AN EGYPTIAN BRONZE MIRROR – MIDDLE KINGDOM, CIRCA 2040-1750 B.C. christies.com
Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA is the fourth excerpt of a little series devoted to Dr. Crystal Addey’s milestone study, ‘Divination and Theurgy in Neoplatonism, Oracles of the Gods’, Routledge, 2019.
🌿Ethics and Theurgic Divination🌿
Iamblichus’ assertion that the two prerequisites for noetic ascent are the infallible truth of the oracles and the soul which has attained perfect virtues suggests a significant link between ethics and theurgic divination. In order to explore this connection, it is necessary to examine the convergence of epistemology, ethics and ontology in Iamblichus’ philosophy.
Through divination, the theurgist embodies and expresses divine illumination, will and love, for the gods manifest through the soul of the theurgist. The task of the theurgist is to receive divine illumination and to manifest the work of the gods in the material cosmos, having aligned himself or herself to divine will through direct realisation of the Good. The final section of the ‘De Mysteriis’ Chapter 10 considers the ‘way to happiness’ which Iamblichus claims is the theurgic path-this includes the most complete use of divination:
The possibility of such an alignment between the theurgist and divine will is intimately linked with Iamblichus’ notion that an innate knowledge of the gods is coexistent with our own nature. (HYGEIA note : See Corbin about ‘Perfect Nature’) Iamblichus often refers to the presence of the divine in the human soul as the ‘One of the soul’, which marks the human pre-ontological connection with the divine, but it is vital to note that this element is considered to be suspended from the gods as a gift from them. Iamblichus states elsewhere that it is through this that the soul can attain ascent to the gods and liberation from fate:
Within Iamblichus’ cosmological framework, the innate presence of the divine within the human soul is the anthropological equivalent of the innate presence of divine providence and will throughout the whole cosmos. Through a full realisation of this innate divine principle, Iamblichus claims that a spontaneous and concurrent realisation of divine providence will allow the theurgist to be liberated from the bonds of fate. In other words, ‘what is in our power’, according to Iamblichus, is the possibility of alignment with the divine which brings liberation from the bonds of fate.
Iamblichus’ view of the divine providence, love and will are based on the Platonic notion that those who know the good will always act according to it.
This idea acts as a central foundation of Platonism and underlies Neoplatonist metaphysics, epistemology and ethic and ontological status which has profound consequences for the nature of theurgic divination. For Iamblichus, divine illumination and providence actively manifest and express the One and the Good to lower ontological levels of being. Iamblichus states that the divine will of the Good is to the human life of ordinary deliberation and choice (προχιρετιχης ζωης, prochiretichis zois).
According to this view point, human beings live a life subject to rational choices between alternatives: however, the appearance of alternatives arises as a result of human ignorance of, thus alienation from, the true nature of the good. The gods have true will, however, since they know the good completely; therefore, they do not have to make choices between alternatives as mortals do. From this perspective, the task of the theurgist is to reveal the will of the gods, made possible through their assimilation to the divine, since the gods are the givers of all Good:
Iamblichus’ claim that theurgy has the potential to liberate mortals from the bonds of fate arises as a direct consequence of his idea that the theurgist can align him or herself with the divine will through realisation of the Good:
The convergence of epistemological, ethical and ontological status which underlies Iamblichus’ cosmology and metaphysics has profound and far reaching consequences for our understanding of the modus operandi and purposes of theurgic divination, which from this perspective is not a neutral method of fortune-telling or prediction of the future, a typical characterisation of divination in the modern world. Rather, theurgic divination is conceived as an all-encompassing epistemological and ethical tool which transforms the soul and consciousness; it has the potential of allowing the human being to ‘manifest’ the gods. As an epistemological practice, a supra-rational way of knowing, Iamblichus conceptualises theurgic divination as necessarily entailing an ethical discipline which has the potential to transform the soul in an ontological and ethical sense. In Iamblichus’ view, the theurgist’s ethical character is paramount: the theurgist must seek to enlarge his receptivity through ethical means (as well as through ritual and intellectual means), primarily through the scale of virtues, which was established by Plotinus and Porphyry and possibly elaborated by Iamblichus to include further levels of virtue: this scale is cumulative and represents ‘a method of progressive divinization’:
The ethical and ontological dimension of theurgic divination explains Iamblichus’ comment that the gods sometimes conceal the foreknowledge inherent to divination:
Divination is conceptualised as an ethical and soteriological tool for expressing and manifesting the goodness of the gods; it should always be used in service of discovering and attaining the good and for the purpose of the ascent of consciousness to the gods.
As a tool of self-knowledge and as a way of accessing divine wisdom, it has characteristics which could be considered to be reminiscent of Eastern practices of meditation.
Theurgic divination brings a divine perspective to human problems and embodied life, which enables the theurgist to see the divine causes of human matters.