Proclus: On the Priestly Art
Christopher Warnock, Esq.
Proclus On the Priestly Art
Proclus was a late Neoplatonic philosopher, who lived in Athens in the 5th Century
A.D. Like Iamblichus he united philosophical rigor with traditional pagan religion and practiced theurgy,
literally "god work" which uses ritual and magic for mystic union with the Divine. Proclus saw all things
as proceeding from the One and thus despite being separated, all things retain this basic spiritual unity.
In "On the Priestly Art" Proclus explains the spiritual sympanthies and
connections that bind together all things in the Cosmos and in particular how particular things are
connected through specific chains of spiritual sympathy thus giving a philosophical explanation
for the efficacy of both theurgy and magic. Proclus was an important influence on Renaissance mages
and philosophers like Marsilio Ficino and Cornelius
Proclus: On the Priestly Art According to the Greeks
Just as lovers systematically leave behind what is fair to sensation and
attain the one true source of all that is fair and intelligible, in the same way
priests, observing how all things are in all from the sympathy that all visible
things have for one another and for the invisible powers, have also framed
their priestly knowledge. For they were amazed to see the last in the first and
the very first in the last: in heaven they saw earthly things acting causally and
in a heavenly manner, in the earth heavenly things in an earthly manner.
do heliotropes move together with the sun, selenotropes with the moon,
moving around to the extent of their ability with the luminaries of the
cosmos? All things pray according to their own order and sing hymns, either
intellectually or rationally or naturally or sensibly, to heads of entire chains.
And since the heliotrope is also moved toward that to which it readily opens,
if anyone hears it striking the air as it moves about, he perceives in the sound
that it offers to the king the kind of hymn that a plant can sing.
In the earth, then, it is possible to see suns and moons terrestrially, but in
heaven one can also see celestially all the heavenly plants and stones and
animals living intellectually. So by observing such things and connecting
them to the appropriate heavenly beings, the ancient wise men brought
divine powers into the region of mortals, attracting them through likeness.
For likeness is sufficient to join beings to one another. If, for example, one
first heats up a wick and then holds it under the light of a lamp not far from
the flame, he will see it lighted though it be untouched by the flame, and the
lighting proceeds upward from below.
By analogy, then, understand the
preparatory heating as like the sympathy of lower things for those above: the
bringing-near and the proper placement as like the use made in the priestly
art of material things, at the right moment and in the appropriate manner: the
communication of the fire as like the coming of the divine light to what is
capable of sharing it; and the lighting as like the denization of mortal
entities and the illumination of what is implicated in matter, which things
then are moved toward the others above insofar as they share in the divine
seed. like the light of the wick when it is lit.
The lotus also shows that there is sympathy. Before the sun's rays appear, it
is closed, but as the sun first rises it is slowly unfolded, and the higher the
light goes the more it is expanded, and then it is contracted again as the sun
goes down. If men open and close mouths and lips to hymn the sun. how does
this differ from the drawing-together and loosening of the lotus petals? For
the petals of the lotus take the place of a mouth, and its hymn is a natural
But why talk of plants, which have some trace of generative life? One
can also see that stones inhale the influences of the luminaries, as we see the
sunstone with its golden rays imitating the rays of the sun; and the stone
called Bel's eye (which should be called sun's eye. they say) resembling the
pupil of the eye and emitting a glittering light from the center of its pupil ; and
the Moonstone changing in figure and motion along with the moon: and the
sun-moonstone, a sort of image of the conjunction of these luminaries.
imitating their conjunctions and separations in the heavens.
Thus, all things are full of gods: Things on earth are full of heavenly gods:
things in heaven are full of supercelestials: and each chain continues abounding
up to its final members. For what is in the One-before-all makes its
appearance in all. in which are also communications between souls set
beneath one god or another. Thus, consider the multitude of solar animals,
such as lions and cocks, which also share in the divine, following their own
order. It is amazing how the lesser in might and size among these animals are
regarded with fear by those greater in both respects. For they say the lion
shrinks from the cock.
The cause of this is not to be grasped from
appearances but from intellectual vision and from differences among the
causes. In fact, the presence of heliacal symbols is more effective for the
cock: it is clear that he perceives the solar orbits and sings a hymn to the
luminary as it rises and moves among the other cardinal points. Therefore,
some solar angels seem to have forms of this same kind, and though they are
formless they appear formed to us held fast in form. Now if one of the solar
demons becomes manifest with the shape of a lion, as soon as a cock is
presented he becomes invisible, so they say. shrinking away from the signs of
greater beings, as many refrain from committing abominable acts when they
see likenesses of divine men.
In brief, then, such things as the plants mentioned above follow the orbits
of the luminary; others imitate the appearance of its rays (e.g., the palm) or
the empyrean substance (e.g.. the laurel) or something else. So it seems that
properties sown together in the sun are distributed among the angels, de-
mons, souls, animals, plants, and stones that share them. From this evidence
of the eyes, the authorities on the priestly art have thus discovered how to
gain the favor of powers above, mixing some things together and setting
others apart in due order.
They used mixing because they saw that each
unmixed thing possesses some property of the god but is not enough to call
that god forth. Therefore, by mixing many things they unified the aforemen-
tioned influences and made a unity generated from all of them similar to the
whole that is prior to them all. And they often devised composite statues and
fumigations, having blended separate signs together into one and having
made artificially something embraced essentially by the divine through uni-
fication of many powers, the dividing of which makes each one feeble, while
mixing raises it up to the idea of the exemplar.
But there are times when one
plant or one stone suffices for the work. Flax-leaved daphne is enough for a
manifestation: laurel, box-thorn, squill, coral, diamond, or jasper will do for a
guardian spirit; but for foreknowledge one needs the heart of a mole and for
purification sulfur and salt water. By means of sympathy, then, they draw
them near, but by antipathy they drive them away, using sulfur and bitumen
for purification, perhaps, or an aspersion of sea water. For sulfur purifies by
the sharpness of its scent, sea water because it shares in the empyrean power.
For consecrations and other divine services they search out appropriate
animals as well as other things.
Beginning with these things and others like
them, they gained knowledge of the demonic powers, how closely connected
they are in substance to natural and corporeal energy, and through these very
substances they achieved association with the [daimons], from whom they
returned forthwith to actual works of the gods, learning some things from the
[gods], for other things being moved by themselves toward accurate consid-
eration of the appropriate symbols. Thence, leaving nature and natural ener-
gies below, they had dealings with the primary and divine powers.
On the Priestly Art, Proclus (translated by Brian Copenhaver)
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