Chapter 2. Reply of Abammon the Teacher to The Letter of Porphyry to Anebo.

Hermes <sup>1</sup>, the patron of literature, was rightly considered of old to be a god common to all the priests <sup>2</sup> and the one presiding over the genuine learning relating to the gods, one and the same among all. Hence our predecessors were wont to ascribe to him their discoveries in wisdom and to name all their respective works Books of Hermes.

If, therefore, we participate in this god <sup>3</sup>, of the measure which has fallen to us and become possible to us, thou dost well to propose these questions in regard to the Divine Sciences to the priests as to friends for an accurate solution. Having good reason therefore for considering the letter sent by thee to Anebo, my pupil, as having been written to myself, I will answer thee truly in regard to the matters about which thou hast enquired. For it would not be becoming that Pythagoras, Plato, Demokritos, Eudoxos, and many others of the old Greeks, should have obtained competent instruction from the temple-scribes of their own time <sup>4</sup>, but that thou who art contemporary with us, and having the same disposition as they, should be turned away by those now living and recognized as public teachers.

Accordingly, I myself engage thus in the present discussion. Thou, if thou dost so choose, art at liberty to consider the person who is now writing to thee as the same individual to whom thou hast sent thy letter. If, however, it shall seem to thee more proper, then regard the individual who is discoursing with thee in writing to be one or some other prophet of the Egyptians, for this is not a matter worth differing about. Or, as I think still a better way, let it pass unnoticed whether the person speaking is of inferior or superior rank, and direct the attention solely to the things that are uttered, thus arousing the understanding to eagerness simply as to whether that which is said be true or false.

In the first place, let us take the subjects separately in order to ascertain the scope and quality of the problems which are now proposed for discussion. Next let us examine in detail the theories respecting divine matters from which thy doubts were conceived, and make a statement of them, as to the sources of knowledge by which they are to be investigated.

Some which are badly jumbled together require to be taken apart; while others have relation to the Divine Cause through which everything exists, and so are readily apprehended. Others which we might put forward according to a certain plan of exhibiting contradictory views, draw out the judgment in both directions; and there are likewise some which demand from us to explain the whole of the Initiatory Rites.

Such being the facts, our answers are to be taken from many places and from different sources of knowledge. Some of these introduce fundamental principles from the traditions which the sages of the Chaldaeans delivered; others derive support from the doctrines which the Prophets of the Egyptian temples teach; and some of them follow closely the speculations of the Philosophers and elicit the conclusions which belong to them. And now there are some of these which involve an unbecoming dispute from diverse notions that are not worthy of a word; and others that have their origin from prejudices common to human beings. All these, therefore, are to be disposed of in various ways by themselves, and are in many ways connected with one another.

Hence, on account of all these things, there is some discussion necessary for the directing of them properly.

We will, therefore, set forth to thee the hereditary opinions of the Assyrian Sages <sup>5</sup> in regard to the True Knowledge, and will show thee in plain terms our own. Some things in the Gnosis will be brought into the discussion from the innumerable arcane writings, and the rest will be from the works upon the entire range of Divine Matters, which the old compilers have collected into a book of limited dimensions.

If, however, thou wouldst propose some philosophic question, we will determine it for thee according to the ancient Tablets of Hermes <sup>6</sup>, which Plato and Pythagoras, having studied thoroughly beforehand, combined together in Philosophy.

But questions that are foreign to the subject, or that are disputatious and exhibit a contentious disposition of mind, we shall tone down gently and aptly, or else show their impropriety. So far also as they go in the line of common ways of thinking we shall try to discuss them in a familiar manner. Those, likewise, which require the experiences of the Divine Dramas <sup>7</sup> for an intelligent understanding we will, as far as it is possible, explain by words alone <sup>8</sup>; but those which are likewise full of intellectual speculation will be shown to be effective for purifying (from the earthly contamination).

It is possible, however, to tell the signs of this which are worthy to be noted, and from these both thou and those who are like thee in mind can be brought near to the very essence of things that have real being <sup>9</sup>.

So far, however, as they may be actually known through words, none of these matters will be left without a perfect demonstration, and in reference to everything we shall give thee carefully the proper explanation. Those which relate to divine matters we will answer as theologists; and those which pertain to Theurgy we will explain theurgically. Those of a philosophic character we will search out with thee as philosophers, and such as extend to the Primary Causes we will bring forth into light following the argument together according to first principles. Such, however, as pertain to morals or final results we will determine properly according to ethical form; and other questions, in like manner, we will treat according to their proper place in the arrangement.

We will now proceed to thy questions.

Thou beginnest accordingly by saying: “In the first place, it is to be taken for granted that there are gods.” Speaking in this way is not right. For the inborn knowledge in respect to the gods is coexistent with our very being, and is superior to all judging and deciding beforehand. Indeed, it is preexistent both to argument and demonstration, and is united interiorly from the beginning to its own divine cause and is coexistent with the inherent longing and impulse of the soul to the Good <sup>10</sup>.

If, however, we must speak truly, the conjoining to the divine nature is not knowing, for this is kept separate after a manner by an otherness. <sup>11</sup>

Prior to this knowing, however, which is as of one individual having knowledge of another, the intimate union as in a single concept is self-originated and indistinguishable. Hence we ought to concede the point as though possibly it might not be granted, not to assume it as a matter of uncertainty'. for it always existed simply in energy. Nor is it proper to put it to proof in this way as though we had authority to judge and reject ; for we are ourselves encompassed in it, or rather we are filled by it, and the very selfhood which we are we possess in this knowing of the gods <sup>12</sup>.

I have, moreover, the same thing to say to thee in regard to the Superior races which come next in order after the gods. I mean the demons, heroes, and uncontaminate souls <sup>13</sup>.

For it is always necessary to bear in mind respecting these subordinate races that they have one defined form of essence; also that we put aside from our conception of them the indefiniteness and instability which are incident to the human constitution and renounce the tendency to incline to the other side which arises from attempts to counterbalance the opposition of the arguments. For such a thing is foreign to the principles of reason and life, but is derived from secondary sources, such even as belong to the power and contrariness of the realm of generated existence. It is necessary, however, to treat of them as being of a uniform nature.

Let it be admitted, then, that with the companions of the gods <sup>14</sup> in the eternal region there is the innate perception of them.

Therefore, even as they have their being always after the same manner, so also the human soul is conjoined to them by Knowledge according to the same principles; never by any conjecture, opinion or reasoning which have their beginning in Time pursuing the essence which is beyond all these, but by pure and faultless intuitions which it received out of eternity from the gods being conjoined with them in these principles.

Nevertheless, thou seemest to consider the knowing of divine beings to be the same as the knowing of other matters, and likewise that a point may be taken for granted from opposing arguments, as is usual in debates. But there is no such similarity. For the perceiving of them is absolutely distinct from everything of antithetic character. It is not made valid by being now conceded or by coming into existence, but on the other hand it is a single concept, and coexisted with the soul from eternity.

I say such things to thee, therefore, in regard to the first principle in us, at which it is necessary for those to begin who would both speak and hear anything whatever concerning the superior races or about ourselves.

Then follows thy question: “What are the peculiarities of the Superior races by which they are differentiated from each other?” If by peculiarities“ thou meanest differences as of species under the same genus, which are distinguished by opposite characteristics, as rational and irrational under the head of animal, we by no means admit the existence of such differences in beings that neither have one common essence <sup>15</sup> nor characteristics diverse from one another, nor have received an organization from a common source which is undefined and yet defines the peculiarity.

If, however, thou supposest the peculiarity to be a certain simple condition limited in itself, as in primary and secondary races, which differ in their entire essence and in the whole genus, thy notion of the peculiarities is reasonable. For these peculiarities of beings that always exist will all be in some manner set apart, separate and simple.

The questioning, however, is going forward to little purpose, for it behooves us, first of all, to ascertain what the peculiarities are in regard to essence, then in regard to power, and so, after that, what they are in regard to energy. But as thou hast now put the question in reference to certain peculiarities which distinguish them, thou speakest only of the peculiarities of energies. Hence thou askest the difference in them in respect to the last things as mentioned, but art passing over unnoticed, without questioning, the first, and, as relating to the elements of variableness, the most important of them.

Moreover, there is something added in the same place in regard to “active or passive motions.” This is a classification not at all proper as relates to the superior races; for in none of them is there the contrast of active and passive, but certain of their energies are to be contemplated as unconditioned, unrestrained, and without relation to anything opposing. Hence we do not admit in regard to them that there are such motions as active and passive in respect to the soul. For we do not concede self-motion from moving and being set in motion; but we suppose that there is a certain unique self-originating motion which is its very own, and not an aptitude derived from an outside source taking from it action in itself and a passive condition by itself. Who, then, may admit in respect to the races superior to the soul that they are to be distinguished by the peculiarities of active and passive motions? <sup>16</sup>

Further, therefore, that expression which is added, “or things consequent,” is inconsistent with their nature. For in the case of those of composite nature, and of those that exist together with others or in others, or that are encompassed by others, some are conceived of as leading and others as following, some as being themselves essences and others as contingent upon essences. For there is an arrangement of them in regular order, and there intervenes unfriendliness and disagreement between them. But in regard to the superior races, they are all to be considered as self-subsisting. The perfect ones take rank as chiefs, and are separate by themselves, and neither have their substance from others or in others. Thus there is nothing about them that is “consequent.” In no respect, therefore, is their peculiarity characterized from these.

And now there occurs at the end of the question the natural distinction. The question is whether the essences are to be known by energies, physical motions, and things consequent Everything, however, is to the contrary. For as the energies and motions made up the actual substance of the essence, they would themselves likewise be dominant in regard to their difference. If, however, the essences generate the energies, being themselves previously separate, then they impart to the motions, energies, and things consequent, that which constitutes the differences. This mode, therefore, is contrary to what is supposed in the present bunt to find the peculiarity.

In short, however, whether thou imaginest that there is one race of gods and one of demons, and in like manner of heroes (or half-gods), and after the same course of things, of unbodied souls, or whether thou supposest that there are many races in each category, thou demandest that the distinguishing of them shall be according to peculiarities. For if thou supposest each race to be a unit, the whole arrangement of divine orders according to the more perfect classification <sup>17</sup> is overturned; however, they are defined by these according to race, as it may seem satisfactory, and there is not among them one common definition in relation to essence except that those that are prior are distinguished from the inferior races, it is not possible to find out their common boundaries. And even though it should be possible, this very thing takes away their peculiarities. Hence the object which is sought is not to be found in this way. He, however, will be able to define their peculiarities who reasons upon the analogous sameness in the higher orders; as, for example, with the many races among the gods, and again with those among the demons and half-gods, and lastly with souls. hence it has been demonstrated by us through this argument what is the right course of the present investigation, its limitation, and how it is possible for it to be made.

Let us next proceed with the answers, one after another, to the questions which have been asked. There is then the Good: both that which is beyond essence and that which exists through essence. I am speaking of that essence which is the 'most ancient and most to be revered, and which, as to is incorporeal. <sup>18</sup> It is a special peculiarity of the gods, and is characteristic of all the races that are included with them; and hence, not being divided from this, but existing in like manner the same in them all, it preserves their peculiar distribution and arrangement.

But with souls that are ruling over bodies, that are occupied with the care of them, and that are placed in order apart by themselves in the eternal regions, before the transition to generated existence, there is not present either the essence of the Good, or the Cause (or Supreme Principle) of the Good which is prior to essence; but there comes from it a certain participation and habit of good, as we perceive that a sharing of beauty and virtue is very different from what we observe with human beings. For this is equivocal, and becomes manifest in complex natures as sole thing acquired. But the principle of goodness is established unchangeable and perpetual in the Souls. It never at any time goes away from itself, nor is it taken away by anything else.

Such then being the case with the divine races, the first and the last (the gods and souls), let us consider the two races intermediate between these two extremes, namely: 1. That of heroes or half-gods, which not only ranks higher than the order of souls in power and virtue, moral beauty and greatness, and excels it in every good quality which is incident in souls, but is also closely joined to. them by the kindred relationship of a similar form of life. 2. The other, the race of demons, which is closely allied to the gods, yet is in a certain sense inferior to them, following as though it was not first in rank but accompanying in subservience to the good pleasure of the gods. This race causes the otherwise invisible goodness of the gods to become visible in operation, becoming itself both assimilated to it, and accomplishing perfect works that are like it. For then what was before unutterable in it is made capable of being uttered, what was without form is caused to shire forth in visible figures, whatever of it was beyond all reasoning is brought forth into plain words, and having already received the connate participation of beautiful gifts it bestows the same ungrudgingly, and transfers them to the races that rank after itself.

Thus these intermediate races complete the common bond of gods and souls and render the connection between them indissoluble. They not only bind these together in one continuous series, from those on high to the very last, but they make the union of them all incapable of being separated and to be a most perfect blending and an equal intermingling of them all. They likewise, after a manner, cause an outgoing influence to go forth equally from the superior to the inferior races and a reciprocal one from subordinate races to those ranking above them. They also establish order among the more imperfect races, and likewise due proportions of the gift coming down from the better ones and of the reception which takes place; and having themselves received from above from the gods the causes or motives of all these, they make everything agreeable and suited in every respect to all.

Thou must not think, therefore, that this classification is a peculiarity of powers or of energies or of essence; nor art thou taking them separately, to inspect them one by one. Nevertheless, by extending the inquiry through all of them thou wilt complete the answer to what was asked in relation to the peculiarities of gods, demons and half-gods, and of those that are included in the category of souls.

Let us proceed again, by another line of argument. Everything, whatever it may be, and of whatever quality, that is united, that is firmly established in itself by unalterable law and is a cause among the indivisible essences – that is immovable, and so is to be considered as the cause of all motion – that is superior to all things and has nothing whatever in common with them – that is to be generally considered as wholly unmingled and separate, not only in being but in power and energy – every such thing should be ascribed to the gods as being worthy of them. But that which is already divided into a great member, that which can give itself to other objects, that which both receives from others the limitation within itself and is sufficient for the distribution among imperfect ones to make these complete, that nevertheless participates in the primary and life-giving motion <sup>19</sup> and has communion with all things self-existent and coming into existence, that receives a commingling of substances from them all and imparts a radiating influence from itself to all, and that extends these peculiar properties through all the powers, essences and energies in itself-all this, speaking what is true, we shall ascribe to souls, as being implanted in them.

What shall we say, then, in regard to the intermediate races? I think from what has been said already that they are sufficiently manifest to every one; for they make complete the indivisible connection between the extreme races. <sup>20</sup> Nevertheless, it is necessary to continue the explanation. I assume, accordingly, the race of demons to be a multitude in one, to be commingled in an unmingled manner, and to accept the lower races as associated with a distinct concept of the most excellent. But on the other hand, I describe the race of heroes or demi-gods as being placed over more common distribution and multitude, and likewise over action and commingling, and matters akin to these. It also receives gifts from above, transcendent, and as though concealed within – I mean union, purity of nature, stable condition, and undivided identity and superiority over others. For each of these intermediate races is next to one of the extreme races beyond – one to the first and the other to the last. It follows as a natural result that by a continued series of kindred relations the demonian race, beginning from the highest in rank, proceeds to the lower races, and that the other, having primarily a connection with the last of them all, should in some way have communication with those that are superior.

Hence there may be perceived the complete joining to gather into one of the first and last races (the gods and souls) through the intermediates (the demons and half-gods), and the entire sameness of nature, alike equally in substance, and also alike in power and energy. <sup>21</sup> Whereas, therefore, we have made the classification of the four races in these two ways perfectly complete, we think it sufficient in regard to the others that for the sake of brevity, and because that which remains – the comprehending of the intermediate tribes – is in a measure already plain, we exhibit only the peculiarities of the extreme races. Hence we shall pass over the intermediate tribes as being already well known, and make a sketch of the others in some way in very few words.

Notes:

Chapter 2. Reply of Abammon the Teacher to The Letter of Porphyry to Anebo.1. Hermes is here the same as the Egyptian divinity, Thoth or Tahuti, the god of learning and medicine. He was regarded as the Scribe or recorder who registered the actions of the dead and living, so that they “were judged out of those things which were written in the books.” He was also the revealer of the divine will to men. His name Tahuti signifies “thrice great” or “very great,” or Trismegistos, Greek.

Chapter 2. Reply of Abammon the Teacher to The Letter of Porphyry to Anebo.2. The priests in Egypt consisted of many orders, including those who performed the Rites, the learned profession which included prophets, philosophers, poets, authors, physicians, artists, master mechanics, and also embalmers of the dead.

Chapter 2. Reply of Abammon the Teacher to The Letter of Porphyry to Anebo.3. This form of expression extends through this entire book. Though hardly familiar to us, it was formerly common in philosophic writings. The gods being spiritual essences, it was very properly considered that their worshipers would participate in their substance as we partake of the air that we inhale. In this way their powers and virtues were supposed to be imparted to the recipients. This treatise accordingly mentions the gifts received by the persons initiated at the telestic or Theurgic Rites, as a participating of the gods. The fact that they represent or personify qualities rather than individualities makes this mode of speaking eminently proper.

Chapter 2. Reply of Abammon the Teacher to The Letter of Porphyry to Anebo.4. In archaic periods, the worship and literature of every people was exclusive. Every repast being accompanied by religious ceremonies, the Egyptians would not eat with foreigners. Ashmes II broke through this restriction and made treaties of friendship and commerce with several Grecian and Ionian States. By his command, and at the instance of Polykrates of Samos, a tyrant-king, Pythagoras was admitted to instruction at the temples, and formally initiated into the sacerdotal caste. After the Persian conquest others resorted to Egypt for similar purposes; among them Plato, Demokritos, Archimedes, Chrysippos, Euripides.

Chapter 2. Reply of Abammon the Teacher to The Letter of Porphyry to Anebo.5. It is evident that there was a Gnosis, or Sacred Doctrine common to the religions of the principal countries, and that its focus was at Babylon. Compare Jeremiah LI. 7 and Revelation XVII. Iamblichos lived chiefly at Khalkis In Syria, and was familiar with the magi and learned men of Persia and Assyria. Hence as Abammon he refers the Gnosis to that region.

Chapter 2. Reply of Abammon the Teacher to The Letter of Porphyry to Anebo.6. The Stellae, Pillars or Tablets of Thoth, appear to be little else than a figurative expression for the sacred learning in possession of the Sacerdotal Caste in Egypt. When we call to mind that the Pyramids in that country, before their spoilation, were cased all over with tablets of stone on which hieroglyphic writing was engraved, we shall the better apprehend the significance of the allusion of Abammon.

Chapter 2. Reply of Abammon the Teacher to The Letter of Porphyry to Anebo.7. Greek, ergatheia divine works or performances; the exhibitions at the Mystic Rites. As these were dramatic representations to prefigure experiences of a spiritual character, we substitute the term “drama” as more likely to afford a clearer conception of the meaning. Element designated the Eleusinic “drama.”

Chapter 2. Reply of Abammon the Teacher to The Letter of Porphyry to Anebo.8. Mr. Gale, editor of the Greek text of this work as published at Oxford, was of the opinion that the reading of the original was corrupt, and suggested an emendation which may be rendered as follows: “It is impossible to explain by mere words.” This would be in harmony with the statement in the Second Pauline Epistle to the Corinthian believers: “He was carried suddenly to paradise and heard things ineffable which it is not permitted to a human being to utter familiarly.”

Chapter 2. Reply of Abammon the Teacher to The Letter of Porphyry to Anebo.9. Plato and his disciples employ the principle or being to denote the Absolute Divinity; also the phrase ontws on real being or that which really is or has being, as contrasted with the “genesis” or objective existence.

Chapter 2. Reply of Abammon the Teacher to The Letter of Porphyry to Anebo.10. It was the practice of the philosophers to make use of abstract terms to represent the Supreme and Absolute. Of this character are to agaqon the Good; to alhqes the True, o eis the One.

Chapter 2. Reply of Abammon the Teacher to The Letter of Porphyry to Anebo.11. Power and energy are thus distinguished from their result. Damaskios remarks that “where there is not otherness, there will be no knowing. A union on conjunction, as of one to another, is superior to knowledge.” Plato taught, says Professor Cooker, that man longs for the good, and bears witness by his restlessness and disquietude; that he instinctively desires it, and that he can find no rest and satisfaction in anything apart from the knowledge and participation of the Supreme Absolute Good.

Chapter 2. Reply of Abammon the Teacher to The Letter of Porphyry to Anebo.12. The Chaldaean Oracles quoted by Damaskios declare that “the prolific fountain of souls is encompassed by the two Minds.” He adds that “the fiery signals which draw down the ripe ones are in God,” which Simplikios explains: “The Unbodied ones are the supreme Mind and God being Source and Cause.”

Chapter 2. Reply of Abammon the Teacher to The Letter of Porphyry to Anebo.13. Damaskios described the “demons” as tutelary spirits of a nature essentially divine. They were said to have charge of the oracles and worldly affairs generally. The “heroes” or demigods were a lower race in the order of emanation. The term denotes the son of a divinity, with a human parent. Uncontaminated souls are such as are not impure from the attraction of the genesis or domain of phenomenal existence.

Chapter 2. Reply of Abammon the Teacher to The Letter of Porphyry to Anebo.14. The Platonic philosophers before Iamblichos taught that the many gods are the “outshinings” or emanations of the one Superessential Deity and not substances complete of themselves. The Ancient Sadducees are said to have held a similar opinion, not denying the actual existence of angels and spirits, but that they existed permanently by inherent energy. The same sentiment appears in the ninety-fifth (ninety-sixth) Psalm. The Chaldaean Oracle, however, declared that “Not from the eternal source did anything run forth incomplete.”

Chapter 2. Reply of Abammon the Teacher to The Letter of Porphyry to Anebo.15. Plato defines essence as that which has “real being,” and describes it as “colorless, formless, and intangible, visible only to the mind or higher reason that guides the soul.”

Chapter 2. Reply of Abammon the Teacher to The Letter of Porphyry to Anebo.16. Plato bases upon this fact the immortality of the soul. The soul originates its own action and receptivity by volition. This volition is self-motion, and is that quality of moral freedom which has placed human beings above and apart from the animal tribes.

Chapter 2. Reply of Abammon the Teacher to The Letter of Porphyry to Anebo.17. In the Assyrian or Chaldaean Plan of Divine Orders, the following are instanced by Damaskios: 1. The Intellectible Gods. 2. The Hyparchs or superior archons. 3. The Archons. 4. The Archangels. 5. The Azoni or unclassified who belong to no defined jurisdiction. 6. Local Genii. This arrangement is hinted at in Part VIII, § 2.

Chapter 2. Reply of Abammon the Teacher to The Letter of Porphyry to Anebo.18. This is the common dogma of every ancient faith. In the Hindu category, the Brahman is the Good which is beyond essence and absolute, while Brahmá is identical with essence. The Parsis acknowledge Zurvan, the Unlimited, and Ahura Mazda, the Divine Creator. The Egyptian priests worshipped Amun, the hidden One, and Ptah, the Demiurgos or Architect of the Universe.

Chapter 2. Reply of Abammon the Teacher to The Letter of Porphyry to Anebo.19. Iamblichos is generally regarded as here endeavoring to reconcile the apparent discrepancy between Plato and Aristotle – the latter described the soul as immovable, and Plato as self-moving, in which statement he refers to operation and not to essence. Syrianos explains that the soul is self-moving because it is set in motion from itself and certainly not by an agent inferior to itself. Proklos adds that the soul is self-moved in respect to the body and things of sense which plainly are set in motion from without themselves.

Chapter 2. Reply of Abammon the Teacher to The Letter of Porphyry to Anebo.20. The gods above and the souls below, angels, demons and demigods.

Chapter 2. Reply of Abammon the Teacher to The Letter of Porphyry to Anebo.21. This distinction of principles is noted in the Chaldaean Oracles. Pythagoras indicates the same by the terms monad, duad, triad; Plato by peras, apeiron, and mikton; Damaskios by the One, the many, and the union. Another version of the Oracles in place of “Substance” has Father, and for “energy” Mind or Reason.