One of the parts of Proclus’ lost Chaldaic writings that caught the attention of Byzantine polymath Michael Psellus was the theory of theagogy (theagōgia), meaning something like the evocation of gods. Specifically, these rituals involved the calling or “summoning” of gods or good daemons into persons—so-called receivers (dokheis)—or into statues. This is more or less what is expressed in modern English through words like “possession”, “séance”, “mediumship” and the like, but I will attempt to stick close to the ancient Greek terminology here, because the shape or outline (so to speak) of these concepts is quite different. For Proclus, visions of the gods, “possession” of statues, and receiving a divine spirit into oneself all fit under the same concept; Michael Psellus aptly summarizes the topic as “everything the philosophy of the Chaldeans has invented and mythologized about oracles (khrēsmoi) and different spirits (pneumata), the ‘overpowered’ (katokhoi, roughly ‘mediums’) and divisions of gods” (Psellus, Orationes forenses et acta 1.90–94).
Apart from other Proclian passages, the most illuminating comparanda to what Psellus records about theagogy are the fragments of Porphyry’s On the Philosophy from Oracles and the Greek (or rather Greco-Egyptian) Magical Papyri. The latter contain some explicitly autoptic rituals, using a classificatory term Proclus also uses, and some of these employ eye salves, just as the philosopher tells us about the Egyptians. As these parallels show, many of the ideas that Michael Psellus found in Proclus are not uniquely Chaldaic, but are also connected to the wider tradition of Greek-language magic or, more neutrally speaking, ritual expertise. This means, on the one hand, that they are of much more general relevance, but on the other, that we cannot say with certainty whether any particular aspect of Proclus’ theory actually derives from the writing of Julian the Chaldaean.
2 Proclus on Theagogy
Psellus introducing the Chaldaeans (Orationes forenses et acta 1.281–302 ed. Dennis)
But no more about the Greeks; for as you know this already, I will be silent about the rest and keep my speech within measure for those listening, lest I seem bothersome and disproportionate to you. But I know that most of you are still unaquainted with the hieratic art of the Chaldaeans, since this ancient and more dignified philosophy is unknown to most people. For their holiness is mystic and ineffable. Julian, a certain man who lived under the emperor Trajan, laid down their doctrines in hexameter verses, which those who revere their ideas call Oracles. Now, when the philosopher Proclus, a man of a superior nature who had mastered all philosophy, but also was an open pagan, encountered these, he emulated the Chaldaeans entirely, honored their ideas, even calling their pagan reasonings “hurricanes of arguments”, as Procopius of Gaza records [in his lost polemic against Proclus], and turned in full sail towards this hieratic art. Since he had developed the art of interpretation to the highest power, he was able to open up the collection of verses and laid out their doctrines in prose. I will now lay out only a few of these things relating to the accusations, as you know, that the great splendor of the Church, its new teacher,¹ brought this old impiety, which has long been covered in silence, together with the gospels.
1: This “new teacher” is Patriarch Michael Keroularios; he, like Proclus, is being praised sarcastically, as the whole speech is a condemnation of him.
Ἀλλὰ μὴ πλείω τὰ τῶν Ἑλλήνων· ὡς γὰρ εἰδότων ὑμῶν τἆλλα σιγῶ. μετρῶ δὲ καὶ τὸν λόγον πρὸς τὴν ἀκρόασιν, ἵνα μὴ φορτικὸς ὑμῖν δόξω καὶ πλημμελής. τῆς δέ γε Χαλδαίων ἱερατικῆς τέχνης οἶδα μὲν ὡς οἱ πλείους ὑμῶν ἀνήκοοι καθεστήκατε. ἀρχαία γὰρ αὕτη καὶ πρεσβυτέρα φιλοσοφία καὶ τοῖς πλείοσιν ἄγνωστος· τὸ γὰρ σέβας τούτων μυστηριῶδές τε καὶ ἀπόρρητον. Ἰουλιανὸς δέ τις ἀνὴρ ἐπὶ Τραϊανοῦ βασιλέως ἐν ἔπεσι τὰ τούτων ἐξέθετο δόγματα, ἃ δὴ καὶ λόγιά φασιν οἱ τὰ ἐκείνων σεμνύνοντες. τούτοις οὖν ὁ φιλόσοφος ἐντυχὼν Πρόκλος, ἀνὴρ κρείττονος μὲν τετυχηκὼς φύσεως, πᾶσαν δὲ φιλοσοφίαν ἠκριβωκώς, Ἕλλην δ’ ἄντικρυς, χαλδαΐσας ἀθρόον τὰ ἐκείνων ἐπρέσβευσε καὶ τὰς Ἑλληνικὰς ἀποδείξεις “λόγων καταιγίδας” ὠνομακώς, ὡς ὁ Γαζαῖος Προκόπιος ἱστορεῖ, ἐπὶ τὴν ἱερατικὴν ἐκείνην τέχνην ὅλοις ἱστίοις ἀπένευσεν. οὗτος τὴν ἐξηγητικὴν εἰς ἄκρον ἀκριβωσάμενος δύναμιν τὴν τῶν ἐπῶν διαλύει συνθήκην καὶ λόγῳ πεζῷ τὰ ἐκείνων ἐκτίθησι δόγματα. τούτων οὖν ὀλίγ’ ἄττα τοῖς κατηγορουμένοις νυνὶ παραθήσομαι, ὅπως ἂν γνοίητε, ὅτι παλαιὰν καὶ πολλοῖς χρόνοις κατασιγασθεῖσαν ἀσέβειαν ὁ μέγας τῆς ἐκκλησίας φωστὴρ καὶ νέος δογματιστὴς τοῖς εὐαγγελίοις συνήνεγκεν.
On some contents of Proclus’ Chaldaic writings (Orationes forenses et acta 1.303–309 Dennis)
For after he has spoken about the differences of the so-called divine powers, that some are more material, others more immaterial, some are mirthful (hilarai), others serious (embritheis), some dwell among daemons, others in purity, he explicitly treats about the times at which they are called, and about the places in which, and about the men and women who see the divine light, and the divine shapes (skhēmata) and tokens (synthēmata).
Εἰρηκὼς γὰρ οὗτος περὶ διαφορᾶς τῶν καλουμένων θείων δυνάμεων, ὡς αἱ μὲν ὑλικώτεραι, αἱ δὲ ἀϋλότεραι, καὶ αἱ μὲν ἱλαραί, αἱ δὲ ἐμβριθεῖς, καὶ αἱ μὲν μετὰ δαιμόνων, αἱ δὲ καθαρῶς παραγίνονται, εὐθὺς ἐπιφέρει περὶ καιρῶν καθ‘ οὓς καλοῦνται, καὶ περὶ τόπων ἐν οἷς, καὶ περὶ τῶν ὁρώντων τὸ θεῖον φῶς ἀνδρῶν ἢ γυναικῶν, σχημάτων τε τούτων καὶ θείων συνθημάτων.
Fragment 1 (Orationes forenses et acta 1.309–321 Dennis)
In this way, he also comes to the entheastic theagogies: “Of these, some regard inanimate beings, others animate beings, and of these, some rational ones, others irrational ones; for inanimate beings too are often filled with a divine light, like the cult statues which give oracles (ta khrēsmōidounta tōn agalmatōn) by some inspiration (epipnoia) of gods or good daemons. And humans become ‘overpowered’ (katokhoi, roughly ‘possessed’) and receive¹ a divine breath (pneuma), some spontaneously—like those who are called ‘god-stricken’ (theolēptoi), to whom this happens at certain periods and at indeterminate moments—whereas others stir themselves towards entheasms² by a certain purposive action, such as the prophetess at Delphi, after sitting around the aperture,³ and others after drinking divinatory (mantikon) water.”
1: The verb is dekhomai, whence also dokheus, ‘receiver, medium’.
2: An entheasm is the entering of a deity (theos) into a person, also called enthusiasm or inspiration.
3: A certain opening in the ground, often mentioned in descriptions of the Delphic oracle.
Καὶ μέτεισιν οὔτως ἐπὶ τὰς ἐνθεαστικὰς θεαγωγίας. “Ὧν”, φησίν, “αἱ μὲν ἐπὶ ἀψύχων εἰσίν, αἱ δὲ ἐπὶ ἐμψύχων, καὶ τούτων αἱ μὲν ἐπὶ λογικῶν, αἱ δὲ ἐπὶ ἀλόγων. καὶ γὰρ ἄψυχα,” φησί, “πολλάκις πληροῦνται θείου φωτὸς ὥσπερ τὰ χρησμῳδοῦντα τῶν ἀγαλμάτων ἐξ ἐπιπνοίας θεῶν τινος ἢ δαιμόνων ἀγαθῶν. καὶ ἄνθρωποι δὲ κάτοχοι γίνονται καὶ δέχονται πνεῦμα θεῖον, οἱ μὲν ἐκ ταὐτομάτου καθάπερ οἱ λεγόμενοι θεόληπτοι κατά τινας περιόδους τοῦτο πάσχοντες καὶ ἀορίστως, ὁπότε τύχοιεν, οἱ δὲ ἀνακινήσαντες ἑαυτοὺς πρὸς τὸν ἐνθεασμὸν ἔκ τινος προαιρετικῆς ἐνεργείας ὥσπερ ἐν Δελφοῖς ἡ προφῆτις περικαθίσασα τῷ στομίῳ καὶ ἄλλοι μαντικοῦ πιόντες ὕδατος.”
Fragment 2 (Orationes forenses et acta 1.322–332 Dennis)
Next, after saying what things they must do, he adds: “One must enact the theagogy, inspiration (epipnoia) and change of thinking (parallaxis tēs dianoias) with these things besides. However, some of these entheasms occur while the ‘overpowered’ (katokhoi) are completely displaced and are in no way aware (parakolouthountōn) of themselves, others, in some miraculous way, occur with awareness—whenever someone can use (khrēstai) the theagogy for himself and be cognizant (eidenai) of themselves while receiving the inspiration (eisdexamenon tēn epipnoian) into them, and know what they are doing, what they are saying, and at what point they must release (apolyein) the mover (to kinoun). For when complete displacement (ekstasis) occurs, the use (khreia) is wholly for another, the one who guards over (ephestōs) the ‘overpowered’ and is sober (i.e., ‘in self-control’).”
Εἶτα εἰπὼν ἃ δεῖ ποιεῖν αὐτούς, ἐπάγει· “καὶ τούτων προσγινομένων ἐνεργῆσαι δεῖ τὴν θεαγωγίαν καὶ ἐπίπνοιαν γενέσθαι καὶ παράλλαξιν τῆς διανοίας. ἀλλὰ καὶ τούτων τῶν ἐνθεασμῶν οἱ μὲν γίνονται παντελῶς ἐξισταμένων τῶν κατόχων καὶ οὐδαμῶς ἑαυτοῖς παρακολουθούντων, οἱ δὲ θαυμαστόν τινα τρόπον μετὰ παρακολουθήσεως, ὅπου γε δὴ καὶ εἰς ἑαυτὸν δύναται τῇ θεαγωγίᾳ χρῆσθαι καὶ αὐτὸν εἰσδεξάμενον τὴν ἐπίπνοιαν εἰδέναι, τίνα τε ἐνεργεῖ καὶ τί φθέγγεται καὶ πόθεν δεῖ ἀπολύειν τὸ κινοῦν· παντελοῦς γὰρ τῆς ἐκστάσεως γινομένης ἄλλου πάντως χρεία τοῦ ἐφεστῶτος τοῖς κατόχοις καὶ νήφοντος.”
Fragment 3a, a paraphrase (Theologica 27,188–195 Gautier)
I wanted to distinguish for you what autopsy (‘sight by oneself’) is and what theagogy, and how sometimes the intellect sees things that cannot be seen, and sometimes the imaginative faculty (phantastikon) of the soul, what the anagogy (‘leading up’) and descent of a god towards the human is; and sometimes intellect is able to remain aware, as being able to intelligize (noein) that it has an association with supernatural beings (hoi hyper physin), and at other times, the whole vehicle (okhēma) of the soul, the human being, catches fire and entirely forgets itself. But because this is another abyss of concepts and the treatment of the matter is long, let the subject be put off to another occasion.
Ἐβουλόμην οὖν πρὸς ὑμᾶς διαλαβεῖν τίς τε ἡ αὐτοψία ἐστὶ καὶ τίς ἡ θεαγωγία, καὶ πῶς ποτὲ μὲν ὁ νοῦς ὁρᾷ τὰ ἀθέατα, ποτὲ δὲ τὸ φανταστικὸν τῆς ψυχῆς, τίς τε ἡ τοῦ θεοῦ πρὸς τὸν ἄνθρωπον ἀναγωγή τε καὶ κάθοδος, καὶ πότε μὲν ὁ νοῦς παρακολουθεῖν δύναται, ὡς δύνασθαι νοεῖν ὅτι τοῖς ὑπὲρ φύσιν προσομιλεῖ, πότε δὲ ὅλον τὸ τῆς ψυχῆς ὄχημα, ὁ ἄνθρωπος, ἐκπυρούμενος πάντῃ ἑαυτοῦ ἐπιλέλησται· ἐπεὶ δὲ βυθὸς οὗτος ἕτερος νοημάτων καὶ πολὺς ὁ περὶ τούτου λόγος, εἰς ἕτερον ἀναμεινάτω καιρὸν ἡ ὑπόθεσις.
Fragment 3b, a paraphrase (Opusculum philosophicum 74,124–146 Duffy)
The children of the Greeks, of whom the last torch-bearer and hierophant was Proclus, divided theagogy into three, and they call its first kind autoptic, the second epoptic, and the third entheastic, because those who see them are autopts, epopts and entheasts.
For if someone sees the divine as it is by nature, with the intellective, luminous (augoeides) and aethereal (aithriōdes) part of the soul, and they are both summoner (klētōr) and beholder (theatēs), they are called an autopt (‘seer by oneself’).
Someone who sees an appearance (phantazoito) of the divine beings with the imaginative vehicle (phantastikon okhēma) of the soul, awakened to this by another theologue,¹ as they call them, this person would be called an epopt (‘beholder’).
But if someone should be seeing neither by intellect nor by imagination, but simply with their eyes behold certain visions (horaseis) carried in the air, they entheize (entheazei) them, and are called an entheast. For they say that a corporeal light is spread out under (hypestrōsthai) the divine beings, but it cannot be perceived.
Some simply happen to have eyes of such a nature, without doing anything—such as Socrates and Plotinus—while others turn their mind (dianoia) regularly to the lunar light at certain periods. The Egyptians, as they say, would salve their eyes either with the so-called tarron, the juice of the frankincense-tree or bdellium, and looked upon the visions (optasiai) by their own seeing (authōros). The Assyrians,² who said they delighted in plants, juices and embrocations, sanctified (kathagiazontes) themselves with certain compounds (synthēkai), ineffable names and unutterable letters on hieratic leaves, and so beheld (etheasanto) the light is spread out under (hypestrōmenon) the incorporeal powers.
Such nonsense, then, do Porphyry, Iamblichus and monstriloquent Proclus say.
1: Theologos. Here meaning someone who “speaks to the god”, apparently.
2: The Chaldaeans.
Ἑλλήνων δὲ παῖδες, ὧν δὴ τελευταῖος δᾳδοῦχος καὶ ἱεροφάντης ὁ Πρόκλος ἐγένετο, εἰς τρία δὴ ταῦτα τὴν θεαγωγίαν καταμερίζουσι, καὶ τὸ μὲν αὐτῆς αὐτοπτικόν φασι, τὸ δὲ ἐποπτικόν, τὸ δὲ ἐνθεατικόν, ὡς εἶναι καὶ τοὺς ὁρῶντας αὐτόπτας καὶ ἐπόπτας καὶ ἐνθεαστάς.
Εἰ μὲν οὖν τις τῷ νοερῷ τῆς ψυχῆς καὶ αὐγοειδεῖ καὶ αἰθριώδει ὡς ἔχει φύσεως τὸ θεῖον ὁρᾷ, αὐτὸς ὢν καὶ κλήτωρ καὶ θεατής, αὐτόπτης οὗτός ἐστιν.
Ὅστις δὲ τῷ φανταστικῷ τῆς ψυχῆς ὀχήματι τὰ θεῖα φαντάζοιτο, ὑφ‘ ἑτέρου θεολόγου κατ‘ ἐκείνους πρὸς τοῦτο ἀνακινούμενος, ἐπόπτης ἂν οὗτος καλοῖτο.
Εἰ δὲ μήτε κατὰ νοῦν θεωροίη μήτε κατὰ φαντασίαν, αὐτοῖς δὲ μόνοις τοῖς ὄμμασι θείας τινὰς ὁράσεις τῷ ἀέρι ἐμφερομένας, ἐνθεάζει τε οὗτος περὶ αὐτάς, καὶ ἐνθεαστὴς ὀνομάζοιτο. φασὶ γὰρ καὶ φῶς σωματικὸν ὑπεστρῶσθαι τοῖς θείοις, οὗ δὴ ἀντιλαμβάνονται.
Οἱ μὲν ἀπραγματεύτως τοιαύτης τυχόντες ὀμμάτων φύσεως, οἷος δὴ καὶ Σωκράτης καὶ Πλωτῖνος ἐγένοντο, οἱ δὲ κατά τινας περιόδους τῷ σεληναίῳ ἴσως φωτὶ τρεπόμενοι τὴν διάνοιαν· Αἰγύπτιοι δὲ τοὺς ὀφθαλμούς, ὥς φασι, χρίοντες ἢ τῷ καλουμένῳ τάρρῳ ἢ τῷ τῆς λιβάνου ὀπῷ ἢ τῷ βδελλίῳ, αὐθωρὸν πρὸς τὰς ὀπτασίας ἀνέβλεψαν· Ἀσσύριοι δὲ χαίρειν εἰπόντες πόαις τε καὶ ὀποῖς καὶ ἐγχρίσμασι, συνθήκαις τισὶ καὶ ὀνόμασιν ἀρρήτοις καὶ γράμμασιν ἀπορρήτοις ἐν ἱερατικοῖς πετάλοις ἑαυτοὺς καθαγιάζοντες, τὸ ὑπεστρωμένον φῶς ταῖς ἀσωμάτοις δυνάμεσιν ἐθεάσαντο.
Ταῦτα δὴ Πορφύριος καὶ Ἰάμβλιχος καὶ ὁ τερατολόγος Πρόκλος ἐλήρησαν.
Fragment 3c, a paraphrase (Letter 125,39–46 Papaioannou)
The embrocations discovered by the Egyptians, when applied to the eyelids, grant ineffable autopsies and epopsies; and it is the manner of this autopsy that the mind of the summoner is awakened to the sight of the incorporeal and intelligible objects, and the eyes perceive the light sent forth by it; do sacrificed herbs, stones and animals not effect the entheastic theagogies—for this is what the Greeks call them—around the spectators?
Τὰ δὲ παρ’ Αἰγυπτίοις εὑρημένα ἐγχρίσματα [τοῖς] βλεφάροις ἐπιχριόμενα, αὐτοψίας καὶ ἐποπτείας ἀρρήτους χαρίζονται· καὶ ἔστιν ὁ τῆς αὐτοψίας τρόπος, ὁπόταν [ὁ] μὲν νοῦς τοῦ κλήτορος εἰς τὴν θέαν ἀνεγείρεται τῶν ἀσωμάτων καὶ νοητῶν, τὰ δὲ ὄμματα τοῦ προβεβλημένου φωτὸς [αὐτῆς] ἀντιλαμβάνεται. Τὰς δὲ «ἐνθεαστικὰς θεαγωγίας» (οὕτω γὰρ Ἕλληνες αὐτὰς ὀνομάζουσιν) οὐ πόαι [καὶ] λίθοι, καὶ ζῶα τεμνόμενα, περὶ τοὺς θεατὰς ἐνεργοῦσι;
Fragment 4 (Orationes forenses et acta 1.333–337 Dennis)
Next, after he has spoken about the different theagogies, he adds in the end: “One must restrain all things that impede the arrival (epiphoitēsis) of the gods, and secure quietude of everything around us, so that the presence (parousia) of what we call the spirits (pneumata) may take place undisturbed and with stillness.”
Εἶτα δὴ πολλὰ εἰρηκὼς περὶ διαφορᾶς θεαγωγιῶν ἐπὶ τῷ τέλει ἐπάγει· “προκαταστέλλειν δὲ πάντα τὰ ἐμπόδια χρὴ τῆς τῶν θεῶν ἐπιφοιτήσεως καὶ ἠρεμίαν ἐπιτιθέναι τῶν περὶ ἡμᾶς πᾶσαν, ἵν‘ ἀτάραχος καὶ μετὰ γαλήνης ἡ παρουσία γένηται τῶν καλουμένων ὑφ‘ ἡμῶν πνευμάτων.”
Fragment 5 (Orationes forenses et acta 1.338–341 Dennis)
After these words, he also adds this, that: “During the presences of the divine (spirits), material spirits (hylika pneumata) are often also stirred up, and the weaker receivers (dokheis) cannot bear their arrival and motion, which occurs with a certain violence.”
ἐπὶ τούτοις καὶ ταῦτα τίθησιν ὅτι “ταϊς παρουσίαις τῶν θείων πολλάκις συγκινεῖται καὶ ὑλικὰ πνεύματα, ὧν τὴν ἐπιφοίτησιν καὶ τὴν κίνησιν μετά τινος βίας γινομένην οὐ φέρουσιν οἱ ἀσθενέστεροι δοχεῖς.”
Psellus concludes (Orationes forenses et acta 1.342–343 Dennis)
And, to say only a few things out of many, so much of the ideas of the Chaldaeans and of Proclus.
Τὰ μὲν οὖν τῶν Χαλδαίων καὶ τοῦ Πρόκλου, ὡς ἐκ πολλῶν ὀλίγα ἐρεῖν, ταῦτα.