De Mysteriis

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De Mysteriis by Iamblichus

Contents[edit | edit source]

  • Book 1: The soul and the gods
  • Book 2: Epiphanies
  • Book 3: Mantic ritual
  • Book 4: Justice
  • Book 5: The nature of sacrifice
  • Book 6: The process and effects of sacrifice
  • Book 7: Egyptian symbolism
  • Book 8: Egyptian theology
  • Book 9: The personal daemon (spirit)
  • Book 10: Conclusion

Book I[edit | edit source]

The soul and the gods
  • "Abamon" makes a general appeal to Aegypto-Chaldaean wisdom (I.1–2), before making some attempt to define the various entities in the late Neoplatonic hierarchy.
  • He starts by placing the soul in the context of this divine hierarchy (I.3),
  • but soon reminds us that the Good and the soul are extremes, hence the need for intermediaries (I.5–7).
  • The first quaestio is dealt with from I.4 to II.2: what is the correct manner of classifying divine beings?
  • First, the definitive properties of beings are overviewed (I.4),
  • and there is a rejection of various false methods of differentiation between them (I.8–10);
  • the gods, even celestial ones, are defined as superior to the intermediaries in their relationship with matter (I.16–17; 19–20)
    • and are immune to all passions and disorder (I.12–14; 21);
    • they are also exempt from the responsibilities of evil (I.18);
  • the differences between the gods and the beings below them means that prayer must be investigated as a means of communication (I.15),
  • and true theurgy is initially described (I.11).

Hierarchy of beings according to Iamblichus in De Mysteriis:[1]

  1. gods
  2. archangels
  3. angels
  4. daimons
  5. heroes
  6. archons (sublunary)
  7. archons (material)
  8. human souls

Book II[edit | edit source]


A detailed account of the various divine epiphanies offers us a more tangible means of differentiating between the divine orders via their appearance, and this "Abamon" provides for us in Book II.

  • Beginning at II.3, he discusses the epiphanies within various categories of assessment:
    • their simplicity or variety (II.3.70.7–71.7);
    • their changeability (II.3.71.7–72.9)
    • and stability or disorder (II.3.72.10–73.4);
    • their movement, (II.4.79.1–5),
    • speed (II.4.74.9–75.7),
    • dimension (II.4.75.8–76.10),
    • clarity (II.4.76.11–77.7),
    • subtlety (II.8.86.4–87.10),
    • beauty (II.3.73.5–74.8),
    • luminosity (II.4.77.8–14)
    • and fulguration (II.4.77.15–78.13).
  • Iamblichus also points out that the epiphanies are all accompanied by various other visible escorts (II.7.83.9–84.14)
    • which reveal their allotments (II.7.85.1–86.3).
    • He assesses their emotive effects (II.3.71.7–15)
    • and their powers of purification (II.5.79.6–12),
    • adding that this comes ultimately from the gods (II.5.79.13–80.3)
    • and is proven through the consumption of matter by the epiphanies (II.5.80.12–81.9);
    • he remarks on the benefits bestowed by the epiphanies (II.6.81.10–83.8)
    • and their effects on the dispositions and the natures of the spectators (II.9.87.11–90.5).

Book III[edit | edit source]

Mantic ritual

In this lengthy book, "Abamon" addresses Porphyry’s third major question, "What happens in predicting the future?" To do this, he focuses on the details of mantic ritual, most especially on divine inspiration in its various forms.

  • He examines divination in sleep (III.2–3),
  • theophoria, possession and its signs (III.4–7),
  • oracular inspiration (III.11)
  • and the bringing of light (photagogia) (III.14).
  • Dubious forms of ritual are exposed as false friends, among these the process of standing on magical characters (III.13)
  • and divination via instinct or the analysis of natural events (III.15–16; 26–27);
  • the supposed therapeutic effects ofmusic are contrasted with the truly divine effects of the Korybantic rites (III.9–10),
  • as is mere hysteria with divine ecstasy (III.25).
  • False apparitions are the result of bad practice (III.28–29)
  • rather than genuine theurgy, which occurs only as a result of divine condescension (III.17–24).
  • Daemonic activity is always dangerous, but tends to be triggered by evil human practices leading to evil daemonic inspiration (III.30–31).

Book IV[edit | edit source]


The fourth book addresses some thorny questions on the less pleasant side of life,

  • such as how one might explain the origins of evil, especially given the notion of universal sympathy (IV.6–7; 10–13).
  • "Abamon" makes good use of some well-trodden philosophical paths, highlighting the differences between human justice and divine justice (IV.5),
  • and arguing for the precedence of the Universal over the Particular (IV.8–9).
  • He also tackles the question of how men may command the gods during theurgic ritual (IV.1–4).

Book V[edit | edit source]

The nature of sacrifice

Sacrifice is examined in Book V, and "Abamon" centres his discussion around two crucial queries:

  • how sacrifice works and, within this, why there are so many seeming contradictions within the process itself (V.1).
  • How, for instance, can it be that sacrificial fumes are of benefit to the immaterial gods (V.1–4; V.10–V.12)?
  • He tackles what he sees as the common misconceptions about sacrifice (V.5–8)
  • before elaborating his own radical explanations on true theurgic sacrifice (V.9–10; V.14–V.23.232.9).
  • At V.23–V.25 he offers two further comments and a conclusion on the process of sacrifice,
  • and at V.26 we find a digression on prayer.

Book VI[edit | edit source]

The process and effects of sacrifice

Book VI examines further some sticky questions raised by Porphyry about the process and effects of sacrifice, namely the contradiction in ancient thought about death as a pollutant and sacrifice as a process of purification, plus the issue of how evil daemonic spirits may be lured by sacrificial fumes.

  • "Abamon" answers with reference to the difference between human and animal souls and the vessels which they vacate on death (VI.1–2),
  • and to the more slippery notion that sacrifice is about the power of life rather than death (VI.3–4).
  • He declares that the possible response of evil daemonic spirits to sacrifice is an entirely separate matter from the responses of the gods (VI.5–7).

Book VII[edit | edit source]

Egyptian symbolism

Book VII looks at Egyptian symbolism,

  • offering an allegorical interpretation of three popular symbols (VII.1–2),
  • some comments on the zodiac (VII.3)
  • and on the sacred barbarian names (VII.4–5).

Book VIII[edit | edit source]

Egyptian theology

A brief Iamblichean take on the key points of "Egyptian" theology,

  • looking at the Primary Cause, the One, the divine Father of the First Intelligibles and the gods (VIII.1–3),
  • then Hermetic astrology and fatality (VIII.4–8).

Book IX[edit | edit source]

The personal daemon (spirit)

Some remarks on the personal daemon which, "Abamon" warns,

  • is another issue which must be examined theurgically and not intellectually (IX.1–2).
  • The personal daemon is what ties us to fate (IX.3–7).
  • It is unique to each of us (IX.8–9)
  • and assigned by the gods (IX.10).

Book X[edit | edit source]


In conclusion, "Abamon" emphasises, against Porphyry’s implications,

  • that the only true good is union with the gods (X.1)
  • and the only route to this is theurgy (X.2–3);
  • only the mantic process can, eventually, free us from the bonds of fate (X.4–6).
  • He ends with a prayer and exhortation (X.8).

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Shaw, Gregory (1995). Theurgy and the soul: the Neoplatonism of Iamblichus. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 0-271-01437-7.
  • Clarke, Emma C., John M. Dillon, and Jackson P. Hershbell (trans.) (2003). Iamblichus: De mysteriis. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature. ISBN 1-58983-058-X.