Hey, folks. It’s been a while since my last interview so I decided to go with a friend of mine who operates the seminal academic-oriented, the Journal for the Western Mystery Tradition, Jeffrey Kupperman! His book Living Theurgy has been published very recently and since he’s been very generous in allowing me to have a couple of my articles to be published on his site, such as Eros, Orpheus and On the Origin of the World and The Gnostic Stranger in Upanishadic Thought, I thought I’d return the favor. So without further ado, I will let Jeffrey to express himself through his own Logos.
1. What is your book Living Theurgy about?
Well, it’s about theurgy, but that’s probably obvious. My goal with Living Theurgy was to systematize the Neoplatonic thought off Iamblichus of Chalcis, an important 4th century Neoplatonist, including his often ignored philosophy, his theology, and his theurgy.
2. Why is Iamblichus important in the history of western philosophy and thought?
Largely, Iamblichus has been ignored, at least until recently. This was largely due to the erroneous view that he wasn’t really a philosopher, but just an irrational occultist, an aberration in the history of Platonism, rather than a defining practitioner, which he actually was. And that’s why he’s important. His contributions have been enormous. He wrote nine or ten volumes on Pythagoreanism, commentaries on Plato and Aristotle, treatises on the gods and the soul, De Mysteriis, possibly the most important primary source on theurgy, and at least 23 volumes of Chaldeanized Platonism. That the vast majority of these texts are now lost doesn’t detract from their importance. These works have influenced Proclus (who influenced Thomas Aquinas amongst others), pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, and Marsilio Ficino. They, in turn, have influenced countless others, as well as entire movements, including many elements of esoteric Christianity, a great deal of kabbalah, Rosicrucianism, and more.
3. How does Iamblichus and his brand of Neoplatonism coincide with Gnosticism or Gnostic theology?
There are some similarities, of course, but those seem to be largely due to the influence of Platonism on both. Unlike Plotinus and Porphyry, there doesn’t seem to be evidence suggesting Iamblichus was in direct, or even indirect, contact with the Gnostics. So, we’ll see similarities in cosmology, but fairly different views on things like the Demiurge, the nature of the realm of generation, and the like.
4. Are there any daily, practical applications that can be gleaned from Iamblichus?
Not directly, not enough of his material was left behind for that. Indirectly, though, yes. In De Mysteriis, for example, he talks about cultus or worship, in a theurgic context. There are ideas there that can be directly applied to our own practices. More than that, though, Neoplatonism is a way of viewing the world. It includes classical Platonism, and so dialectic and all it entails, so it always applicable in some way to the generative world. But Neoplatonism, and Platonism in general, isn’t just about getting along in the realm of generation. It allows us to see this world differently, yes, but it does so in light of higher realms, the places, for lack of a better term, to which our souls truly belong.
5. How are the Demiurge, the Archons and/or the Daimones depicted in Iamblichean and Neoplatonic thought?
If you’re familiar with Gnosticism, quite differently from that. In later Neoplatonism, starting with Iamblichus, the Demiurge follows the model of the Timaeus, it is an all good, perfect, deity who wants nothing but good, and the Good, for everything. Its ordering of the gods, and the universe, is to for the purpose of bringing this about. Iamblichus’ use of the term archon seems to indicate different kinds, or genre, of gods, who are in charge of different levels of reality, functioning above the visible realm and within it. Once again, these gods are considered, as are all gods for that matter, all good and incapable of producing something that isn’t good.
Daimones take on a number of different roles, even though they are all of the same genre. Iamblichus talks about three kinds of daimon, the personal daimon, upon which the Holy Guardian Angel is modeled in Abramelin, “evil” or punishing daimones and guardian daimones, the latter of which are often associated with a particular place, and simple daimones who appear very much like the more modern ideas of elementals.
6. We know that Plotinus, for example, attempted to model a society from Plato’s Utopian ideal of the Philosopher King ruled Republic. Yet, one wonders how Neoplatonic philosophy and theurgy differ from the original Platonic school of thought. Any comments?
It is hard to say. I very much doubt they are identical. That said, there is enough suggesting Plato’s connection to Pythagoreanism, and some level of esotericism, that they may not be completely different. That’s not to say Plato or Socrates were theurgists. It doesn’t seem like theurgy was really brought into Neoplatonism until Iamblichus. But some, such as the late Neoplatonic scholar Algis Uždavinys, have strongly suggested an initiatory and esoteric element to classical Platonic thought that is not at all out of line with Neoplatonic thought. I’ve no idea if these ideas were carried out in similar ways. That said, I’m not sure it matters. Things change. After some 700ish years of Platonism, between Plato and Plotinus, and the generation in between Plotinus and Iamblichus, I’d expect things to change. I don’t see what Iamblichus has done being necessarily, or even greatly, out of line with the Platonic thought, generally speaking, that came before him, even if what he did and thought was different, which it invariably was.
7. Does alchemy figure in with Iamblichus and Neoplatonism?
Not directly, at least depending on how you’re defining alchemy. If we’re talking laboratory alchemy, there seems to be no direct connection at all, at least not with Iamblichus. If we’re talking about spiritual alchemy, sensu Paracelsus, then possibly. Somewhere I’ve a paper floating around, hoping to see the light of day, connecting Marsilio Ficino, and especially his masterpiece De vita libri tres, which is on theurgic astrological medicine and talismancy, and alchemy. Ficino himself was linked to alchemy by later alchemists, though I don’t know of any direct evidence showing he actually practiced it. There are ideologies, especially in the Neoplatonic idea of sunthemata or divine tokens found in material things, which are certainly applicable to alchemical thought.