‘About Rediscovering The Life-Giving Water Hidden In Our Desert’-Gregory Shaw On Iamblichus’Neo-Platonism
Oasis in Lybia, Picture by Anna-Gibiskys
Another sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA: ‘About rediscovering the life-giving water hidden in our desert’ from Gregory Shaw’s essential study, ‘Theurgy and the Soul, the Neoplatonism of Iamblichus’, second edition-Angelico Press_Sophia Perenis_2014. From the preface, pages XXI, XXII and XXIII.
‘The spiritual wasteland of our age, a world that has been drained of all depth, rightly lamented by Milbank, had predicted by Iamblichus himself to Porphyry, the editor of Plotinus’s ‘Enneads’. Iamblichus prophesied darkly that Porphyry’s conviction that gods are too spiritual to be engaged in material rites is a belief that empties our world of divinity:
“This doctrine (Iamblichus says) spells the ruin of all holy ritual and theurgic communion between gods and men, since it places the presence of superior beings outside the earth. It amounts to saying that the divine is at a distance from the earth and cannot mingle with men, and that this lower region is a desert, without gods.” ‘On the Mysteries’, 28.4-8.
*In direct contrast to this bleak vision, Iamblichean theurgy aims to sustain the continuity of the gods with our physical world-this lower region-by recognizing their presence in material existence: in animals, plants, and even in stones, and further, that human beings have the capacity to engage this presence by ritually embodying the divine activity, the theurgy, through which it is revealed.
*For a Platonist or a Pythagorean the cosmos is theophany, and theurgy is the ‘praxis’ through which human beings enter and embody the divine revelation that is the cosmos and natural world.*Iamblichus thus avoided the temptation, so prevalent in his age, to escape from material reality and split the world in two. For Iamblichus, ‘the highest is in the lowest’. The ineffable One beyond being is present in the densest material reality. The ineffable unities, the henadic gods, are not isolated in some exalted ‘place’ but are revealed symbolically in ‘unifying activities’ seen, felt, and encountered in our mundane world.
*In Iamblichus’ cosmology, the powers emanating from the One are received and orchestrated by a noetic activity personified by Plato as a Demiurge who weaves these divine powers into a living cosmos. Thus the highest and most hidden spiritual principles unfold and are revealed through our evanescent and material reality-including all the passions of the human conditions-and theurgy is the art of learning how to receive this procession in a way that mimics-no, even more-that ‘incarnates’ the demiurgy that continually creates and sustains our world.
*To ignore or disparage material reality would thus ignore its divinity and, inevitably, our own. It would make the world, as Iamblichus feared, ‘a desert, without gods.’ Yet we live in that desert and have lived in it for a very long time, so it is difficult for us to recover the non-dual vision of Iamblichean theurgy, difficult to rediscover life-giving water hidden in our desert.’