventually), all souls have free will, and as such, may project any life into generation they choose. The thing is, often, they choose poorly. The later Platonists, with possibly the exception of Plotinus’ school, held the soul was in a somewhat messed up state. This is for two reasons: 1) it is ontologically posterior to Nous, and so must participate Nous for intellection, and 2) its “fallen” state makes that hard.

So, the soul, which might be in the series of Aphrodite might pick a Hermetic life. For reasons. Or, rather, due not fully participating Nous, without reason. So, unless we’re one of those really cool sage-type people whose souls do not identify themselves with their projected lives in any way, and are perfectly in line with their series, what we start out as might be us, but it is not representative of the soul as itself.

So, we might be carrying water and chopping wood, but we’re pretty much doing it wrong. So, the Work, from this view anyway, is supposed to get us to be more in line with our soul rather than the life it has decided to project. So, slowly, we begin to carry water and chop wood more like ourselves. But this is a result of the Work. Not necessarily in a “poof now you’re perfectly you” sort of way. Rather, in a slow, hard to see if it is the work or just growing up (I’m not done growing up yet, either) sort of way.

But if our spiritual lives don’t lead to this, then what are they doing and how do we know they’re doing it?

27 December, 2014

Incarnating the Light

I was going to write a solstice hymn, as I have typically done for the last few years, but I’ve done enough of that for the last several months that it seemed somewhat unappealing. So, something else instead.

Of late, I’ve been thinking about the soul and incarnation and, at least in my part of the world, it so happens today is the Winter Solstice which, no doubt amongst other things, is a time celebrated for the returning of the light to the world. Some of the language used for this includes “birth” and “reborn.” Outside of the winter solstice, it is also Christmas time and Hanukah, both of which celebrate the light, though in fairly different ways. In any case, the Light is borne, if not born, into the world.

The light, or Light, of course, hasn’t gone anywhere. It is eternal and omnipresent. Sometimes we’re just not looking, something about those who have eyes to see. But I don’t really want to talk about that. Instead, it is that birth aspect upon which I’d like to focus. The Light is born, or reborn, into the world. That bit. And, because humanity’s favorite subject is itself, or possibly that’s just me, I’d like to try to relate that to us.

In De Anima, Iamblichus gives two reasons why souls incarnate. One of them has to do with having the same number of beings in generation are there are in the heaves and beyond. The other, and right now more relevant, has to do with bringing the glory of the gods into manifestation. Taken one way, we might say we are down here to incarnate the gods. Not necessarily in a literal sense, but still, to bring the gods down here in a way they are otherwise not themselves. Because they, or It, is already down here; the divine blessings always flow. Again, we’re just not looking.

A number of religions have used this time of the year to celebrate the incarnation of a god, often repeat with solar or light symbolism being born. Some take this as literal, some allegorical, some mythological, etc. At the very least, I try to take it seriously, because this is what I’m talking about. Coming into manifestation to bring the divine into the world in a way different from which it already is. Just like us.

But unlike us, those gods see the light, are logoi, actively bearing that light into the world. They do it on purpose. A lot of us try, some with more success than others. I am somewhat reminded of Plato’s allegory of the sun, which I will no doubt imperfectly relate. The physical sun represents the Good or the Form of the Good. Through the light of sun we are able to see things around us, even if we can’t look at the sun directly. Through the light of the Good, we are able to see the divine around us, even if we cannot see the Good directly. The thing is, we’re part of the light of the Good. Photons made physical, as it were. Perhaps not quite so lofty as the incarnating Light gods celebrated around this time, but still, ultimately, divine, even if the least of the divine. And yes, we have other things to do than just be bits of divine light. And those other things are important. But so is being a bit of divine light, because it is through us others are able to see the divine that is all around them, including the divine within themselves.

And this, I think, connects us. We need each other for this, because, as Iamblichus writes, “it is impossible to partake as an individual of the universal orders, but only in communion with the divine choir of those who, with minds united, experience a common uplift." (In Phileb., Fr. 6.)
We’re here to bring the divine glory into manifestation, but not to do it alone.

Perhaps the hymn was a better idea.

A blessed solstice to you.

Winter Solstice

20 December, 2014

Time and the Soul

Of late, I've been thinking about the relationship between Transcendent Time and the Soul. Transcendent Time is, according to Iamblichus, an image of Eternity and the three noetic moments. However, Transcendent Time is in the realm of the soul rather than the intelligable and intellective realms that are prior to the realm of the soul or psychic realm. The three moments of Time coming from Eternity, as found in In Tim. fr. 65, are “the idea of ‘was’ and ‘will be,” “becoming younger and older,” and “coming to be at the same time or having now come to be or destined to be on another occasion."

What does this have to do with the soul? The soul, our souls, are in the last part of the psychic realm, with the World Soul and Whole Soul above. Individual souls are the third moment of the psychic realm, as it were, coming from the World Soul, which comes from the Whole Soul, which is Nous, or the Divine Mind, as reflected into the realm of the soul.

This is where we connect with Transcendent Time. The Whole Soul should be related to "the idea of 'was' and 'will be." The World Soul to "becoming younger and older," and individual souls to "coming to be at the same time or having now come to be or destined to be on another occasion."

To me, that last part sounds a whole lot like incarnation. Iamblichus talks about the lives projected from a given soul. For instance, a soul can project a Mercurial or Venusian life, and that incarnation will live in accord with the projected life. Individual lives are bound by mundane time. But the soul is not. It is not so much that the soul is outside of time but that it is bound by a different kind of time, one which transcends mundane time. Which is probably why it is called Transcendent Time in the first place.

As you can see above, final moment of Transcendent Time consists of three elements, and souls are doing all three of them. Because it is only in mundane time that we have things like before and after, we can presume the soul, in Transcendent Time, doesn't have these and is so engaging in all three elements of the final moment of Transcendent Time all at once. So we might change the wording a bit to "coming to be at the same time and having now come to be and destined to be on another occasion." The soul is all of these at once.

And this, I think, may help explain our relationship to our souls, as we are simply a particular projected life, and while we're bound up in mundane time, experiencing our life in a mono-directional way, the soul is experiencing all the lives it projects at once. Importantly, though, any given projected life isn't the soul itself, but an activity of the soul. What happens when that projection is over (from our point of view, anyway), I've no idea. Certainly, from our perspective, we experience death and we, the individual is gone. The soul, though, I don't know. I would think the projected life is, again from our point of view in linear time, withdrawn back into the soul. From the soul's perspective, the life is simultaneously projected and withdrawn.

Perhaps this is an explanation for at least some of the experiences of union people have in meditation and ecstatic ritual, a momentary experiencing of our life from the point of view of the soul. Maybe.

27 August, 2014

The Limits of Ontology: The Good to Evil in Pseudo-Dionysius

Last year I gave a presentation at the Apostolic Johannite Church's annual Conclave on ontology, good, and evil in pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. While the paper itself is available for download via (, the presentation was also video recorded. These videos are now in the process of being put on YouTube.

The first one is available here:

The second here:

When all five of them are available I will put them up in a single post.

29 July, 2014

Thinking about Miasma - Also, a plug for my book.

So, it has been approximately a millennium since my last post. My apologies. During that time I've been working on a book about Iamblichean Neoplatonism. This has since been published as Living Theurgy Avalonia Books. An excuse more than anything else, but I thought I'd get the book plug out of the way.

Something I do not talk a great deal about in the book, largely because Iamblichus does not talk about it, is the concept of miasma. Miasma is important in pre-Christian Hellenic religion as it is something that separates us from the Gods. It is ritual impurity, but an impurity not associated with immortality; it is not something associated with sin, either in the various Biblical senses of the term, nor in the modern sense. That is to say, what makes miasma do its thing is not necessarily us being bad people, though being bad people, depending on how we do that, can also bring about miasma. For example, if you come in contact with a dead body, you coat yourself with miasma, whether or not you were responsible for making that body dead.

Also, everyone comes into contact with miasma. It is normal. Coming into contact with dirt, eating certain foods, sex, etc., all of these bring about miasma. Again, these are not immoral things, but they do, or can, bring about a separation between us and the divine. My question is how does this make sense from a Platonist, and especially a Neoplatonist, position?

From the perspective of late Platonism, what makes sense to me, is a relationship between miasma and the tokens, symbols, and signs of Gods. The theurgy of late antiquity shows us these tokens, etc., which are sort of like the God's thoughts of themselves, are sewn into the realm of generation. They are all around us, in plants, animal, and minerals. The heliotrope, the lion, and the rooster all contain different tokens of Helios or Apollo, for instance, with the rooster containing the most; i.e. being most like the Sun itself. When we get enough of these tokens and symbols together, and engage with and in them, we activate, as it were, the same tokens within ourselves, bringing us closer to their divine source by making us more like, or more harmonious, to that source. This may recall to us Socrates' famous "to become like God, so far as possible."

So what is miasma? I miasma is all that stuff we do and/or come in contact with, that does the opposite of what the tokens do. Added to this, it may also be engaging with token that are different from what we are trying to do. If we are trying to invoke Attis during his festival, we should not eat nuts, which are forbidden during this time. Why? Well, Attis castrates himself to cleanse himself of his inclination towards generation. It is not that eating nuts is somehow mocking the god, and thus irritating him and causing him to withdraw his blessings from us. The Gods are, after all, impassable in Platonic thought. Rather, the tokens inherent in nuts may be understood as being opposite of what we want to do. Eating nuts takes us out of harmony from the god. Attis' blessings are still there, and always are, but by being out of harmony we no longer have access to them. To further the music metaphor, we can use the idea of resonance. When two strings are tuned to the same note, but at difference octaves, one will vibrate when the other is plucked. The divine notes are always signing throughout creation, but miasma knocks us out of tune.

21 June, 2013

Maybe she's born with it, maybe it's theurgy.

I was recently asked if I thought people were born to be magicians, if it was fate, in the astrologically determined sense of the word. This, of course, got me thinking about what Iamblichus says about incarnation, which is found largely in the surviving fragments of his Peri Psyche, On the Soul.

According to Iamblichus, souls incarnate for one of three reasons. Most people are dragged into incarnation by their daimons. The souls, or their pneumatic vehicles, of such people, what would be termed the "mass herd of humanity," are so far off their path they must incarnate for further purification. The second kind of soul, what might correspond to the philosopher or theurgist, still incarnates for the purpose of purification, but there is also something of a willingness of the soul in its incarnation. It knows it needs more purification and so acquiesces to its fate. The third kind of soul is fully purified, associated with what I call the theurgic sage. Such must incarnate because that is the nature of human souls, but does so with a complete coordination of the soul with its telos. This soul is above Fate, which affects only the sub-lunar realm, and basks in divine Providence. Iamblichus says such souls incarnate in such a way that they, unlike the other kinds of souls, never identify themselves with their bodies. The body remains subject to fate, as this is part of nature, but this soul, because it has not confused itself with its body, is not.

That doesn't answer the question. We're getting there. Honest.

Every rational (i.e. human) soul is sewn into the orbit or series of a leader god, which in Iamblichean thought appear to be Zeus, Poseidon, Hephaistos, Demeter, Hera, Artemis, Apollo, Aphrodite, Hermes, Hestia, Athena, and Ares. This determines the souls' telos or purpose. Within each god are sub-domains of purpose as well, so two Hermaic souls may not have an identical telos. The gods, after all, are vast.

Souls have free will, even if not all incarnate humans do. The incarnate therugic sage has free will, even though his or her body is subject to fate. The other two kinds of incarnating souls, which identify themselves with their bodies, are under the sway of fate while incarnate. However, when in the process of incarnating the soul has free will and may choose how it will incarnate and in doing so projects a certain kind of life into incarnation. Purified souls always project a life in line with their telos. Other souls may or may not, and the more impure* they are the less likely they will project a life appropriate to themselves.

So, what does this have to do with the question? When a soul projects a life into incarnation, it projects a life that incarnates at a particular time and place, one that is, from an astrological perspective, appropriate, or necessary, to the life being projected. Astrological variations are enormous. By this I mean many different natal charts can produce similar lives. So while I do not think there is a specific "occultist natal chart," a soul projecting a life with the purpose of engaging in some sort of occult or esoteric practice will have a corresponding natal chart, even though it may, or will, be very different from a different soul projecting a similar kind of life. As there are many different kinds of occultists this makes a certain amount of sense.

From the Iamblichean perspective, a person's life, whether or not they are fated to be a magician, or a nurse, or a mortician, or any combination of any number of professions, would be found in one's natal chart.

*What constitutes purity and impurity is a whole different discussion.