I a m b l i c h u s
- Sacrifices are most adapted to all the material Gods
- There are twofold species of sacrifices
frequently perform something to the Gods who are the inspective guardians
of body, and to good d'mons, for the sake of the necessary use of the body
- The pure mode of sacrifice is perfectly transcendent and incommensurate
- Another division according to the differences of the condition
- Another division according to the differences of divine essences
- Another division according to the differences of corporeal and
8 - The piety which pertains to divine natures
ought not to be exercised towards them partially or imperfectly
9 - The world has one coarrangement
from many orders, thus also it is necessary that the consummation of sacrifices
should be conjoined to the whole order of more excellent natures
10 - When divine
causes, and human preparations which are assimilated to them conspire in
one and the same, then the perfection of sacred operations imparts all
the perfect and great benefits of sacrifice
11 - The
distribution of the Gods according to places
12 - Divinity is the leader of the
worship of the Gods, who is thus invoked by sacrifices, and who is surrounded
by a numerous multitude of Gods and angels
13 - Prayers are not the smallest [but on the contrary
a very great] part of sacrifices
O N T H E
M Y S T E R I E S
On Sacrifices to the Gods
Sacrifices are most adapted
to all the material Gods
We shall begin, however, the elucidation
of this subject in the best possible manner, if we demonstrate that the
sacred law of sacrifices is connected with the order of the Gods.
In the first place, therefore, we
say, that of the Gods some are material, but others immaterial.
And the material, indeed, are those
that comprehend matter in themselves, and adorn it; but the immaterial
are those that are perfectly exempt from, and transcend, matter.
But, according to the sacrific art,
it is requisite to begin sacred operations from the material Gods: for
the ascent to the immaterial Gods will not otherwise be effected.
The material Gods, therefore, have
a certain communion with matter, so far as they preside over it.
Hence they have dominion over things
which happen about matter, such as the division, percussion, repercussion,
mutation, generation, and corruption of all material bodies.
He, therefore, who wishes to worship
these theurgically, in a manner adapted to them, and to the dominion which
they are allotted, should, as they are material, employ a material mode
For thus we shall be wholly led to
a familiarity with them, and worship them in an allied and appropriate
Dead bodies, therefore, and things
deprived of life, the slaying of animals, and the consumption of victims,
and, in short, the mutation of the matter which is offered, pertain to
these Gods, not by themselves, but on account of the matter over which
For though they are in the most eminent
degree separate from it, yet at the same time they are present with it.
And though they comprehend matter
in an immaterial power, yet they are coexistent with it.
Things that are governed, also, are
not foreign from their governors; and things which are subservient as instruments,
are not unadapted to those that use them.
Hence, it is foreign to the immaterial
Gods, to offer matter to them through sacrifices, but this is most adapted
to all the material Gods.
(Book 5, XIV)
There are twofold species of sacrifices
Let us then, in the next place, direct
our attention to that which accords with what has been before said, and
with our twofold condition of being.
For there is a time when we become
wholly soul, are out of the body, and sublimely revolve on high, in conjunction
with all the immaterial Gods.
And there is also a time when we
are bound in the testaceous body, are detained by matter, and are of a
corporeal - formed nature.
Again, therefore, there will be a
twofold mode of worship.
For one mode, indeed, will be simple,
incorporeal, and pure from all generation, and this mode pertains to undefiled
But the other is filled with bodies,
and every thing of a material nature, and is adapted to souls which are
neither pure nor liberated from all generation.
We must admit, therefore, that there
are twofold species of sacrifices; one kind, indeed, pertaining to men
who are entirely purified, which, as Heraclitus says, rarely happens to
one man, or to a certain easily to be numbered few of mankind; but the
other kind, being material and corporeal-formed, and consisting in mutation,
is adapted to souls that are still detained by the body.
Hence, to cities and people not yet
liberated from genesiurgic fate and the impeding communion of bodies, if
such a mode of sacrifice as this latter is not permitted, they will wander
both from immaterial and material good.
For they will not be able to receive
the former, and to the latter they will not offer what is appropriate.
At the same time, likewise, every
one in sacrificing performs the sacrifice with reference to what he is,
and not with reference to what he is not.
It is not proper, therefore, that
the sacrifice should transcend the proper measure of him by whom it is
The same thing will also be said
by me concerning the connexion which appropriately coadapts the men who
worship and the powers that are worshipped.
For this connexion requires that
a mode of worship should be chosen adapted to itself; viz. an immaterial
connexion, a mode of worship immaterially mingled, and purely conjoining
by pure incorporeal powers, incorporeal natures to themselves; but a corporeal-formed
connexion, a corporeal-formed mode which depends on bodies, and is mingled
with the essences that preside over bodies.
(Book 5, XV)
We frequently perform something to the Gods who are
the inspective guardians of body, and to good d'mons, for the sake of the
necessary use of the body
Farther still, therefore, we must
not disdain to add what follows; that we frequently perform something to
the Gods who are the inspective guardians of body, and to good d'mons,
for the sake of the necessary use of the body; as, for instance, when [by
sacrifices] we purify it from ancient stains, or liberate it from diseases,
and fill it with health, or remove from it heaviness and torpor, or procure
for it any other good.
In this case, therefore, we evidently
must not busy ourselves with the body in an intellectual and incorporeal
For the body is not adapted to participate
of modes of this kind; but, obtaining things which are allied to itself,
it is meliorated and purified by bodies.
The rites of sacrifices, therefore,
will necessarily, for a purpose of this kind, be corporeal-formed; partly
cutting off what is superfluous in us; partly supplying us with that of
which we are in want; and partly leading into symmetry and order such things
in us as are immoderately disturbed.
We also frequently engage in sacred
operations, entreating superior beings to grant us such things as are adapted
to the wants of human life.
And these are such as preserve the
body in health, or pertain to those things which we
procure for the sake of the body.
(Book 5, XVI)
The pure mode of sacrifice is perfectly transcendent
What, therefore, shall we derive from
the Gods who are entirely exempt from all human generation, with respect
to sterility, or abundance or any thing else pertaining to [the mortal]
life? Nothing whatever.
For it is not the province of those
who are liberated from all things to meddle with gifts of this kind.
But if some one should say that the
perfectly immaterial comprehend in themselves the material Gods, and that
through this they also contain in themselves their gifts according to one
first cause; such a one will also say, that in consequence of this an abundance
of divine gifts descend from the immaterial Gods.
It must not, however, be granted
to any one to say that the immaterial Gods bestow these gifts by proximately
interfering with the actions of human life.
For such an administration of our
affairs is partible, is accomplished with a certain conversion [to the
subjects of its care], is not entirely separate from bodies, and is incapable
of receiving a pure and undefiled domination.
Will not, therefore, that mode of
sacrifice in works of this kind be most appropriate which is mingled with
bodies, and adheres to generation; and not that which is entirely immaterial
For the pure mode of sacrifice is
perfectly transcendent and incommensurate [with our concerns].
But the mode which employs bodies,
and the powers that subsist through bodies, is in the most eminent degree
allied to human affairs.
It is also capable of producing a
certain prosperous condition of things, and of imparting symmetry and temperament
to the mortal race.
(Book 5, XVII)
Another division according to the differences of
the condition of life
According to another division, therefore,
the numerous herd [or the great mass] of men is arranged under nature,
is governed by physical powers, looks downward to the works of nature,
gives completion to the administration of Fate, and to things pertaining
to Fate, because it belongs to the order of it, and always employs practical
reasoning about such particulars alone as subsist according to nature.
But there are a certain few who,
by employing a certain supernatural power of intellect, are removed indeed
from nature, but are conducted to a separate and unmingled intellect; and
these, at the same time, become superior to physical powers.
Others again, who are the media between
these, tend to things which subsist between nature and a pure intellect.
And of these, some indeed equally
follow both nature and an immaculate intellect; others embrace a life which
is mingled from both; and others are liberated from things subordinate,
and betake themselves to such as are more excellent.
This division, therefore, being made,
that which follows will most manifestly take place.
For those who are governed by the
nature of the universe, who lived conformably to this, and employ the powers
of nature, these should embrace a mode of worship adapted to nature, and
to the bodies that are moved by nature, and should choose for this purpose
appropriate places, air, matter, the powers of matter, bodies, and the
habits of bodies, qualities, and proper motions, the mutations of things
in generation, and other things connected with these, both in other parts
of piety and in that part of it which pertains to sacrifice.
But those who live conformably to
intellect alone, and to the life of intellect, and are liberated from the
bonds of nature, these should exercise in all the parts of theurgy the
intellectual and incorporeal mode of worship.
And those who are the media between
these, should labour differently in the paths of piety, conformably to
the differences of this middle condition of life, either by embracing both
modes of piety, or separating themselves from one of the modes [and adhering
to the other], or receiving both these modes as the foundation of things
of a more honourable nature.
For without these they never can
arrive at things supereminent. Or, in some other way, they should thus,
in a becoming manner, labour in the paths of sanctity.
(Book 5, XVIII)
Another division according to the differences of
divine essences and powers
On this subject, however, there is
also the following division.
Of divine essences and powers some
have [a genesiurgic] soul and nature subject and ministrant to their fabrications,
whenever they wish to use them.
But others are entirely separate
from soul and nature, I mean from a divine, and not only from a mundane
and genesiurgic soul and nature.
And others are the media 1
between these, and afford to the extremes a communion with each other,
either according to an exuberant participation of greater good, or according
to an unimpeded reception of less good, or according to a concord which
binds together both the extremes.
When, therefore, we worship the Gods
who reign over soul and nature, it is not foreign to these to offer to
them physical powers, and bodies which are governed by nature.
For all the works of nature are subservient
to them, and contribute to their government.
But when we undertake to honour those
Gods who are essentially uniform, then it is requisite to venerate them
with liberated honours.
Hence, intellectual gifts are adapted
to these, and things which pertain to an incorporeal life, together with
the fruits of virtue and wisdom, and whatever perfect and total goods of
the soul there may be.
Moreover, to the Gods who subsist
as media, and who are the leaders of goods of a middle nature, sometimes
twofold gifts will be adapted, and sometimes such as have a communication
with both these; or such as are separated from inferiors, and pertain to
more elevated natures; or, in short, such as in one of the modes give completion
to the medium.
(Book 5, XIX)
Another division according to the differences of
corporeal and incorporeal
Being impelled, therefore, from another
principle, viz. from the world and the mundane Gods, from the arrangement
of the four elements in the world, and the association of the elements
according to [appropriate] measures, and also from the orderly circulation
of bodies about centres, we shall have an easy ascent to the truth of the
piety respecting sacrifices.
For if we are in the world, are contained
as parts in the universe, are primarily produced by it, and perfected by
the total powers that are in it, and if we consist of its elements, and
receive from it a certain portion of life and nature; if this be the case,
it is not proper to pass beyond the world and the mundane orders.
We must admit, therefore, that in
each part of the world there is this visible body, and that there are also
incorporeal powers, which are divided about bodies.
Hence the law of religion distributes
similars to similars, and thus extends from on high, through wholes, as
far as to the last of things; assigning, indeed, incorporeals to incorporeals,
but bodies to bodies, and this commensurately to the nature of each.
If, however, some theurgist should
participate of the supermundane Gods, which is the rarest of all things,
he, indeed, in the worship of the Gods will transcend both bodies and matter;
being united to the Gods by a supermundane power.
But that which happens to one person
with difficulty and late, and at the end of the sacerdotal office, ought
not to be promulgated as common to all men; nor ought it to be made a thing
common to those who are commencing theurgic operations, nor to those who
have made a middle proficiency in it.
For these, after a manner, pay a
corporeal-formed attention to sanctity.
(Book 5, XX)
The piety which pertains to divine natures ought
not to be exercised towards them partially or imperfectly
I think, therefore, that all who are
lovers of the contemplation of theurgic truth will acknowledge this, that
the piety which pertains to divine natures ought not to be exercised towards
them partially or imperfectly.
Hence, since prior to the appearance
of the Gods, all such powers as are presubjacent to them are moved, and
when the Gods are about to descend to the earth, precede them as in a solemn
procession; he who does not distribute to all these powers that which is
adapted to them, and does not honour each in an appropriate manner, will
depart imperfect, and destitute of the participation of the Gods.
But he who propitiates all of them,
and offers to each acceptable gifts, and such as are to the utmost of his
power adapted to them, will always remain secure and irreprehensible, giving
completion in a proper manner to the perfect and entire receptacle of the
Since this, therefore, is the case,
whether is it necessary that the mode of sanctity should be simple, and
consist of a certain few things, or that it should be multiform and all-harmonic,
and mingled, as I may say, from every thing contained in the world?
If, indeed, the power which is invoked,
and is excited in the performance of sacred rites, was simple, the mode
of sacrifice should necessarily be simple.
But if the multitude of powers which
are excited when the Gods descend and are moved, is not to be comprehended
by any one, except theurgists alone, who accurately know this through experience
in sacred operations; if this be the case, they alone are capable of knowing
what the perfection is of the sacrific art; and they also know that the
omission, though of a few things, subverts the whole work of religion;
just as in harmony, from the bursting of one chord, the whole becomes dissonant
As, therefore, in the visible descents
of the Gods, a manifest injury is sustained by those who leave some one
of the more excellent genera unhonoured, thus also in the invisible appearances
of the Gods in sacrifices, it is not proper to honour one of them, and
not honour another, but it is entirely requisite to honour each of them
according to the order which he is allotted.
But he who leaves some one of them
unhonoured, confounds the whole work of piety, and divulses the one and
whole orderly distribution of it; not, in so doing, as some one may think,
imperfectly receiving the Gods, but entirely subverting all the ceremonies
(Book 5, XXI)
The world has one coarrangement from many orders,
thus also it is necessary that the consummation of sacrifices should be
conjoined to the whole order of more excellent natures
What then [it may be said], does not
the summit of the sacrific art recur to the most principal one of the whole
multitude of Gods, and at one and the same time worship the many essences
and principles that are [rooted and concentred] in it?
Entirely so, but this happens at
the latest period, and to a very few, and we must be satisfied if it takes
place when the sun of life is setting.
Our present discussion, however,
does not ordain laws for a man of this kind; for he is superior to all
law; but it promulgates a law such as that of which we are now speaking,
to those who are in want of a certain divine legislation.
It says, therefore, that as the world
has one coarrangement from many orders, thus also it is necessary that
the consummation of sacrifices, being never failing and entire, should
be conjoined to the whole order of more excellent natures.
If, however, the world is multiform,
and all-perfect, and is united from many orders, it is also necessary that
sacred operations should imitate its omniform variety through the whole
of the powers which they employ.
Hence, in a similar manner, since
the things which surround us are all-various, it is not fit that we should
be connected with the divine causes that preside over them, from a certain
part which they contain.
Nor is it proper that we should ascend
imperfectly to the primordial causes of them.
(Book 5, XXII)
When divine causes, and human preparations which
are assimilated to them conspire in one and the same, then the perfection
of sacred operations imparts all the perfect and great benefits of sacrifice
The various mode, therefore, of sanctity
in sacred operations partly purifies and partly perfects some one of the
things that are in us or about us.
And some things, indeed, it restores
to symmetry and order; but others it liberates from mortal-formed error.
But it renders all things familiar
and friendly to all the natures that are superior to us.
Moreover, when divine causes, and
human preparations which are assimilated to them conspire in one and the
same, then the perfection of sacred operations imparts all the perfect
and great benefits of sacrifice.
It will not be amiss, also, to add
such particulars as the following, in order to the accurate comprehension
of these things.
An exuberance of power is always
present with the highest causes, and at the same time that this power transcends
all things, it is equally present with all with unimpeded energy.
Hence, conformably to this, the first
illuminate the last of things, and immaterial are present with material
Nor should it be considered by any
one as wonderful, if we say that there is a certain pure and divine matter.2
For matter being generated by the
father and demiurgus of wholes, receives a perfection adapted to itself,
in order to its becoming the receptacle of the Gods.
At the same time nothing prevents
more excellent beings from being able to impart their light to subordinate
Neither, therefore, is matter separated
from the participation of better causes; so that such matter as is perfect,
pure, and boniform, is not unadapted to the reception of the Gods.
For, since it is requisite that terrestrial
natures should by no means be destitute of divine communion, the earth
also receives a certain divine portion from it, sufficient for the participation
of the Gods.
The theurgic art, therefore, perceiving
this to be the case, and thus having discovered in common, appropriate
receptacles, conformably to the peculiarity of each of the Gods, it frequently
connects together stones, herbs, animals, aromatics, and other sacred,
perfect, and deiform substances of the like kind; and afterwards, from
all these, it produces an entire and pure receptacle.
For it is not proper to despise all
matter, but that alone which is foreign from the Gods.
But that matter is to be chosen which
is adapted to them, as being able to accord with the edifices of the Gods,
the dedication of statues, and the sacred operations of sacrifices.
For no otherwise can a participation
of superior beings be obtained by places in the earth, or by men that dwell
in it, unless a foundation of this kind is first established.
It is also requisite to be persuaded
by arcane assertions, that a certain matter is imparted by the Gods, through
This matter, therefore, is doubtless
connascent with those by whom it is imparted.
Hence, does it not follow that the
sacrifice of a matter of this kind excites the Gods to present themselves
to the view, immediately calls forth the participation of them, receives
them when they accede, and perfectly unfolds them into light?
(Book 5, XXIII)
The distribution of the Gods according to places
The same things also may be learned
from the distribution of the Gods according to places; and from this, and
the partible dominion over each particular thing, it may be seen how many
allotments, greater or less, superior beings are assigned according to
their different orders.
For it is evident, that to the Gods
who preside over certain places, the things produced by them are most appropriately
offered in sacrifice; and that what pertains to the governed is most adapted
to be sacrificed to the governors.
For always to makers their own works
are particularly grateful; and to those who primarily produce certain things,
such things are primarily acceptable.
Whether, therefore, certain animals,
or plants, or any other productions of the earth, are governed by superior
beings, at one and the same time, they participate of their inspective
care, and impart to us an indivisible communion with the Gods.
Some things, therefore, of this kind,
if they are carefully preserved, increase the familiarity of those that
retain them with the Gods; and these are such as by remaining entire, preserve
the communion between Gods and men.
Of this kind are some of the animals
in Egypt, and man, who is everywhere sacred.
But some things, when consecrated,
produce a more manifest familiarity; and these are such as by an analysis
into the principle of the first elements, effect an alliance more sacredly
adapted to superior causes.
For the more perfect this alliance
is, the more perfect always is the good which is imparted by it.
(Book 5, XXIV)
Divinity is the leader of the worship of the Gods,
who is thus invoked by sacrifices, and who is surrounded by a numerous
multitude of Gods and angels
If, therefore, these things were human
customs alone, and derived their authority through our legal institutions,
it might be said that the worship of the Gods was the invention of our
Now, however, divinity is the leader
of it, who is thus invoked by sacrifices, and who is surrounded by a numerous
multitude of Gods and angels.
Under him, likewise, a certain common
presiding power, is allotted dominion according to each nation of the earth.
And a peculiar presiding power is allotted to each temple.
Of the sacrifices, also, which are
performed to the Gods, the inspective guardian is a God; but an angel,
of those which are performed to angels; and a d'mon, of such as are performed
After the same manner, also, in other
sacred operations, the presiding power is allotted dominion over each,
in a way allied to his proper genus.
When, therefore, we offer sacrifices
to the Gods, accompanied by the presiding Gods, who give completion to
sacred operations, then at the same time, it is necessary in sacrifices
to venerate the sacred law of divine sanctity; and at the same time, also,
we ought to be confident, as sacrificing under the Gods who are the rulers
of such works.
We ought, likewise, to be very cautious,
lest we should offer any gift unworthy of, or foreign from, the Gods.
And, as the last admonition, we should
in a manner entirely perfect, pay attention to all that surrounds us, and
to the Gods, angels, and d'mons that are distributed according to genera
in the universe.
And to all these, in a similar manner,
an acceptable sacrifice should be offered; for thus alone sanctity can
be preserved in a way worthy of the Gods who preside over it.
(Book 5, XXV)
Prayers are not the smallest [but on the contrary
a very great] part of sacrifices
Since, however, prayers are not the
smallest [but on the contrary a very great] part of sacrifices, especially
give completion to them, and through these the whole operation of them
is corroborated and effected; and since, besides this, they afford a common
utility to religion, and produce an indissoluble and sacred communion with
the Gods, it will not be improper to discuss a few particulars concerning
For this is of itself a thing worthy
to be known, and renders more perfect the science concerning the Gods.
I say, therefore, that the first
species of prayer is collective; and that it is also the leader of contact
with, and a knowledge of, divinity.
The second species
is the bond of concordant communion, calling forth, prior to the energy
of speech, the gifts imparted by the Gods, and perfecting the whole of
our operations prior to our intellectual conceptions.
And the third and most perfect species
of prayer is the seal of ineffable union with the divinities, in whom it
establishes all the power and authority of prayer; and thus causes the
soul to repose in the Gods, as in a never failing port.
But from these three terms, in which
all the divine measures are contained, suppliant adoration not only conciliates
to us the friendship of the Gods, but supernally extends to us three fruits,
being as it were three Hesperian apples of gold.
The first of these pertains to illumination;
the second, to a communion of operation; but through the energy of the
third, we receive a perfect plenitude of divine fire.
And sometimes, indeed, supplication
precedes; like a precursor preparing the way before the sacrifice appears.
But some times it intercedes as a
mediator; and sometimes accomplishes the end of sacrificing.
No operation, however, in sacred
concerns, can succeed without the intervention of prayer.
Lastly, the continual exercise of
prayer nourishes the vigour of our intellect, and renders the receptacles
of the soul far more capacious for the communications of the Gods.
It likewise is the divine key, which
opens to men the penetralia of the Gods; accustoms us to the splendid rivers
of supernal light; in a short time perfects our inmost recesses, and disposes
them for the ineffable embrace and contact of the Gods; and does not desist
till it raises us to the summit of all.
It also gradually and silently draws
upward the manners of our soul, by divesting them of every thing foreign
to a divine nature, and clothes us with the perfections of the Gods.
Besides this, it produces an indissoluble
communion and friendship with divinity, nourishes a divine love, and inflames
the divine part of the soul.
Whatever is of an opposing and contrary
nature in the soul, it expiates and purifies; expels whatever is prone
to generation, and retains any thing of the dregs of mortality in its etherial
and splendid spirit; perfects a good hope and faith concerning the reception
of divine light; and, in one word, renders those by whom it is employed
the familiars and domestics of the Gods.
If such, then, are the advantages
of prayer, and such its connexion with sacrifice, does it not appear from
hence that the end of sacrifice is a conjunction with the Demiurgus of
And the benefit of prayer is of the
same extent with the good which is conferred by the demiurgic causes on
the race of mortals.
Again, from hence the anagogic, perfective,
and replenishing power of prayer appears; likewise how it becomes efficacious
and unific; and how it possesses a common bond imparted by the Gods.
And, in the third and last place,
it may easily be conceived from hence how prayer and sacrifice mutually
corroborate and confer on each other a sacred and perfect power in divine
Hence, since it appears that there
is a perfect conspiration and cooperation of the sacerdotal discipline
with itself, and that the parts of it are more connascent than those of
any animal, being entirely conjoined through one connexion; this being
the case, it is not by any means proper to neglect this concord, nor to
admit some of its parts and reject others; but it is fit that all of them
should be exercised in a similar manner, and that those should be perfected
through all of them who wish to be genuinely conjoined to the Gods.
These things therefore, cannot subsist
(Book 5, XXVI)
Excepts from On the Mysteries
Translated by Thomas Taylor
isbn 1 898910 16 2
1. These media consist of the order of Gods denominated rulers, and
of those called liberated; the former of which also are denominated supermundane,
and the latter supercelestial, in consequence of existing immediately above
the celestial Gods. See, concerning these media, the sixth book of my translation
of Proclus on the Theology of Plato.
2. "Perhaps," says Proclus, in MS. Comment. in Parmenid. [823, TTS
vol. XI, p. 99] "it is necessary that, as in souls, natures, and bodies,
fabrication does not begin from the imperfect; so likewise in matter, prior
to that which is formless, and which has an evanescent being, there is
that which is in a certain respect form, and which is beheld in one boundary
and permanency." This, therefore, will be the pure and divine matter of
which Iamblichus is now speaking. Damascius also says, that matter is from
the same order whence form is derived.
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