It is with great hesitation that Veos and I have decided to share this information, and even greater hesitation that I have put it to writing. The task is monumental, the subject matter is delicate, and though an entire book could easily be written on the subject, oaths and personal promises to our teachers must greatly restrict even what can be shared in this presentation. The inherent near-impossibility of sharing this information while still keeping in line with our teachers’ and fellow disciples’ wishes had made us stay completely silent on the subject until now, only sharing the most basic of information on the matter with our more senior students, and even then quite rarely.
There would naturally be two parts to telling the history of theurgy, and in our instance it would have to be part historical and part autobiographical. There are two things which have to be understood to have a basic glimpse of what our system is: how theurgy survived Christianity, and how Veos and I pieced the splintered system back together and gave it coherent form. The two stories are only loosely interwoven, with the former creating the backdrop of the latter. In telling such a history, we must avoid any discussion of disciplic descent within several generations, so that names can not be narrowed down. This of course opens up the question as to whether or not the whole account is made up in some kind of ill-conceived grapple for validity by Veos and myself. That is entirely the reader’s freedom to believe or disregard – I am already about to share more than is deserved, and can share no further.
As for the second part of the story, how Veos and I came to be in the positions we are now in, trying to teach a genuine form of theurgy to those who would learn it, that is not yet fit for public presentation. Those who pursue the classes into their heights, and come into a degree of confidence, will receive the information necessary to confirm and reward their faith on that issue. Those students who truly stand out, after years of apprenticeship, may even meet some of our teachers. They are an eclectic blend, ranging from immortal Taoists and Yogis, on through Sufi adepts, and even including seemingly inconspicuous householders concealing incredible secrets. We had to go far and wide, and meet a strange array of characters, in order to re-assemble the scattered treasures of theurgy. How they guided us to one another in an intricate web of interconnection between all adepts, how theurgy had been concealed and preserved in such diverse cultures, and how permission was ultimately received for Veos and I to reconstruct the system, is a story that can be told much later. For the present time, my aim is only to show to you how theurgy did survive its apparent destruction in the early sixth century today, and how the lineage of Pythagoras and Plato is still alive for those with the meritorious fate to find it. Some of this can be constructed from arduous research, which I have done to fill in the gaps which history and various massacres have left in the memory of our tradition. Other parts of this story, however, are to my knowledge being presented to the public for the first time, from the stories which the adepts of this living lineage have preserved among themselves.
Why the Secrecy?
It seems to be the habit, after all, to bear one’s lineage as a long and valued pedigree for what is being taught. First and foremost, we disagree with that attitude. A teacher’s value is based upon his own attainment, not the attainments of those before him. This has become an erroneous practice of many pundits, who claim exotic lineages back to Mohammed, or Krsna, or some other far-off saint, as a way of validating their teachings. Whether or not enlightened teachers exist within the lineage is a matter of practicality. Their presence indicates the likelihood of the system to produce adepts in general, not the likelihood of the teacher to do the same. Likewise a teacher may be something of a gem, and even if his lineage has lacked well known adepts, he may bring it to a new level himself by means of exceptional dedication to the practices. Both of these are valuable.
In addition to this, another important reason for our silence on the issue is the fickleness of the neophyte’s mind. An aspirant does not yet have the ego under check, and mistakes vain pride for ambition. The only way to combat this is to keep the aspirant’s attention wholly on the teacher in front of him. Otherwise, as soon as he hears that there are saints in the Himalayas, he will rush to live in the Himalayas. As soon as he hears there are saints in the Andes, he will go pitch his tent. As soon as he learns about magical lineages in the Middle East, he will be off to Iran or Egypt. And, most famously, as soon as an aspirant learns who his teacher’s master is, he will circumvent the teacher. All of this, however, is out of order. Its ineffectiveness, so easily perceived by the rational mind, means nothing to the inflamed passions of the neophyte. Time which should have been spent learning the teachings appropriate for his level from the appropriate level of teacher will instead be spent pursuing the affections of some teacher higher up the perceived ladder. Time which should have been spent focusing on the practices of his lineage, and soaking up the words of wisdom from the guides which the universe granted, will instead be spent flying around the world pursuing fantasies. A number of Veos and I’s teachers are living masters, and with their name and the name of a city and country, could easily enough be found. By respecting their own wishes and keeping their information private, we are not only respecting them and their desires for privacy or anonymity, but we are also keeping our students set on those who are right in front of them: ourselves. This keeps the mind stable.
The latter touches upon a third important reason for silence, which is in respect to our teachers themselves. Some of them are essentially unknown, and some of them are well known in certain circles. All of them, however, have expressed their desire to be left alone. They taught Veos and I what they did, sometimes even against their own rules, so that we could bring to you what we are teaching now. On the one hand, theurgy is a secret science in most the world, and those who are its masters are not always its teachers. Veos and I were taken in closely by certain masters who fit this description, and though they taught us their theurgic principles and practices in private, they have no desire to be associated with it openly, and if ever asked whether or not they teach magic will always respond with an emphatic “No.” Thus they have asked us to keep their names permanently silent, except in instances of close disciples who we greatly trust, so that they can continue teaching their own outer mysteries without people harassing them for their inner mysteries. Outwardly they may just be a religious pundit or philosopher, teaching things which have little to do with theurgy, which they received from their own masters in secret, and only teach in secret. As one of my teachers put it to us, “I am teaching this – this is what I am supposed to be teaching. Magicians are not my flock in this life. You two be their shepherds.”
Another dimension is added to this when we consider the political situations of different parts of the world. There are still places in the world today where to practice theurgy, or even to be caught with one of its magical tomes or scriptures, is punishable by death. Children, brainwashed by the religious zeal of their school teachers, will turn in their own parents. Brothers will turn in brothers, sisters will turn in sisters. There are provincial governments which believe that all magic is meant to control the minds and hearts of the masses, and will banish into exile its proponents so that they can not turn the people against their rulers using some kind of imaginary black magic. And in many old countries, where the adepts of this science are most often found, superstition is so powerful that even if there is no law against practicing magic, it does not mean that the people themselves won’t pull you out of your home and kill you for it. Why don’t they leave? Why don’t all of the adepts come to the West for example, and freely teach without fear? Because there is nothing sacred here yet. They can not bring themselves to leave millenia-old sacred temples, and the tombs of their masters and grandmasters, which themselves hold so much power. Over there they have sacred mountains, holy wells and fountains, ancient temples, and generations of great masters entombed and radiating power. It is not in their nature to leave all of that – it is a part of them.
Thus there are also adepts we are aware of, who have guided us in various capacities, and whose names we must keep in secret for the sake of their actual safety. To make their names known would only bring them hardships. In some temples for example, where living adepts of the theurgic tradition live as monks, a student will never even learn the real name of his teacher for that reason. This practice was carried on by the early Christian theurgists for their own safety as well, for which reason the obscure numeric or acronymic names of Rosicrucian orders were given.
The Three Great Dispersions
It is difficult to decide where to begin classifying our lineage. Its ritual is markedly the theurgy of Iamblichus, its arithmetic and geometry that of Pythagoras, its theology that of Plato and his restoration by Proclus, its conceptual meditative philosophy is that of Porphyry and Plotinus, and the grounds for its understanding of internal energy were envisioned by Praxagoras and Hippocrates. This, at least, is how it could have been imagined, how it could have been conceptualized, were it not for the devastating impact which Christianity had upon theurgy. This strain of theurgy, boasting such great names as above, was cut down just as it was reaching its apex of development. Had history favored things differently, it would have no doubt continued onwards, and its saints would eventually have had the most sublime of realizations, its magic would have been developed to higher levels of precision, and its understanding of internal energy would have turned into a system to rival those of India or China. It was never given this chance, though. Or rather, it was never given this chance in its own homeland.
There is no ancient Greek system of theurgy existent today. Iamblichus, Pythagoras, and Plato, could not possibly recognize what we are now teaching with any ease. The breath control, though familiar in principle, would be far more refined than anything they ever knew. The direct work with energy, instead of using the middle ground of ritual work, would have only been vaguely familiar to Pythagoras, but unknown to other successors. The ancient Greek sages all knew how to direct the pneuma, the personal energy which is charged and enhanced by proper meditation and ritual, in order to work miracles, cures, etc. But they did not have the more expanded doctrines of practical energy work which are now present in the system, at least as far as we can reasonably tell. Of course what we can “reasonably tell” is virtually nothing, since only one in eighty books concerning theurgy, on average, survived the Christian mobs of Rome. Still, though perhaps more diverse and multifaceted than those ancient predecessors of ours may have imagined, there is one thing that is fairly certain: if presented with our system as it lives on today, they would have gladly called it theurgy. And, had it existed in their time, they would have gladly studied it.
The reason for this massive disconnect between us and them, a gulf of 1,500 years, is the Third Great Dispersion, also called the Last Dispersion. This, for most modern hermeticists and occultists, separated those ancient great magicians from us permanently, and it was not until the reappearance of its vestige in the form of Christian Rosenkreutz that something akin to it was being practiced. Thus modern Rosicrucianism is disconnected from the original Rosicrucian chain, though it bears the resemblances of a distant relative, and original Rosicrucianism is disconnected from ancient theurgy, though it bears the resemblances of a distant relative. In this round-about way, the Orders and Lodges of modern times claim various degrees of legitimacy. The truth, however, is that their teachings are often only the shadow of something which was, itself, already only a shadow. It is during those “missing years” of hermeticism, a one thousand year gap to most schools, that I think the story of our lineage and the development of theurgy can begin. But first, we should consider the three dispersions.
The Third Great Dispersion began in 529 AD, one of the most important dates in history to a magician, when the Emperor Justinian ordered that all mystery schools and Hellenistic religious orders should be shut down. According to historians of the time, this was a period of fire and death. Christian mobs leading up to this and after this ransacked the holiest temples and refuges of theurgy. Philosophers and ascetics were forced out of the temples which had become their homes. When they were not picked to pieces and tortured by the Christians, they were beaten and chased away. Some records still remain from this, where philosophers describe in obvious horror the site of the statues of the gods being decapitated and profaned, the holy libraries being burned down, the virgin priestesses being raped and then killed. They did not understand where this came from. The philosophers, who had always had so much faith in the spirituality of their homeland, could not understand how they had all been overcome by an irrational philosophy: that it is all alright, no matter how grievous the sin, because they will be saved anyways. This faith in the common people of their time is likely the explanation for why this event was so devastating to Hellenistic spirituality. Content that this new belief called Christianity could never win over the hearts of the rational and the leaders, they ignored all of the warning signs. Then when the damn finally broke and the flood poured in, they were entirely unready for it. The only warnings they had of their impending deaths were the sudden sounds of mobs outside their temples and homes, minutes away, and the sounds of the massacres in their wake.
This was a sound not altogether unfamiliar to our lineage of theurgy, which the records say began in Thebes not long before it was Hellenized. The oldest documents which bear a genetic resemblance to our modern practices in this system are said to have come from old temples in Thebes, where a comparatively smaller order of magicians had gathered in freedom to attempt a synthesis of the different religious pantheons of Egypt in a mystical fashion. This order, now nameless, was different than many other religious groups to be found in Egypt in the seventh century B.C., in that they claimed their lineage from Orpheus instead of one of the Egyptian gods. Whether or not there was a viable chain of communication between them and their patriarch, who lived a thousand years earlier, there is no longer any way to know, thanks no doubt to the destruction of the Serapium by Theodosus in the fourth century AD. The destruction of a fabled 50,000 manuscripts on that fateful day forever blurred our view of pre-Christian history, and destroyed almost any source texts we could have had concerning ancient orders like this and others.
What is said, at least among some, is that this order moved to Heliopolis during the First Great Dispersion around 660 B.C., where it produced the priest Anuph, whom Pythagoras is said in some accounts to have spent more than twenty years learning from. The armies of the Assyrian conquerer Ashurbanipal, pursuing the Egyptian ruler Ta-Nut-Amun, took and sacked Thebes in roughly 660 B.C., reducing it to ash. Of the sack of Thebes, we have an account of Ashurbanipal himself:
This city, the whole of it, I conquered it with the help of Ashur and Ishtar. Silver, gold, precious stones, all the wealth of the palace, rich cloth, precious linen, great horses, supervising men and women, two obelisks of splendid electrum, weighing 2500 talents, the doors of temples I tore from their bases and carried them off to Assyria. With this weighty plunder I left Thebes. Against Egypt and Kush I have lifted my spear and shown my power. With full hands I have returned to Nineveh, in good health.
It is recorded by the Hebrews of the time that the Assyrians chained the wise men of Thebes, and that all good men fled who could. The Orphic Theban Order escaped mostly intact to Heliopolis, but returned to Thebes later on under Hellenic rule. Others fled to Greece, and a number of mystics from many lodges and orders were taken captive back to Nineveh, where they translated some of their texts for the great library there. This is often called the First Great Dispersion, since it chased the members of this order into different cities and spread them wide, where various sub-orders developed and grew. Likewise the sacred monuments which were instrumental to the Theban orders were destroyed, and their temples were sacked. There was no reason to return to Thebes, and so they traveled to other lands.
The fate of the foremost magus ever taught by that lodge, or at least a brother-lineage of it, would bring about the Second Dispersion. It is recorded by his biographers that Pythagoras was turned down at a number of temples where he applied for discipleship, before finally reaching the temple where Anuph (often rendered Oenuphis) accepted him. After all, this temple claimed a lineage to Orpheus, the great preceptor of all Grecian mysticism – it was natural to allow a Greek mystic in, and there were probably several others present who acted as translators. Being young at the time, Pythagoras did not likely know the native tongue, and there must have been others there to assist him. As written records of the time recount, the major Egyptian cities were very popular attractions to the Greeks, and it was common for people to visit them, and even for Greeks to live there. Egypt by this time was already famous for its love of wisdom and its mystery schools, and this attracted many ancient peoples from all over, especially from Greece, where wisdom was so highly valued.
After several more decades of traveling and learning from the greatest masters in many countries, Pythagoras settled in Crotona, a Greek city in southern Italy, where he opened his academy, founded his own mystery school, and began teaching. He is honored in our system with the title “First Fountain”, or Protopegos. In our system, a Fountain is a master who births original teachings into the lineage from his own divinity, even if that divinity was inspired by many other teachers and systems. Though Pythagoras had many masters, he very much assembled his mystery school after the inborn knowledge which his time studying with those masters allowed him to bring into fruition. He created the first true theurgic school, if we define theurgy as the synthesis of Egyptian and Greek philosophy. He also established the precedent of a true wise man valuing wisdom no matter where or who it comes from; his system contained pieces of Greek, Egyptian, Ethiopian, Chaldean, Babylonian, Zoroastrian, and even Buddhist teachings, all of which he digested and synthesized. Thus theurgy, from the very beginning, was always a system which united and brought together the wisdom of different cultures and peoples, and has always been liberated from strict cultural and religious laws.
Modern historians refuse to accept the accounts of longevity attributed to Pythagoras, just as they do with any sage who has achieved the same, but the truth from his biographers is that Pythagoras settled in Crotona already an old man. Yet old as he was, he grew in strength with each passing year. His hair retained its original color, and it was said that even in old age he could not be bested by any youth in wrestling, for which sport he became a coach. This sparked an old Greek blessing, “May you age like Pythagoras,” who grew stronger and faster with each year. Longevity is still one of the blessings of genuine theurgy, and our school today has older students who are enjoying their white hair growing in black, and are seeing wrinkles disappear from their faces as the skin grows soft again.
Much could be written here about Pythagoras, and why he was such an exemplary model of the true theurgist. But many other great authors have already sufficiently expounded upon this subject, and my goal for this article is not to re-articulate that which is already well enough known, but to present to the light things which are less known. Thus, we advance along in the general timeline of the three great dispersions.
Some time around 500 B.C., the Pythagoreans became the targets of politically inspired jealously and hatred. Pythagoras had become so famous that his word powerfully influenced any decisions in the governing of Crotona, and those who had been publicly ousted by the disapproval of his disciples grew in numbers. They banded together under two politicians, Cylon and Ninon, who led a violent mob against the temple where Pythagoras and his disciples were staying. They set the entire place on fire, violently killing many Pythagoreans in the process, before pursuing Pythagoras and those disciples of his who fled with him in time on foot. At this point there are several different beliefs as to what became his fate. Some say that he successfully survived the attack on Crotona and went into hiding with some of his disciples, where he eventually died of grief. I find this unlikely, as I can not imagine a man as brave and noble as Pythagoras simply consigning himself to a life in shadows when he had such pearls to give, nor do I imagine a man who could spend days at a time in meditative God-Union dying of grief. Others suggest that he was killed alongside the majority of the other Pythagoreans inside the burning school, but I again find this unsuitable. I know that if I and my fellow disciples were in a burning building with one of our masters, we would risk everything to ensure that he escaped first and foremost. Understanding this kind of master-disciple relationship, I can say with absolute certainty that no Pythagoreans fled that school before they were certain that Pythagoras had escaped the building.
Still, it is really a matter of which story one chooses to believe. Knowing what I do about the kinds of people masters of this tradition tend to be, and believing what I do about the nature of Pythagoras and his disciples, I will share which story I personally believe. It is said by some that when Pythagoras and his disciples had escaped the burning school and were being pursued closely by the mob, they approached a farm field of tall grain. Pythagoras, realizing that they could not all escape, told them that the field would provide enough misdirection for them to escape safely. To give them the time necessary to distance themselves from this mob, Pythagoras himself turned around to face them after commanding his disciples to leave. Though likely overcome quickly, a man as famously strong and swift as Pythagoras could likely still have given their pursuers a strong diversion for several minutes if it came to fighting. It was also possible that the mob, when they finally came upon Pythagoras, took their time with him. Whatever the outcome, it seems fairly certain that night that Pythagoras was murdered. Martial man as I am, I prefer the “fight-to-the-death” scenario.
Thus began the Second Great Dispersion, where the Pythagoreans were cast to the four directions and became wanderers, only occasionally sharing their wisdom. By this time a new kind of philosopher had begun to appear in Greece, the Sophist. This was one not as interested in spirituality and the salvation of the soul as in discourse and intellectual details. Yet there was one great soul who picked up the pieces of Pythagorean mysticism, and then retraced many of the footsteps of the famous Pythagoras himself before becoming the most famous teacher of his time, Plato. He is honored by us as the First Great Confluence, a Confluence being a great sage who reforms the system, usually by synthesizing multiple branches of the same tradition back together into a single whole.
As with Pythagoras, the life of Plato is too well known to merit any extensive retelling, and I have received no lineage-specific stories concerning his life which have not also been told elsewhere. With Plato, theurgy took on a new role. Namely, there would now be outer and inner teachings, whereas originally theurgy itself was a highly secretive and inner-temple instruction, only learned after years of training the mind and cultivating nobility. Plato would take teachings which had previously been learned only under the most strict of oaths, and famously publish them in the most cryptic of forms: conversations between his philosophical teacher Socrates and other well known philosophers of his time. In doing so, he would design every dialogue to be “aporia,” or pathless, where there seemed to be no correct answer. In this way Plato transformed his writings into practical hieroglyphics, where one had to receive the proper training in order to have the right “eyes” to read his works. With those eyes, conditioned by understanding and meditation, Plato would unfold before you. This would have been a concept he was introduced to in Egypt, where much of the first level of training after basic education in the sciences involved learning how to interpret hieroglyphs individually and spiritually.
This outer school was based largely upon Pythagorean philosophy, which still existed in the form of third and even second generation disciples of Pythagoras himself, those philosophers who were not present at the burning of the college in Crotona, or who had escaped it. One of these was a Pythagorean named Diochaites, who studied under Pythagoras. Diochaites taught the philosophy to his son, Ameinias, and his son would later go on to teach the famous Parmenides. It was at least in part by the school of Parmenides that Socrates seems to have learned Pythagorean wisdom, and therefore it was Parmenides via the medium of Socrates, and a single writing published by Philolaus entitled “On Nature,” through which Plato learned the doctrine. There is of course plenty of reason to believe that both Plato and Socrates could have found other, less-known lineage bearers of the tradition in their travels, but only these two connections can be certain. That Socrates venerated Parmenides can be seen reflected in Plato’s writings, where Plato spares Parmenides the combat which he engages in with many other influential philosophers of the time, and always refers to him with visible reverence. After the death of Socrates, Plato is said to have gone to study briefly directly under Philolaus, who was likely also a teacher of Socrates. Together, they would make Plato a fifth generational disciple of Pythagoras, and it is ultimately the teachings of Pythagoras which are most apparent in Plato. Indeed, it creates a situation similar to that of Jesus, as an example. Christians would call Jesus a Christian, but Jesus would have called himself a Jew (albeit a “true” Jew). Buddhists would call Gautuma a Buddhist, but Gautuma himself was a Hindu raja yogi. Likewise the west remembers Plato as a Platonist, but he would have very likely identified himself as a Pythagorean. We have so little source material available in our time (something scholars often seem to forget) that we can not look back and identify this positively, but if we rely on those who lived more contemporaneously to Plato, they seem to share this opinion.
Plato established the famous Academy of Athens in a grove of trees named after an ancient hero, Hekademus, where he taught until the peaceful end of his life. Though not a technical successor to the title of Scholarch, the most famous of the students of the Academy would become Aristotle. He learned under Plato as well as other teachers of the Academy, but left the Academy before Plato died when Speusippus was appointed Scholarch. Speusippus argued against Plato’s Theory of Forms, which disenchanted Aristotle. Shortly after leaving, he was invited to become the mentor and beloved teacher of perhaps the most famous conqueror of history, King Alexander of Macedon. There is a great deal of modern misunderstanding about Aristotle, and how his works should be interpreted in the light of Plato, since they seem to disagree. Like the later theurgists, our system maintains that Aristotle provided a much needed outer-level to Plato’s otherwise obscure teachings, and gave the system more organization. He is revered as a great teacher, and it is taught that when a verse from Plato and a verse from Aristotle disagree, there is always a third verse which reconciles the two.
Meanwhile, in Plato’s direct lineage of Scholarchs, the school would become overly intellectual and skeptical until Antiochus saved it from this fate in the first century BC, returning the teachings back to their roots in Plato and gnosis. It was believed that the Agrapha Dogmata or “Unwritten Doctrines” of Plato had gone underground, and were no longer an official part of the school. These doctrines not only involved direct teachings about the higher theophanies, but also held the keys to understanding his Socratic dialogues. They came back to life, it would seem, under Antiochus the disciple of Philo, who stood against his teacher by returning the teachings of the school back to those of Plato, and focusing not on excessive mental analysis, but on interpreting the many levels of wisdom concealed in Plato’s writings. With the revival of Antiochus and the ousting of Philo, the actual physical academy meanwhile had just been destroyed by an act of war against Athens from Rome. There was no longer a single place associated with the mysteries of Plato, and this created an atmosphere where different teachers could go out and teach their own understanding of things. This set the precedent for later Platonists like Numenius, who recombined the surviving Pythagorean tradition with the dying Platonic tradition, reuniting them in their proper and original union. The golden chain of lineage transmission (“paradosis”) had not been broken, but it was no longer restricted to a single place.
Not long after Antiochus an adept by the name of Ammonius (not to be confused with his later, more famous namesake) in the late first century is giving lectures on the mysteries of Plato, but from a hitherto unaddressed perspective: namely, with the involvement of mystical rites and specific meditations. He does not believe that he is departing in any meaningful way from the inherent teachings of Plato, but in fact claims lineage back to the First Academy, and appears to be teaching a coherent and already formed system. While lecturing in Athens, he attracts the admiration of a young Plutarch from the town of Chaeronea, who clung to his words and learned the arcane rites of theurgy from him. These meditations and rituals would open dimensions of Plutarch’s mind which he had not known existed, and he would go on to become a sage whose fame reached the corners of the known world. Later in age, he would become the High Priest and officiating administer at the temple of Delphi, who personally over saw the rituals which kept the power of the temple intact, and interpreted the sayings of the priestesses. In his writings, of which few survive, Plutarch is a champion of Platonic philosophy, while also reconciling it with other systems of his day.
From the teachings of Plutarch and his contemporaries or fellow disciples of Ammonius, Gaius Athenaeus emerges, and absorbing the theurgic rites, transmits the information with his contemporaries to the new generation of Platonists, among whom Lucius Apuleius is counted. Studying the peripatetic philosophy in Carthage, and then the theurgic rites and philosophies under Gaius in Athens, Apuleius goes on to become one of the most famous magicians of his time. Later in his life the renowned Platonist Maximus of Tyre is teaching, alluding to the natures of the spirits which preside over the world of humans, and the chain which exists between us and God. Flanking him is the great Numenius of Apamea, who in a manner which his contemporaries seem to agree with, returns Plato back to his native habitat: Pythagorean and oriental mysticism. Absorbing the teachings of Theon of Smyrna, Numenius progressed the logical conclusions of the Platonists of his time, and synthesized them famously with what was known of the doctrines of the Jews, Assyrians, the mystics of ancient Iran, and the Brahmins of India, showing that the great sages of all places and ages have been inspired with the same divine knowledge.
Moved by these teachings, the great “God-Taught” master Ammonius Saccas emerged. He expanded upon the ideas he had learned from the writings of lectures of such people as Numenius and Maximus, and through the knowledge of mystical rites and meditation, learned directly in gnostic meditation the rest of his doctrine. He attracted to himself the avid disciple Plotinus, whose “Ennead” is one of a very small number of complete Platonic doctrines preserved from this era of development. Plotinus either did not learn the theurgic rites from Ammonius, or more likely was taught them (he had sympathetic views towards them) but gave the impression, even to his closest students, that he knew little of them. Still, it is hard to spend a great deal of time around a man, and he still successfully keep all of his secrets.
The statue of Plotinus’ soul, and some important events attributed to him, are easily recognizable by the theurgist as the hallmarks of a true mystic. His understanding of divine beings, as well as the possession of magical faculties like clairvoyance, indicated that he was doing much more than simply philosophizing about the doctrines he learned from his master. He demonstrated nearly omniscient knowledge of the doings and whereabouts of others, and when once an Egyptian magician conjured his Guardian Angel to visible appearance, it was the god Apollo Himself who appeared to their eyes. On at least one occasion, he also demonstrated himself immune to black magic and its assaults, where the self-professed magical attack of a man named Olympius turned back upon him and threw him into great pain. Upon his death, his disciples Porphyry and Amelius went to the Oracle at Delphi to inquire as to the state of their master, who confirmed that the gods had given him the highest honors in their heavens.
The most famous of Plotinus’ disciples was Porphyry, whom Plotinus himself had once openly declared “Poet, Philosopher, and Hierophant.” Of Porphyry there is no great amount known other than scattered accounts of the next two centuries. Scholars today make him to be a more simplistic and rational disciple, but his writings clearly reveal a great mystical knowledge achievable only by gnostic states of meditation. The final gnosis or “samadhi” of Porphyry, by his own account, was finally achieved in his seventieth year, wherein he exhibited the same marks of divinity which his master Plotinus exhibited. Of the many disciples Porphyry had, the most famous was without doubt Iamblichus. Their relationship, however, I believe has been misunderstood. They are often posited opposite to one another, with Porphyry championing the more meditative school of divine contemplation, and Iamblichus championing the cause of theurgic rites and the evolutionary power of magic. In the teachings of our school however, their writings are easily harmonized, and it is instead believed that Porphyry purposely provided the criticism cited in Iamblichus’ treatise on the Egyptian Mysteries, so that Iamblichus could publicly address the private concerns of his contemporaries. Just as Porphyry taught Iamblichus the Platonic mysteries, it is said that Iamblichus later initiated Porphyry into the mysteries of Chaldea and Persia, with which the latter was finally able to achieve the higher states.
Iamblichus went on to become the greatest magician of his time, the champion of theurgy, and would be remembered as one of the most divine figures of history. The later emperor Julian constructed a golden statue of the man and prayed to him, and after the Platonic renaissance in Europe his name almost never appears without the epithet “the divine” appended to it. The hype, it seems, was well placed – in the century during and after his teachings, Rome produced more masters of philosophy and mysticism than it ever had before, or which really had ever been seen in the area. It was said that in the days after Iamblichus a disciple of true philosophy could hardly walk through a city in Eastern Rome without encountering some divine personage who learned from Iamblichus, or who learned from someone else who did. Entire herds of aspiring students visited four or five masters’ houses a day, all from Iamblichus’ lineage, or who learned from him directly. It was a brief philosophic golden age, where no student seems to have been able to be in want for clear instruction and initiation. Iamblichus had entered into the river of Plato and lit it on fire with his divinity. Though separated from Plato by several centuries, he resurrected Plato’s teachings in a way fitting of a direct disciple. External to Plato, Iamblichus only introduced the Chaldean Oracles, a collection of Persian and Assyrian wisdom attributed to the inspiration of a great magician a century earlier. From Iamblicus on, the line of theurgy would re-embrace the wisdom decent from Egypt, and sank its roots back into the teachings of Hermes as well. So divine were the inner teachings of Iamblichus that a philosopher over a century later commented that, after twenty years of study and discipleship, he was still hardly considered worthy of glancing at Iamblichus’ more sacred teachings.
The success of Iamblichus’ system in producing adepts changed the intellectual tide of philosophy in his time. Whereas it had previously been the theurgists (hitherto called “telesiurgy”) who were on the defense, trying to justify their use of the mystical rites and more complicated meditations in line with philosophy, it was now the contemplative line of mysticism which was on the defense. The overwhelming success which people were having by returning Platonic philosophy to its roots in Pythagorean and Egyptian mysticism created a momentum which the more skeptical branches of philosophy found hard to counter. They were put on the defense, while magic was in the air and Rome was overrun with divine sages.
One of the great disciples of Iamblichus was then Aedesius, who carried his master’s teachings further into the fourth century. From Aedesius came such great luminaries as Eustathius, Sosipatra, and Maximus, who taught Sallustius and Chrysanthius. From the lectures of these great sages and their disciples emerged Plutarch of Athens, who in the early fifth century re-established a Platonic Academy in Athens, and gave a home to theurgy. As Scholarch of the new Academy, he was succeeded by his disciple Syrianus, a master made famous by the fame of his own disciple, Proclus. The great and divine Proclus learned the mystical rites of theurgy from Asclepiagina the daughter of Plutarch, and learned the reconciliation of the mystical philosophies of Plato and Aristotle from Syrianus. He studied the mystical meanings of the Chaldean Oracles with an old Plutarch, and continued his studies with a commentary written upon them by Syrianus, who he always lovingly refers to as “our great preceptor.”
Proclus is thought to have written over eighty books and commentaries on everything from theurgy and the Chalden Oracles to the most mystical of Plato’s books. He was seen as a god-send by the other members of the Academy, which had dwindled in number, and is attributed with giving new strength and livelihood to the system. By his fame, more disciples were attracted from around the country, and the new Academy gained considerable popularity. I strongly recommend anyone interested to read the biography of his life by his disciple Marinus, a short but inspiring read about this great magus, and one of the few sources we have for his life.
Proclus was the master of Marinus, who faithfully continued the tradition of studying the Chaldean Oracles, Iamblichus, and the commentaries upon Plato. Plutarch, Syrianus, and Proclus are all also said to have written very extensive commentaries upon the Hymns of Orpheus, none of which survived the Christian ransacking of the temples and academies. Marinus taught the divine Isidorus, whose divinity in his time was matched only by that of his famous wife Hypatia. Isidorus would suspend his body in a death-like state for many hours, contemplating God, and many miracles were attributed to he and his wife both. From Isidorus came Damascius, the last complete Scholarch of the new Academy of Athens, who wrote much in the way of biographies about his lineage, little of which is still available. Tutored by both Damascius and Isidorus was Simplicius, the last of his line in Greece or Rome.
Simplicius himself was a great author, and his writings are more preserved than those of his predecessors. It was during the time of he and Damascius that the Third Great Dispersion occurred. The emperor Justinian repealed 5th century mandates which protected the rights of pagans in the newly Christian Rome. He removed all pagans from government posts, and there is a great deal of eye-witness records indicating the confiscation and seizure of property and funds. Among the property seized was the Academy, equal to some 1,000 gold coins in value. In this time of violence and suppression, Simplicius, Damascius, and five other leading philosophers in their line fled from Rome into Persia to seek refuge under the Persian King Anushirvan.
The Line of Pythagorean Doctrine from Pythagoras to Plato is thus:
Pythagoras (d. c500 BC)
Socrates (469 – 390 BC) & Philolaus (470-385 BC)
Plato (424 – 248 BC)
The line of Platonic doctrine from Plato to Simplicius is thus:
Plato (424 – 348 BC)
Speusippus (347–339 BC)
Xenocrates (339–314 BC)
Polemon (314–269 BC)
Crates (269–266 BC)
Arcesilaus (ca. 266–240 BC)
Lacydes of Cyrene (d. 205 BC)
Carneades (214-129 BC)
Clitomachus (187 – 110 BC)
Philo of Larissa (154-84 BC)
Antiochus of Ascalon (125 – 68 BC)
Eudorus of Alexandra (d. 20 BC), directed Platonism back to Pythagorean principles.
Philo of Alexandra (20 BC – 50 AD)
Ammonius of Athens (d. late first century AD)
Plutarch of Chaeronea (46 – 120 AD)
Gaius of Athens (early second century, possible teacher of Lucius)
Lucius Apuleis (125 – 180ad)
Alcinous (late second century ad)
Numenius of Apamea (d. late second century ad), strongly influenced by the works of Philo.
Maximus of Tyre (d. late second century ad)
Ammonius (d. 245c), organized teachings of Numenius and re-instituted oriental wisdom.
Plotinus (204 – 270)
Porphyry (234 – 305)
Iamblichus (245 – 330), put the doctrine back into its Egyptian and oriental roots.
Aedesius (d. 355)
Maximus (310 – 372)
Plutarch of Athens (350 – 430), who re-established a physical academy
Syrianus (d. 437)
Proclus (412 – 485), initiated into the arcane rituals of theurgy by Asclepigenia, which she learned from her father Plutarch of Athens, which he learned from his father Nestorius).
Marinus (440 – 500)
Isidorus (440 – 520)
Damascius (458 – 538)
Simplicius (490 – 560), the last of the Hellenistic line.
The above of course only indicates the general transmission of doctrine. Several unknown disciples of various teachers and orators carried on the teachings between known figures, but this time line presents the rough flow of ideas, and their evolution into the vessel for theurgy by the time of Iamblichus. From Ammonius onwards the transmission of the doctrine was more formalized, and emphasis put on direct learning from a teacher instead of the mere study of books and attendance of lectures, and therefore there becomes a more definite lineage. Under this proposed lineage, Simplicius is roughly thirty-first (cutting out some contemporaneous teachers) in the transmission of theurgic doctrine from the time of Plato. This was constructed based on what information was available to myself and Veos. Of course any time before Ammonius Saccas is subject to fault, since it was not until his time that a more coherent system of paradosis became common place in the teachings. From Ammonius, Veos and I are the forty-eighth generation in the energetic transmission of the lineage. This number of course is not likely strictly correct, as there may have been some teachers who time forgot, and whose place in the lineage was attributed to other, better-known teachers. There is no call on anyone to believe this, and Veos and I have never invoked it as a point of authority. It is what it is, and people are free to believe or disbelieve it based on their own bias.
The Wandering Seven Sages: Where Theurgy Went
The mandate of Justinian was devastating to theurgy. Even with what books and manuscripts the seven philosophers may have been carrying with them in their band, countless thousands were lost. Iamblichus, for example, wrote over eighty books, of which we have two in tact, and fragments of a third. Of his commentaries on the Chaldean Oracles or the Hymns of Orpheus, or his commentaries on Plato, we have nothing, in spite of how famous they were in his time. In fact almost every single scholarch after Iamblichus wrote a commentary on the Chaldean Oracles, reproducing them in whole within the commentary, and yet in spite of some twenty or so theurgists producing such works over the course of two centuries, we do not even have a complete form of the Oracles. The fragments which we do have are subject to question, as for the most part they are not in the original verse. The eradication of a treatise so famous and so prolifically reproduced in its time is a glowing testament to the destructive power of the ensuing riots and mobs.
Plutarch of Athens wrote over fifty commentaries and books on the doctrine of their school, none of which exist. Proclus wrote over eighty by some accounts, and over one hundred by others, and only a handful remain. His commentary on the Timaeus, perhaps the most famous work of his time, now exists only partially. This same general rule is followed with all the sages, and I have safely supposed that about two percent of all works on theurgy or its philosophies have survived. Though there was no official decree to execute philosophers, many were killed by lynch mobs, and though there was no decree to destroy temples, many were razed. Unfortunately for later generations temples were the primary libraries of that era, and so thousands if not tens of thousands of books were erased from history within about a century.
In this atmosphere of turmoil, Simplicius, Damascius, and five other leading philosophers left Rome together and headed for the Sassanid Sultanate. This marked the end of 1,000 years of Grecian philosophy, and 2,000 years of theurgy in Greece (from the time of the establishment of the Eleusinian mystery schools). They went to the court of the Persian king Kosrau I, one of the last Persian rulers of the era.
King Kosrau, better remembered in the histories of the orient as Anushirvan or “the Immortal Soul,” was a Philosopher-King of ancient Iran. It was under his jurisdiction that many Greek works on philosophy, those few which we do have left, were saved. Plato, Aristotle, and the works of many other Greek philosophers were translated into the Sassanid language Pahlavi at the great Academy of Gondeshapur. He had in his court also a certain Paul of Persia, who translated some works of the ancient Greek philosophy personally for the king, and who was versed well in Greek and Latin. This very palpable Greek presence, both in the philosophy and heart of the king, as well as in his academy and his very own court, likely led to the invitation of the prominent Greek philosophers of his time after they had been banished from Rome. Several years after their arrival in his country, he was instrumental in arranging a treaty with Justinian which allowed the philosophers to return to Rome and live safely. It seems, however, that only Damascius took up this offer, and the other six (and no doubt a number of companions) disappear from history.
The records of the living theurgic lineages can bring insight into this which, to my knowledge, has never before been revealed publicly. It is only with some hesitancy that I reveal it at all in a form so public as an article, since in today’s world some false scholar may take it and write a book, and trick people into believing they belong to a lineage which they have no part in. To safeguard as best as possible against this, I have modified some minor details, and should I ever see them reproduced, I will alert the public as best as I can.
When Damascius returned home, those recorded by the Sufi historians as “the companions of Simplicius” traveled to Gondesapur, and stayed there for a time working in various capacities. It is unknown for certain if Simplicius wrote anything at this point, but our school is in possession of a manuscript allegedly by Simplicius, translated into Arabic and which I was allowed to hand-copy. He and those with him seem to have had a hand in translating further Greek works on physics, astronomy, mathematics, and philosophy, or they at least attracted as some students those who were doing so. From this point there is nothing absolutely certain, but there is some testimony which then posits that they, or at least some of them, traveled to the city of ancient Harran.
Harran was uniquely fitted for the survival of Platonism and theurgy. Its people, by and large, seem to have been Hermetic. The ancient historian Masudi, reporting on his time in the city, claims that there were two aspects of the city’s religion. One was for the common people, which involved the worship largely of saints instead of gods, and that these saints were predominantly Greek or Egyptian, with Hermes Trismegistus at their head. Indeed, he says that their head pantheon consisted of six central beings: Hermes, Homer, Aratus, Aribasis, and the “first and second Arani.” Arani is here thought to be the Uriya which the scholar Shahrazuri mentions. Agathodaemon is said to be the second Uriya, and Hermes/Idris the third. This would allow for a first Uriya. I would like to propose that, given the changes made to such a thing by the Persian and then the Arabic tongue, and its transmission to the western world largely through the language of the Moors, that Uriya became Urjya, and that this forms the basis of Franz Bardon’s mythical “Urgaya.” It is not a far leap in belief that one of the Uriya would be at the head of Bardon’s hermetic Great White Brotherhood, especially since Harran seems to have been the birthplace of hermeticism as we know it.
Both Masudi and al-Sarakshi agree that there was heavy Platonic influence in the city, but from what can be learned of it, it seems to have been predominantly neoplatonic. The emphasis was on the mystical doctrines, personal evolution, the salvation of the soul, and the extensive chain of spirits and gods posited between humanity and the monad – all of which are distinctly Neoplatonic. How this happened, we have no real information left to suggest. If by the seventh and eighth century this was already the case, then such a deep-seated cultural situation could by no means be blamed solely on the migration of the last Greek theurgic philosophers, though it may have been enriched by it. Instead, it becomes clear that a separate strain of theurgy had developed apart from Greece and Rome. Though the teachings of the mystics of the city, which had been the Egyptian Panopolis, are markedly and genetically neoplatonic, they bear signs which neoplatonism is missing. For example, we have nothing left from the final period of Greek philosophy which indicates the acknowledgment of a Hermes Trismegistus, who would figure so prominently in occultism later on. This likely indicates an ancient cosmology developed to a height by the first century AD, which was inherently compatible with the Platonic philosophies being developed in Greece at that time, and which at some point in the ensuing century or two was introduced to those philosophies. By whom, it is hard to tell. But one might argue that the teachings of Iamblichus, who could speak the syriac language of Harran, have the closest allowable resemblance. If we accept this, then it would explain the historically unexplained burst of new doctrines and clearly oriental philosophies in the teachings of Iamblichus. Perhaps that great sage dipped into the wisdom of ancient Harran – the genetic evidence is there for those who could believe it. And, in turn, perhaps he or his disciples gave something to them: the neoplatonic doctrine.
Yet there is reason to believe in an earlier influence, which would have already made Harran platonic by the time of Iamblichus. Masudi makes a point to mention that the philosophy of the elect of Harran was very different than that of the masses, and that the elect studied neoplatonism with vigor, and held Plato to be the best of sages. One interesting stamp upon the philosophy of the city strongly suggests the Platonism of the first century AD or later, which is that which was first openly posted by Eudorus of Alexandra: “As much as we can, become like God,” and its ontological brother, “He who knows himself is deified,” both from Plato’s Timaeus. The latter was said to have been inscribed upon the door of the banquet hall at Harran in Syriac. It may have well been that by the time Iamblichus made use of the wisdom of ancient Persia and Egypt, the city of Harran was already friendly to philosophers.
The Sufi scholar Farabi, writing in the early tenth century, suggests that Simplicius traveled to Harran and established a small academy there, which lasted until around 900 AD, when its disciples transfered to the Bayt al-Hikmah or “House of Wisdom” in Baghdad. He no doubt based this opinion on superior knowledge than we now have today, and several other Arabic scholars contemporary to him agree on this point. This gives us two important streams of Platonic knowledge: the Academy of Gondesapur, and what was called “the places of learning” in Harran. In Harran, Platonism became immersed in ancient Iranian philosophy, and thus produced Hermeticism. At Gondesapur, meanwhile, tens of thousands of texts were translated not only from Greece and Rome, but from India and China also, and some researchers have found reason to believe that there was some mutual influence here between the four native philosophies of Greece, Persia, India, and China. One reason for this is no doubt that, by about 1000 AD, philosophies hitherto native to the west or near-east begin to appear in Chinese and Indian literature. Likewise, in the theurgic line of instruction, there are clearly Indian philosophies appearing in the world-view, and Chinese longevity practices and herbalism. I myself have personally witnessed practices from western China, near the Himalayan border, where Taoists assume the physical postures of certain Egyptian gods, and was informed that this particular lineage believed that its innermost practices originated in Egypt. The man I was watching perform their “dance” was sixty, and had the complexion, muscular build, and skin of a man in his twenties. It is possible, I think, that this was one example of influence from the time of Gondesapur and Harran, though it could have been from earlier. Incidentally, Pythagoras is mentioned by one biographer as having performed certain long, slow “dances” in the evenings by himself. When questioned why, his response was apparently that he did it to maintain his youth. This either suggests that ancient Egypt had practices similar to what would become Qigung and Neigung in its own right, or that some ancient Chinese practices had been taught to Pythagoras, perhaps during his stint in India, and therefore perhaps found its way into the early theurgic lineage. Either implication is interesting.
So far, then, we have followed theurgy to Harran, where it was being practiced as part of the Harranian philosophy until roughly 900 AD. For whatever reason, modern scholars have anchored themselves quite staunchly against the idea of there having been a platonic school in Harran during that time, in spite of multiple contemporaries of that era stating as much. As with most things, western historians often have an alternative agenda, usually only known to themselves, but typically running along the line of belittling things that are spiritual, and discounting things that are magical. If one were to attempt to keep Platonism as material and even atheistic as possible, then discounting the neoplatonic influence upon those Persian and Arabian philosophers who kept Plato alive would be a necessary step. This seems to have been done quite thoroughly, as now it is primarily the purely peripatetic writings of the medieval and pre-medieval Persian and Arab philosophers which have been translated into the western languages, and their highly attested neoplatonic inclinations have been somewhat surgically removed.
To continue on, we must introduce Dhul Nun al-Misri, one of the earliest Sufi mystics, and the sage accredited with coining the idea of Gnosis in Sufi literature. Though little is known about him in the west, he figures prominently in the “Golden Chain” or initiatic lineage of almost half of all Sufi Orders. That half, incidentally, contains the primary magical lineages, and through them Dhul Nun became important as being one of the lineage-bearers for the survival of original theurgy, and is the Sufic starting point in our lineage as well. Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi, writing three hundred years later, would refer to him as the torch-bearer of Pythagorean mysticism in the ninth century.
“The Egyptian,” as the texts often refer to him (Al-Misri), was of Coptic origin. When he was young in age, he had a vision wherein he was told that he must go and study the mysteries of wisdom in their houses in the city of Harran/Akhmim. He is recorded to have studied in “The First House of Hermes,” which the mythology of the city said was created by Hermes to contain the mysteries of the world, and safeguard them against catastrophe so that the wise may always learn again. This served as the main academy of Harran, and was still standing as late as 1183, when the traveling historian Ibn Jubayr visited and described it. Here he would have studied theurgy, both in its form for spiritual evolution as well as natural magic. The scripture of Harran, dating back to when it was Panopolis, was attested to be a book which would later be recognized as the Corpus Hermetica. In the “Fihrist,” Al-Nadim(d. 995 AD) says that the people regarded as their holy book a collection of dialogues between Hermes and his son Tat concerning philosophy, life, and the universe.
It seems perfectly believable to think that, in this city of wisdom, Al-Misri would have studied the religion of the mystics and their pantheon, which was discussed earlier. From these sages, he is said to have learned how to read the hieroglyphics on the temple walls, something which most had forgotten. If the practice he did was anything akin to the one which has survived to the present day, then it involved meditating upon a certain special hieroglyph (one meant to contain multiple teachings) with a certain “key thought” in mind. This thought, or understanding, is meditatively linked to the image until the image unravels and they mutually explain each other. The resulting instruction is intimately personal, but its general meaning would hold the same for anyone who was successful.
It is also recorded that Misri studied alchemy here, and with great success. Harran had been a bastion for the practice of alchemy for at least five hundred years by this time, with its most famous forerunner having been the Greek alchemist Zosimos. Zosimos himself of course learned the art in Panopolis, probably by studying the same manuscripts and hieroglyphs which Misri found himself studying five centuries later. An earlier student of the First House of Hermes, a mystic by the name of Jabir ibn Hayyan, would go on to become the most prolific writer on alchemy in history. It is thought that a disciple of Hayyan also served as a teacher for Misri, and the latter likely studied Hayyan’s writings.
The big question would be whether or not Al-Misri studied theurgy here from someone who drew their lineage from Simplicius. We have no writings left from Al-Misri of which I am aware, which of course does not mean that none exist, but rather that those which do are safely guarded. Therefore, it is impossible to try and draw genetic similarities in personal philosophies. The truth, though, is that whether or not a direct line could be drawn is irrelevant. The entire city was theurgy, some of it likely benefitting from Simplicius’ arrival, but much of it no doubt quite established in its own right. According to any record we have of their philosophies, they met all the qualifications for what a system of theurgy should be: they acknowledged the divinity of Homer, Hesiod, and Plato, they performed sacred rites and meditations with the aim of achieving gnosis and higher union with God, they accepted the expansions upon the philosophical system laid down by the neoplatonists, and they believed themselves to be the bearers of a system of spirituality which had its roots distinctly in both Egypt and ancient Greece. Where the theurgists of Harran drew their lineage to Greece from is uncertain, but by the time of Al-Misri, those sages had taken over the spirituality of the area. We are left not with the concern as to whether or not Al-Misri was a theurgist, but with having to admit that he could not have been anything but one. For him to have studied in Harran without being exposed to the wisdom of theurgy would have required the same lengthy efforts it would take for me to study meditation in Varanasi, India, without being exposed to yoga. In our tradition, this sufficiently meets the standards required to be considered as having received the stamp of the linage. It is interesting to note, however, that some later generational disciples of Al-Misri quote Simplicius in their writings with greater consistency than other contemporary authors, and also practiced a form of magic which strongly resembles that of Iamblichus, and could well have been preserved through Simplicius’ line instead of through the native spirituality of Harran. When the scholars and translators of Harran transfered to Baghdad at the beginning of the tenth century, it was Simplicius whose writings remained peculiarly intact, suggesting that Harran had preserved them well.
Beyond Dhul Nun al-Misri, I am not permitted to continue much further in this line publicly. Perhaps one day, when certain people have passed from the world, or when events have changed circumstances, I will be in a position to decide for myself whether or not to share it. Until then, I can only indicate that it was through Al-Misri, in many ways, that the heart of theurgy was saved and preserved. By his efforts and his now-lost writings, he was able to reconcile what he learned just enough with the doctrines of Islam to ensure their survival – a task which would be taken up and continued by his near successors, such as Al-Kindi and Al-Farabi. Towards that end, I can give some further information.
Gondesapur, The House of Hermes, and the House of Wisdom
As was mentioned earlier, there is reason to believe that philosophers fleeing persecution in Rome settled in Gondesapur, likely with Simplicius and his companions, and were associated with the growing academy which was there. The Nestorian theological center of Byzantine had been exiled, and transformed in the late 5th century to the School of Nisibis in Gondesapur, later just known as the Academy of Gondesapur. Here, Christians, Zoroastrians, refugee Platonists, Buddhists, Hindus, and Chinese scholars and mystics gathered together and compiled their works. This became a focal point of mutual influence, as well as the savior of Platonism and theurgy.
In 638 the Sassanid Empire fell to the Muslim Arabs, and Gondesapur was famously sacked and thousands of books burned by zealots shouting “The Quran is enough.” Fortunately, the translators and scholars of Gondesapur seem to have had enough foresight to begin evacuation of the area, and as many thousands of books were destroyed, it seems that more were saved. After the destruction of the city and the academy, those who staffed the academy, the leading thinkers and scholars of their time, seem to have fled to Baghdad. Here the House of Wisdom or Bayt al-Hikmah was being founded by Caliph Harun al-Rashid, and it would go on to be staffed by late-period scholars from Gondesapur, as well as Greek and Syrian translators from Harran, where Platonism had been for some time.
One of these translators from Harran was Al-Kindi, often called the Father of Muslim Philosophy. Being among the first of his kind, he did not have available to him all of the translated Greek texts which the later philosophers had, and therefore his own contributions would eventually be overshadowed by those of Farabi and Ibn Sina, both of whom had a superior command of Plato and Aristotle. Kindi, however, has often been mistreated in this regards by history. He was one of the head translators at the Bayt al-Hikmah in Baghdad, and one could say that if it were not for Kindi, later philosophers could not have been. Likewise, one may say that he had superior vision in some places to his successors, on account of how powerfully influenced he was by the writings of Plotinus and Proclus, the translations of whom he was instrumental in. He translated many of the neoplatonic writings coming out of Harran from Syriac to Arabic, or from the original Greek, and thus was more connected to the transcendental mysticism instead of the peripatetics. He seems to have hidden this well, however, as he is not remembered as a theurgist. None the less a brother disciple from a related tradition showed to me an ancient manuscript, at least eight hundred years old, purportedly a copy of a treatise by Al Kindi on the subject of talismans. This was common among the ancient Sufis, in a time when Islam still had not quite figured out what it was, and was still working out what its relationship should be to the Sufis. It was not until the Ottoman Empire that there was some more freedom to their workings, and they could write with a little more ease.
The successors of Al-Kindi’s works were the those of Farabi and Ibn Sina. Al-Farabi (d. 951) developed the doctrines of Platonism further within the Islamic frame and acceptability. He argued passionately for the usefulness of philosophy in a society which placed so much emphasis on revelation and inspiration. He pointed out that both are great ways to connect with God, and have value. Ultimately, however, he took the dangerous side of believing that the truths attained by the practice of real philosophy are even greater than those which can be revealed through prophets, which put him at odds with other philosophers of his time, and even today has left him labeled as a heretic by some schools of thought. His opponent, Al-Amiri, argued against Farabi for the opposite, namely that inspiration was the highest form of knowledge, and that religious obedience was the greatest salvation, while still allowing for the usefulness of philosophic understanding in training the mind and emotions. Either way, by the time Farabi was done, Platonic philosophy was here to stay and Farabi had earned the epithet of “The Second Teacher,” in reference to the first expounder of Platonic doctrine having been Aristotle. He had sufficiently reconciled the value of philosophy to a good Muslim, and the later Sufi Ghazali transmuted this into enough of a balanced light that it was allowed to continue without being regularly identified as a threat to the sanctity of the Quran and the Prophet. But, once again, theurgy now had to go underground. It was sufficiently possible to indicate the value of intellectual and moral training, as well as a conceptual understanding of the universe, to anyone. What was much harder was to justify the practice of what some would call sorcery, but what the elect knew was the highest and most divine of philosophies in practice.
Farabi’s works were based primarily upon the teachings of Aristotle and Plotinus. The doctrine of elampsis or “emanation” espoused by neoplatonism synchronized rather perfectly with the ancient Persian theology, and so it easily found a comfortable place with many early Sufis and scholars. It was Farabi who took these teachings largely to Damascus, though his writings had already spread through the Muslim world. This will become important for reasons I will point out later, because Farabi helped create the atmosphere in Damascus which, a few centuries later, would spawn Christian Rosenkreutz.
The school of Farabi would come to be eclipsed by the further learning and insight of Ibn Sina, better known to the western world as Avicenna. Through his copious translations and commentaries, many early Greek philosophical works were preserved. At a young age, he became enchanted by the writings of Aristotle. When he was given Aristotle’s “Metaphysics,” it was said that he would read it until late at night, and then go to the mosque and pray until morning light for a clear understanding of its meanings. Intelligent as he was though just a young teenager, he could not wrap his mind around the teachings which laid within the book, which gave it the value attributed to it. Finally one morning on his way back from prayer, after having read the book so much that he had practically memorized it, he spotted a small commentary on the book by Al-Farabi. He took it home and read it, and according to his own account, Aristotle made sense for the first time. From that time onward his passions were inflamed, and his heart was set on philosophy.
Ibn Sina became perhaps the most famous of Muslim philosophers, so much so that historians now reckon the Islamic Golden Age by his lifetime. He was a polymath, and educated himself largely by books, since he had access to several royal libraries once he gained some fame as a healer. Tradition states, though, that he secretly learned certain tenets of theurgy from the great Abu-Hassan Kharaqani. Kharaqani, though not involved in the intellectual expansion of his time, was none the less a master of the mystical tradition handed down through the generations. His importance here, as least as far as our lineage is concerned, is that he was a disciple of the great Sufi Bayazid, who was in turn a disciple of Dhul Nun al-Misri. Al-Misri was a disciple of the great alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan, as was mentioned earlier. Thus Kharaqani had a powerful lineage, and one sufficiently infused with the spirituality of ancient Harran and Greece. It is thought that, under Kharaqani, Ibn Sina learned occultism and the Sufi interpretations of metaphysics passed down by Al-Misri. He does not seem to have taught this to others, though, and these teachings instead passed on through Al-Ghazali. We will skip over Ghazali for now, indicating only that he was instrumental in the survival of Sufism and neoplatonism in Islam by laboriously rendering them sufficiently harmless to orthodox Islam.
Our historical timeline on the Sufi front will end with Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi. By his time, Sufism and Platonic Philosophy, so often hand-in-hand, had spread to Muslim Andalusia and Seville. When he was sixteen he achieved Apatheia, which is spiritual detachment from the sense lusts and worldly desires, and retired into the desert on a Sufi retreat. There, he had visions of Muhammad, Moses, and Jesus, who are thought to have personally instructed him in righteousness and spirituality. Upon returning and reporting the nature of his visions, he was sent by his father to study for a time with Ibn Rushd, a great master of Platonism and, according to records, a secret theurgist. Ibn Rushd recognized Arabi as having achieved spiritual knowledge “without learning,” making him satisfy the ancient requirement of the Greeks to be considered “God-Taught.” For this reason there are a number of magical lineages and Sufi Orders which draw their line back to Ibn Arabi, and yet mention no previous teachers before him. His fame was widespread, and he became known as a great philosopher and healer. Though his teachers are essentially unknown, or rather they were eclipsed by his own unique inspiration and insight, he was clearly of the theurgic line. Several ancient manuscripts exist where he is quoted as having been a teacher of all aspects of occultism, and his philosophy is Platonic. Where magic and Plato are together, theurgy is usually the cause. It can be no coincidence then that his most famous epithet or title was “the Son of Plato,” and he is mentioned as having had the highest adoration for Plato. He was such a great Sufi saint that Muslim biographers have often dramatically downplayed the role of Platonic and theurgic philosophy in the life of Ibn Arabi, but the evidence is more than sufficient. At the end of his life he spent his final seventeen years teaching in Damascus, where he is buried today in a shrine.
Christian Rosenkreutz and the Birth of Christian Hermeticism
It was the home of Ibn Arabi’s famous shrine, and the spiritual birthplace of the mythic Christian Rosenkreutz, the alleged founder of the original Rosicrucian Order. Damascus had been sufficiently powerful enough to stop a Christian pilgrim on his way to the holiest of sites, Jerusalem, and fill his cup to contentment.
Very little is known about Christian Rosenkreutz. We are told that he lived and died in the fifteenth century, that he was the son of a merchant, and that after having an experience in spiritual detachment he traveled on a pilgrimage to see Jerusalem. Instead, he was waylaid in Damascus, where he had the major spiritual experiences of his life. The Fama Fraternatis, the only source for the life of Rosenkreutz (whose name was almost certainly not that), is quite limited about the nature of his experiences, or who they were with. Religious motivations of a Christian nature seem to have somewhat separated the writers, who were active over a century after the death of Rosenkreutz by their own account. Whereas he seemed to have been a free and natural spirit, willing to mingle with religious mystics from many cultures, his successors seem to have been a more conservative brand of Christian.
This differentiation, visible in the Fama, is perhaps the most convincing argument for the existence of Christian Rosenkreutz. If the writers of the Fama merely wanted a mythological figure to exemplify their religious and social beliefs, then Rosenkreutz would have naturally been just that, as would have the few disciples he is accredited with pulling around him. Instead, there appears to be a disconnection of sorts. Where there is a powerful tinge of Lutheran anti-Catholic sentiment in the Fama and Confessio, the life of CRC would suggest nothing of the sorts. And though their supposed “head chief” learned in Damascus at the feet of Arab scholars, there is nothing glorifying about them to be found in the writings. Consider, for example, how revealing the opening comments of the authors of the Fama are. In speaking of the scholars of their current age, “who would scoff” at this new brotherhood, they have the following to say.
But such is their opposition, that they still keep, and are loth to leave the old course, esteeming Porphiry, Aristotle, and Galen, yea and that which hath but a meer shew of learning, more then the clear and manifested Light and Truth; who if they were now living, with much joy would leave their erroneous Doctrines.
Now this would be quite at odds with the place of the learning of Christian Rosenkreutz. For either we must admit that he was schooled in the Platonic doctrine and the mysticism of theurgy in Damascus, or we must admit that such a man never existed, since no other form of schooling in Damascus would have been possible. Or, in the least, we must admit he never learned a thing in Damascus. This, of course, seems unlikely, since the resulting Orders which bear his name today have traces of undeniably theurgic rites, and if he could have learned them anywhere, it would have been Damascus, Andalusia, and Fez. In either instance his teachers would have made Plato their model, Aristotle their teacher, and Plotinus their guide. They certainly would never have sanctioned the above animosity. But who, in this time, would have? We need only to turn to Martin Luther, and his view of “the blind, heathen master Aristotle,” so kindly given to us in his own hand:
In this regard my advice would be that Aristotle’s Physics, Metaphysics, On the Soul, and Ethics, which have hitherto been thought his best books, should be altogether discarded, together with all the rest of his books which boast of treating the things of nature, although nothing can be learned from them either of the things of nature or the things of Spirit. Moreover, no one has so far understood his meaning, and many souls have been burdened with profitless labor and study, at the cost of much precious time. I venture to say that any potter has more knowledge than is written in these books. It grives me to the heart that this damned, conceited, rascally heathen has with his false words deluded and made fools of so many of the best Christians. God has sent him as a plague upon us for our sins.
Luther does not let up here, but continues on with his warm feelings for the man – still I think the above suffices to snapshot his basic sentiments of all things philosophical.
This, to me, indicates certain things. Firstly, it is reasonable to believe that Rosenkreutz really existed, on account of the difference in views which are subtly woven into the Fama’s account of his life, and those of the writers. At one point, the Fama even seems to try and provide an excuse for CRC and the adepts he drew around him:
We also steadfastly believe, that if our Brethren and Fathers had lived in this our present and clear light, they would more roughly have handled the Pope, Mahomet, Scribes, Artists, and Sophisters, and had shewed themselves more helpful, not simply with sighs, and wishing of their end and consummation.
And what is “this our present and clear light”? It was almost certainly the “light” of Lutheran Christianity, and the changes which the religious protests had created in the world. To that end it indicates that in the previous hundred years, namely since the time of Luther’s protests, “the world is much amended.” This brings us to our next interesting point.
The writers of the Fama were, almost without doubt, Lutheran. Not only do the feelings expressed in the Fama and Confessio line up with Lutheran thought (and also no doubt disagree with CRC), but there is clear internal reference to a very positive belief in the changes which Protestant Christianity brought with it. But perhaps most revealing is the famous symbol of the Rosicrucian Brotherhood itself: The Rose Cross. It seems to me that very few people have realized that the Cross with a rose blooming from its center was the Family Crest of Martin Luther himself. This is likely why it was chosen to be the symbol for a “new age” in occultism and natural philosophy, “liberated” from the ancient tyrants of Greece, the same way that Luther had “liberated” people the Catholic church and its doctors.
Truths, however, are rarely so apparent in such complicated matters. I do believe that the Rosicrucians of the seventeenth century were Lutheran, and obviously idolized those ideals – I think this is sufficiently proven. What I do have a hard time believing is that these same men were perfectly fine hopping around a magic circle in colorful garments, shouting out barbarous names, wearing the regalia of the Arabic elite, drawing all sundry of magical insignia into the air, burning foreign perfumes, chanting like the heathens, etc, etc. The fabled “Book M,” which the Fama claims Theophrastus (Paracelsus) to have read, which Trithemius is said to have studied, and which undoubtedly formed the basis of Rosenkreutz’s spiritual instructions, contained all of these things. Thus, if the writers of the Fama really were decent from Rosenkreutz, which I believe was the case in spite of their cultural disagreements, they would have been doing all of this also. This creates a bit of difficulty, though, in the image of the seventeenth century Rosicrucians.
There are really only three ways in which this discrepancy can be resolved:
- Christian Rosenkreutz, after learning theurgy as it was preserved by the Arabs, and after studying Jewish mysticism perhaps in Morocco, took it upon himself to do away with the names of Allah and the Coptic epithets of the Egyptian Gods. In so doing, he replaced them with Jewish names for God which held roughly the same meaning. This yielded a system which would be comparatively “safe” to bring back to Christian Europe.
- After learning the Arabic wisdom in Damascus, Rosenkreutz stayed with the Jewish mystics of Morocco, who taught him the magic which they themselves had learned from the Arabs, but which they had by now suitably converted to their own theology.
- Or neither of the above occurred, and the early Rosicrucians were being sneaky. In this instance they themselves would have worked on converting the practice into a suitably Christian coating, with the aim in mind of preserving the teachings of the ancients which they openly slandered.
In the first instance, Rosenkreutz becomes the genius who sparks the medieval magical scene by presenting a suitably “safe” magical paradigm, since such an occultist could suggest that these “Jewish” philosophies were also the inner teachings of Christianity. This way one’s Christianity could stay intact, and with that, one’s head could remain on one’s shoulders.
In the second instance, which at least initially seems the most likely, the Rosicrucians would have benefitted from the highly eclectic blend of occultism, philosophy, and religion which was occurring internally among the Jewish mystics of Morocco and Spain. These would have made the theurgic teachings of the Arabs safe-ish for the Christian mystic, finding the comfortable middle ground in Judaism. Incidentally, this is the time range wherein most of the great Jewish occultists appear. Prior to this, occultism does not seem to have been of particular value to the religion.
On the other hand, it is only during this time and afterwards that Europe becomes suddenly saturated with all kinds of “Jewish” magical wisdom, the likes of which is markedly absent in the histories of the Jews themselves. It seems unlikely that the Jews simply suddenly decided that they loved Europeans, and wanted to share all of their hidden doctrines with foreigners. This is especially unlikely on account that they do not seem to have any records of such doctrines in the first place. The magic of the medieval Jewish rabbi was in the power of spoken vowel permutations and the repetition of consonants in special orders, the Ba’al Shem. This, the one kind of magic which really was being practiced at that time, is very much absent from any of the European writings on “Jewish” magic. This seems to discount the possibility of the second proposal some, and points either to our first or third, both of which involve Europeans conscientiously hiding occult doctrines within an imaginary Jewish framework. It is of course possible also, that there were two streams of Judaic mystical philosophy, the one more magically inclined and inspired by Arabic theurgy, and the other more native to the Qaballah, and that it was the former and not the latter which became classically mistitled the Qaballah in Italy by Pico della Mirandola.
The third proposal, that of the Rosicrucians purposely pretending to be Lutheran protestants in order to save natural philosophy from its impending doom by the same, is a kind of double-agent plot which would brand them as heros of the science. Though they may not say it to themselves in as many words, I think this is the unconscious belief of many modern-day Rosicrucians, especially those who have not invested the time into researching the history of the order. Because of the apparent great discrepancy between what the Jews were actually practicing at that time and what European occultists were attributing to them, our second option seems ruled out (though of course still possible). In light of this, we are left with either CRC himself laying the groundwork necessary for the salvation of these mysteries in a Christian context, or with his self-proclaimed successors doing so. Either one would create the foundation for what would become the new Christian hermeticism.
The history of the order from this point forward is a matter of much dispute, with every occultist of the nineteenth and early twentieth century claiming some manner of special connection to them. Though interestingly enough, the early nineteenth century and the entirety of the eighteenth century are quite without word of it. Then suddenly, after the emergence of the Golden Dawn, it is as though the entire world of occultism “remembered” about the Rosicrucians, which had hitherto existed primarily as an aspect of the S.R.I.A. and the Scottish Rite. Unwilling to be upstaged by this new hermetic Order, “Rosicrucians” started popping out of the woodwork. I read a speculation once that there were over two thousand self-proclaimed Rosicrucian orders, and though this could well be an exaggeration, the fact that it does sound mildly plausible is very indicative of the current state of Rosicrucianism. The system as a whole lacks a leader, lacks a lineage, and lacks important points of agreement between its many sects.
The matter of Rosicrucianism, its claims to validity, and its value, could fill a book. I will not touch upon these matters further, but will drop you off at the early twentieth century where it was apparently everywhere to be found. Instead, let us turn ourselves back to its origin, and consider what, to me, is an even more important question. Who was Christian Rosenkreutz?
Going back to the fifteenth century, we know virtually for certain that Christian Rosenkreutz was not his real name, on account that the Fama itself says that the early members of the brotherhood agreed to sign their names as such. We know, based on the legend at least, that he was from Germany. We know he spoke several languages, and added Arabic to his repertoire. We know when he was young he likely lost some parent figure, probably the father, which was the normal reason for being placed in a religious cloister. And finally, we know that he left the cloister around the age of sixteen, and traveled to Damascus.
There is a somewhat similar story in the figure of the great Johannes Trithemius. Like CRC, he was high-borne in Germany, but his family had difficulty in the form of the death of his father while he was still very young, and his education would have been placed under the guidance of a monk. This we are told he carried on secretly, until conspiring to leave and seek out teachers of wisdom at around the age of sixteen. Here, history tells us he went to several European cities seeking out teachers, but I doubt that he could have acquired the wisdom he later boasted from people who themselves showed no signs of possessing it. After all, the teachings of Trithemius as reflected in his disciple Agrippa are preeminently occult in the sense of magical squares, sigilae, sacred geometry, numerology, and ritual, the use of which Agrippa gives an excellent defense of. Nothing of this sort, so far as we can tell, was being practiced in northern Europe until after the time of Trithemius.
This strongly suggests an alternative history for Trithemius, one which he may have had personal reasons for not sharing. By the time he was established in Sponheim as the Abbot he was already fighting critics who thought he should be expelled for his reputation as a magician. As famously prudent a man as Trithemius may have found it practical to give an alternative account of his youthful wanderings, and the sources of his wisdom. In the Fama, a sixteen-year old Christian Rosenkreutz arrives in Damascus. Is it possible that it was a sixteen-year old Trithemius instead? It would require that we ignore the dates given for Rosenkreutz’s life within the Fama, but this is easily enough done on account that Damascus could not have been the flourishing intellectual city which it was during the time he would have been there.
If we accept the date of birth of CRC given in the Fama, then he would have been entering Damascus in 1394. This would put him there squarely between a plague which ravished over half the population, and the sacking of the city by the Mongol conqueror Timur. The capital of the sultanate would have been in Cairo at this time, and Damascus would not have figured prominently. Only three years after he is placed as leaving Damascus, Timur invades and creates the infamous tower of skulls with the bodies of the town’s inhabitants. It is only after the sultanate rebuilds Damascus in the coming decades that it blooms into the famous city it would become.
On the other hand, if by chance Trithemius adventured to Damascus, he would have arrived there circa 1477. He would have encountered a Damascus thriving off of trade, fueling foreign wars, and unusually culturally diverse. The Mamluk sultanate had returned to Damascus by this time, the city had been rebuilt with considerable prestige, and a degree of safety had been meeted out to the non-Islamic community. A historian writing just fifteen years later describes Damascus as flowing with Zoroastrians, Jews, Sufis, and even Buddhists – precisely the spiritual eclecticism we would see in later Rosicrucian teachings. It had also become a powerful center for Sufism, and various Sufi orders were attracting thousands of disciples in Damascus and Istanbul. This would have put Trithemius in Damascus during the time of the disciples of Al-Shirvani and Chelebi Khalifa, and the mysterious Ala al-Din Ali. This would also place him in Morocco around 1480, when the Sufi saint Sidi Ali Salih al-Andalusi and his disciples were famous, and when the Idrisi Jewish sect (who excelled in occultism) were powerful and teaching their philosophies. A much more advantageous time for the absorption of the kind of knowledge that CRC was accredited with. We are told that after two years, CRC leaves Morocco and heads to Spain, and from Spain back to his homeland. The year, if we assume that CRC was Trithemius, would have been 1482.
In 1482, a wandering Trithemius is chased into the monastery at Sponheim by a blizzard, suddenly reappearing. He decides to stay there, and does not leave the monastery, realistically probably because he owned nothing at this point, and had nowhere to go. A year later, he is elected the abbot, and becomes one of the most famous occultists of his time, or rather, he becomes the teacher of the most famous occultists. So well was he known that it was said of his contemporaries that if one passed near Sponheim, it was nearly mandatory to pay a visit to him. Even the famous Paracelsus studied with him, and incidentally, it is this same Paracelsus who is sited in the Fama as having read Rosenkreutz’s “Book M.” Where might he have read it? Most likely, at the hands of his teacher Trithemius, who definitively possessed it.
At this point, something must now be taken on faith or disregarded. Though I believe sufficient proof has here been provided for some people to link Trithemius to CRC, others may feel that it is lacking a certain linchpin. The truth is that the entire above explanation was not arrived at by my own studies on the matter, picking for clues as to who CRC was. Rather, it was reverse-engineered from what the members of my brotherhood already know: that Johannes Trithemius possessed the Book “M.” And why do we know that? Because we possess that same book, hand-copied from a manuscript before the time of Trithemius, which has been preserved both in our tradition and in brother-lineages tracing themselves back to some of the same central figures. And when members of our school reach a sufficiently high degree, they too will be able to see it, but there is no longer any point in copying it. To read the Book M, all you have to do is read the three books of Agrippa. A majority of the magical formulae were taught by Trithemius to his famous disciple, who faithfully reproduced them, especially in the second and third books of occult philosophy. What was not communicated by Agrippa was the background upon which such practices must exist in order to have any power. The seals, the squares, the magic sigilae – these are all given, but not the ways in which they are given their power. Those, as always, can only be learned from a teacher, and are never written down. Though I can not talk about them here, within the book are certain undoubtable proofs that Trithemius had it, outside the blatant reproduction of its teachings by Agrippa.
This is another issue which the reader will have to decide for himself the authenticity of. If asked, I would not produce a copy of it for people to read. If questioned about its details, I would not answer. It would be acceptable to believe that this was simply a grab for fame or recognition, since it could be considered (in my opinion, mistakingly) the Holy Grail of Rosicrucian hermeticism. The truth though is that it is just a book, one whose contents have been reproduced in multiple places publicly (though perhaps unknowingly), and that its possession in our instance is more symbolic of the lineage than it is actually useful. Its main value to me was its assistance in narrowing down the identity of Christian Rosenkreutz, so that our school could make this valuable contribution to modern hermeticism.
Though I think everything has been sufficiently proven for those who do not have a vendetta against making CRC a living person, I will leave this subject with a final interesting detail to close it up.
Christian Rosenkreutz declared that after his death, his Order should be kept secret for the span of one hundred years, at which time it would be permitted to teach the world. Johannes Trithemius died in 1516. The Rosicrucian Manifestos were published in 1616, one hundred years later.
The point of this diversion into the life of Christian Rosenkreutz was to demonstrate that, in his time, theurgy was very much alive and well. We have some reason to believe that the modern rituals which claim his name at least resemble the things he taught, and the Orders which claim his lineage openly profess to teach theurgy. Though their lineages seem to have been essentially broken in a purely material fashion, enough of the original idea has been preserved to at least indicate that theurgy was being practiced as theurgy in Damascus and Fez, and by CRC, as late as the fifteenth century. Modern hermeticism owes its tenets to what was left by Trithemius and transmitted by his disciples, as well as the many important translations being performed in Italy at the same time. We must also recognize the incredible work and apologia of Pico della Mirandola in Italy during the time of Trithemius, who single-handedly sparked the revival of Neoplatonism and Pythagorean doctrines, and gave a home to the Corpus Hermetica, a direct link back to the ancient theurgic city of Harran. Theurgy, in one form or another, had made it. In spite of nearly insurmountable religious obstacles, it survived until a time when it could settle in with comparative safety. When the magical instructions of Trithemius were united with the rebirth of Plotinian and Proclean theology in Italy, theurgy was once again on ground familiar to it. This basic tenet is one of the things I wanted to present in this article – that theurgy did not end with the Platonic Academy in 529 AD. With this understanding, our readers may find it less impossible when we say that our school is a living theurgic tradition.
The Present Day
There have been four major periods of development in theurgy from our perspective. The first of these was under the life of Pythagoras, who gave a praxis to the theology of the Eleusinians, and enriched it with the diversity of the orient. The second was during the time of Iamblichus, and his official recognition of divine ritual combined with meditation as being the keys which unlock the power of the human soul. The third was the time of Dhul Nun and his near successors, who transformed theurgy from Greek into Arabic, and successfully encoded it within the philosophies of Islam.
The fourth period was that of Trithemius and Pico della Mirandola. Together, they jointly set off the occult renaissance and returned the study of theurgic doctrine back into regular study, and took it from Arabic into Latin. Mirandola’s famous defense of his nine hundred tracts on astrology, magic, and ancient Greek philosophy successfully warded against the attacks of those who would have immediately suppressed it, and in the end he would be a martyr for the cause. The work of Marsilio Ficino, Cosimo Medici, George Gemistos, and Mirandola, had occult lodges being formed in Italy, perhaps for the first time since Christianity had taken Europe. Using their many translations, and directing their practice and practical interests along the lines provided by Agrippa and Paracelsus, theurgy was likely being practiced in one of its most authentic and original forms. The Chaldean Oracles were being studied again thanks to George Gemistos, the works of many lesser known philosophers were translated from Arabic into Latin, and a significant amount of “Jewish” magic was brought over in the process, probably out of Spain. In the efforts to maintain this knowledge, commentators set out to establish the “Christian” and “Jewish” perogative of the ritual texts, essentially leading to the situation of occult knowledge in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Yet something had evidently gone wrong. From this time onwards, we hear of no supposed adepts or miracle workers produced from this strain of philosophy. The great scholars I have mentioned above are infinitely worthy of praise for their hard work, yet they also all clearly lacked the greatness of soul which their predecessors had. From this point forward there was no Romanized or European equivalent of Ibn Arabi, no successor to the powers of Dhul Nun or Suhrawardi, no European parallel of Ala din-Ali throwing people into ecstatic trances with a mere word or glance. There was no “great divine” in Italy or anywhere else in the West attracting thousands of listeners just by the divinity of his own soul, like Plotinus had, or like Ammonius, or Porphyry. No more Iamblichus, working miracles in the street. No Apollonius, healing thousands with a touch. All of it, absent. Greatness of soul had become a thing to be studied from history, not something to be seen any longer. Only St. Germain and Cagliostro would appear briefly on the scene to touch the souls looking for guidance, and they both and one thing markedly in common: oriental training. They both claimed to have studied with the Arabs, with the Coptics, and even with the Brahmins and Yogis. St. Germain even spoke Chinese, from whence he claimed to have learned herbalism for longevity, and proper diet. They had to reach outside the present situation, and go back to the oldest friends of theurgy to absorb its tenets properly and produce the desired results. Yet they left no heirs, no successors to their reconstruction of the system, and so their miraculousness came and went with them.
The situation did not improve with time. We have more authors, more grandmasters, more lodges then ever in the field of magic, but things remain the same. One of the key components of reliable progress is a genuine teacher, and this has been lacking in the field of theurgy and hermeticism. It was with an aim to remedying this problem that Veos and I set out to learn what we did from the masters of different traditions, which in turn lead to our discovery of the living lineage of theurgy. With the help of our brothers and sisters, and with the guidance of great adepts, we have constructed The Divine Science to provide the best possible guidance available to those seeking the true magic of light. So far, our success has been resounding. For every student we teach, two more are recruited merely by the evidence of progress. The stories and testimonies to the power of true theurgy have the potential to shake off the mire of centuries of scholastics and book reading, and replace it with personal experience of magical truths. By restructuring how theurgy is taught and learned, and immersing the knowledge of the path into the background of time-proven practices associated with this tradition, a clear formula for success has emerged. We are doing our small part to remind the West that teachers are necessary, and that a tried-and-true system is the sure course for reliable and consistent progress. We hope that in doing so, other lineages that are out there will do the same. We also hope that existent Orders and school will raise their own bars, and stop proclaiming people adepts merely because they possess book knowledge or because they have been a member for a certain length of time. If we all move in this direction, then our current age will be remembered as the fifth period of development in theurgy, where it was re-immersed in the wisdom of the ancients, returned to a system of Paradosis (lineage transmission) instead of book knowledge, and finally made back into a coherent system. I am certain we are not the only school making plans towards this reformation, but we aim to contribute everything we can towards its cause.