In the last post we talked a little about the concept of Eternity in Iamblichus.1 In this post we will look at the relationship between the soul and moments of Eternity.
As we talked about in the previous post, the nature of the human soul is divided; it inclines simultaneously towards the divine realm and the realm of generation, belonging in both at once. The divided essence of the human soul is both a problem and not a problem. It is a problem in that it leads to a disassociation of one part or power of the soul with the other. This, in turn, limits, and potentially perverts, the activity of the soul while incarnate. It is not a problem in that the division cannot, and is not meant to be, fixed. To be a mean between the divine realm and the realm of generation is part of the human soul's very essence and nature. Changing this would make the soul no longer human. In the ontological hierarchy of Neoplatonism, this is impossible: a thing is always that which it is, even if it doesn't always remember what its nature.
It is this forgetting of the nature of the human soul, as described in the allegory of the Chariot in Plato's Phaedrus (246a - 254e), that is the real problem. Because the human soul, almost uniquely of all divine beings, forgets itself, looses track of it's essence as it were, a solution to this problem, not that of a divided essence, is necessary From the perspective of Iamblichus and the later Neoplatonists, the solution to this problem is the engagement of philosophy and theurgy. But what we am interested in here is the underlying process that these practices set in motion, and that is what will lead to the three moments of Aionic time.
Briefly, the three Aionic moments are the "unparticipated," the "participated" and the "in participation." Sets of three are very common in Platonism, and especially in Neoplatonism. For instance, Iamblichus said there were three kinds of human souls, those who entered generation for the sake of saving other souls, those that are dragged into generation by their daimons for punishment and purification, and a mean that is somewhat purified but still is forced into generation rather than going entirely on their own. Of these three, is it only the first, represented by the theurgic sage, that has mastery over all three moments of its soul. The theurgic sage knows him or herself as they really are in the unparticipated moment of their soul. The rest of us are not so fortunate.
In a manner of speaking, we may say that our own soul exists to us through the three moments. This is because, having forgotten ourselves, our soul is, in effect, an external being. This is why we can speak of the three moments in relation to our own soul. For the theurgic sage this is irrelevant, the soul and incarnated personality are one,2 the soul does not appear external to the sage and the idea of participating in one's own soul is effectively as ridiculous to the sage as it seems like it should be. But for those of us who are not one with our souls, things seem very different. Being divided, and unaware of our other half, we, in effect, must participate in our own souls.
At best, however, many people, perhaps the majority of people, do not participate in their souls at all but are instead completely ignorant of them. Know thyself! However, we can, through a philosophical life, and theurgic practice, change this. Through this kind of practice we can begin to know our souls, and this is how we can move from ignorance of our own true natures to begin to participate in our own souls.
The beginning of this is to know our souls at the level of "in participation." At this moment the soul begins to manifest itself through
us. There are degrees to us, dependent upon how much we have assimilated
ourselves to what we really our, i.e. our soul. At this moment, however, our
knowledge of our soul comes through its activity as we experience it in the world. It is a kind of second-hand knowledge, requiring discursive reasoning to understand, which is to say we there is no gnosis of the soul in this moment.
The second moment is that of the participated soul. Here we begin to experience our souls not as they are in and of themselves but as they may be known by ontologically posterior entities. This moment is not an experience of the soul qua the soul. Instead it is as though we have come to know the soul as we may come to know other people. We have a relationship with the soul, and knowledge of the soul, that is more than experiencing its activity in the world. But just as any knowledge we have of another person is always limited and distorted, so too is our knowledge of our souls at this moment. We have an image of the soul, but not the soul itself.
The final moment is that of the unparticipated soul. At this moment we have assimilated ourselves to our true natures to such an extent that real gnosis of the soul occurs. Gnosis is not discursive reasoning; one does not need to think and put together information. Gnosis is the intuitive knowledge of the subject. The theurgic sage at the unparticipated moment of their soul is their soul. At this point the language of division, of speaking of the sage and the soul, is for our convenience. The sage has no need of it for the sage is the fullness of their soul and from this perspective the other moments collapse upon themselves and are gone. The second and third moment are for ontologically prior entities, beings that must participate in a superior being for what it lacks. The theurgic sage, as rare as they are, lacks nothing of their own soul.
1] The corollary of Transcendent Time found in the psychic realm, which orders mundane time in the realm of generation, is quite interesting, and worth exploring, but will not be an important part of this post.
2] Maybe. It is possible that the soul forgets itself to a certain extent with each incarnation. However, due to the purity of the soul, and guidance from its daimon, the soul of a theurgic sage may easily remember itself during each incarnation.