Philosophy and Theurgy in Late Antiquity

Algis Uzdavinys

San Rafael, CA: Sophia Perennis, 2010.
324 pages
ISBN: 978-1-59731-086-4
Price: $19.95 US
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The ancient philosophy, in its original Orphico-Pythagorean and Platonic form, is not simply a way of life in accordance with the divine or human intellect (nous), but also the way of alchemical transformation and mystical illumination achieved through initiatic ‘death’ and subsequent restoration at the level of divine light. To use another mythical image, philosophy restores the soul’s wings and leads the purified lover of wisdom to Heaven. As a means of spiritual reintegration and unification, ancient philosophy is inseparable from the hieratic rites. Therefore those scholars who themselves follow the anagogic path of Platonic tradition are more or less firmly convinced that their philosophy ultimately derives from the Egyptian and Mesopotamian temple liturgies and rituals, reinterpreted and revived by the Neoplatonists under the name of ‘theurgy’ in late antiquity. The theurgic ‘animation’ of statues appears to be among the main keys for understanding how various royal and priestly practices, related to the daily ritual service and encounter with the divine presence in the temples, developed into the Neoplatonic mysticism of late antiquity. The traditional theory of symbolism still stands on the Neoplatonic foundation established by Iamblichus, Proclus, and Damascius.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents:


Eidothea and Proteus: the veiled images of philosophy—The distinction between philosophical life and philosophical discourse—Standing face to face with immortality—Philosophy and the hieratic rites of ascent—The task of 'Egyptian philosophy': to connect the end to the beginning—The Kronian life of spectator: 'to follow one's heart in the tomb'—Thauma idesthai: 'a wonder to behold"—The invincible warriors as models of philosophical lifestyle—The inward journey to the place of truth—To be like Osiris—The death which detaches from the inferior—Entering the solar barque of Atum-Ra—Philosophical initiations in the Netherworld—Self-knowledge and return to one's innermost self—Recovered unity of Dionysus in ourselves—Philosophical mummification inside the cosmic tomb—Platonic dialectic: the science of purification and restoration of unity—Philosophy as a rite of becoming like God—The ancient logos and its sacramental function—Riddles of the cosmic Myth—Philosophy, magic, and laughter

Definitions of theurgy in antiquity—Descending lights and animated cult images—Figures, names, and tokens of the divine speech—The prophet Bitys and the overwhelming Name of God—The descending and ascending paths of Heka—The Silence before the gods and its creative magic—Hekate's golden ball as a rotating 'vocal image' of the Father—The Sounding breaths of the All-Working Fire—The Elevating rays of the resounding light—The rites of hieratic invocation and ascent—The Tantric alchemy and the Osirian mummification—Golden seeds of the noetic Fire—Theurgic speech of the birds and solar knowledge—Tongues of the gods and their songs—Back to the life-giving wombs and the ineffable Silence—Chanting out the universe by the Name of everything—When Orontes flowed into Tiber: the revived tradition

Myth and symbol: what makes the impossible happen?—Metaphysics of creation and its images in pharaonic Egypt—Theogonic appearances and animated stones—Theology of images and its esoteric dimension—Privileged habitations for the immortal gods—Beholding the ineffable beauties—Divine bodies and representations in Indian Tantrism—Sense perception and intellection in Neoplatonism—Divine light and luminous vehicle of the soul—Divine presence in images—Living images of the Egyptian gods—To be made into a spirit of light—Rites of alchemical transformation—The opening of the statue's mouth—Mystical union with the noetic Sun—Revelation of the divine face—Divine statues and their sacred gifts—Salvation as return to the divine

Symbols as ontological traces of the divine—The anagogic power of secret names and tokens—Animated theurgic hieroglyphs of the hidden Amun—Neoplatonic rites of metaphysical reversion—The ineffable statues of transcendent light

Ritual and cosmic order—The aim of philosophy—Different aspects of divine acts—Theurgy and spiritual hermeneutics—Hieratic rites of ascent—The common metaphysical background—Philosophers as sacred statues—To be reborn into the solar world—The cosmic theatre of sacrificial fires—Golden cords of Apollo—The shining forth like a god

The Hermeneutical program of reading Neoplatonism—Non-discursive divine presence and relational transcendence—Masks and tongues of the ineffable—The distinction between looking up at the Sun and looking down at reflections—Modes of intellection and union—To live means to read—Golden cords of Apollo—The shining forth like a god—Bibliography of Works on Philosophy & Theurgy—Glossary of Terms—Biographical Note


This book clearly establishes three things: that traditional myth (as the Neoplatonists maintained) is the symbolic expression of metaphysics, as metaphysics is the exegesis of myth; that Greek philosophy was not an isolated 'miracle' but a reinterpretation of perennial themes common to the ancient Near Eastern, Mesopotamian, Indian, and especially Egyptian religions; and that Platonic philosophical discourse was but one-half of a whole which included an invocatory/contemplative practice known as 'theurgy'. It was not merely the ancestor of western speculative philosophy, but an askesis, a yoga—a way of realization (though no longer a living tradition) worthy to be included among the great spiritual methods of all places and times.
Charles Upton, author of Knowings

In this most stimulating and wide-ranging work, Algis Uzdavinys, drawing on the resources of his enormous learning, leads Neoplatonic theurgy back to its roots in Ancient Egypt, thereby setting Platonic philosophy in a new and wider context. Students of Neoplatonism will find themselves much indebted to him for this, and all readers will find their outlook on life significantly changed.
John M. Dillon,Trinity College, Dublin, author of Middle Platonists

About the Author

Algis Uzdavinys was Head of the Department of Humanities at Vilnius Academy of Fine Arts, Kaunas Faculty, in his native Lithuania. His research included work on Hellenic philosophy, especially Platonism and Neoplatonism, as well as traditional mythology and metaphysics, Sufism, and traditional art. In 2005 he was awarded the Andrew Mellon fellowship to the American Center of Oriental Research in Amman, Jordan.