Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Role of Spirits in Divination

Earlier today, I was reading Iamblichus, and I came across Section III, Chapter Eighteen. He's continuing to argue with Porphyry about Magic. Porphyry and Iamblichus had both been students of Plotinus, but Porphyry applied his education in contemplation and philosophy, while Iamblichus moved to Egypt and pursued the Theurgic arts. Porphyry sent one of Iamblichus' students a letter challenging the presumptions of the Theurgists, and Iamblichus' response, "On the Mysteries," has become a fabulous tool for gaining insight into the Hermetic magical practices of their day. For Neoplatonic magicians, this stuff is pure gold.

Iamblichus has been explaining and correcting the assumptions of Porphyry throughout the work, taking Porphyry's letter apart piece by piece, much like you see on heated discussions on message boards today. It's an ancient tradition, these flame wars. Iamblichus was a bit more polite than most of us modern folks, but you can still feel the heat.

In Section III, he's addressing questions Porphyry raised about divination. I've been into divination lately, out of a frustrating lack of insight into what I'm supposed to be doing with my life to bring more instant solutions to my outstanding problems. What I've found is that I don't have nearly the grip on interpreting prophecy that I thought I did. I'm tackling Geomancy hard core though, so part of it might be an unfamiliarity with a new system. I did a tarot reading the other day that was truly magical.

But in Chapter XVIII, he turns to the role of Spirits, whether Divine, Angelic, or Daimonic in the role of divination:

ANOTHER contest, however, awaits us, not less than that in which we have been before engaged, and which you immediately announce, concerning the causes of divination,  "whether a God, an angel, or a daemon, or some other power, is present in manifestations, or divinations, or certain other sacred energies." But our reply to your question is simply this, that it is not possible for any thing to be performed in a manner adapted to sacred concerns in divine works, without the presence of some one of the more excellent natures, as inspecting and giving completion to the sacred energy. And where the felicitous operations are perfect, sufficient to themselves, and unindigent, of these the Gods are the leaders. but where they are media, and in a small degree fall short (164) of the extremes, they have angels as the powers that perfect and unfold them into light. And it is the province of daemons to effect those operations which rank as the last. But the right performance of actions which are effected in a divine manner, is entirely to be ascribed to some one of the more excellent natures. For since it is not possible to speak rightly about the Gods without the Gods, much less can any one perform works which are of an equal dignity with divinity, and obtain the foreknowledge of every thing without [the inspiring influence of] the Gods. 
So depending on the type of divination you're doing, you'll be working with either a God, an Angel or a Daimon if you're going to be effective. The "energy" that makes the divination work comes from the presence of the spirit.

Most of our divination practices fall into the "media" type, using various forms of sortilege, using some form of divinatory device to see into the future. These, he explains, "have angels as the powers that perfect and unfold them into light."

Iamblichus separated the types of spirits that we deal with into classes of Gods, Angels, and Daimons. Heroes, too, but those were humans of divine descent, which magicians are aware of being. Gods are the intelligences of the Planets and the spheres above the 7 planetary spheres. In the Greek pantheon, the planets were considered to be the celestial representations of the Gods. Mars was Mars, Venus was Venus. When they worked with "Gods" in their rituals, they were working with the divine aspects of the planetary spheres, or those of the Fixed stars, or higher.

When Iamblichus talks about Angels, he's talking about the spirits that are a phase more dense than the Divine spirits. In my cosmology, his "Angels" are my "Spirits" of the planets. They are closer to matter and can speak through the influence of whatever physical objects we use in divination.

The Daimons he refers to are the terrestrial spirits closest to matter. These may include the Genii Loci, the natural spirits of the land around any given location. River spirits, tree spirits, and even local Heroes can be considered Genii Loci. The Daimons he refers to may also also include the Spirits of the Goetia, or even some aspects of the Enochian Angels.

So when performing a divination ritual, it's important to include the appropriate spirit for the job.

Reading this in Iamblichus, I remembered this isn't the only place I've read about conjuring the appropriate spirit before performing a divination lately. Jason Miller covers this detail in Sorcerer's Secrets. If I remember right, the little book of card descriptions that came with the Crowley Toth Deck included an invocation of a specific spirit before performing the reading too.


  1. Hey babe!
    From working deeply and practically with both the Christian and Pagan systems and spirits (Gods/Godesses/Archangels/Angels/Daemons/intelligences/demons/nature and elementary spirits) I do not agree with your interpretation of Iamblichus, especially with reference to the Gods whom are so far removed from the intellegences in power and force there is really little comparison. It's a different place Josh, and you have to be in a different place to get there, but whatever.....However, I definately agree with your comment of the appropriate spirit in the roll of divination as 'fortune telling' is not really the realm of the practicing magician.

    It has been so long since I have asked the winds "what does my future hold?" and that sort of crap, these days it is more "show me the forces around me", "what do I have to work with here?", "what am I missing about this situation" etc. ect...directed to a magical spirit friend/familiar with expertise in the area in question.

    We are afterall magicians buddy! Where's your head at? :)

    Hope all is (or will be) well in your world

    Love Kathy

  2. If we take a psychological approach, then spirits could be seen as sets of emotional states. So adopting the appropriate emotional state before divining seems obvious.

    But with a spirit model, asking a spirit that knows nothing about a topic is akin to asking a doctor to fix your car. Maybe they know a bit, but it's not what they're good at.

    The invocation of HRU in the Opening of the Key is a bit of a cover for invoking the HGA, but filtered through Crowley. Horus (Heru), rising like a star, hawk-eyed and clear-seeing, sounds like a viable option...

  3. Kathy,

    You have a different understanding, I think, of the Intelligences than I do. Yours is probably more traditionally accurate. When I look at the scale of the number ten, iot shows the names of God and the Naems of the Intelligences. There is a distinction, and you're probably right about lumping the two together being inappropriate. However, I do so as a matter of practicality. I don't work with the divine natures of the planets as much as I do with the Intelligences, and the Gods as described in other places in Iamblichus are more like the spirits I do deal with, the Intelligences. I'm basing my interpretation on my experiences to date, but they are subject to change as events warrant.

  4. I like what Kathy has to say about looking at the present world around oneself.

    Psychics were never traditionally supposed to tell the future, they were supposed to help the partner, or whoever see outside of their present situation enough to help their present life situation.

    I mean how far into the future could we possibly look without being blind-sighted.

    I never try to see the future, because I'm always wrong, and that's a good thing, always.

  5. ...and of course I didn't mean to use the term "psychic", I meant "diviner"...little typo there :-)


Thanks for your comments, your opinions are valued, even if I disagree with them. Please feel free to criticize my ideas and arguments, question my observations, and push back if you disagree.