09 January, 2013

Agalmata Empsychon

I am currently in the process of writing a chapter on the agalma empsychon, or ensouled statue, in Living Theurgy. Having gotten beyond the Hermetica's descriptions of wonder working, sometimes actually moving statues to the late Platonic views, I have come to find these a rather fascinating idea. In the chapter I connect this to the use of icons (eikons) in Orthodox Christianity, which itself is interesting. But to me, the most interesting aspect of the subject is the connections to, and differences from, the way the gods and other greater kinds ensoul their bodies in relation to how humans do so, and what this suggests about the human body, Platonically speaking at least.

Iamblichus establishes, throughout the course of De mysteriis Aegyptiorum the relationship between the greater kind; the gods, angels, daimones and heroes, and their bodies. Speaking especially about the material gods, whose bodies are seen as the seven ancient planets, Iamblichus tells us they rules their bodies from without and do not, unlike us, become identified with the matter so associated with them. This has some significant ramifications in terms of ensouled statues. The most important of these is that the god does not, ever, reside within the statue. The late Platonists of the Athenian school seemed to have found this important to stress this, and we find it mentioned, in various ways, but a number of them. The statues are not gods. They are not divine in and of themselves. Even though the statues are filled with the signs and tokens of the gods, they are not themselves the gods.

But what about human souls and bodies? In the Timaeus the universe is described as an agalma of the World-soul and made as a home for the eternal gods. Agalma can mean shrine as well as statue, and the idea seems to be that the cosmos is a body for the world soul. The World-soul is, in turn, an image of Nous, which is an image of Aion, which is an image of noting, because the One doesn't have an form from which to make an image. The human souls are products of the World-soul, and are embodied in a physical form just as is the World-soul. This suggests that the body is itself an agalma to soul, just like a cult statue can be a body for a god.

Except, of course, we're not gods. That's not to say we're not divine. Even as the least of the greater kind, human souls are still divine. But we're not gods. The gods control their bodies from without, we enter within our bodies. The gods do not identify themselves with their bodies, we forget our unembodied nature. What affects the body of a god leave the god untouched, we feel every pain the body has to offer. The gods are fully immortal, the embodiment of the human soul makes that which is immortal mortal and that which is mortal immortal. We are not gods, but we are god-like, formed in their image and likeness. And, through realizing the divine in a statue of their tokens and symbols, we likewise realize our own divinity.

The consecration of a statue is likewise a consecration of us and by sacralizing a body we remember not only the heavenly realm but our place within it.