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Iamblichus  On the Mysteries

 Translated by Thomas Taylor
ISBN 978-1898910-169

Iamblichus on Sacrifices to the Gods [Bk 5, xiv - xxvi] (p. 116 to 126)

XIV. We shall begin, however, the elucidation of this subject in the best possible manner, if we demonstrate that the sacred law of sacrifices is connected with the order of the Gods. In the first place, therefore, we say, that of the Gods some are material, but others immaterial. And the material, indeed, are those that comprehend matter in themselves, and adorn it; but the immaterial are those that are perfectly exempt from, and transcend, matter. But, according to the sacrific art, it is requisite to begin sacred operations from the material Gods: for the ascent to the immaterial Gods will not otherwise be effected. The material Gods, therefore, have a certain communion with matter, so far as they preside over it. Hence they have dominion over things which happen about matter, such as the division, percussion, repercussion, mutation, generation, and corruption of all material bodies. He, therefore, who wishes to worship these theurgically, in a manner adapted to them, and to the dominion which they are allotted, should, as they are material, employ a material mode of worship. For thus we shall be wholly led to a familiarity with them, and worship them in an allied and appropriate manner. Dead bodies, therefore, and things deprived of life, the slaying of animals, and the consumption of victims, and, in short, the mutation of the matter which is offered, pertain to these Gods, not by themselves, but on account of the matter over which they preside. For though they are in the most eminent degree separate from it, yet at the same time they are present with it. And though they comprehend matter in an immaterial power, yet they are coexistent with it. Things that are governed, also, are not foreign from their governors; and things which are subservient as instruments, are not unadapted to those that use them. Hence, it is foreign to the immaterial Gods, to offer matter to them through sacrifices, but this is most adapted to all the material Gods.

XV. Let us then, in the next place, direct our attention to that which accords with what has been before said, and with our twofold condition of being. For there is a time when we become wholly soul, are out of the body, and sublimely revolve on high, in conjunction with all the immaterial Gods. And there is also a time when we are bound in the testaceous body, are detained by matter, and are of a corporeal - formed nature. Again, therefore, there will be a twofold mode of worship. For one mode, indeed, will be simple, incorporeal, and pure from all generation, and this mode pertains to undefiled souls. But the other is filled with bodies, and every thing of a material nature, and is adapted to souls which are neither pure nor liberated from all generation. We must admit, therefore, that there are twofold species of sacrifices; one kind, indeed, pertaining to men who are entirely purified, which, as Heraclitus says, rarely happens to one man, or to a certain easily to be numbered few of mankind; but the other kind, being material and corporeal-formed, and consisting in mutation, is adapted to souls that are still detained by the body. Hence, to cities and people not yet liberated from genesiurgic fate and the impeding communion of bodies, if such a mode of sacrifice as this latter is not permitted, they will wander both from immaterial and material good. For they will not be able to receive the former, and to the latter they will not offer what is appropriate. At the same time, likewise, every one in sacrificing performs the sacrifice with reference to what he is, and not with reference to what he is not. It is not proper, therefore, that the sacrifice should transcend the proper measure of him by whom it is offered. The same thing will also be said by me concerning the connexion which appropriately coadapts the men who worship and the powers that are worshipped. For this connexion requires that a mode of worship should be chosen adapted to itself; viz. an immaterial connexion, a mode of worship immaterially mingled, and purely conjoining by pure incorporeal powers, incorporeal natures to themselves; but a corporeal-formed connexion, a corporeal-formed mode which depends on bodies, and is mingled with the essences that preside over bodies.

XVI. Farther still, therefore, we must not disdain to add what follows; that we frequently perform something to the Gods who are the inspective guardians of body, and to good d'mons, for the sake of the necessary use of the body; as, for instance, when [by sacrifices] we purify it from ancient stains, or liberate it from diseases, and fill it with health, or remove from it heaviness and torpor, or procure for it any other good. In this case, therefore, we evidently must not busy ourselves with the body in an intellectual and incorporeal manner. For the body is not adapted to participate of modes of this kind; but, obtaining things which are allied to itself, it is meliorated and purified by bodies. The rites of sacrifices, therefore, will necessarily, for a purpose of this kind, be corporeal-formed; partly cutting off what is superfluous in us; partly supplying us with that of which we are in want; and partly leading into symmetry and order such things in us as are immoderately disturbed. We also frequently engage in sacred operations, entreating superior beings to grant us such things as are adapted to the wants of human life. And these are such as preserve the body in health, or pertain to those things which we procure for the sake of the body.

XVII. What, therefore, shall we derive from the Gods who are entirely exempt from all human generation, with respect to sterility, or abundance or any thing else pertaining to [the mortal] life? Nothing whatever. For it is not the province of those who are liberated from all things to meddle with gifts of this kind. But if some one should say that the perfectly immaterial comprehend in themselves the material Gods, and that through this they also contain in themselves their gifts according to one first cause; such a one will also say, that in consequence of this an abundance of divine gifts descend from the immaterial Gods. It must not, however, be granted to any one to say that the immaterial Gods bestow these gifts by proximately interfering with the actions of human life. For such an administration of our affairs is partible, is accomplished with a certain conversion [to the subjects of its care], is not entirely separate from bodies, and is incapable of receiving a pure and undefiled domination. Will not, therefore, that mode of sacrifice in works of this kind be most appropriate which is mingled with bodies, and adheres to generation; and not that which is entirely immaterial and incorporeal? For the pure mode of sacrifice is perfectly transcendent and incommensurate [with our concerns]. But the mode which employs bodies, and the powers that subsist through bodies, is in the most eminent degree allied to human affairs. It is also capable of producing a certain prosperous condition of things, and of imparting symmetry and temperament to the mortal race.

XVIII. According to another division, therefore, the numerous herd [or the great mass] of men is arranged under nature, is governed by physical powers, looks downward to the works of nature, gives completion to the administration of Fate, and to things pertaining to Fate, because it belongs to the order of it, and always employs practical reasoning about such particulars alone as subsist according to nature. But there are a certain few who, by employing a certain supernatural power of intellect, are removed indeed from nature, but are conducted to a separate and unmingled intellect; and these, at the same time, become superior to physical powers. Others again, who are the media between these, tend to things which subsist between nature and a pure intellect. And of these, some indeed equally follow both nature and an immaculate intellect; others embrace a life which is mingled from both; and others are liberated from things subordinate, and betake themselves to such as are more excellent. This division, therefore, being made, that which follows will most manifestly take place. For those who are governed by the nature of the universe, who lived conformably to this, and employ the powers of nature, these should embrace a mode of worship adapted to nature, and to the bodies that are moved by nature, and should choose for this purpose appropriate places, air, matter, the powers of matter, bodies, and the habits of bodies, qualities, and proper motions, the mutations of things in generation, and other things connected with these, both in other parts of piety and in that part of it which pertains to sacrifice. But those who live conformably to intellect alone, and to the life of intellect, and are liberated from the bonds of nature, these should exercise in all the parts of theurgy the intellectual and incorporeal mode of worship. And those who are the media between these, should labour differently in the paths of piety, conformably to the differences of this middle condition of life, either by embracing both modes of piety, or separating themselves from one of the modes [and adhering to the other], or receiving both these modes as the foundation of things of a more honourable nature. For without these they never can arrive at things supereminent. Or, in some other way, they should thus, in a becoming manner, labour in the paths of sanctity.

XIX. On this subject, however, there is also the following division. Of divine essences and powers some have [a genesiurgic] soul and nature subject and ministrant to their fabrications, whenever they wish to use them. But others are entirely separate from soul and nature, I mean from a divine, and not only from a mundane and genesiurgic soul and nature. And others are the media [1] between these, and afford to the extremes a communion with each other, either according to an exuberant participation of greater good, or according to an unimpeded reception of less good, or according to a concord which binds together both the extremes. When, therefore, we worship the Gods who reign over soul and nature, it is not foreign to these to offer to them physical powers, and bodies which are governed by nature. For all the works of nature are subservient to them, and contribute to their government. But when we undertake to honour those Gods who are essentially uniform, then it is requisite to venerate them with liberated honours. Hence, intellectual gifts are adapted to these, and things which pertain to an incorporeal life, together with the fruits of virtue and wisdom, and whatever perfect and total goods of the soul there may be. Moreover, to the Gods who subsist as media, and who are the leaders of goods of a middle nature, sometimes twofold gifts will be adapted, and sometimes such as have a communication with both these; or such as are separated from inferiors, and pertain to more elevated natures; or, in short, such as in one of the modes give completion to the medium.

XX. Being impelled, therefore, from another principle, viz. from the world and the mundane Gods, from the arrangement of the four elements in the world, and the association of the elements according to [appropriate] measures, and also from the orderly circulation of bodies about centres, we shall have an easy ascent to the truth of the piety respecting sacrifices. For if we are in the world, are contained as parts in the universe, are primarily produced by it, and perfected by the total powers that are in it, and if we consist of its elements, and receive from it a certain portion of life and nature; if this be the case, it is not proper to pass beyond the world and the mundane orders. We must admit, therefore, that in each part of the world there is this visible body, and that there are also incorporeal powers, which are divided about bodies. Hence the law of religion distributes similars to similars, and thus extends from on high, through wholes, as far as to the last of things; assigning, indeed, incorporeals to incorporeals, but bodies to bodies, and this commensurately to the nature of each. If, however, some theurgist should participate of the supermundane Gods, which is the rarest of all things, he, indeed, in the worship of the Gods will transcend both bodies and matter; being united to the Gods by a supermundane power. But that which happens to one person with difficulty and late, and at the end of the sacerdotal office, ought not to be promulgated as common to all men; nor ought it to be made a thing common to those who are commencing theurgic operations, nor to those who have made a middle proficiency in it. For these, after a manner, pay a corporeal- formed attention to sanctity.

XXI. I think, therefore, that all who are lovers of the contemplation of theurgic truth will acknowledge this, that the piety which pertains to divine natures ought not to be exercised towards them partially or imperfectly. Hence, since prior to the appearance of the Gods, all such powers as are presubjacent to them are moved, and when the Gods are about to descend to the earth, precede them as in a solemn procession;38 he who does not distribute to all these powers that which is adapted to them, and does not honour each in an appropriate manner, will depart imperfect, and destitute of the participation of the Gods. But he who propitiates all of them, and offers to each acceptable gifts, and such as are to the utmost of his power adapted to them, will always remain secure and irreprehensible, giving completion in a proper manner to the perfect and entire receptacle of the divine choir. Since this, therefore, is the case, whether is it necessary that the mode of sanctity should be simple, and consist of a certain few things, or that it should be multiform and all-harmonic, and mingled, as I may say, from every thing contained in the world? If, indeed, the power which is invoked, and is excited in the performance of sacred rites, was simple, the mode of sacrifice should necessarily be simple. But if the multitude of powers which are excited when the Gods descend and are moved, is not to be comprehended by any one, except theurgists alone, who accurately know this through experience in sacred operations; if this be the case, they alone are capable of knowing what the perfection is of the sacrific art; and they also know that the omission, though of a few things, subverts the whole work of religion; just as in harmony, from the bursting of one chord, the whole becomes dissonant and incommensurate. As, therefore, in the visible descents of the Gods, a manifest injury is sustained by those who leave some one of the more excellent genera unhonoured,40 thus also in the invisible appearances of the Gods in sacrifices, it is not proper to honour one of them, and not honour another, but it is entirely requisite to honour each of them according to the order which he is allotted. But he who leaves some one of them unhonoured, confounds the whole work of piety, and divulses the one and whole orderly distribution of it; not, in so doing, as some one may think, imperfectly receiving the Gods, but entirely subverting all the ceremonies of religion.

XXII. What then [it may be said], does not the summit of the sacrific art recur to the most principal one of the whole multitude of Gods, and at one and the same time worship the many essences and principles that are [rooted and concentred] in it? Entirely so, but this happens at the latest period, and to a very few, and we must be satisfied if it takes place when the sun of life is setting. Our present discussion, however, does not ordain laws for a man of this kind; for he is superior to all law; but it promulgates a law such as that of which we are now speaking, to those who are in want of a certain divine legislation. It says, therefore, that as the world has one coarrangement from many orders, thus also it is necessary that the consummation of sacrifices, being never failing and entire, should be conjoined to the whole order of more excellent natures. If, however, the world is multiform, and all-perfect, and is united from many orders, it is also necessary that sacred operations should imitate its omniform variety through the whole of the powers which they employ. Hence, in a similar manner, since the things which surround us are all-various, it is not fit that we should be connected with the divine causes that preside over them, from a certain part which they contain. Nor is it proper that we should ascend imperfectly to the primordial causes of them.

XIII. The various mode, therefore, of sanctity in sacred operations partly purifies and partly perfects some one of the things that are in us or about us. And some things, indeed, it restores to symmetry and order; but others it liberates from mortal-formed error. But it renders all things familiar and friendly to all the natures that are superior to us. Moreover, when divine causes, and human preparations which are assimilated to them conspire in one and the same, then the perfection of sacred operations imparts all the perfect and great benefits of sacrifice. It will not be amiss, also, to add such particulars as the following, in order to the accurate comprehension of these things. An exuberance of power is always present with the highest causes, and at the same time that this power transcends all things, it is equally present with all with unimpeded energy. Hence, conformably to this, the first illuminate the last of things, and immaterial are present with material natures immaterially. Nor should it be considered by any one as wonderful, if we say that there is a certain pure and divine matter.[2] For matter being generated by the father and demiurgus of wholes, receives a perfection adapted to itself, in order to its becoming the receptacle of the Gods. At the same time nothing prevents more excellent beings from being able to impart their light to subordinate natures. Neither, therefore, is matter separated from the participation of better causes; so that such matter as is perfect, pure, and boniform, is not unadapted to the reception of the Gods. For, since it is requisite that terrestrial natures should by no means be destitute of divine communion, the earth also receives a certain divine portion from it, sufficient for the participation of the Gods. The theurgic art, therefore, perceiving this to be the case, and thus having discovered in common, appropriate receptacles, conformably to the peculiarity of each of the Gods, it frequently connects together stones, herbs, animals, aromatics, and other sacred, perfect, and deiform substances of the like kind; and afterwards, from all these, it produces an entire and pure receptacle. For it is not proper to despise all matter, but that alone which is foreign from the Gods. But that matter is to be chosen which is adapted to them, as being able to accord with the edifices of the Gods, the dedication of statues, and the sacred operations of sacrifices. For no otherwise can a participation of superior beings be obtained by places in the earth, or by men that dwell in it, unless a foundation of this kind is first established. It is also requisite to be persuaded by arcane assertions, that a certain matter is imparted by the Gods, through blessed visions. This matter, therefore, is doubtless connascent with those by whom it is imparted. Hence, does it not follow that the sacrifice of a matter of this kind excites the Gods to present themselves to the view, immediately calls forth the participation of them, receives them when they accede, and perfectly unfolds them into light?

XXIV. The same things also may be learned from the distribution of the Gods according to places; and from this, and the partible dominion over each particular thing, it may be seen how many allotments, greater or less, superior beings are assigned according to their different orders. For it is evident, that to the Gods who preside over certain places, the things produced by them are most appropriately offered in sacrifice; and that what pertains to the governed is most adapted to be sacrificed to the governors. For always to makers their own works are particularly grateful; and to those who primarily produce certain things, such things are primarily acceptable. Whether, therefore, certain animals, or plants, or any other productions of the earth, are governed by superior beings, at one and the same time, they participate of their inspective care, and impart to us an indivisible communion with the Gods. Some things, therefore, of this kind, if they are carefully preserved, increase the familiarity of those that retain them with the Gods; and these are such as by remaining entire, preserve the communion between Gods and men. Of this kind are some of the animals in Egypt, and man, who is everywhere sacred. But some things, when consecrated, produce a more manifest familiarity; and these are such as by an analysis into the principle of the first elements, effect an alliance more sacredly adapted to superior causes. For the more perfect this alliance is, the more perfect always is the good which is imparted by it.

XXV. If, therefore, these things were human customs alone, and derived their authority through our legal institutions, it might be said that the worship of the Gods was the invention of our conceptions. Now, however, divinity is the leader of it, who is thus invoked by sacrifices, and who is surrounded by a numerous multitude of Gods and angels. Under him, likewise, a certain common presiding power, is allotted dominion according to each nation of the earth. And a peculiar presiding power is allotted to each temple. Of the sacrifices, also, which are performed to the Gods, the inspective guardian is a God; but an angel, of those which are performed to angels; and a d'mon, of such as are performed to d'mons. After the same manner, also, in other sacred operations, the presiding power is allotted dominion over each, in a way allied to his proper genus. When, therefore, we offer sacrifices to the Gods, accompanied by the presiding Gods, who give completion to sacred operations, then at the same time, it is necessary in sacrifices to venerate the sacred law of divine sanctity; and at the same time, also, we ought to be confident, as sacrificing under the Gods who are the rulers of such works. We ought, likewise, to be very cautious, lest we should offer any gift unworthy of, or foreign from, the Gods. And, as the last admonition, we should in a manner entirely perfect, pay attention to all that surrounds us, and to the Gods, angels, and d'mons that are distributed according to genera in the universe. And to all these, in a similar manner, an acceptable sacrifice should be offered; for thus alone sanctity can be preserved in a way worthy of the Gods who preside over it.

XXVI. Since, however, prayers are not the smallest [but on the contrary a very great] part of sacrifices, especially give completion to them, and through these the whole operation of them is corroborated and effected; and since, besides this, they afford a common utility to religion, and produce an indissoluble and sacred communion with the Gods, it will not be improper to discuss a few particulars concerning prayer. For this is of itself a thing worthy to be known, and renders more perfect the science concerning the Gods. I say, therefore, that the first species of prayer is collective; and that it is also the leader of contact with, and a knowledge of, divinity. The second species is the bond of concordant communion, calling forth, prior to the energy of speech, the gifts imparted by the Gods, and perfecting the whole of our operations prior to our intellectual conceptions. And the third and most perfect species of prayer is the seal of ineffable union with the divinities, in whom it establishes all the power and authority of prayer; and thus causes the soul to repose in the Gods, as in a never failing port. But from these three terms, in which all the divine measures are contained, suppliant adoration not only conciliates to us the friendship of the Gods, but supernally extends to us three fruits, being as it were three Hesperian apples of gold. The first of these pertains to illumination; the second, to a communion of operation; but through the energy of the third, we receive a perfect plenitude of divine fire. And sometimes, indeed, supplication precedes; like a precursor preparing the way before the sacrifice appears. But some times it intercedes as a mediator; and sometimes accomplishes the end of sacrificing. No operation, however, in sacred concerns, can succeed without the intervention of prayer. Lastly, the continual exercise of prayer nourishes the vigour of our intellect, and renders the receptacles of the soul far more capacious for the communications of the Gods. It likewise is the divine key, which opens to men the penetralia of the Gods; accustoms us to the splendid rivers of supernal light; in a short time perfects our inmost recesses, and disposes them for the ineffable embrace and contact of the Gods; and does not desist till it raises us to the summit of all. It also gradually and silently draws upward the manners of our soul, by divesting them of every thing foreign to a divine nature, and clothes us with the perfections of the Gods. Besides this, it produces an indissoluble communion and friendship with divinity, nourishes a divine love, and inflames the divine part of the soul. Whatever is of an opposing and contrary nature in the soul, it expiates and purifies; expels whatever is prone to generation, and retains any thing of the dregs of mortality in its etherial and splendid spirit; perfects a good hope and faith concerning the reception of divine light; and, in one word, renders those by whom it is employed the familiars and domestics of the Gods. If such, then, are the advantages of prayer, and such its connexion with sacrifice, does it not appear from hence that the end of sacrifice is a conjunction with the Demiurgus of the world? And the benefit of prayer is of the same extent with the good which is conferred by the demiurgic causes on the race of mortals. Again, from hence the anagogic, perfective, and replenishing power of prayer appears; likewise how it becomes efficacious and unific; and how it possesses a common bond imparted by the Gods. And, in the third and last place, it may easily be conceived from hence how prayer and sacrifice mutually corroborate and confer on each other a sacred and perfect power in divine concerns. Hence, since it appears that there is a perfect conspiration and cooperation of the sacerdotal discipline with itself, and that the parts of it are more connascent than those of any animal, being entirely conjoined through one connexion; this being the case, it is not by any means proper to neglect this concord, nor to admit some of its parts and reject others; but it is fit that all of them should be exercised in a similar manner, and that those should be perfected through all of them who wish to be genuinely conjoined to the Gods. These things therefore, cannot subsist otherwise.


1 These media consist of the order of Gods denominated rulers, and of those called liberated; the former of which also are denominated supermundane, and the latter supercelestial, in consequence of existing immediately above the celestial Gods. See, concerning these media, the sixth book of my translation of Proclus on the Theology of Plato.

2 "Perhaps," says Proclus, in MS. Comment. in Parmenid. [823, TTS vol. XI, p. 99] "it is necessary that, as in souls, natures, and bodies, fabrication does not begin from the imperfect; so likewise in matter, prior to that which is formless, and which has an evanescent being, there is that which is in a certain respect form, and which is beheld in one boundary and permanency." This, therefore, will be the pure and divine matter of which Iamblichus is now speaking. Damascius also says, that matter is from the same order whence form is derived.

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