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The Chaldæan Oracles

FRAGMENTS AND COMMENTS.

THE TRUE SUN.

As to the Sun, the tradition handed on a mysterious doctrine that cannot now be completely recovered in the absence of the original text. Proclus, however, tells us that the real Sun, as distinguished from the visible disk, was trans-mundane or super-cosmic - that is, beyond the worlds visible to the senses. In other words, it belonged to the Light-world proper, the monadic cosmos, and poured forth thence its “fountains of Light.” The tradition of the most arcane or mystic of the Oracles, he tells us, was that the Sun's “wholeness” - i.e., monad - was to be sought on the trans-mundane plane (K. 32; C. 130); “for there,” he says, “is the ‘Solar Cosmos’ and the ‘Whole Light,’ as the Oracles of the Chaldæans say, and I believe” (K. 33).

Elsewhere he speaks of “what appears to be the circuit of the Sun,” and contrasts this with its true circulation, “which, proceeding from above some-whence, from out the hidden and super-celestial ordering of things beyond the heavens, sows into all the [suns] in cosmos the proper portion of their light for each.” This also seems to have been based on the doctrine of the Oracles.

As the Enforming Mind was called Mind of Mind, so was the “truer Sun” called in the Oracles “Time of Time,” because it measures all things with Time, as Proclus tells us; and this Time is, of course, the Æon. It was also called “Fire, Sluice of Fire,” and also “Fire-disposer” (K. 33; C. 133), and, we may add, by many another name connected with Fire, as we learn from the Mithriac Ritual.

 

THE MOON.

If the visible sun, as we have seen, was not the true Sun, equally so must we suppose the visible moon to be an image of the true Moon reflected in the atmosphere of gross matter. Concerning the Moon we have these five scattered shreds of fragments:

Both the ætherial course and the measureless rush and the aërial floods [or fluxes] of the Moon.

(K. 33; C. 15)

O Æther, Sun, Moon's Breath, Leaders of Air !

(K. 33; C. 136)

Both of the solar circles and lunar pulsings and aërial bosoms.

(K. 33; C. 139)

The melody of Æther and of Sun, and of the streams of Moon and Air.

(K. 33; C. 139)

And wide Air, and lunar course, and the ætherial vault of Sun.

(K. 34; C. 137)

These scraps are too fragmentary to comment on with much profit.

 

THE ELEMENTS.

From what remains we learn, as Proclus tells us, that the Sun-space came first, then the Moon-space, and then the Air-space. The Elements of cosmos, however, were not simply our Earthy fire, air, water, and earth, but of a greater order. Thus Olympiodorus tells us that the elements at the highest points of the earth, that is on the tops of the highest mountains, were also thought of as elements of cosmic Water - as it were Watery air; and this air in its turn was (? moist) Æther, while Æther itself was the uttermost Æther; it was in that state that were to be sought the “Æthers of the Elements” proper, as the Oracles call them (K. 34; C. 112).

 

THE SHELLS OF THE COSMIC EGG.

The diagrammatic representation of cosmic limit was a curve; whether hyperbolic, parabolic or elliptical we do not know. Damascius, quoting from the Oracles, speaks of it as a single line - “drawn out in a curved (or convex) outline," or figure; and adds that this figure was frequently used in the Oracles (K. 34). It signified the periphery of heaven.

In the Orphic mythology (doubtless based on “Chaldæan” sources) the dome of heaven is fabled to have been formed out of the upper shell of the Great Egg, when it broke in twain. The Egg in its upper half was sphere-like, in its lower “conical” or elliptical.

Proclus tells us that the Oracles taught that there were seven circuits or rounds of the irregular or imperfect “spheres,” and in addition the single motion of the eighth or perfect sphere which carried the whole heaven round in the contrary direction towards the west.

 

THE PHYSIOLOGY OF THE COSMIC BODY.

To this eighth sphere we must refer the “progression,” spoken of in the verses:

Both lunar course and star-progression. [This] star-progression was not delivered from the womb of things because of thee.

(K. 34; C. 144)

Man, the normal mind of man, was subject to the irregular spheres; he is egg-shaped and not spherical. And if there were spheres there were also certain mysterious “centres,” and “channels” - pipes, canals, conduits, or ducts; but what and how many these were, we can no longer discover owing to the loss of the original text. One obscure fragment alone remains:

And fifth, [and] in the midst, another fiery sluice, whence the life-bringing Fire descendeth to the hylic channels.

(K. 35; C. 92)

This apparently concerns the anatomy and physiology of the Great Body. Proclus introduces this quotation with the statement:

The conduit of the Power-of-generating-lives descends into the centre [of the cosmos], as also the Oracles say, when discoursing on the middle one of the five centres that extends right through to the opposite [side], through the centre of the earth.

How a centre can enter and go through another centre is not clear. These channels or centres, however, were clearly ways of conveying the nourishing and sustaining Fire to the world and all the lives in it.

The Primal Centre of the universe is presumably referred to in the following verse:

The Centre, from which all [? Rays] to the periphery are equal.

(K. 65; C. 124)

 

THE GLOBULAR COSMOS.

In any case the root-plan of the universe was globular. Proclus tells us that God as the Demiurge, or World-shaper, made the whole cosmos:

From Fire, from Water, Earth, and all-nourishing Æther.

(K. 35; C. 118)

Where Æther is presumably the “Watery Æther” or Air, as we have seen above (p. xx). He tells us further that the Maker, working by Himself, or on Himself, or with His own Hands, framed, or shaped (lit., “carpentered”) the cosmos, as follows:

Yea, for there was a Second Mass of Fire working of its own self all things below [lit., there], in order that the Cosmic Body might be wound into a ball, in order that Cosmos might be made plainly manifest, and not appear as membrane-like.

(K. 35; C. 108)

It is, of course, very difficult to guess the meaning of these scraps without their context. The appearance of cosmos as membranous, however, suggests the idea of the thinnest skin or surface, that is the lines, or threads, or initial markings, on the surface of things; that is to say, that the action of the Enforming Fire rolls up the surfaces of things into three-dimensional things or solids (even as the threads of wool are wound into a ball). The underlying idea may be seen in another Oracle, which, referring to the Path of Return, where the mode of Outgoing, or Involving, has to be reversed or unwound, warns us:

Do not soil the spirit, nor turn the plane into the solid.

(K. 64; C. 152)

To this we shall return later on at the end of our comments. (Cf. H., iii 174).

The “Second Mass of Fire” is, presumably, the Sensible Fire, or rather the Fire that brings into manifestation the sensible world, as contrasted with the Pure Hidden Fire - the Unmanifest, Intelligible or Ideal Mind of the Father. The Second is of course Mind of Mind, poetically figured, as contrasted with Mind in itself; it is Mind going forth from itself.

The word translated “Mass” (δγκος) has a variety of refined meanings in Greek philosophical language; it can mean space, dimension, atom, etc., and gives the idea of the simplest determination of Body.

The World or Cosmos is, so to say, the “Outline” of the Mind turned to the thought of Body:

For it is a Copy of Mind; but that which is brought forth [or engendered] has something of Body.

(K. 35; C. 110)

 

NATURE AND NECESSITY.

The whole of Nature, of growth and evolution, depends, or derives its origin, from the Great Mother, the Spouse of Deity, as we have seen from the verse quoted above (p. xx, K. 29; C. 141). In some way Nature is identified with Fate and Custom, as the following three verses show:

For Nature that doth never tire, rules over worlds and works; in order that the Heaven may run its course for aye, down-drawn, and the swift Sun, around its Centre, that custom-wise he may return.

(K. 36; C. 140, 125)

If by Apollo Proclus means the Sun, and if “one of the Theurgists” is a reference to the writer of our poem, then the words “exulting in the Harmony of Light” may be compared with the familiar “rejoicing as a giant to run his course.” The Oracles speak of the Sun as possessing “three-powered [lit., three-winged] rule” - that is, presumably, above, on, and beneath the earth.

 

THE PRINCIPLES OR RULERS OF THE SENSIBLE WORLD.

In the fragments that remain it is very rare to find the Powers that administer the government of the universe given Greek names. Though Proclus refers the following verse to Athena, there is nothing to show that her name was mentioned in the Oracles. It is more probable (as we may see from K. 51, C. 170, below) that the phrase refers to the soul, or rather the new-born man of gnostic power, who leaps forth from his lower nature. Proclus may have seen in this an analogy with the birth of Athena full-armed from the head of Zeus, and so the confusion has arisen. The phrase runs:

Yea, verily, full-armed within and armed without, like to a goddess.

(K. 36; C. 171)

The first epithet is used of the Trojan Horse with the armed warriors within it. In the mystery of regeneration this may refer to the remaking of all man's “bodies” according to the cut and pattern of the Great or Cosmic Body. This would be all on the Mother-side of things the gestation of the true Body of Resurrection.

It is the Later Platonic commentators, most probably, who have added names from the Hellenic pantheon in elaborating the simple, and for the most part nameless, statements of the original poem.

It is, however, clear that corresponding with what are called Fountains (πηγαί) when considered as Sources of Light and Life, in the Intelligible, there were Principles, Rulerships or Sovereignties (άρχαί), which ruled and ordered the Sensible Cosmos.

That these were divided into a hierarchy of four triads, twelve in all, as our commentators would have it, matches, it is true, with the Twelve of the traditional Chaldæan star-lore; but this was probably not so definitely set forth in the original text. Concerning these Principles the following lines are preserved:

Principles which, perceiving in their minds the Works thought in the Father' s Mind, clothed them about with works and bodies that the sense can apprehend.

(K. 37; C. 73)

The chief ruling Principles of the sensible world were three in number. Damascius calls them “the three Fathers” - sci., of the manifested cosmos; but this seems to be an echo of the nomenclature of the Theurgic or Magical school and not of the Oracles proper. He, however, quotes the following three verses with regard to the threefold division of the sensible world.

Among them the first Course is the Sacred one; and in the midst the Aëry; third is another [one] which warms the Earth in Fire. For all things are the slaves of these three mighty Principles.

(K. 37; C. 37)

This seems to mean, according to Damascius, that corresponding with the Heaven, Earth, and the Interspace, Air, there are three Principles; or rather, there is One Principle in three modes - heavenly (or empyrean), middle (aëry or ætherial), and terrene (or hylic). The heavenly course is, presumably, the revolution of the Great Sphere of fixed stars; the terrene is connected with the Central Fire; and the middle with the motions of the irregular spheres.

It may also be that the last “course,” connected with the Air simply, has to do with the mysterious “Winds” or currents of the Great Breath, as we saw in the symbolism of the Mithriac Ritual. This conjecture is confirmed by certain obscure references in Damascius, when, using the language of the Oracles, he speaks of a “Pipe” or “Conduit” connected with the Principles of the sensible world, and says that this is subordinate to a Pipe connected with the sensible world, and says that this is subordinate to a Pipe connected with the Fountains of the intelligible world.

The difference between Fountain and Principle is clear enough; one wells out from itself, the other rules something not itself. The terms seem to be somewhat of a hysteron proteron if we insist on a precise meaning; we should remember, however, that we are dealing largely with symbolism and poetical imagery.

Proclus endeavours to draw up a precise scale of terms in connection with this imagery of Fountains or Sources, when he tells us that the highest point of every chain (or series) is called a Fountain (or Source); next came Springs; after these Channels; and then Streams. But this is probably a refinement of Proclus' and not native to the Logia.

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