Chapter 14. Conditions for Successful Results  

In regard to what remains to be considered, it is high time for me to pass on to the difficulty which you next suggest. “It is also required,” you say, “that the Beholder <sup>1</sup> must be pure from the contact of anything dead, and yet of the rites employed to bring the gods hither, many are made effective through dead animals.” In order to reconcile these apparent contradictions we will take a survey of the conflict that seems to exist. There is no opposition at all in the case, but it only appears to be a contradiction in terms. For, indeed, if the law of the Rites commanded both that the dead bodies of the sacrifices should not be touched, and also that they should be touched, this would be contradictory to itself. But if it enjoins to keep aloof from those bodies that have not been consecrated, but permits to touch those that are purified, this is no contradiction. <sup>2</sup>

Further still, it is not allowable to handle the bodies of human beings after the soul has left them. For there is a certain trace, an eidôlon, or reflection of divine life which has been extinguished in the body by death. But it is not an unholy act to touch other animals that are dead, since they do not share the diviner life. It is, therefore, in the case of the other divinities, such as are not separate from matter, that abstinence from touching is essential, but in that of the gods that preside over animals and are intimately united to them, the invocation through animals in sacrifice is conceded.

According to this view, therefore, there is no contradiction.

This matter may also be explained in another way. For bodies deprived of life do bring defilement to human beings wh6 are held by matter, because that which is not alive places a stain upon the living individual, like filth upon the clean, and one in a state of privation upon one in possession of a sufficiency, and also because it produces a taint through the natural aptitude to a worse condition by there being the power of dying. But the body produces no defilement upon a daemon, he being entirely incorporeal, and not receiving corruption from anywhere. On the other hand, it is necessary, for him to be superior to the corruptible body, and not to receive from it into himself any reflection of corruption.

This much, therefore, I say in reference to the difficulty which you suggest in regard to the contradiction.

While explaining by itself how divination is performed by means of the sacred animals, as, for example, by hawks, <sup>3</sup> we did not assert in any manner that by the employment of bodies thus brought into affinity, the gods were present. For they are not set over animals singly, either by assignment, or by any relation to the realm of matter. But to the daemons, and especially to those that are apportioned to the realm of matter, such dealing with the agencies of divination may be assigned, different animals being allotted to different ones, and such ascendancy having been established through contiguity, and they not having been assigned by lot to their respective dominion, by lot are entirely independent and clear of the realm of matter. Or, if any one desires it to be set forth, a seat or vehicle may be assigned to them of such a character by means of which they may be enabled to hold converse and give responses to human beings. We must think, then, that this vehicle is pure from contamination of bodies; for no communion whatever exists between that which is pure and the contrary, but there is a reason for it to be conjoined with human beings through the soul of animals. <sup>4</sup> For this soul has a nature kindred to human beings, through a like vital principle; and likewise to daemons, because being free from bodies it after a manner exists separately. But as it is intermediate between both, it is subservient to the controlling daemon, yet it makes known to those who are still withheld in the body whatever the overlord directs. Thus a common bond of union is given between them, each to the other.

It ought to be borne in mind, however, that the soul that makes use of such methods of divination, not only becomes a hearer of the oracle, but it also contributes from itself, to no small degree, a certain fatality for the accomplishing of it in respect to the performances. For through a certain sympathy of necessity, they are moved together, and act and prognosticate together. Hence such a mode of divining as this is entirely different from the mode that is divine and genuine ; <sup>5</sup> being able to give oracles in relation to trivial and every-day matters – such as pertain to the diversified realm of nature, and are now brought into relation to generated existence. They likewise, impart activities from themselves to those capable of receiving them and produce emotional conditions of many kinds in those who are naturally susceptible to being affected in concert. <sup>6</sup> But the perfect faculty of foreknowing is never developed by emotional excitement. For that which is most of all the unchangeable, and likewise the exempt from matter and in every way pure, attains readily to a perception of the future; but that which is commingled with the irrationality and darkness of the corporeal and materialistic nature, is filled with dense ignorance. Hence, it is never well to receive any such ingenious procedure in divination. Nor ought we to make use of it with any considerable eagerness, nor to trust another person that does it, as though it possessed of itself any clear and well-known evidence of truth. This is enough for us to say in relation to this kind of divining.

Come, then, let us discourse about difficulties of another class, that are in the category of occult things, and which contain, as you say, “threats of violence.” In regard to the multitude of threats, the accusation is divided into many parts. For the actor threatens that he will either “assail the sky, reveal to view the arcana of Isis, expose to public gaze the ineffable symbol in Abydos, <sup>7</sup> to stop the Baris, scatter the limbs of Osiris like Typhon, or do something else of a similar character.”

The men do not, as you imagine, hold out this form of words as a threat “to the Sun-god, or to the Moon, or any of the divine ones in the sky”; for then there would occur more fearful monstrosities than those of which you angrily complain. On the other hand, as I said before in these explanations, there is in the divisions of the world a class of powers, incapable of judgment, and unreasoning. It receives and obeys a word of command from another, but it neither makes use of intelligence of its own, nor distinguishes the true and the false, or the possible or impossible. Such a race of beings, when threats are held over them incessantly, are thrown into agitation and filled with amazement. Hence, I think that it is natural for this class to be led by forcible utterances, and to attract other things by means of senseless and unstable phantasy.

These things have also another explanation, as follows: The theurgic priest, through the power of the ineffable emblems, commands the cosmic spirits, not as a human being, nor as making use of a human soul. <sup>8</sup> On the other hand, as one preexisting in the order of the gods, he makes use of threatenings more terrible than he could make from his own being alone. This is not as though he was about to do everything which he confidently affirms, but he teaches by such use of words how much, how great and what power he has through being at one with the gods. This power the knowledge of the ineffable symbols imparts to him.

This also can be said: That the daemons who are distributed by departments, and who are guardians over the departments of the universe, have charge and superintendence individually of the departments to which they were allotted; so that they do not even admit a word to the contrary, but preserve the perpetual continuance of things in the world without change. They assume this unchangeableness, because the order of the gods remains immovably the same. Hence, they do not endure even to a hearing, that this shall be threatened in which the daemons of the atmosphere and those of the earth have their being. <sup>9</sup>

The subject may also be explained as follows: The daemons have the guardianship of the Ineffable Mysteries. Thus, therefore, I assure you they maintain to a superior degree the orderly arrangement everywhere. For through this the constituent parts of the universe remain in their order because the beneficent power of Osiris continues pure and immaculate, and is not at all commingled with the opposing vice and disorder. The life of all things also remains pure and uncorrupt because the occult life-producing beauties of the rational faculties of Isis do not descend into the body, which is manifest and visible to the senses. But all things remain immutable and ever-coming into existence, <sup>10</sup> because the course of the sun is never stopped. All things likewise remain perfect and entire because the ineffable arcane in Abydos (or in the inner shrine) are never at any time revealed to profane contemplation. Hence in these conditions, in which consists the safety of all things, I say, in the ineffable symbols being preserved occult and in the unutterable essence of the gods never being repressed by the contrary allotment – this is not endurable even by sound for the daemons to listen to that belong around the earth, namely: that they are diverse in quality, or are unhallowed beings, and that on this account such a style of threatening words has a certain appropriateness to them. No one, however, utters a threat to the gods, nor is any such mode of prayer addressed to them.

Accordingly with the Chaldaeans, with whom there has been a pure language set apart for the gods alone, a threat is never uttered. The Egyptian priests, however, having intermingled at the same time the divine symbolic terms and the daemonian words, make use, when it is proper, of threats.

Thou hast now the answer in relation to these difficulties; concise, indeed, but I think sufficiently clearing away every one of them.



  • 1. The epoptes, ephoros, Theôros or candidate undergoing initiation, and so contemplating the views presented for his instruction.
  • 2. Porphyry himself, and Plotinus before him, it may be remarked, did not approve of the killing of animals for food or sacrifice. They also regarded the touch of a dead body as polluting to the person touched.
  • 3. The hawk was held in special esteem in Ancient Egypt. Ra the Sun-God was represented in the hieroglyphics with a hawk's head holding the solar circle in its beak; and Thoth was also depicted having the same emblem, to show that he was the genius of intelligence. The bird was regarded as having the faculty of divining. Its body after death was embalmed and deposited in the shrine at Buto, and whoever killed one, even by accident, was punished by death. In Greece, likewise, the hawk was a symbol of the sun, and sacred to Apollo, the god of oracles.
  • 4. It was held that souls, when separated from the bodies by violence, continue to abide around the bodies, and hence that the theurgic priests were able through their agency to draw the guardian daemons to them.
  • 5. Augustin of Hippo berated Porphyry in regard to this distinction between “divine” or “angelic” and the other communications. “Behold,” says he, “Iamblichos, the patron of the Egyptian priests, deserts his clients.”
  • 6. This accounts also for the enthusiasm characteristic of the Bacchic festivals, and kindred exhibitions at public assemblies, where some powerful influence predominates. Such nervous affections as hysteria and epilepsy are sometimes occasioned in such ways. In the old languages the same terms are used to denote mental derangement and prophetic inspiration.
  • 7. In the Greek text of the Letter of Porphyry this term is “adyton,” the inner shrine of the temple, but here it is Abydos, a city in Middle Egypt, where was the most ancient temple to Isis and Osiris, and also a “tomb.” Some writers insist that only the adytum was meant; others that reference is made to the shrine at Abydos. This was the oldest metropolis in Egypt.

The theologic myths of Egypt contain an explanation of these expressions. Osiris and Isis, or Uasar and Uasi, were the two principal divinities commemorated in the Egyptian Sacred Rites. They were doubtless of Asiatic origin, and the legend seems to be a representation of the contest with the Shepards. Seth, Sutekh, or Typhon was the tutelary god of Northern Egypt of the Hyk-sos, and of the Kheti or Hittites of Asia. He is described as the brother of Osiris and as having treacherously murdered him, and afterward dismembering the body. The widowed Isis wanders over Egypt and to Phoenicia in quest of his remains. They are finally transported in the boat Bans to their final resting-place. The simulacrum of one part is placed in every shrine as a sacred relic. These things were commemorated in the Sacred Rites.

  • 8. See Part IV, Chapter 10. “In all theurgic rites there is a double character put forward: the one as a human being, the other as participating of a superior nature and exalted to the order of divinities. In the former the priest makes the invocation as a man and supplicates the superior beings; in the other, he commands the powers of the universe, because through the ineffable symbols, he is in some manner invested with the sacred character of the gods.”
  • 9. The powers having as their vahan or vehicle the sun, moon, and stars, were the daemons thus threatened.
  • 10. In the ancient philosophy, creation was identical with generation. Hence the universe is styled “seigenes” or ever generated, as being constantly replenished and renewed. Creation is a work always taking place.