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.

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