Podcast episode

Episode 132: Astral Accretions, Fate, and the Resurrection-Body: Other Subtle Bodies of Antiquity

We discuss several themes found in antique religions, philosophy, and ritual praxis with relevance to the subtle body, including:

  • The theory of astral accretions acquired by the soul in the course of her ascent through the spheres and into the body, found in some Hermetica and in some Platonists. We discuss possible origins for the theory and the state of the evidence, and revisit some fantastic passages from Corpus Hermeticum I, XIII, and The Ogdoad Reveals the Ennead.
  • The idea of a `counterfeit spirit’ (antimimon pneuma) found in `Gnostic’ thinkers like Basilides and the authors of Pistis Sophia and the Apocryphon of John. All of these agree that we have something pneumatic attached to us which is extra, put there through the agency of the divine catastrophe/the archons, and must be gotten rid of. But is it astral? And is it the dark twin of the Platonist astral body or pneumatic vehicle?
  • The important Christian idea of the resurrection-body: we glance at the main scriptural passages asserting that we shall be reborn with pneumatic bodies that are in fact angelic. We then look at the trouble Origen seems to have got into by asserting that these perfected resurrection-bodies will be spherical.

Works Cited in this Episode:



  • general astral stuff:
    CH III 4: the `cycling gods’
    XI 6-10: astral gods au go-go.
    SH 7.3; 20.7: fate has power over bodies but not souls.
    SH 12.2: fate uses the stars as its instruments.
    CH 16 14-15: astral daimones control embodied humans, higher and lower souls.
    SH VI: influences from the decans.
    CH IV 8: a sufficiently-reverent soul may ascend through the spheres and unite with god.
  • Poimandres CH I, 9 and 25-26 ; we cite Copenhaver’s translation, slightly altered.
  • The Ogdoad Reveals the Ennead/Treatise on the Eighth and the Ninth (NHC VI 6) The visionary ascent is found at 55,24–61,17.

Numenius: The celestial gates etc. at Porph. De antro 22-23 = Numenius fr. 31 Des Places:

Trans. Lamberton 1983, p. 33: The usage of referring to these two tropics in Cancer and Capricorn as “gates” goes back to the theologians, while Plato speaks of two “mouths.” Numenius and Cronius say further that the gate of Cancer is the one through which souls descend and that of Capricorn the one through which they ascend. Note that Cancer is northerly and appropriate for descent while Capricorn is southerly and suited for ascent. The northern regions belong to souls descending into γένεσις, and the northern “gate” of the cave is precisely the one that is “a path for men to descend.”

Macrobius: we cite the translation of William Harris Stahl, editor. Commentary on the Dream of Scipio by Macrobius. Columbia University Press, New York, NY, 1952.

Origen: The αὐγοειδὲς σῶμα responsible for apparitions: Cels. II.60 = PG 892a. For the anathemas and the question of sphericity of the resurrection-body, see Henry Chadwick. Origen: Contra Celsum. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1953, p. 95.


  • Christian H. Bull. The Tradition of Hermes Trismegistus: the Egyptian Priestly Figure as a Teacher of Hellenized Wisdom. Brill, Leiden, 2018.
  • Brian P. Copenhaver, editor. Hermetica. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1992.
  • Ioan Petru Culianu. Psychanodia I. A Survey of the Evidence Concerning the Ascension of the Soul and its Relevance, volume 99 of Études préliminaires aux religions orientales dans l’empire romain. Brill, Leiden, 1983 [chart of astral correspondences p. 51].
  • Jacques Flamant. Sotériologie et systèmes planétaires. In Ugo Bianchi and M.J. Vermaseren, editors, La soteriologia dei culti orientali nell’ imperio romano, pages 223– 42. Brill, Leiden, 1982 [we cite p. 231: ‘De fait, les témoignages les plus interessants proviennent de néo-platoniciens tardifs, Macrobe, Proclus, Servius. Je crois qu’on peut rai-sonnablement faire remonter la source commune de Macrobe et de Proclus à Numénius qu’ils auraient connu à travers Porphyre (sans que pour autant Numénius soit l’inventeur de la doctrine). I. P. Culianu pense que tout cela remonte à l’astrologie egyptienne. Nous n’ouvrirons pas ici un débat sur l’épineuse question des sources.’ See p. 232 for some mapping of planetary orders vis à vis the theory of accretions].
  • Garth Fowden. Late Polytheism. In Alan K. Bowman, Peter Garnsley, and Averil Cameron, editors, The Cambridge Ancient History, Second Edition, Volume XII: The Crisis of Empire, A.D. 193-337, pages 521–72. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2005 [we cite p. 533].
  • Anna van den Kerchove. La voie d’Hermès: Pratiques rituelles et traités hermétiques. Brill, Leiden, 2012.
  • Jean-Pierre Mahé. La voie d’immortalité à la lumière des Hermetica de Nag Hammadi et de découvertes plus récentes. Vigiliae Christianae, 45:347–75, 1991.

Recommended Reading (for a more general subtle-bodliography, see the notes to the previous episode):

  • Henry Chadwick. Origen, Celsus, and the Resurrection of the Body. Harvard Theological Review, 41(2):83–102, 1948.
  • H. Crouzel. Les critiques adressés par Méthode et ses contemporains à la doctrine origénienne du corps ressuscité. Gregorianum, 53:679–716, 1972.
  • Idem. Le thème platonicien du ’véhicule de l’âme’ chez Origène. Didaskalia, 7: 225–238, 1977.
  • I.P. Culianu. L’«ascension de l’âme» dans les mystères et hors des mystères. In Ugo Bianchi and Maarten Vermaseren, editors, La soteriologia dei culti orientali nell’ imperio romano, pages 276–302. Brill, Leiden, 1982.
  • Franz Cumont. Lux Perpetua. Librairie Orientaliste Paul Geuthner, Paris, 1949.
  • Idem. Astrology and Religion Among the Greeks and Romans. G.P. Putnam’s and Sons, New York, NY/London, 1912.
  • Jacques Flamant. Macrobe et le néo-platonisme Latin, à la fin du IVe siècle. Brill, Leiden, 1977.
  • Ilinca Tanaseanu-Döbler. Synesius and the pneumatic vehicle of the soul in early neoplatonism. In Donald A. Russell and Heinz-Günther Nesselrath, editors, On Prophecy, Dreams and Human Imagination: Synesius, De insommniis, volume XXIV of Scripta Antiquitatis Posterioris ad Ethicam REligionemque pertinentia, pages 125– 56. Mohr Siebeck, 2014.


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,