January 20, 2022
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.
Astral Influences, Basilides, Christianity, Esoteric Christianity, Fate, Gnosticism, Macrobius, Numenius, Origen, Pistis Sophia, Pneuma, Porphyry, Proclus, Resurrection-Body, Soul, Subtle Body
January 20, 2022
Re: the Pistis Sophia and astral accretions:
‘And the ministers of all the archons of the Heimarmene and the ministers of the sphere which are below the aeons took them (the matter) and made them into souls of men and cattle and reptiles and beasts and birds. And they sent them to this world of mankind. And furthermore the paralemptors of the sun and the paralemptors of the moon when they looked up and they saw the patterns of the paths of the aeons, and the patterns of the Heimarmene and those of the sphere, they took the lightpower from them. And the paralemptors of the sun prepared to lay it down until they gave it to the paralemptor of Melchizedek, the purifier of the light. And their material dregs they brought to the sphere which is below the aeons, and they made it into the souls of men and they also made it into (souls of) reptiles and cattle and beasts and birds, according to the cycle of the archons of that sphere, and according to all the patterns of its revolution. And they cast them into this world of mankind, and they became souls in that place, according to what I have just told you.’ (trans. Schimdt, 1978, 35.1-22).
On this, Jacques van der Vliet writes:
“[Pistis Sophia] subscribes to the widespread idea of an astral ‘body’ of the soul. The ‘ministers’ of the archons of both celestial spheres fashion the souls of all living creatures from an archontic material element in which a superior power is mixed up. The souls themselves are distributed by them ‘in accordance with the circuit of the archons of that sphere (scil. that below the eons, called Fate) and in accordance with all the aspects of its revolution ’ (35.20-21) and then cast into the world. Through the soul, therefore, man is directly dependent on the stars and, in particular, on the stars of the uppermost of the two spheres, the one ‘below the eons’, where his nativity is established.”
(in ‘Fate, Magic and Astrology in Pistis Sophia, Chap. 15-21’, in The Wisdom of Egypt: Jewish, Early Christian, and Gnostic Essays in Honour of Gerard P. Luttikhuizen (Brill, 2005), p. 528.
There is also a good discussion on heavenly powers, astral demons, and the development of the astral body to be found in A. Scott, ‘Origen and the Life of the Stars: A History of an Idea’ (Oxford 1991), pp. 76-103 – which covers Apocalyptic and the Gnostics from 90-103).
January 20, 2022
(* I note that Culianu also covers the above section in the Pistis Sophia in ch.10 of ‘Out of This World’ (already in the bibliography for the previous episode) when discussing the ‘counterfeit spirit’/antimimon pneuma; pp.195-8 – so a bit of duplication – apologies! 😬)
January 20, 2022
The discussion in ‘Out of This World’ (and similar discussion in Psychanodia) is precisely where I feel that Culianu goes too far by making Basilides an early ‘astral accretions’ guy. It’s there in the Pistis Sophia, but I don’t see anything astral in the Basilides quote we have from Clement, unless we go really far in assuming that these ‘Gnostics’ all had similar ideas. As far as I can tell, they disagreed about almost everything except for some basic positions like ‘the archons are lying to us’ and ‘this is not our true home’. Basilides might well mean something astral here, or have gotten all astral in some other doctrines which Clement unfortunately doesn’t tell us about, and I certainly haven’t given these writings the same attention I’ve given the Platonists in trying to work out who said what when and who might have influenced whom, but I don’t see the evidence as strong enough, and tend to get suspicious when people assume any commonalities based on the fact that they consider some texts to be Gnostic, and therefore to share this or that supposition.
January 21, 2022
I completely agree with your criticism of Culianu re: Basilides – as you point out in the epsisode, it is not clear in the source (Clement) whether it was an astral context; and as far as ‘Gnostics’ all having similar ideas. I am more and more inclined to use the term “demiurgic traditions’ after Michael Williams. as per episode 80.
On the origins of the concept of the soul’s descent though the gates – if I may offer my own irresponsible speculation: I think it may have come via Neopythagoreanism more broadly (if not directly originating with Numenius).
My reasoning is this:
If we accept Numenius as the source of the soul’s decent/ascent through the gates of Capricorn and Cancer as reported by Porphyry. and follow April DeConick’s line of argument (in ‘The Road for the Soul Is through the Planets: The Mysteries of the Ophians Mapped’ (2013), p. 59-65), in which she shows that there is a direct correspondence between Numenius’s ascent pattern and the so-called Ophite Diagram in Origen’s Contra Celsum 6.30-31 (as well correlations with Celsus’s Mithraists (6.22) – who possibily had a Pythagorean “harmony of the spheres”lurking in the background of their planetary/theological arrangements), and concludes that the Numenius and the Ophite Christians could have shared a wider “Neopythagorean domain of knowledge” (p.59). Add to this Zeke Mazur’s attempt to demonstrate a “Neopythagorean lexicon” behind a typical Mithraic tauroctony (Harmonious Opposition (Part I): Pythagorean Themes of Cosmogonic Mediation in the Roman Mysteries of Mithraism (2008), p.203), and then it is not wholly unreasonable to posit a shared Neopythagorean substratum between the Numenius, the Ophite Christians and the Mithraists. This (textual) milieu – the so-called ‘Pseudopythagorica’ of the late Hellenistic/early Imperial periods, I contest, will have contained a text – or texts – along the lines of a Pseudo-Timaeus, which will have contained the soul’s descent into generation and post-mortem ascent through the gates.
January 21, 2022
As a side note, here is another Hermetic passage on “general astral stuff” from the Korê Kosmou to go with the list on the episode’s page:
‘The Sun spoke: ‘I will shine all the more.’
Moon promised to light up her course in Sun’s wake. She added that she had already engendered Fear (Φόβος), Silence (Σιγή), Sleep (Ὕπνος), and Memory (Μνήμη) that would useful to human beings.
Saturn announced that he was already the father of Justice (Δίκη) and Necessity (Ἀνάγκη).
Jupiter spoke: ‘So that the future race might not totally devote themselves to war, I have already fathered for their benefit Fortune (Τύχη), Hope (Ἐλπίς) and Peace (Εἰρήνη).’
Mars said that he was already the father of Struggle (Ἀγωνία),, Wrath (Ὀργή), and Strife (Ἔρις)..
Venus asserted without hesitation: ‘To them, Master, I will yoke Desire (Πόθος), Pleasure (Ἡδονή), and Laughter (Γέλως) so that the souls akin to me, who suffer the most horrid condemnation, might not be punished beyond measure.’
God was greatly pleased, my child, when Venus said this.
‘And I will make human nature,’ Mercury said, ‘and entrust to them Wisdom (Σοφία), Moderation (Σωφροσύνη), Persuasion (Πειθώ), and Truth (Ἀλήθεια). I will not cease to join Invention (Εὕρεσις). Moreover, I will forever benefit the mortal life of future humans born under my zodiacal signs. The signs that the father and Craftsman entrusted to me are wise and intelligent. I will benefit the race all the more when the movement of the stars that overlie them are in harmony with the natural energy of each individual.’
~ 𝘚𝘏. XXIII. 28-29 (“The Gifts of the Planets”), trans. Litwa (2018), p.114.
January 21, 2022
Hmmm. Seems reasonable. It would be nice to see the Pseudopythagorean text(s) in question, though.
One thing we haven’t touched on much in the podcast, which is worth mentioning, is that an influential group of scholars, notably Boyancé (La religion astrale de Platon à Cicéron, 1952, and many other works) argued in the last century for an origin of the idea of the ‘astral afterlife’ in early Pythagoreanism, based in part on Pythagorean akousmata recorded mostly by Iamblichus, things like ‘the Sun and Moon are the Isles of the Blessed’ (VP. 18.82) and that sort of thing. Dating of these sayings is obviously the problem, but there does seem to be some ‘genuine’ early-Pythagorean material out there which puts a lot of emphasis on astral stuff, and might have something to do with soul-ascent and/or metempsychosis. But the fact that in later reception loads of people — under the influence of Plato and the early Academy — thought that the Pythagoreans had such doctrines would have made the forging of pseudopythagorika which postulated such doctrines all the more likely.
January 21, 2022
Aye, therein lies the rub! My speculation is purely inferential, based as it is on structural and systematic traits and similarities rather than on a given extant text; I’d add the descent of the ten powers (decad/tetraktys) in CH XIII as another assimilation of Neopythagorean astral lore from the pseudopythagorica in order to add more circumstantial weight to my argument.
I’m glad you mentioned the idea of an ‘astral afterlife’ in early Pythagoreanism and Iamblichus’ reference to the ‘Isles of the Blessed’ since I am currently looking at the development of the transposition of Hades from subterranean to sublunary realms (from Xenocrates to Plutarch) and that has given me some more food-for-thought and avenues to investigate. Thanks!
January 22, 2022
Another interesting Pythagorean akousmata in a similar vein is “the planets are the dogs of Persephone”- found in Clement (Stromata 5.8) and Porphyry (VP 41)… hmmm… more research on this angle for me, I feel !!
January 28, 2022
And, if one takes Numenius as having held the view of the soul’s descent/ascent through the gates of Capricorn and Cancer then Numenius fr. 35 [ = Proclus, In Remp. II, 131, 8-14 Kroll ] may provide a good link between his view and Pythagorean akousmata, at 15–27 (trans. Petty):
“As evidence for the two chasms [i.e. Capricorn and Cancer] he [Numenius] cites the poem of Homer which not only states that the paths at the north are the paths of descent for men, especially the sun… but also that those at the south are , through which it is not possible for men to pass, but these paths themselves exist only for the immortals. For Capricorn dissolves the life of me and accepts within only the immortal and divine. Not only this, then, but the poem also sings of the “gates of the sun and people of the dreams”, calling the two solsticial signs the “gates of the sun”, and calling the Milky Way, as Numenius says, “the people of dreams”. ***For in fact Pythagoras esoterically names the Milky Way ‘Hades and the place of the soul, since they are together there.***.”
January 28, 2022
* correction to above: “For Capricorn dissolves the life of meN..” !!
January 21, 2022
Addendum: I just came across Hierocles referring to the ‘vehicle of the soul’ (the “congenital body which it has from the creator”) in his ‘Commentary on the Pythagorean Golden Verses’ as
“[the] doctrine of the Pythagoreans, which indeed Plato later made manifest when he likened every soul, both divine and human, to the united force of a winged yoke of horses and its charioteer”
– and noting also that Hierocles links the Demiurge to the tetraktys in a manner that complements the decadic powers descending from the demiurgic nous during the Hermetic rebirth of CH XIII).
January 21, 2022
* refs, Hierocles, Comm. on the Golden Verses; Schibli, 2002:
– the vehicle of the soul originated in Pythagoreanism, XXVI 4 (112, 5–6),
– the Demiurge equated with tetrad/tetraktys (source of the decade), XX 12–19 (87, 19–89, 14).
January 28, 2022
& for further Pythagorean” Demiurge-tetrad/tetraktys equivocation, see also Proclus:
‘Now that, therefore, we have made plain that Hellenic theology in its entirety assigns the whole work of creation to Zeus, what should one think of the present statement of Plato but that it is the same god, Zeus the King, who is celebrated as ‘Maker and Father’, and not just as ‘Father’ only or as ‘Father and Maker’? Indeed the ‘Father’ would be the monad, the ‘Father and Maker’ would be the tetrad, while [the ‘Maker and Father’] would be, as the Pythagoreans say, the decad, and this is the rank of the divine realities: that is, the divine number in its progression ‘from the undefiled depths of the monad’ until it reaches
𝑈𝑝 𝑡𝑜 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑠𝑎𝑐𝑟𝑒𝑑 𝑡𝑒𝑡𝑟𝑎𝑑, 𝑤ℎ𝑖𝑐ℎ ℎ𝑎𝑠 𝑔𝑖𝑣𝑒𝑛 𝑏𝑖𝑟𝑡ℎ 𝑡𝑜 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑚𝑜𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑟 𝑜𝑓 𝑎𝑙𝑙,
𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑎𝑙𝑙-𝑟𝑒𝑐𝑒𝑖𝑣𝑒𝑟, 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑣𝑒𝑛𝑒𝑟𝑎𝑏𝑙𝑒 𝑜𝑛𝑒, 𝑝𝑙𝑎𝑐𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑎 𝑙𝑖𝑚𝑖𝑡 𝑎𝑟𝑜𝑢𝑛𝑑 𝑎𝑙𝑙 𝑡ℎ𝑖𝑛𝑔𝑠,
𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑢𝑛𝑑𝑒𝑣𝑖𝑎𝑡𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑜𝑛𝑒, 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑢𝑛𝑤𝑒𝑎𝑟𝑦𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑜𝑛𝑒; 𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑦 𝑐𝑎𝑙𝑙 ℎ𝑒𝑟 𝑝𝑢𝑟𝑒 𝑑𝑒𝑐𝑎𝑑.
After the paternal monad, therefore, and the tetrad, which is both paternal and creative at the same time, the demiurgic decad has come forth. It is undeviating, because it possesses an unchanging divine essence. It places a limit on all things in that it supplies order to things that are disordered and beautification to things which lack it. It illuminates souls with intellect, inasmuch as it is a universal intellect, and illuminates bodies with soul, inasmuch as it both possesses and contains its cause (i.e. of soul). It also generates the kinds of being, both the intermediates and the extremes, inasmuch as it has embraced demiurgic Being within itself.’
‘Commentary on Plato’s 𝘛𝘪𝘮𝘢𝘦𝘶𝘴’ [𝘐𝘯 𝘛𝘪𝘮.] 1.316.13-317.5
January 23, 2022
I came across this quote yesterday, which I hadn’t seen before, and I think it is worth sharing here as it is interesting (at least to me) for a number of reasons (such as the uncertainty of its dating for a start!!).
Aristides Quintilianus (fl. late 3rd to early 4th century CE ??), On Music 2.17, pp. 87.9–88.6
“They say that, when the soul desires a body, it takes or draws off parts of the bodily mix from each of the upper regions. So it goes through the circles of aether and takes all the bright bits, the things that warm the body and are naturally able to hold it together. The soul weaves for itself a sort of net of bonds out of these circles and the lines they produce in their irregular progress through each others’ courses. When it is carried to the airy regions near the moon, which have a share in breath which is resistant to the rest, it creates a mighty rushing noise as a result of its natural motion, and it gets filled up with the underlying breath, and the surfaces and lines of the circles get stretched. Parts of it are weighed down by clumps of breath, but parts by nature cling on to things ‘beyond’ [i.e. intelligibles]; the soul loses its spherical shape, and changes into a man’s form. The surfaces which came with the bright, aetherial matter it exchanges for a membranous shape, and it changes the lines which came to it in the empyrean, tinged with the yellow of the fire, into the form of sinews. For the rest, it takes on moist breath from those regions. The result is the first natural kind of body for the soul: a composition of membranous surfaces, sinewy lines, and breath. This is the ‘root’ of the body [see Timaeus 90a], and it is what they call its ‘harmony’ [see Phaedo 85–6]. By this, they say, the ‘oyster-like body’ [see Phaedrus 250c] is both nurtured and kept together.”
(trans. Boys-Stones, 2018, p.320).
January 31, 2022
I found these two resources very helpful for the Christian concept of “spiritual body”, especially considering they take slightly differing positions.
Litwa, M. D. We Are Being Transformed: Deification in Paul’s Soteriology.
Stanley Stowers. “ The Dilemma of Paul’s Physics: Features Stoic-Platonist or Platonist-Stoic?” in From Stoicism to Platonism The Development of Philosophy, 100 BCE–100 CE Edited by Troels Engberg-Pedersen.