Chapter 1. Letter of Porphyry to Anebo

Porphyry to the Prophet Anebo. <sup>1</sup> Greeting.

I will begin this friendly correspondence with thee with a view to learning what is believed in respect to the gods and good demons and likewise the various philosophic speculations in regard to them. Very many things have been set forth concerning these subjects by the (Grecian) philosophers, but the for the most part have derived the substance of their belief from conjecture.

In the first place, therefore, it is to be taken for granted that there are gods. I ask then: what are the peculiarities of the superior races, by which they are differentiated from each other? Are we to suppose the cause of the distinction to be their energies or their passive motions, or things consequent: or is it a classification established by difference of bodies – the gods being distinguished by aetherial bodies, the demons by aërial bodies, and souls by bodies pertaining to the earth?

As the gods dwell in heaven only, I ask therefore, why are invocations at the Theurgic Rites directed to them as being of the Earth and Underworld? How is it that although possessing power unlimited, undivided, and unrestricted, some of them are mentioned as being of the water and of the atmosphere, and that others are allotted by definite limitations to different places and to distinct parts of bodies? If they are actually separated by circumscribed limitations of parts, and according to diversities of places and subject-bodies, how will there be any union of them one to another?

How can the Theosophers <sup>2</sup> consider them as impressionable? For it is said that on this account phallic images are set up and that immodest language is used at the Rites? <sup>3</sup> Certainly if they are impassive and unimpressionable the invocations of the gods, announcing favorable inclinations, propitiations of their anger and expiatory sacrifices, and still further what are called “necessities of the gods,” will be utterly useless. For that which is impassive is not to be charmed or forced <sup>4</sup> or constrained by necessity.

Why, then, are many things performed to them in the Sacred Rites, as to impressionable beings? The invocations are made as to gods that are impressionable beings: so that it is implied that not the demons only are impressionable, but the gods likewise, as was declared in Homer:

“Even the gods themselves are yielding.”

Suppose, then, we say, as certain individuals have affirmed, that the gods are pure mental essences and that the demons are psychic beings participating of mind. <sup>5</sup> The fact remains, nevertheless, that the pure mental essences are not to be charmed or mingled with things of sense, and that the supplications which are offered are entirely foreign to this purity of mental substance. <sup>6</sup> But on the other hand the things that are offered are offered as to sensitive and psychic natures.

Are gods, then, separated from demons by the distinction of bodied and unbodied? If, however, only the gods are incorporeal, how shall the Sun, the Moon, and the visible luminaries in the sky be accounted as gods?

How is it that some of them are givers of good and others bring evil?

What is the bond of union that connects the divinities in the sky that have bodies with the gods that are unbodied?

The gods that are visible (in the sky) being included in the same category with the invisible, what distinguishes the demons from the visible, and likewise the invisible, gods?

In what does a demon differ from a hero or half-god or from a soul? <sup>7</sup> It is it in essence, in power, or in energy? <sup>8</sup>

What is the token (at the Sacred Rites) of the presence of a god or an angel, or an archangel, or a demon, or of some archon, or a soul? For it is a common thing with the gods and demons alike, and with all the superior races, to speak boastfully and to project an unreal image into view. <sup>9</sup> Hence the race of the gods is thus made to seem to be in no respect superior to that of the demons.

It is also acknowledged that ignorance and delusion in respect to the gods is irreligiousness and impurity, and that the superior knowledge in respect to them is holy and helpful: the former being the darkness of ignorance in regard to the things revered and beautiful, and the latter the light of knowledge. The former condition will cause human beings to be beset with every form of evil through ignorance and recklessness, <sup>10</sup> but the latter is the source of everything beneficial.

What is it that takes place in divination? For example, when we are asleep, we often come, through dreams, to a perception of things that are about to occur We are not in an ecstasy full of commotion, for the body lies at rest, yet we do not ourselves apprehend these things as clearly as when we are awake.

In like manner many also come to a perception of the future through enthusiastic rapture and a divine impulse, when at the same time so thoroughly awake as to have the senses in full activity. Nevertheless, they by no means follow the matter closely, or at least they do not attend to it as closely as when in their ordinary condition. So, also, certain others of these ecstatics become entheast or inspired when they hear cymbals, drums, or some choral chant; as for example, those who are engaged in the Korybantic Rites, those who are possessed at the Sabazian festivals, and those who are celebrating the Rites of the Divine Mother. Others, also, are inspired when drinking water, like the priest of the Klarian Apollo at Kolophon; others when sitting over cavities in the earth, like the women who deliver oracles at Delphi; others when affected by vapor from the water, like the prophetesses at Branchidæ; and others when standing in indented marks like those who have been filled from an imperceptible inflowing of the divine plerome. Others who understand themselves in other respects become inspired through the Fancy: some taking darkness as accessory, others employing certain potions, and others depending on singing and magic figures. Some are affected by means of water, others by gazing on a wall, others by the hypethral air, and others by the sun or in some other of the heavenly luminaries. Some have likewise established the technique of searching the future by means of entrails, birds, and stars.

What, I ask, is the nature of divination, and what is its peculiar character? The diviners all say that they arrive at the foreknowledge of the future through gods or demons, and that it is not possible for others to have any inkling of it only those who have command over the things to be. I dispute, therefore, whether the divine power is brought down to such subserviency to human beings as, for instance, not to hold aloof from any who are diviners with barley-meal.

In regard, however, to the origins of the oracular art, it is to be doubted whether a god, or angel, or demon, or some other such being, is present at the Manifestations, <sup>11</sup> or at the divinations, or at any other of the Sacred Performances, as having been drawn thither through you by the necessities created by the invocations.

Some are of opinion that the soul itself both utters and imagines these things, and that there are similar conditions of it which have been produced from little sparks; others, that there is a certain mingled form of substance produced from our own soul and from the divine in breathing; others, that the soul, through such activities, generates from itself a faculty of Imagination in regard to the future, or else that the emanations from the realm of matter bring demons into existence through their inherent forces, especially when the emanations are derived from animals.

These conjectures are put forth for the following statements:

1. That during sleep, when we are not engaged with anything, we sometimes chance to obtain perception of the future.

2. That likewise, an evidence that a condition of the Soul is a principal source of the art of divining is shown by the facts that the senses are held in check, fumes and invocations being employed for the purpose; and that by no means everybody, but only the more artless and young persons, are suitable for the purpose.

3. That likewise, ecstasy or alienation of mind is a chief origin of the divining art; also the mania which occurs in diseases, mental aberration, abstinence from wine, suffusions of the body. fancies set in motion by morbid conditions or equivocal states of mind, such as may occur during abstinence and ecstasy, or apparitions got up by technical magic. <sup>12</sup>

4. That both the realm of Nature, Art, and the feeling in things of common throughout the universe, as of the parts in one animal, contain foreshadowings of certain things with reference to others. Moreover, there are bodies so constituted as to be a forewarning from some to others. Examples of this kind are manifest by the things done, namely: that they who make the invocations (at the Rites) carry stones and herbs, tie sacred knots and unloose them, open places that are locked, and change the purposes of individuals by whom they are entertained, so that from being paltry they are made worthy. They also who are able to reproduce the mystic figures are not to be held in low esteem. For they watch the course of the heavenly bodies, and tell from the position and relation of one with another whether the oracular announcements of the ruling planet will be false or true, or whether the rites which have been performed will be to no purpose, or will be expressive or archaic, although no god or demon is drawn down to them.

There are some, however, who suppose there is likewise, the subject-race of a tricky nature, artful, and assuming all shapes, turning many ways, that personates gods and demons and souls of the dead like actors on the stage; and that through these everything that seems to be good or bad is possible. They are led to form this judgment because these subject-spirits are not able to contribute anything really beneficial as relates to the soul, nor even to perceive such things; but on the other hand, they ill treat, deride, and often impede those who are returning to virtue.

They are likewise full of conceit, and take delight in vapors and sacrifices.

5. Because the begging priest with open mouth attempts in many ways to raise our expectations. <sup>13</sup>

It perplexes me greatly to form a conception how they who are invoked as superior beings are likewise commanded like inferiors; also that they require the worshipper to be just, although when entreated, they themselves consent to perform unjust acts. They will not hearken to the person who is invoking them if he is not pure from sexual contamination, yet they themselves do not hesitate to lead chance individuals into unlawful sexual relations.

(I am likewise in doubt in regard to the sacrifices, what utility or power they possess in the world and with the gods, and for what reason they are performed, appropriate for the beings thus honored and advantageously for the persons who present the gifts. <sup>14</sup>)

The gods also require that the interpreters of the oracles observe strict abstinence from animal substances, in order that they may not be made impure by the fumes from the bodies; yet they themselves are allured most of all by the fumes of the sacrifices of animals.

It is also required that the Beholder <sup>15</sup> must be pure from the contact of anything dead, and yet the rites employed to bring the gods hither, many of them, are made effective through dead animals.

What, then, is more preposterous than these things – that a human being, inferior in dignity, should make use of threats, not to a demon or soul of some dead person, but to the Sun-King himself, or to the Moon, or some one of the divine ones in the sky, himself uttering falsehood in order that they may be caused to speak the truth? For the declaration that he will assail the sky, that he will reveal to view the Arcana of Isis, that he will expose to public gaze the ineffable symbol in the innermost sanctuary, that he will stop the Baris; that, like Typhon, he will scatter the limbs of Osiris, or do something of a similar character, what is it but an extravagant absurdity, threatening what he neither knows how nor is able to perform? What dejection of spirit does it not produce in those who, like children, destitute of intelligence, are dismayed by groundless fear and terrified by these false alarms?

And yet Chairemon, the Scribe of the Temple, records these things as current discourse among the Egyptian priests. <sup>16</sup> It is also said that these threats, and others of like tenor, are very violent.

The Prayers also: What do they mean when they speak of the one coming forth to light from the slime, sitting on the Lotus-blossom, sailing in a boat, changing forms according to the season, and assuming a shape according to the Signs of the Zodiac? For so this is said to be seen at the Autopsias; and they unwittingly attribute to the divinity a peculiar incident of their own imagination. If, however, these expressions are uttered figuratively, and are symbolic representations of his forces, let them tell the interpretation of the symbols. For it is plain that if they denote the condition of the Sun, as in eclipses, they would be seen by every one who looked toward it intently.

Why, also, are terms preferred that are unintelligible, and of those that are unintelligible why are foreign ones preferred instead of those of our own language? For if the one who hears gives attention to the signification it is enough that the concept remains the same, whatever the term may be. For the divinity that is invoked is possibly not Egyptian in race; and if he is Egyptian, he is far from making use of Egyptian speech, or indeed of any human language at all. Either these are all artful contrivances of jugglers, and disguises having their origin in the passive conditions induced about us through being attributed to the divine agency, or we have left unnoticed conceptions of the divine nature that are contrary to what it is.

I desire you further to declare plainly to me what the Egyptian Theosophers believe the First Cause to be; whether Mind, or above mind; and whether one alone, or subsisting with another or with several others; whether unbodied or embodied, whether the very same as the Creator of the Universe (Demiurgos) or prior to the Creator; also whether they likewise have knowledge respecting Primal Matter; <sup>17</sup> or of what nature the first bodies were; and whether the Primal Matter was unoriginated, or was generated. For Chairemon and the others hold that there is not anything else prior to the worlds which we behold. At the beginning of their discourses they adopt the divinities of the Egyptians, but no other gods, except those called Planets, those that make up the Zodiac and such as rise with these, and likewise those divided into decans, those which indicate nativities, and those which are called the Mighty Leaders. The names of these are preserved in the Almanacs, together with their routine of changes, their risings and settings, and their signifying of future events. For these men perceived that the things which were said respecting the Sun-God as the Demiurgos, or Creator of the Universe, and concerning Osiris and Isis, and all the Sacred Legends, may be interpreted as relating to the stars, their phases, occultations, and revolutions in their orbits, or else to the increase and decrease of the Moon, the course of the Sun, the vault of the sky as seen by night or by day, or the river Nile, and, in short, they explain everything as relating to natural objects, and nothing as having reference to incorporeal and living essences. <sup>18</sup>

More of them likewise attribute to motion of the stars whatever may relate to us. They bind everything, I know not how, in the indissoluble bonds of necessity, which they term Fate, or allotment; and they also connect everything with those gods whom they worship in temples and with carved images and other objects, as being the only unbinders of Fate.

The next thing to be learned relates to the peculiar demon or guardian spirit – how the Lord of the House <sup>19</sup> assigns it, according to what purpose or what quality of emanation or life or power conies from it to us, whether it really exists or does not exist, and whether it is impossible or possible actually to find the Lord of the House. Certainly, if it is possible, then the person has learned the scheme of his nativity; knowing his own guardian demon, is liberated from fate, is truly favored by divinity. Nevertheless, the rules for casting nativities are countless, and beyond comprehension. Moreover, it is impossible for expertness in astral observations to amount to an actual knowing, for there is great disagreement in relation to it, and Chairemon, as well as many others, have spoken against it. Hence the assumption of a Lord of the House (or Lords of the House, if there are more than one) pertaining to a nativity is almost confessed by astrologers themselves to be beyond absolute proving; and yet it is from this assumption, they say, that the ascertaining of the person's own personal demon is possible.

But further, I wish to be informed whether our personal demon presides over some specific one of the regions within us. For it seems to be believed by some persons that there are demons allotted to specific departments of the body – one over the health, one over the figure, and another over the bodily habits, forming a bond of union among them; and that one is placed as superior over all of them in common. And further, they suppose that there is one demon guardian of the body, another of the soul, and another of the superior mind; <sup>20</sup> also that some demons are good and others bad.

I am in doubt, however, whether our particular demon may not be a special part of the soul; and hence he who has a mind imbued with good sense would be the truly favored one.

I observe, moreover, that there is a twofold worship of the personal demon; also, that some perform it as to two and others as to three, but nevertheless he is invoked by all with a common form of invocation.

I question, however, whether there may not be some other secret path to true success which is afar from (the Rites of) the gods. I doubt whether it is really necessary to pay any regard to the opinions of individuals in regard to the divine endowment of divination and Theurgy, and whether the Soul does not now and then form grand conceptions. On the contrary, also, there are other methods for obtaining premonitions of what will take place. Perhaps, also, they who exercise the divine art of divining may indeed foresee, and yet they are not really successful: for they may foresee future events and not know how to make use of the foresight properly for themselves. I desire from you, therefore, to show me the path to success and in what the essence of it consists. For among us (philosophers) there is much wrangling, as though good might be derived from human reasonings by comparison of views.

If, however, this part of the inquiry, the intimate association with the superior race is passed over by those who devised it, wisdom will be taught by them to trivial purpose, such as calling the Divine Mind to take part about the finding of a fugitive slave, or a purchase of land, or, if it should so happen, a marriage or a matter of trade. Suppose, however, that this subject of intimate communion with the Superior race is not passed over, and those who are thus in communication tell things that are remarkably true about different matters, but nothing important or trustworthy in relation to the true success – employing themselves diligently with matters that are difficult, but of no use to human beings – then there were neither gods nor good demons present, but on the contrary, a demon of that kind called “Vagabond,” or it was all an invention of men or an air-castle of a mortal nature.


1. Porphyry, it is well known, was a distinguished scholar, and the foremost writer in the later Platonic School. He was a native of Tyre, and his name Molech, or King, was rendered by Longinus into Porphurios, denoting the royal purple, as a proper equivalent. He was a disciple of Plotinus, who had broadened the field of philosophic study till it included the “Wisdom of the East.” In personal habits he followed the Pythagorean discipline. He was a severe critic of the Gnostic beliefs then current, and he evidently included with them also the new Christian faith. His mysticism was spiritual and contemplative, and he regarded the ceremonial rites of the Egyptian theurgy with distrust. He favored Mithraism, which prevailed in Asia, while Iamblichos belonged rather to the cult of Serapis, which was the State religion of Egypt.

Of Anebo we know little. He is addressed as an Egyptian priest, and his name is that of Anabu or Anubis, the Egyptian psyxhopompos and patron of sacred literature. He was a “prophet” hen niter or servant of divinity, and expounder of the oracles: and Porphyry himself an “epoptes” or initiated person, asks him accordingly to explain the Egyptian theosophic doctrines respecting the divine beings, rites and religious faith.

2. The Theosophers were regarded as learned in the arcane knowledge, and especially in Theurgy. Iamblichos appears to have adopted these Rites and usages from the Egyptian worship, including with them a philosophic groundwork from the Platonic doctrines.

3. The use of images and emblems of a sacred character to typify divine power and energy is universal. Somewhat of the divine was supposed to inhere in them. The “images” and asheras or “groves” mentioned in the Bible were of this character. So was the “idol in a grove,” made by Queen Maachah, as well as the simulacrums which, as Herodotus states, the Egyptian women carried at the festivals.

4. Compare Gospel according to Matthew, XI, 12. “From the days of John the Baptist till now, the kingdom of heaven is forced, and they who are violent seize it.”

5. Xenokrates, who was a disciple of Plato, himself taught these doctrines. He considered the heavens as divine and that the substance of the divine nature was mind pure and absolute. He also described the stars as “visible divinities.” The demons were depicted as of a psychic nature, subordinate to that of the gods, and therefore subject to emotion and perturbation like human beings, while at the same time sharing in a degree in the power and intelligence of the gods.

6. Greek, the mind or “rational soul,” the essence or principle of intelligence which transcends the understanding or reasoning faculty, and is capable of knowing truth intuitively and instinctively from being itself of divine origin.

7. Here Porphyry has given an ancient classification of spiritual beings into four orders, the gods, demons or guardians, the heroes or half-gods, and souls. There were other distinctions in the Eastern countries, and we find Abammon, the Teacher, adding to these the archangels, angels, and archons of both the higher and lower nature. These were named in several of the Gnostic categories that were extant at that period. “We have no conflict with blood and flesh,” says the Christian apostle, “but with archonates, authorities, the world-rulers of this dark region, and spiritual forces of evil in the upper heavens.”

8. By “essence” is signified the underlying principle of being; by “power” the intermediate agency; and by “energy” the operative faculty which enables actual results.

9. This inquiry in regard to the apparitions which the candidates beheld at the initiation is made plainer by Proklos: “In the most sacred stages of the Perfective Rites,” says he, “before the gods come into view, there appear intrusive figures of demons of the Underworld, to draw away the attention of the candidate from the spotless Good to the gross and material.” It may be pertinent to add that in the several Grottoes or Halls of Initiation there was machinery ingeniously constructed for the purpose of representing divine and other personages. See The Epicurean, by Thomas Moore, and The Great Dionysiak Myth, by Robert Brown, Jr., VI, 2, 3.

10. “I do not see any sin in the world,” says George Sand, “But I see a great deal of ignorance.”

11. Greek, epiphany – an apparition or manifestation, such as was exhibited in mystic and theurgic rites.

12. Goeteia (goetia), or “black magic.”

Chapter 1. Letter of Porphyry to Anebo13. The agurtes or begging priest generally belonged to the worship of Rhea or Cybele, the Mother. He is frequently depicted in a most unfavorable light. Apuleius speaks of a company of these emasculate priests in the eighth book of the Metamorphoses. They are also described in the Republic of Plato: “Agurtæ and Mantics frequent the houses of the rich and persuade them that they possess a power granted by the gods to expiate, by sacrifices and chants any unjust act that has been committed and that they induce the gods by blandishments and magic rites to help them. They collected money in this way, and they also followed the selling of nostrums and telling of fortunes.”

14. This paragraph is taken from Part V, Chapter I, and is not found in the text of the Letter as we have it. It is quoted there as belonging in this place. In the original Greek text the preceding paragraph appears in unbroken connection with the one which follows, and in dividing them we find it necessary to add a clause, to introduce the subject.

15. Greek, an epopt, seer, or beholder; a person admitted to the higher degree of initiation. “The Perfective Rite leads the way as the muesis or mystic initiation,” says Proklos, “and after that is the epopteia or beholding.” Theôn describes it as three degrees – “the Purification, Initiation, and Beholding of the Divine Vision.” Mr. Robert Brown, Jr., explains the last of these very fully. “This is the Autopsia or Personal Inspection, the Crown of Mysteries, the Epopteia or Divine Beholding, and he becomes an Epoptes or Contemplator.” (Great Dionysiak Myth, VI, 2, 3.)
As the Autoptic Visions are the principal topic in this work, the term “Beholder” is adopted uniformly for several words of the same import.

16. As the term “Egyptian” is applied only in this work to individuals of sacerdotal rank, the designation of “priest” is added. The Hierogrammateus, or Scribe of the Temple, was a priest of the lower class, and his duty was to keep the records, teach students the religious observances, and take care that they were duly obedient. The prophets were superior to the Scribes. The Temples of Egypt, like those of Babylonia, were seminaries for instruction, and all departments of Science and philosophy were included in their teachings as being Sacred Learning.

17. Greek, hulé; a term first adopted by Aristotle to signify the objective, negative or passive element upon which the Creative energy operates. Plato named it the “receptacle,” as containing the creative energy and making it effective.

18. Plutarch comments somewhat severely upon this mode of interpretation. In his treatise On Isis and Osiris he remarks that some individuals do not scruple to say that Osiris is the Sun, Isis no other than the Moon, and that Typhon is fire, or drouth, or the Ocean. But he adds in rebuttal: “No one can rationally imagine that these objects can be gods in themselves; for nothing can be a god that is either without soul, or under the power of natural objects.” He also remarks that “there is an excellent saying among philosophers, that they who have not learned the true sense of words will also mistake in the things that are meant.”

19. Greek, oikoresmotys: Hebrew, Baal Zebul. In astrology a “house” is a twelfth part of the sky as marked out for the purpose of horoscopes. Every sign of the Zodiac thus had a “house,” which a planet or planetary genius was considered as occupying, and thence ruling the days and events of the month to which it belonged.

20. Compare First Epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians, V, 23: “Spirit and soul and body.”