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International Society for Neoplatonic Studies Conference 2015. Buenos Aires, Argentina (15-19 June 2015).

Panel: Theurgy and Ritual Dynamics in Neoplatonism

ORACLES OF FIRE: THE CHALDEAN ORACLES, DIVINATION AND THEURGY


Dr Crystal Addey, University of St Andrews
cja8@st-andrews.ac.uk

THE ORACULAR AND RITUAL CONTEXT OF THE CHALDEAN ORACLES: THEIR PROVENANCE AND COMPOSITION

1. Chaldean Oracles Fr. 217 (= Proclus, In remp. II.126.14-26)

And it is clear that the oracle teaches these things:


A sweet desire takes hold of all (souls) to dwell forever on Olympus as companions to the immortal
gods. But not all are permitted to set foot in these halls.
When the person who had received the oracle(s), which had been delivered to him most fully, asked who it
was, then, who achieved the ascent to the gods, and if it was the individual who especially preferred the life of
the haruspex, the god added further:
It is not whoever has thoughtfully placed his intention on the entrails (of sacrificial victims) who will
immediately go to Olympus after the dissolution of the body, rising aloft on the light wings of the
soul, but whoever [is wise...]1

2. Evidence for and traces of a question and answer format within the Chaldean Oracles, including the god
addressing the enquirer directly, apostrophising him or her in the second person singular or, if the oracle is
concerned with mortals in general, in the second person plural; evidence of direct addresses, imperatives and
commands, as well as injunctions and advice:

Chaldean Oracles Fr. 217, ed. and trs. R. Majerjik (1989 [2013]), The Chaldean Oracles: Text, Translation and Commentary,
Leiden: Brill [Westbury, Prometheus Trust], with my own slight emendations. All citations and translations are drawn from this
edition, unless otherwise stated.

The god addresses the questioner directly: Chald. Or. F1; F2; F7; F9a; F15; F47; F72; F101;F102; F103;
F104;F105; F106; F107; F110; F111; F112; F113; F115; F116; F128; F129; F132; F134; F135; F143; F147;
F148; F149; F150; F157; F158; F163; F164; F165; F166.
Further oracles which offer advice, injunctions or prohibitions: Chald. Or. F17; F113; F116; F117; F118;
F119; F121; F124; F130; F131; F133; F136; F140; F141; F142; F145; F146; F153; F159; possibly: F48; F97.
Cf. also Hans Lewy (1956; repr. 1978), Chaldean Oracles and Theurgy, Paris, 34-37.
This list has omitted the dubious fragments (numbers 211-226) because their authenticity as Chaldean has in
many cases been questioned by certain scholars.

3. IG XIV.2482 (= CIL XII.1277): a bilingual inscription discovered on an altar in Vaison-la-Romaine in


Provence addressed to the god Bel, lord of the
, which states that the dedicator Sextus set up the altar to
Bel:
To the governer of Fortune, Belus, Sextus has dedicated an altar in remembrance of the oracles found at
Apamea;
the parallel Latin inscription: Belus Fortunae rector mentisque magister ara gaudebit quam dedit et voluit:
Belus, governor of Fortune, lord of the Nous, will rejoice in the altar that Sextus has dedicated to him with all
his heart [lit. which he has given and wanted].2

DIVINATION IN THE CHALDEAN ORACLES

4. Chaldean Oracles, Fr. 107 (= Psellus, P.G. 122, 1128, b8-c7)

Do not cast into your mind the huge measures of earth, for the plant of truth does not exist on earth the
starry procession has not been brought forth for your sake. The wide-winged flight of birds is never true, nor
the cuttings and entrails of sacrificial victims. All these are playthings, the props of commercial fraud. Flee
these things, if you would open the sacred paradise of piety, where virtue, wisdom, and good order are brought
together.

Inscriptiones Graecae XIV.2482, ed. G. Kaibel, Berlin 1815. Trs. P. Athanassiadi (2005), 130.

THEURGY IN THE CHALDEAN ORACLES

5.

And if I should also touch on the secret teaching of the Mysteries, in which the Chaldean, divinely
frenzied, celebrated the God of the Seven Rays, that god through whom he lifts up the souls of men, I
should be saying what is unintelligible, yea wholly unintelligible to the common herd, but familiar to the
happy theurgists (Julian, Or. V, 172d5-173a2).

Chaldean Oracles F110 (= Psellus, P.G., 122.1129c12-d4).

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Seek out the channel of the soul, from where it <descended> in a certain order to serve the body;
<and> seek <how> you will raise it up again to its order by combining (ritual) action with a sacred
word.
That is, seek the source of the soul, from where (the soul) has been led astray and served the body; and
how someone, raising it up and awakening it by means of the telestic rites, might lead it back up from
where it has come.3

7. Chaldean Oracles Fr. 1 (= Damascius, I, 154, 14-26)

Chald. Or. F110 (= Psellus, P.G., 122.1129c12-d4). Cf. H. Lewy (1956; repr. 1978), 188-189; 200, who claims that the sevenrayed god is identical to Helios-Apollo and connects this notion with Chald. Or. F71 (=Proclus, In Crat. 98.14-15); R. Majercik
(1989), 183, explains that
can be identified with the channel or solar ray of the soul on which the soul both
descends into the body and then ascends on high during the theurgic rites.

Moreover, (Iamblichus and his successors in their Commentaries on the Chaldean Oracles)
invoke the gods as witnesses in those verses where they address the theurgist:
For there exists a certain Intelligible which you must perceive by the flower of mind. For if
you should incline your mind toward it and perceive it as perceiving a specific thing, you would
not perceive it. For it is the power of strength, visible all around, flashing with intellectual
divisions. Therefore, you must not perceive that Intelligible violently but with the flame of
mind completely extended which measures all things, except that Intelligible. You must not
perceive it intently, but keeping the pure eye of your soul turned away, you should extend an
empty mind toward the Intelligible in order to comprehend it, since it exists outside of (your)
mind.
8. Chaldean Oracles Fr. 2 (=Damasicus, I, 155, 11-15).

Arrayed from head to toe with a clamorous light, armed in mind and soul with a triple-barbed strength,
you must cast into your imagination the entire token of the triad, and not go toward the empyrean
channels in a scattered way, but with concentration.
And the oracle-giving god [i.e. Apollo] says such things about (intelligible knowledge).

9. Chaldean Oracles Fr. 109 (= Psellus, P.G. 122, 1148, a12-14)

But the Paternal Intellect does not receive the will of (the soul) until (the soul) emerges from
forgetfulness and speaks a word, remembering the pure, paternal token.

SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY
PRIMARY SOURCES: TEXTS AND TRANSLATIONS
The Chaldean Oracles: Text, Translation and Commentary, ed. and trs. R. Majercik (1989; repr. 2013), Studies in
Greek and Roman Religion Vol. 5, Leiden-Boston [Westbury 2013].
EUNAPIUS, Lives of the Philosophers and Sophists, ed. and trs. W.C. Wright (1921; repr. 2005), Loeb, London.
IAMBLICHUS, De Mysteriis, ed. and trs. Des Places (1966), Jamblique: Les mystres dgypte, Bud, Paris: Les Belles
Lettres. Eng. trs: eds. and trs. E.C. Clarke, J.M. Dillon and J.P. Hershbell (2003), Atlanta.
Fragments, ed. and trs. J.M. Dillon (1973; repr. 2009), Iamblichi Chalcidensis In Platonis Dialogos
Commentariorum Fragmenta, Leiden-Boston, 1973 [repr. Westbury 2009].
Inscriptiones Graecae XIV, ed. G. Kaibel, Berlin 1815.
JULIAN, Orations, ed. and trs. W.C. Wright (1913; repr. 1996), The Works of the Emperor Julian: Volume II. Loeb,
London - New York.
NUMENIUS, Fragments, ed. and trs. R. Petty (2012), Platonic Texts and Translations Vol. VII, Westbury.
PROCLUS, Commentary on Platos Timaeus, Volume V, ed. and trs. Dirk Baltzly (2013), Cambridge.
In Platonis Parmenidem commentaria, ed. V. Cousin (1864; repr: 1961), Hildesheim. Eng. trs. G.R. Morrow
and J.M. Dillon (1987), Proclus: Commentary on Platos Parmenides, Princeton, NJ.

SECONDARY SOURCES: MODERN WORKS


ADDEY, C. (2014a) Divination and Theurgy in Neoplatonism: Oracles of the gods, Ashgate Studies in Philosophy and
Theology in Late Antiquity, Farnham.
(2014b) The daimonion of Socrates: Daimones and Divination in Neoplatonism, in H. Tarrant and D.
Layne (eds.), The Neoplatonic Socrates: Essays in Late Antiquity and the Reception of Socrates, University
Park, PA, 51-72.
ATHANASSIADI, P. (1989-90) The Fate of Oracles in Late Antiquity: Didyma and Delphi,
N.S. 15: 271278.
(1993) Dreams, Theurgy and Freelance Divination: The Testimony of Iamblichus, JRS 83: 115-130.

(1999) The Chaldaean Oracles: Theology and Theurgy, in P. Athanassiadi and M. Frede (eds.),
Pagan Monotheism in Late Antiquity, Oxford, 149-183.
(2005) Apamea and the Chaldaean Oracles: A holy city and a holy book, in A. Smith (ed.), The
Philosopher and Society in Late Antiquity: Essays in Honour of Peter Brown, Swansea, 117-143.
BURNS, D. (2006) The Chaldean Oracles of Zoroaster, Hekates Couch, and Platonic Orientalism in Psellos and
Pleithon, Aries 6.2: 158-179.
CREMER, F. (1969), Die Chaldischen Orakel und Jamblich de mysteriis, Meisenheim am Glan.
DODDS, E.R. (1961) New Light on the Chaldean Oracles, Harvard Theological Review 54: 263-273.
EDMONDS, R. (2001) Did the Mithraists Inhale? A Technique for Theurgic Ascent in the Mithras Liturgy, the
Chaldean Oracles and some Mithraic Frescoes, Ancient World 32.1: 10-24.
FOWDEN, G. (2005), Sages, Cities and Temples: Aspects of Late Antique Pythagorism, in A. Smith (ed.), The
Philosopher and Society in Late Antiquity: Essays in Honour of Peter Brown, Swansea, 145-170.
FINAMORE, J. AND JOHNSTON, S.I. (2010), The Chaldaean Oracles, in L. Gerson (ed.) (2010), The Cambridge
History of Philosophy in Late Antiquity, Cambridge, 161-173.
HADOT, P. (1978) Bilan et perspectives sur les Oracles Chaldaques, in H. Lewy (1956), Chaldaean Oracles and
Theurgy, ed: M. Tardieu (1978), Paris, 703-720.
JOHNSTON, S.I. (1990), Hekate Soteira: A Study of Hekates Roles in the Chaldean Oracles and Related Literature,
Atlanta.
(1992), Riders in the Sky: Cavalier Gods and Theurgic Salvation in the Second Century AD, CPh 87: 303321.
LE BAS, P. AND WADDINGTON, W.H. (1870) Voyage archologique en Grce et en Asie Mineure III, Paris.
LEWY, H. (1956; repr. 1978) Chaldaean Oracles and Theurgy: Mysticism, Magic and Platonism in the later Roman
Empire, 3rd edn: 1978, ed. M. Tardieu, Paris.
REHM, A. AND HARDER, E. (eds.) (1958) Didyma II: Die Inschriften, Berlin.
REY-COQUAIS, P. (1973) Inscriptions grecques dApame, Annales Archologiques Arabes Syriennes 23: 39-84.
SMITH, M.E. (1996) An Epicurean Priest from Apamea in Syria, Zeitschrift fr Papyrologie und Epigraphik 112:
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STROUMSA, G. (1980) Chaldean Oracles, Numen 27.1: 167-172.
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