Iamblichus: The Lights of Gods

IamblichusYep, still reading Iamblichus’ book, On the Egyptian Mysteries.  I’ve already discussed a number of things about this Egyptian Neoplatonist here and there and everywhere, but there is a part I’ve been meaning to get to.

I’ve said elsewhere that there are parts of Iamblichus’s descriptions where I can’t tell if he’s talking about UFO experiences, drug experiences, or encounters with the fae. That’s here in chapter 5.

Proceeding therefore to other peculiarities of the superior races, we will remark that in the Sacred Performances there is with the gods an incredible celerity, and although they themselves are immutable and steadfast, they shine out swifter than mind itself. But with the archangels the swift movements are commingled in some way with the dramatic performances. Those of the angels, however, are connected with a certain moving impulse and take part no further in a similar manner in the Perfective Rite by way of speaking.

Here, he’s beginning to uncover certain facts about the Gods. Remember that the gods, and in fact all the non-physical beings he describes, are eternal; and their presence is established in energies, emotions and experiences.  That is, they can be understood as altered states of consciousness.

With the dæmons there is a show of rapidness in the Performances which is more than genuine. But with the figures of the half-gods, there appears a certain grandness in the motions; nevertheless it is not possible to effect these things, which they desire at the Perfective Rite as quickly as it is for the dæmons. In the case of those of the archons, those of the former class possessing authority, exhibit performances that appear highly creditable; and those of the second class have more display, but fall short in regard to results at the end. The figures of the souls are seen to be incessantly in motion, but feebler than in the case of those of the half-gods.

So we begin to discern a four-or-six-fold taxonomy here and in subsequent paragraphs (Possibly Gods, Demigods, Archangels, Angels, Archons, Souls?):

  1. The Gods — revealed as enormous in visions, help us experience natural processes, revealed as a steady shining light.  Appear as organic shapes.  Steadily luminous without variation or diminishing.  The gods are clothed in a kind of perfected fire.
  2. The Daemons — a show of rapidness more than genuine; the archons within this class who have authority, are particularly creditable; daemons are generally less light and more diffuse than the archangels.  More movement, the light is less regular and steady.  Archons of pericosmic form are of physically huge dimensions More localized spirits put on big displays that they can’t live up to; they’re boisterous without being able to deliver.  More construct, more effort to appear as perfect but more focused on appearance than reality.  Archangels and angels are surpassingly luminous but affected with motion.  The Daemons and archons are clothed in a partially-perfected fire: it seems a little too perfect, but there are ‘errors’ in the display or the appearance of this fire.
  3. The Demigods — a grandness (slowness?) in the motions; put on a great display but don’t yield results. archangels (possibly of this class but unclear) create grand disruptions that manifest over whole regions of the earth; angels (also of this class?) create more localized displays.  More inferior to the Daemons in their light and in their motion and in their apparent solidity, more like shadows.  When elements of Matter appear in them or their dress (clothing? costume? jewelry?) more likely to be incongruous or out of sorts… [I’m reminded here of the way in which 18th and 19th century visions of airships and ‘steampunk’ officers were common, how faerie encounters were usually with people in clothes 100+ years out of date, how modern UFO encounters involve clothing made of unusual materials like rubber or stretch or vinyl… They are dressed imaginatively and out of the custom of the time).  Their fire is in mostly-constant motion, with fits and starts.
  4. The souls — incessantly in motion, but feebler motion.  More like shadows in their appearance.   Lit by only partial gleaming, and adorned with the trappings of Matter, more likely to appear in clothing or with jewelry.  Dressed in the custom of their own time?  Their fire is in constant motion.

And then comes this most peculiar section about how these various entities interact with the people at the rituals: Beholders, Iamblichus calls them:

  1. What acts to purify souls in material existence is complete in the gods;
  2. But of a merely exalting character in the archangels;
  3. Angels only loosen the bonds that connect us to the sphere of matter;
  4. Daemons energize us in the realms of nature;
  5. Demigods draw us into the world of the senses;
  6. Souls, when they appear at all, draw us into the world of generated existence.

So, I understand this to mean that when the Gods are present, a person is wholly transformed by the experience.  Yet an archangel only provides an exalting experience, and an angel only gives us a peek behind the curtains of material existence.  Daemons and Demigods provide us with a rich experience in the natural world, or help the human Beholder into a heightened sense-based experience.  Experiences of souls during the rites make us fixated on things and objects.

How are these not different classifications of drug experiences?  There have to be a dozen stories on the Internet, minimum, of god-like doses of psilocybin or LSD resulting in experiences that utterly transform the person — Iamblichus would call those experiences”god encounters”, apparently.  Some drug experiences, though, are incomplete transformations, encounters with archangels or angels rather than with complete personality re-patterning.  And the Daemon and Demigod and Soul experiences?  Aren’t these also potentially drug-induced altered states of consciousness? One where the human becomes deeply enamored of some natural experience; or suddenly becomes fascinated with bizarre sounds that are uninteresting to everyone else; or where the buttons on a shirt or the seams of a couch’s upholstery become instantly and immediately fascinating?

How are these like encounters with UFOs?  Or with Faerie? Or with visions of saints?  We can consider lights in the sky, either hovering or changing shape or direction, or remaining stable. We can imagine encounters with aliens, too, where the encounter results in permanent personality changes toward being a kinder and more wonderful human being; or transformed into a paranoid questing knight, forever arguing with others and looking for the nuts and bolts dropped in haste during the repair of a flying saucer.  We can imagine the encounters with the Holy Virgin Mary, or with Saint Cyprian or St. Expedite (or Santa Muerte, for that matter) as either transformative and geared towards awakening the higher faculties of the spirit — or locking us into some sort of a hyper-physicalized experience: “the Virgin Mary told me I needed to atone for my sins, and then I couldn’t smell anything but garbage for days.”

And yet…  this section concludes with Iamblichus warning how much matter is consumed by the appearance of the Gods, the Daemons, the Demigods, the Archons, the Soul, and so on; and by how much the Beholders (the humans attending the rites) are infected or affected by ‘exhalations’ from the spirit-beings: contaminations, obsessions, defilements and other similar energies.  What is this about? Unusual weight loss? appearance of clusters of rare diseases or illnesses? Symptoms of mental illness or psychotic break?

Chapter 5 concludes with the fruits of these encounters: those who behold the gods become permanently changed for the better. They become suffused with a light and warmth which is permanent and vital.  Health of body and purity of mind become part of their essential character. Yet those who meet the archangels or angels are only partially changed, and those who meet the Daemons or the Demigods are more thoroughly drawn into the experiences of bodily existence. The experiences of the archangels and angels and daemons and demigods and souls are not so permanent that they cannot be taken away, either; and sometimes the lower beings manifest in their beholders diseases of the body and mind that lock them into a downward spiral back into matter.

There’s a lot going on in here.


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