May 11, 2022
Episode 141: Brian Alt on Sacred Materials, Divine Names, and Subtle Physiology in Iamblichean Theurgy
We explore the practical side of Iamblichean theurgy with Brian Alt. The discussion follows the title of Alt’s PhD thesis – Correspondences and Invocations: Sacred Materials, Divine Names, and Subtle Physiology in Iamblichus – in exploring the De mysteriis looking at three main thematic clusters: divine materials and occult properties, the theory of effective/divine language, and Iamblichus’ theory of the soul-vehicle/subtle body.
Expect a wide-ranging discussion, exploring many parallels between Iamblichean rituals and those found in Greek ritual papyri and Hermetica, and making a strong case for much more genuinely-Egyptian material in the De mysteriis than is normally credited in scholarship. Lovers of addressative ritual will find much to love in this interview.
Brian P. Alt is an independent teacher and researcher specializing in ancient languages, the intersections of philosophy and religion in Græco-Roman Egypt, and the history of magic. His PhD (2020) focused on Iamblichean theurgy and its interaction with Greco-Egyptian ritual practice. His forthcoming book on the Græco-Egyptian magical papyri (PGM) will be available to pre-order soon on the InterlinearMagic.com website.
Works Cited in this Episode:
Damascius: the sponge-metaphor: In Parm. 255.7-11.
Eunapius: Iamblichus and his friends observe the kairos for sacrifice: VS 458 Wright.
- Music of the spheres and treatment of the soul: VP chapters 15 and 25 (sections 64-67 and 110-115).
- On the question of ‘maleficent’ planets: DM 220.127.116.11-56.4.
- The soul-vehicle spherical: In Tim. fr. 49, 11.13-15 Dillon = Proclus In Tim. 181b-e, II 72, 6.
- The huge amount of theurgic work necessary before one might attain to the encounter with the One: see Addey 2014 (cited below), pp. 25-28 for sources and discussion.
- The special Egyptian practice of ascent based on kairos: DM 8.4.
Origen of Alexandria on divinely-inspired names: Cels. 5.45.7-16, 37-49.
Plato: on the macrocosm/microcosm theory in Plato’s Timæus, see Episode 27 of the podcast.
Papyri magicæ græcæ:
- The ‘Eighth Book of Moses’ a.k.a. ‘The Unique’ = PGM XIII 1-734.
- The ‘Binding Love Spell of Astrapsoukos’ = PGM VIII 1-63.
- The rite for ‘Meeting with your own Daimōn’ = PGM VII 505-28.
- The limb-divinization (Gliedervergottung) of plants is PGM IV 2967-3006. Check out Brian Alt’s translation of this ritual here.
- On sympathy and magic: Enn. IV.4.40 (cf. II.915.2-11).
- ‘Remember to work on your statue’: Enn. 18.104.22.168-25.
- The Egyptian priest invokes his daimōn: Porph. Plot. 10.
Plutarch on different types of incense: De Iside et Osiride 383a-384c.
- for the subtle-body material discussed, see Episode 132.
- On Porphyry’s astrologised theory of the personal daimōn, see Episode 127.
Proclus on names as ‘verbal statues (ἀγάλματα)’: In Crat. 51.33-40.
Sponge-metaphor: see Damascius above.
Synesius’ De insomniis/On Dreams will be discussed in a forthcoming episode.
- Brian Alt, 2020 (see below).
- Crystal Addey. Divination and Theurgy in Neoplatonism: Oracles of the Gods. Ashgate, Dorchester, 2014.
- Christian H. Bull. The Tradition of Hermes Trismegistus: the Egyptian Priestly Figure as a Teacher of Hellenized Wisdom. Brill, Leiden, 2018.
- Pierre Hadot. Philosophy as a Way of Life. Blackwell, Oxford, 1995. Translated by Michael Chase.
- David Klotz. Caesar in the City of Amun: Egyptian Temple Construction and Theology in Roman Thebes. Brepols, Turnhout, 2012.
- Ian S. Moyer and Jacco Dieleman. Miniaturization and the Opening of the Mouth in a Greek Magical Text (PGM XII.270-350). Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions, 3(1):47–72, 2003.
- Gregory Shaw on ‘intermediate synthēmata: Theurgy and the Soul: The Neoplatonism of Iamblichus. Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, PA, 1995, chapters 16 and 17.
- Crystal Addey. In the Light of the Sphere: The ‘Vehicle of the Soul’ and Subtle-Body Practices in Neoplatonism. In Geoffrey Samuel and Jay Johnston, editors, Religion and the Subtle Body in Asia and the West: Between Mind and Body, pages 149–67. Routledge, London, 2013.
- Brian Alt. Correspondences and Invocations: Sacred Materials, Divine Names, and Subtle Physiology in Iamblichus and Related Literature. PhD thesis, University of Indiana, 2020.
- Akindynos Kaniamos. The Personal Daimōn in Iamblichus’ De Mysteriis: Astral Origins, Ritual and Divinization. In John F. Finamore and Mark Nyvlt, editors, Plato in Late Antiquity, the Middle Ages and Modern Times. Selected Papers from the
Seventeenth Annual Conference of the International Society for Neoplatonic Studies, pages 27–58. Prometheus Trust/ISNS, Lydney, 2020.
- Zeke Mazur. Unio Magica: Part One: On the Magical Origins of Plotinus’ Mysticism. Dionysius, New Series, 21:23–52, Dec. 2003.
- Idem Unio Magica: Part Two: Plotinus, Theurgy, and the Question of Ritual. Dionysius, New Series, 22:29–55, 2004.
Addressative Ritual, Astral Influences, Astral Religion, Astrology, Cosmic Ascent, Doctrine of Signatures, Egypt, Fate, Greek Magical Papyri, Hermetica, Iamblichus, Interview, Late Platonism, Macrobius, Melothesia, Numerology, Occult Properties, Origen, Out-of-Body Experience, Plato, Plotinus, Poimandres, Porphyry, Proclus, Statues, Subtle Body, Sympathy, Synesius, Talismans, Theurgy, voces magicæ
May 23, 2022
Dear Dr. Alt,
First, thank you for a very fascinating discussion!
Second, were you actually in Lincoln, at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln studying with John Turner? If so, when?
Prof. Turner was my outside reader for my philosophy dissertation on Aristotle. (I received my PhD in 2003 from the UNL Philosophy Department; my years there were 1996-2003.) I did not work with him much. Despite that, he got me an introduction to Prof. Michael Chase at the CNRS in 2003, for which I am still so, so grateful. As I age, I feel more and more like I missed an incredible opportunity by not working with him more.
Ancient philosophy types are virtually non-existent in Lincoln (I still live there). I’m sorry I never met you. If you were in Lincoln between 2005-2015, and ever went to the Mill coffee shop downtown, odds were I served you coffee at least once.
Thanks to the SHWEP for tolerating a more personal missive here. Dr. Alt, best of luck with your research.
May 26, 2022
I completed an MA in Classics at UNL under John Turner in 2009, who was very much my inspiration for pursuing a PhD in ancient religion. I lived in Lincoln for a few years before that, and I actually grew up in a little town called Plattsmouth, NE.
Thanks for the kind words!