Proclus/Psellus on the Art of Consecration

1 Introduction

While the Neoplatonist Proclus often alludes to the art of consecration, the telestic art, there is no surviving text in which it is the main topic. It seems, however, that the Byzantine polymath Michael Psellus still had such a text from Proclus (probably part of his compendium of Chaldaic doctrine), since he gives a brief but illuminating summary of the art in a letter to his friend Constantine (Letter 125,23–36 Papaioannou).

Here we see that statues were more than their iconography, but that the material they are made of and many other aspects of their creation could be important (and peculiar to the god in questions); that there were a number of implements used in consecratory ritual; that the observance of times and the use of specific names, as well as specific pronunciations and enunciations were important. While the specific sources Proclus was working from have now been lost, these general observations can be easily confirmed by reading through the Greek Magical Papyri and similar texts.

2 Translation

And how many most marvellous things could you adduce from the telestic science?

For it fills the hollows of cult statues (agalmata) with the matter proper to the powers set over them,¹ with animals, plants, stones, herbs, roots, seals, engravings, sometimes also with sympathetic spices.

And it sets them up with vessels, elements and censers, and thereby makes the idols inspired and moves them with the ineffable power.²

What is even more astonishing, the same times are often appropriate for some, alien to others in relation to their ineffable activities (energeiai).

Further,³ certain names have power in producing marvels, like ‘three-headed’ (trikarēnos), ‘serpent-girdled’ (drakontozōnos), ‘sword-bearer’ (xiphēphoros), ‘scourge-bearer’ (mastigophoros), ‘torch-bearer’ (daidophoros) and ‘triple-shaped’ (trimorphos).

And if one does not say these things with a stammering tongue, or in another way as the art prescribes, the Bacchic frenzy will not be efficacious.

1: That is to say, the gods represented by the statues in question.
2: In effect combining two different understandings of how statues are consecrated: through a divine breath (inspiration) or an incorporeal power (specifically an ineffable, i.e., a divine one).
3: The following may refer either to the words and sounds used during consecration, or in the rites that call upon the consecrated statue to bring about some desired effect (“producing marvels”).