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The Chaldæan Oracles



On the borderland between the intelligible and sensible worlds were the Iynges - mysterious beings whose name may perhaps be translated as Wheels or Whirls, or even as Shriekers. As, however, I seem to detect in these three ruling Principles a correspondence with the creators, preservers and destroyers, or rather regenerators (perfecters or enders) of Indian theosophy, I will call these Iynges Starters, in the sense of Initiators or Setters-up of the initial impulse.

We will first set down the “wisdom” of the lexicon on this puzzling subject, warning the reader that he is having his attention turned to the wrong side of the thing - the littleness and superstition of what in the Oracles was clearly intended to be a revelation of some greatness.

Iynx is said to be the bird that we call the wryneck; it was called iynx in Greek from its cry, as it is called wryneck in English from the movement of its head. Iyge and iygmós are used of howling, shrieking, yelling, both for shouts of joy and cries of pain, and also of the hissing of snakes.

The ancient wizards, it is said, used to bind the wryneck to a wheel, which they made to revolve, in the belief that they thus drew men's hearts along with it and chained them to obedience; hence this magic wheel was frequently used in the belief that it was a means of recovering unfaithful lovers. This operation was called setting the magic bird or magic wheel a-going. The unfortunate bird seems to have been attached to the wheel with its wings and legs pegged out crosswise so as to form four spokes, spread-eagle fashion. The word iynx thus came to mean a charm and a spell, and also a passionate yearning.

The root-idea accordingly seems to have been that of a “winged wheel” that emitted sound, and we are reminded of the winged creatures or wheels in the famous Vision of Ezekiel, who saw the mystic sight in Babylon, and thus probably caught some reflection of the symbolism of the Chaldæan mysteries.

How the wryneck was first brought in, and finally assumed the chief place, is a puzzle. It reminds one of the story of the calf in the Vaidik rite, which so interfered with the sacred service of the sage that he had to tie it up to a post before he could continue the rite. This casual incident became finally stereotyped into the chief feature of the rite!

Certain it is that the Iynges of our Oracles have nothing to do with wrynecks; we shall, therefore, make bold to translate them as Wheels or Starters.

They were presumably thought of as Living Spheres, whirling out in every direction from the centre, and swirling in again to that same centre, once they had reached the limit of their periphery or surround. They were also, in all probability, conceived of as Winged Globes - a familiar figure in Babylonian and Egyptian art - thus symbolizing that they were powers of the Air, midway between Heaven, the Great Surround, and Earth, the fixed Centre. In other words, they were the Children of the Æon.

An anonymous ancient writer tells us (K. 39) that it is the blending of the intellectual (or gnostic) and intelligible (or ideal) orders - that is, the union of the prototypes of what we distinguish as subject and object in the sense-world of diversity, or what we might call the self-reflective energy of the Mind on the plane of reality - that first “spirts forth” the One Iynx, and after this the three Iynges that are called “paternal” and also “unspeakables.” This writer also characterizes the Iynx as the “One in the three Depths after it” (it is, therefore, of an æonic nature), and says that it is this three-in-one hierarchy that divides the worlds into three - namely, empyrean, ætherial, and terrene.

The information of Damascius refines and complicates the idea, when he tells us that “the Mind of the Father is said to bring forward [on to the stage of manifestation] the triadic ordering - Iynges, Synoches, Teletarchæ” - which we may render tentatively as Whirlings, Holdings-together and Perfectings.

The Synoches we have come across before (i. 58). Teletarchía is used by ecclesiastical writers as a synonym of the Trinity; while Orpheus is called teletárchēs as the founder of mysteries or perfectionings.

The root-meanings underlying the names of the members of this triad seem to suggest, as we have already said, the ideas of creating (or preferably starting), preserving (or maintaining), and completing (or perfecting or finishing).

Damascius thinks that the last words of the following two verses refer to the triad of the One Iynx:

Many are these who leaping mount upon the shining worlds; among them are three excellencies [or heights].

(K. 40; C. 40)

The meaning of the first clause is doubtful. Who the many (fem. pl.) are is not clear; it may mean that there are hosts of subordinate Iynges. On the contrary, it may have nothing to do with these Nature-Iynges on the Path of Descent, that is the bringing into manifestation, but may refer to souls who in the Ascent win their way to the “shining worlds” or Worlds of Light, and become Iynges consciously.

According to both Damascius and Proclus, the Order of Iynges is characterized as having the power both of proceeding or going-forth and of drawing-together or contracting - that is, both of expansion and contraction, of out-breathing and in-breathing. They are, moreover, free Intelligences.

The Whirls [Iynges] created by the Father’s Thought are themselves, too, intelligent [or gnostic], being moved by Wills ineffable to understand.

(K. 40; C. 54)

They are created by Divine Thought, as Sons of Will and Yoga, and procreate by thought; they are Mind-born and give birth to minds. Their epithet is the Ineffables or Unspeakables; they are further called in the Oracles “swift,” and are said to proceed from and to “rush to” or “desire eagerly” the Father (C. 52); they are the “Father’s Powers.” Indeed, as Proclus declares:

For not only do these three divinities [or divine natures] of themselves bring into manifestation and contract them [sci. out of manifestation], but they are also “Guardians” [or Watchers or Preservers] of the “works” of the Father, according to the Oracle - yea, of the One Mind that doth create itself.

(K. 40; C. 41)

Iynx in its root-meaning, according to Proclus, signifies the “power of transmission,” which is said, in the Oracles, “to sustain the fountains.” The same idea seems to be latent in the following verse:

For all cosmos has inflexible intelligent sustainers.

(K. 40; C. 64)

The meaning is quite clearly brought out when Proclus, elsewhere, affirms that the Order of the Iynges “has a transmissive [that is, intermediary or ferrying] power, as the Theologers call it, of all things from the Intelligible [or Typal] Order into Matter, and again of all things into it [sci. the Intelligible].”

In other words, they are the direct link between the Divine and physical,

and to some extent also suggest the idea of Angels or Messengers; yet are they like to Wheels and Whirls, or Vortices - on the one hand to vortical atoms, and on the other to individualities. They are, of course, in essence, quite unbound by ideas of extension in space, and sequence in time; though they manifest in space and time.

Porphyry preserves a curious Oracle which reads:

With secret rites drawing the iynx from the æether.

(K. 41)

This Oracle, however, may have been taken from some Theurgist or Hellenized Magian source and not from our poem; and so also may the following quoted by Proclus:

Be active [or operate] round the Hecatic spinning thing.

(K. 41; C. 194)

It is doubtful what stróphalus means exactly. It may sometimes mean a top; and in the Mysteries tops were included among the mystic play-things of the young Bacchus, or Iacchus. They represented, among other things, the “fixed” stars (humming tops) and planets (whipping tops).

The Iynx was said to be active, or to energize, on the three - empyrean, ætherial and terrene - planes.



Though the Later Platonic commentators make two other allied hierarchies out of the Synoches and Teletarchæ, both these, as we have seen, should rather be taken as modes of this same mysterious Iynx. In manifestation, from one it passed to three, and so became many. Thus a scrap of our Oracles reads:

Nay, and as many as are subject to the hylic [or terrene] Synoches.

(K. 41; C. 57)

This would seem to mean simply the Powers that hold together, or contract, or mass, material things; and these Powers are again the Iynges, or simultaneously creative, preservative, and destructive or perfective Intelligences of the Father-Mind, which are in the Oracles symbolically called His Lightnings when thought of as Rays or Intelligences. The word Prēstēres (Lightnings), however, is more graphically and literally rendered as Fiery Whirlwinds - like waterspouts. These are again our Iynges or Whirls or Swirls or Wheels, spinning in and out. Thus two verses read:

But to the Knowing Fire-whirls of the Knowing Fire [i.e., the Father] all things do yield, subject unto the Father's W ill which makes them to obey.

(K. 42; C. 63)

As we have seen above (p. xx) these Whirls, as Synoches - that is, in their power of .holding together - were called “Guardians,” and this is borne out by

two verses:

He gave to His own Fire-whirls the power to guard the summits, commingling with the Synoches the proper power of His own Might.

(K. 42; C. 56)

The “summits” suggest these self-same Iynges in their creative mode; the series of which they were the “summits” being creative (or inceptive), preservative (or guardian), and perfective (consummative or regenerative).

Thus Damascius tells us that the whole Demiurgic Order - that is to say the order of things in genesis - was surrounded by what the Oracles call the “Fire-whirling Guard.” In brief it is the power of holding together (? gravitation on the life-side of things).

This is fundamentally the great power of the Mother-side of things; for, as we have seen (i. 57), the Great Mother is:

Source of all sources, Womb that holds all things together .

(K. 19; C. 99)

It follows, therefore, that the Iynges, as creative, are on the Father-side; as preservative (or Synoches) on the Mother-side; and as result or consummating or perfecting (or Teletarchæ) on the Son-side.

Damascius bears this out when he tells us that the Oracles call the Synoches the “Whole-makers” (holopoioí) - that is to say, they are connected with the idea of wholeness or oneness or the root-substance side of things, and again with the idea of the Æon.

Of course, the symbolic categories of Father, Mother, and Son are really all aspects of One and the same Mystery - the That which understands itself alone and yet is beyond understanding. To this Proclus refers when he writes:

Including [containing, preserving] all things in the one excellency [or summit] of His own subsistence, “Himself subsists wholly beyond,” according to the Oracle.

(K. 42; C. 7)



So also with the Teletarchæ or perfecting Powers; as Proclus tells us, they have the same divisions as the Synoches (and Iynges); that is to say, it is again all the same thing looked at from the Son-side of things. There was thus, in the elaboration of the Later Platonic commentators, a triple, and even a sevenfold, division of this order or hierarchy. Considering the Teletarchic energy, or activity, as triadic, Proclus tells us that

in its first mode it has to do with the finest or ultimate substance, the Empyrean, and says that it plays the part of Driver or Guide to the “foot [? - tarsón) of Fire" - which may be simply a poetical phrase for the Fire in its first contact with substance. Its middle mode, embracing beginnings and ends and middles, perfects the Æther; while its third mode is concerned with Gross Matter (Hylē), still confused and unshaped, which it also perfects.

From these and other elaborations of a like nature, we learn that the Teletarchs were regarded as three, and were intimately bound up with the Synoches, and therefore with the Iynges (C. 58). The unifying or holding-together of the Synochic power is de-fined and delimited by the perfecting nature of the Teletarchic power:

Into beginning and end and middle things by Order at Necessity.

(K. 43)

In this connection it is of interest to cite a sentence from Proclus that is almost certainly quoted from the Oracles. It relates to the Ascent of the individual soul and not to cosmogenesis, to perfection in the Mysteries and not to the Mysteries that perfect the world:

The Soul-lord, he who doth set his feet upon the realms ætherial, is the Perfectioner [Teletarch].

(K. 43)

Finally, Proclus refers the following two verses to the Teletarchs:

Nay, a Name of august majesty, and, with sleepless whirling, leaping into the worlds, by reason of the Father's swift Announcement.

(K. 43; C. 111)

In another passage Proclus refers to the “Transmissive” Name that leaps into activity in the “boundless worlds” (K. 44); and in yet another passage (K. 40), which we have already quoted (p. xx), he gives this “Name” to the Iynges. This plainly refers to the “Intermediaries who stand” between the Father and Matter, as Damascius says (K. 44), who further affirms that in their aspect of Teletarchs they are perfecting, and rule over all perfections, or the perfecting rites of the Mysteries.

So much, then, for the highest Principles or Ruling Powers of the Sensible World. The commentators further speak of a division among the Gods into Gods within the Zones and Gods beyond the Zones; but no verse from the Oracles is extant by which we can control this statement. It seems to mean simply that they were classified according as to whether their operations were concerned with the Seven Spheres, or were beyond them.



The lesser powers were, according to Olympiodorus, divided into Angels, Daimones and Heroes. Concerning the Heroes, however, we have no fragment remaining; while Angels and Daimones are at times somewhat confused. On the Daimones we have the following two verses:

Nature persuades us that the Daimones are pure, and things that grow from evil matter useful and good.

(K. 44; C. 191)

Kroll thinks that this means that Nature deceives us into thinking that the evil Daimones are good; it may, however, mean that whereas from Man's standpoint Daimones are good or evil, according to Nature they are pure, or indifferent, or non-moral. Their operations are conditioned by man's nature. They are in themselves non-human entities, and there is a scale of them from lowest to highest.



Certain classes of them the Oracles call “Dogs”; and here we may quote an interesting passage from Lydus:

Whence the tradition of the Mystic Discourse [? the Oracles] that Hecatē [the World-Mother] is four-headed because of the four elements. And the fire-breathing head of the Horse evidently refers as it were to the sphere of fire; the bellowing head of the Bull has reference to a certain bellowing power connected with the sphere of air; the bitter and unstable nature of the Hydra [or Water-serpent] is connected with the sphere of water; and the chastening and avenging nature of the Dog with that of earth.

(K. 30)

The last clause throws some light on the allied figure of Anubis in Egyptian psychopompy, and also on the following fragment of the Oracles:

Out of the Womb of Earth leap Dogs terrestrial that unto mortal never show true sign.

(K. 45; C. 97)

It is impossible to say what this means precisely without the context. “Dogs”

are the intelligent guardians of the secrets of various mystery-traditions; they are ever watchful. The Outer Guards of the Adyta in which the mystic rites were celebrated, were sometimes called Dogs. Much could be written on this symbolism, beginning with Anubis and the Dog-ape of Thoth (see “Dog” in the Index of H.). Dog was a name of honour in the Mysteries. The Pythagoræans called the Planets the “Dogs of Persephone”; sparks were poetically called the “Dogs of Hephæstus.” The Eumenides, were called “Dogs,” and the Harpies “Dogs of Great Zeus.” Perhaps this may throw some light on our particular Oracle; in the Oracles generally, however, they seem to have been a generic name of apparently wider meaning than in the symbolism which Lydus uses; unless we assume that for him the earth-sphere extended to the moon, when it would have three “planes” - terrene, watery and aëry - each of which had its appropriate Dogs.

Thus Olympiodorus writes: “From the aëry spaces begin to come into existence the irrational Daimones. Wherefore also the Oracle says:

She [? Hecatē ] is the Driver of the aëry and the earthy and the watery Dogs.

(K. 45; C. 75)

Kroll refers to the last of these Dogs the epithet “Water-walkers,” which Proclus quotes from the Oracles in the following passage:

“Watery” as applied to divine natures signifies the undivided domain over water; for which cause, too, the Oracle calls these Gods “Water-walkers”

(K. 45; C. 76).

It is clear, however, that this refers to a far higher “dominion” than that of the Dogs. These inferior Daimones had their existence as far as the Moon only, in what was regarded as the realm of the impure nature or gross matter. Beyond the Moon the Daimones were held to be of a higher and purer order; these were also called Angels - a term that in all probability came into our Hellenized Oracles along the line of the Mago-Chaldæan tradition.

Psellus speaks of “the manifoldly flowing tribes” (the group-soul idea) of the Daimones, and this phrase was in all probability taken from the Oracles (K. 46). It would seem to indicate that the nature of the Daimones was unstable and Protean, or rather that they could assume any form at will.

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