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.