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The Chaldæan Oracles

FRAGMENTS AND COMMENTS.

THE PERFECTING OF THE BODY.

The physical body was called in the Oracles the “dung of matter” as we have seen above (p. xx) and as we may see from the obscure couplet:

Thou shalt not leave behind the dung of matter on the height; the image [eidólon] also hath its portion in the space that shines on every side.

(K. 61; C. 147)

This seems to mean either that the higher states of consciousness were not to be contaminated and befouled with the passions of the body, or that in the highest theurgy the body was not to be left behind in trance, but, on the contrary, that conscious contact was to be kept with it throughout the whole of the sacred operation, as we learn from the Mithriac Ritual. The “image” also - presumably the image-man, or subtle vehicle of the soul, the augoeidēs or astroeidēs - had an important part to play in linking the consciousness up with the Light-world .

In this connection we may also take the lines already quoted above (p. xx):

If thou dost stretch thy fiery mind unto the flowing work of piety, thou shalt preserve thy body too.

(K. 54; C. 176)

What the “flowing work of piety” may be, it is hazardous to say. It is probably a poetical expression for the pure plastic substance out of which the “perfect body” was to be formed, as set forth in the Mithriac Ritual. The work of the “fiery mind” is thus described in the Trismegistic sermon “The Key”:

For when the soul withdraws into itself, the spirit doth contract itself within the blood, and soul within the spirit. And then the mind, stript of its wrappings, and naturally divine, taking unto itself a fiery body, doth traverse every space.

(H., ii 151)

And again:

When mind becomes a daimon, the law requires that it should take a fiery body to execute the services of God.

(H., ii 154)

And here we may append a passage from Julian the Emperor-Philosopher, who loved our Oracles:

To this the Oracles of the Gods bear witness; and [therefore] I say that, by means of the holy life of purity, not only our souls but also our bodies are made worthy to receive much help and saving [or soundness]; for they declare:

Save ye as well the mortal thing bitter matter that surrounds you.

(K. 61; C. 178)

For the mystery-term “bitter matter” see the note in the Mithriac Ritual (pp. 41 ff.). Kroll thinks that all this refers to the dogma of the resurrection of the physical body, but the Ritual makes it plain that the only “body of resurrection” with which the Mystics and Gnostics were acquainted was the “perfect body”; the resurrection of the gross physical body was a superstition of the ignorant.

The “dung of matter” referred to above may be rendered as “dross” or “scum,” and a somewhat more mystical interpretation might be suggested. “Dross” as a mystery-word is essentially the same as “scum,” but from an analytical point of view suggests the reverse of “scum.” Certain states of the soul may be spoken of as scum; in spiritual alchemy when the soul-plasm is thought of as the “watery” sphere being gradually dried, so as to be eventually built up, or enformed, by the “fire” of the spiritual mind, then the scum rises to the top and is handed over to Fate. Scum would then mean men under the bondage of Fate. Dross, however, suggests the earth or metal side of things, and here the refuse falls and does not rise, and is again handed over to further schooling and discipline, and not allowed freedom from the law, like jewels and pure earth are.

Scum and dross are on the matter-side of things; images may be said to correspond to them on the mind-side. As scum is to the soul, as dross to pure matter, so is image to pure mind. Both scum and image have to do with the surface of things and not with the depth.

 

REINCARNATION.

As we might expect, the Oracles taught the doctrine of the repeated descents and returnings of the soul, by whatever name we may call it, whether transmigration, re-incarnation, palingenesis, metempsychosis, metensomatosis, or transcorporation. And so Proclus tells us that:

They make the soul descend many times into the world for many causes, either through the shedding of its feathers [or wings], or by the Will of the Father.

(K. 62)

The soul of a man, however, as also in the Trismegistic doctrine (H., ii 153, 166), could not be reborn into the body of a brute; as to this Proclus is quite clear when he writes:

And that the passing into irrational nature is contrary to nature for human souls, not only do the Oracles teach us, when they declare that “this is the law from the Blessed Ones that naught can break” the human soul:

Completes its life again in men and not in beasts.

(K. 62)

 

THE DARKNESS.

There was also in our Oracles a doctrine of punishment in the Invisible (Hadēs); for Proclus speaks of “the Avenging Powers (Poinaí), ‘Throttlers of mortals,’” and of a state of gloom and pain, below which stretched a still more awful gulf of Darkness, as the following verses tell us:

See that thou verge not down unto the world of the Dark Rays, ‘neath which is ever spread the Deep [or Abyss] devoid of form, where is no light to see, wrapped in black gloom befouling, that joys in shades [eidōla], void of all understanding, precipitous and sinuous, forever winding round its own blind depth, eternally in marriage with a body that cannot be seen, inert [and] lifeless.

(K. 62; C. 145)

With this description of the Serpent of Darkness, ever in congress with his infernal counterpart of blind Matter and Ignorance, may be compared the vision of the Trismegistic “Man-Shepherd” treatise:

But in a little while Darkness came settling down on part of it, awesome and gloomy, coiling in sinuous folds, so that methought it like unto a snake.

(H., ii 4)

This is a vision of the other side, or antipodes, of the Light; and so we find Proclus writing: “For this region is ‘Hater of the Light,’ as the Oracle also saith” (K. 63). Also with regard to the system thought to underlie the Oracles, Psellus informs us that below the Æther come three hylic worlds or planes of gross matter - the sublunary, terrene, and sub-terrene - “the uttermost of which is called chthonian and ‘Light-hater’ and is not only sublunary, but also contains within it that matter (hylē), which they call the ‘Deep.’”

 

THE INFERNAL STAIRS.

In connection with the above fragment we must also take the following corrupt lines, which evidently form part of the directions given to the soul for its journey through Hades:

But verge not downwards! Beneath thee lies a Precipice, sheer from the earth, that draws one down a Stair of seven steps, beneath which lies the Throne of Dire Necessity.

(K. 63; C. 159)

The topography of the Throne of Necessity corresponds somewhat with that in Plato’s famous Vision of Er - which was probably derived from an Orphic mystery-myth; and the old Orphic tradition was in contact with “Chalddæan” sources. So also in the Vision of Aridæus, which again is perhaps connected with Orphic initiation, it is Adrasteia, Daughter of Necessity, who presides over the punishments in Tartarus, and her dominion extends to the uttermost parts of the hylic cosmos, as we learn from a fragment of a theology preserved by Jerome (K. 63).

Proclus also speaks of the whole generative or genesiurgic Nature - that is, Nature under the sway of Necessity - in which, he says, is

. . . both the “turbulence of matter” and the “light-hating world,” as the Gods [i.e., the Oracles] say, and the “sinuous streams,” by which the many are drawn down, as the Oracles tell us.

Moreover, there must have been mention of some roaring or bellowing sound that struck the evil soul with terror, as in the Vision of Er; for Psellus quotes a mutilated fragment, which runs:

“Ah! Ah!” the Earth doth roar at them, until [they turn] to children (?).

(K. 63)

We may, however, venture to suggest another point of view from which the above symbolic imagery (K. 62) can be regarded, and take it not as a warning to ordinary fate-full people, but as an admonition to those who are being initiated or re-generated, and who can thus begin to stand aside from the Fate-spheres.

The “Precipice,” or Gulph, could thus be regarded as the way of descent from the Light and the Fulness into the Fate-spheres, and so the organ or instrument of creation of darkness and “flat” things (shades). The soul descends by means of a “flat” ladder of planes, the way of the formal mind.

The admonition thus seems to say: Do not let the mind travel down into the Fate-spheres by means of “planes” and formal ideas and the ordinary surface view of things; because if so, it is apt to leave some of itself behind. There is a way of descending direct and straight into, or rather fathoming, the uttermost Depths quite safely, but it is by way of living creatures, and not by way of mind-made ladders.

In mystical language “Throne” is the point of stability; it suggests contact with the Stable One. This plan of seven, the ladder or root of form, is essentially stable and not vital; and for an initiate who is on the return journey, active in the mystery of re-generation, it is to be avoided, as it leads back into imprisonment; it is the proper way down, but not the right way back. It leads to states dominated by Fate, to a prison or school where the soul is bound all round with rules; it does not lead to Freedom.

 

ON CONDUCT.

We may now conclude with some fragments concerning right living; in the first place with the famous riddle:

Soil not the spirit, and deepen not the plane!

(K. 64; C. 152)

The first clause is generally thought to refer to the spiritual, or rather spirituous, body, while the second is supposed to mean: “Turn not the plane into the solid” - that is to say, if we follow Pythagoræan tradition: Do not make the subtle body dense or gross.

From a more mystical point of view it might be suggested that normal Nature is but as a superficies. Until a man is initiated properly, that is to say, naturally re-generated, it is better for him not to delve into her magical powers too soon; but rather keep within the plane-side of things till his own substance is made pure. When pure there is nothing in him to which these magical powers can attach themselves. As soon as his nature is purified then Spiritual Mind begins to enter his “perfect body,” and so he can control the inner forces, or forces within, or sexual powers of Nature - those creative powers and passions which make her double herself. The superficial side of Nature is complete in its own way, and normal man should be content with this; he should not attempt to stir the secret powers of her Depth, or Womb, till he is guided by the wisdom of the Spiritual Mind.

In the Latin translation of Proclus’ lost treatise On Providence, the following three sayings are ascribed to the Oracles (Responsa). Kroll, however, thinks that the second only is authentic:

When thou dost look upon thyself, let fear come on thee.

Believe thyself to be out of body, and thou art.

The spawning of illnesses in us is in our own control, for they are born out of the life we lead.

(K. 64; C. 181)

If the man regards his own lower self, he fears because of his imperfection; if he gazes on his higher self, he feels awe.

With the second aphorism compare the instruction of the Trismegistic treatise “The Mind to Hermes” (§ 19):

And, thus, think from thyself, and bid thy soul go unto any land, and there more quickly than thy bidding will it be.

(H., ii 186)

 

THE GNOSIS OF PIETY.

That the spirit of the doctrine of the Oracles was far removed from the practice of the arts of astrology, earth-measurement, divination, augury, and the rest, and turned the mind to the contemplation of spiritual verities alone, may be seen from the following fine fragment:

Submit not to thy mind the earth's vast measures, for that the Tree of Truth grows not on earth; and measure not the measure of the sun by adding rod to rod, for that his course is in accordance with the Will eternal of the Father, and not for sake of thee. Let thou the moon's rush go; she ever runs by operation of Necessity. The stars’ procession was not brought forth for sake of thee.

The birds’ wide-winging high in the air is never true, nor yet the slicings of the victims’ entrails. These are all toys, lending support to mercenary fraud.

Flee thou these things, if thou would'st enter in True Worship's Paradise, where Virtue, Wisdom, and Good-rule are met together.

(K. 64; C. 144)

There is somewhat of a Jewish Sibylline flavour about this which might seem to indicate contact with Jewish Gnostic circles. As, however, there is nothing else in our fragments which shows signs of Jewish influence, we may fairly conclude that the ethic of our Oracles was similar, and that similarity does not spell plagiarism.

Moreover the phaseology is identical with that of other fragments which can lie under no suspicion of a “Judaizing” influence; for instance (i 81; ii 69):

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

(K. 34; C. 14)

Bodies are allowed our self-revealed manifestations for your sakes.

(K. 56; C. 186)

And so we bring these two small volumes to a close in the hope that a few at least of the many riddles connected with these famous Oracles may have been made somewhat less puzzling.

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