Hello everyone, I’m Angela and welcome to my channel.
First off, can you hear me? Because I’ve had a few technical issues.
So I’m really happy to start this live stream today which is on Neoplatonism and, and how Neoplatonism has constructed a worldview around monism and also the effect that this worldview and this philosophy have had on magic and esoteric practices. Of course, it’s not going to be comprehensive and exhaustive because none of my videos are. But we will try and address a few of the key and core principles and elements.
So let me see who’s there in the chat. Hi Andrew, Hi Christina, oh Hi Cipriano.
Let me sort out the technical issue. Give me a second.
Here I am. Can you hear me okay, by the way, because I changed the microphone? Because I realized the last time the microphone was not really good, not good at all I’d say so do let me know if the microphone sounds okay. I think that there was an echo before but hopefully, now it’s worth it.
So Hi Stephen, Hi Michael, Hi Matt. Oh, Heidi, nice to see you. It’s really nice to see all of you guys here. Thank you so much for coming for all the academic fun live. That’s nice, so let’s crack on with the Neoplatonism.
So, as I said, and I made it pretty clear, I will be talking about Neoplatonism and Esotericism. So the main principles in Neoplatonism, especially with regards to monism and the idea of the world and how the world is constructed and created.
So please bear in mind that there is a delay between when I speak and when you write in the chat because you will get the streaming a few seconds, sometimes, like even a minute later than I’m actually recording. So it means that I will have to go back and read your comments. So that is important to bear in mind.
So the live stream, the live lecture will be divided in three parts. At first, I will address the core concepts in Neoplatonism especially in Plotinus and in Neoplatonic philosophy in general. As second I will address a few philosophers for whom the philosophy of Plotinus and Neoplatonism in general, has had a massive effect, a massive impact and these philosophers will, of course, be related to magic because this is the theme of the channel and also I will address the impact on current esoteric and magical practices.
So it is important for you if you have any questions, and I hope you do have questions, please start your question by typing QUESTION in caps lock as your first word. This way I can immediately see that you are, in fact, asking me a question and not just conversing with other people in the chat which is, of course, absolutely fine and I do encourage it because it is part of the academic fun to share with other people and comment on things. So, in order for me to clearly, immediately understand that you are asking a question please do type the word QUESTION in caps lock first and then you can follow it by your question. So let’s now start with Neoplatonism.
So Neoplatonism relates to the third century of the common era. It is interesting to notice that actually, Neoplatonists didn’t call themselves Neoplatonists. This is a label that was attached to them later on. They used to consider themselves as Platonists, Plātonists even, rather than Neoplatonists since their philosophy, of course, it is massively inspired by Plato but at the same time, it developed in a way that it is a creature in its own and so historians and philosophers who had come later have relabelled it as Neoplatonism.
It is a philosophy that has been utilized a lot by different religious traditions. One of which, perhaps, the most famous of which, is Christianity and because Neoplatonism came at a time when we may even say that Christianity needed a way of rationalizing and explaining to the wide world how come they believed in certain ideas in a certain way of constructing the world, on how come they believe in this God Creator and how from these gods all the creation could emerge, and emerge into creation. So Neoplatonism was actually pretty useful for Christians and for Christianity to rationalize their belief system. So the founder of Neoplatonism is Ammonius Saccas and his disciple was Plotinus who’s the most famous Neoplatonist, we may say, and then his disciple was Porphyry who collected the whole of Plotinus’ writings into the Enneads, which are this collection of treatises and then Porphyry’s disciple was Iamblichus.
So the Monism of Plotinus, which we will be explaining in just a moment, can be seen as a synthesis of ancient philosophy because it combines Aristotle, Plato and Stoicism and we will see why that is. And also it marks the end of ancient philosophy because Neoplatonism relates and connects ancient philosophy with medieval philosophy. So it is kind of a bridge between these two philosophies in history. These two historical periods in philosophy.
So let’s address one of the core aspects in Neoplatonism and in Plotinus’ philosophy – the great chain of being. So, according to the monistic view in Plotinus, everything stems from one source and that is why this is called monism because everything starts from the One. The One is the source of everything and you may say; how come the One creates everything? Well, according to Plotinus and Neoplatonism, the One is so overabundant of being that it just cannot do anything but overflow. And this overflowing of the One emanates, creates what are called the emanations which are the different stages from which to One emanates and expands. So we have the One, which is the source of being the ‘godness’, the divinity, and even the goodness because in Plotinus, as we will see, being equals good, which equals god or godness in a very impersonal way though. So from the One stands and actually emanates the divine mind or the intellecteors, then we have the world soul or the anima mundi, in Latin, which is the world, the soul of the world and then we have the universe and the matter.
We may see that the two main emanations are basically these. So we have the One from which it emanates the universal intellect, from which it emanates the world soul, from which we see emanating nature and we are part of nature – so we are part of this emanation from the One. These are also called, in Neoplatonism, ‘hypostases’ which is a term similar to the Sanskrit ‘avatara’ which is more known in the Hindi pronunciation ‘avatar’ in English. But it is like concretisation, it is something which is made concrete from something which stems and emanates from above. So it is interesting to see how the One emanates. It is a difficult concept to grasp, actually, because this has been adopted by Christians to explain how God creates the world but in Plotinus and in the Neoplatonic Monism we don’t really have the idea that the One which is god or godness, in an impersonal way, decides to create the world. In Neoplatonism, actually, there is no intention from the One to create the world.
You can imagine it like a fountain, it’s a fountain which is so over-abundant of water that cannot do anything but overflowing. Or you can imagine it like a flame, the flame of a candle. So the One would be the flame of the candle and the flame of the candle itself and the emanations will be the warmth or even the warmth which gets dispersed from the candle. So you can see that the further you move from the actual flame the less and less warmed or all the particles that the flame emanates will be perceivable. They will still be there if you have a flame and a candle in a room even at the extremities of the room there, if you were to observe it from a microscope, you will have that there will be particles, or effects created by that flame, at the centre of the room. But the further away you move from the actual flame the less visible, the less sensible those effects are. And this happens to us as well. So according to Plotinus and Neoplatonism we, as part of nature, are so removed from the One that we are not able to, even though we are still connected to the One and to god, we cannot perceive it any longer because we are so far apart from it.
Thank you so much, Jeanette. Thank you so much for your donation. It really means a lot.
So, moving on you can see that this movement, which you don’t really have to imagine it as a movement from upwards to downward, but more like concentric circles, like something that emanates and expands in the space, like the One is this central source from which everything stems and expands. But in this other graphical representation of how Neoplatonists imagined the creation of the world, you can see that from the One you have the intellect, we have the world soul and then matter and the individual souls. But this movement goes both ways. It means that just as the One cannot help itself, cannot help but overflowing into existence because it’s just so overabundant of being.
the problemAt the same time us, as human beings, even though we are so far apart from the One, from the source of divinity, we still have that spark of divinity within us which allows us to move back to the source if we want it. So, since the One is… this is another interesting aspect in Neoplatonism what is called ‘negative theology.’ It’s not negative in the sense that it is harmful or evil, it is negative in the sense that they understand things by negation, by negating their opposite. So, since the One is god itself, is godness itself and it is beyond our reasoning mind because, as we have seen, even our individual minds were emanated from the One so, of course, we cannot fully grasp the oneness and god. Since One is beyond our reasoning mind we cannot say what it is but only what it is not. So, by understanding what One is not we can get closer to, not really understanding with our reasoning mind, but grasp slowly and steadily what the One is. So, for example, we can say that the One is not mutable, that is not subject to change, that is not finite and so on so. This is a method of systematic critique of the layers belonging to the physical existence. Because you have to imagine that we are, according to Plotinus, we derive from the One but we are so far away from the One that it’s very difficult for us to reclaim and regain that connection and if we are imprisoned since he also believed that we are imprisoned in our body which is a very platonic concept. There are actually many elements of Plato in Plotinus, for example, the idea that you have this intellectual sphere, the higher intellectus from which our individual minds derive. But also the idea that our bodies are an imprisonment and even our reasoning mind can imprison us and can be a hindrance towards our reconnection to the One. So it is important for us to use our minds, not to directly understand the One but to remove all the layers of falsity and illusion that are in front of us.
So how to reach the One then, according to Plotinus and Neoplatonism, take away everything and what would be left is it. So everything that you can perceive with your five senses, with all the limitations with which we are equipped as human beings. When you remove all of those layers what is left is that spark of oneness that can allow us to move back upwards, which is, of course, not really a movement upwards but more a movement towards the source and hence regain that kind of godness, that we have, not really lost, but we are far, far removed from that source.
So there are degrees of unity. The degrees of unity increase moving from the bottom up to the chain of being and this concept of the chain of being, which I just explained. We will find it if we, as I hope, will do other lectures on other philosophers; Hermetic philosophers, Renaissance philosophers, we will find this chain of beings quite often and as we will see in other videos and in other episodes, these have had a massive impact on how we, today, conceptualize magic and we will see that.
So philosophy and contemplation are key tools in Plotinus but it is important to say that he didn’t mean philosophy as we do today. It’s not really speculation. Philosophy, as he conceptualized it, is more contemplation. It is, I guess, similar more similar to a form of meditation and it is considered to be an important tool for Plotinus so that we can actually move back to the source from which we have been emanated.
So now let me answer a few of your questions.
Thanks again, Jeanette. Your donation is really appreciated. So let me see if there are any questions.
Question: where are you from? I’m Italian. Yes, Academic Police already answered that. Thank you also Academic Police for helping me.
Nadia, I see a question at the start of your question. Oh, okay you were just… thank you Nadia for helping out moderating.
Symphonia Cosmica asks: did Neoplatonism saw the different divisions, One, world soul through matter, as planes of existence or abstract concepts? Did Neoplatonism saw the different divisions… Well, first of all, it’s important not to see them as divisions but as emanations. Because they are emanations from the source and they are not seen really as planes of existence. They have been interpreted later, as we will see, they have been interpreted as different realms of existence but that is a later reinterpretation. Neoplatonists and Plotinus actually didn’t quite see them as different planes of existence but just different stages of the unfolding of the One into the many, into the multiplicity.
Helena is asking: “Divine Mind” and “World Soul?” What actually is contemplation for Plotinus how can we reach that state of awareness? Helena, I don’t understand your first question. Oh, what is, oh sorry. What is divine mind and world soul? So, the divine mind would be a higher intellect which is similar to how Plato conceptualized the world of ideal forms. So it is similar to Plato’s idea in that. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with it but, according to Plato, there is a world of ideal forms where all the multiple manifestations in our reality stem from. So, for example, all the horses are a projection of the idea of ‘the horse’ – the horse that contains all the multiple manifestations of the horse. So the way Plotinus conceptualized the universal intellect is very similar to how Plato saw the world of idea of forms. It’s like the primordial forms from which the multiple manifestations, that we see in reality, stem from.
Then what is the word soul? It’s the soul of the word or the word soul or the anima mundi in Latin. The world, is nature, basically, which is infused with the soul. So, according to Plotinus, what comes first is the soul of the world and then what comes after, in the process of the emanation from the One, is the material world. So the soul of the world comes first and the material manifestation of the world comes later. You have to imagine that, according to Neoplatonists, matter, and that’s how you can see also the influence of Gnosticism, the matter is the farthest thing from godness. So the more we see matter, the more we see the concretization of things, the more removed, the more far away – not removed because we are never removed from the One – the more far away we are from the source.
Oh, thank you, Thomas. Nice to see you here. Hi to you and Teresa.
Also, John asks: where does a Neoplatonist say that evil comes from? Oh, I will go into evil just in a few moments John. So I will be asking that in depth.
So, N A asks: did they believe back then that the source could be communicated with directly? I wouldn’t say it directly because, as we saw in our graphical representation, we are very far away from the One. So there are quite a few stages before we actually reach the source but they do believe that you can go back and get reunited with the One.
Then Dale asks: was the idea of the Monad or a supreme principle known among the common people and part of the Hellenic religion? Sorry, I don’t think I read it correctly. Was this idea of the Monad… It’s not like the Monad Dale. It’s not the same as the Monad. The Monad comes later. This is Monism. But thank you for pointing that out because, actually, that had a massive influence on Leibniz and Spinoza and other philosophers later. But it’s not the idea of a Monad it’s the idea of oneness, which unfolds into the multiplicity.
What is supreme principle known among the common people and part of the learning religion or was this a concept only known among philosophers? Oh, Dale, are you asking whether this idea was a common one in Greece and Italy at the time?
Oh, thank you, Eddie. I just saw your donation. Thank you so much. I always read your comments by the way. I love reading those.
So, I think I answered all the questions. Dale just please explain further your question because I don’t think I quite get what you mean. Are you asking whether, at the time of Plotinus, his ideas were known by common people? He did try to divulge his ideas but it wasn’t a very popular philosophy. I’d say that it was more known among philosophers at the time, among philosophers who used to call themselves Platonists or Plātonist rather than Neoplatonists.
Okay, I think I can go back to the slides now. Oh thank you Eric for being here it’s nice to see you.
Let’s now dive deeper into the idea of emanation and Monism.
As I said, is not the same as a Monad, which we see later in philosophy. Monism is more the idea that everything is ultimately one and this can or cannot be associated with the idea of pantheism which means that the godness is in everything, which we will see in a moment. So emanation is neither imitation nor creation and that is how this is actually, even though it has been utilized by Christians in order to rationalize their belief system. It’s not quite the same. It’s not really the same as what Plotinus was saying because Plotinus does not see the One as a god-creator. Plotinus sees the One as the source of creation, which creates beyond itself just because it cannot do anything other than that because it is just so overabundant of being that it, by its own nature, it overflows just like a fountain which, you can see, overflows on different, on multiple levels. So multiplicity, the multiplicity is but an effect of the One but the multiple manifestations of the One are not other from the One. So the multiple manifestations that we see in our reality are an effect but they are still the One it is not really these distinct entities but the same entity to different degrees. So how much are we the One then since we emanate from the One?
So it means that we retain some kind of connection but are we the One then? So we will see that later in Hermetic philosophy, this idea will… we will see a similar idea but quite differently. We will see that later in the talk. But in Plotinus, you are not the same as the One. You derive from the One but what changes, in all the emanation, across the emanations, from the source is the degree of godness that you retain. To better understand this you can imagine godness as like a quantity. So it’s like the source, the source of godness has like a thousand, nine thousand points of goodness and then the more it spreads apart the fewer and fewer god points it retains. It’s actually very difficult to explain with words and Plotinus would really would not like me explaining it this way. Plotinus would say you cannot say what the One is you can only say what the One is not. But in order for me to convey with words what he meant I take a bit of a license and so I say that in order to better understand it you can imagine it as in a quantitative way. Because you are still connected with One but since you are so far removed from the source there are very few elements of the One which you still retain and so you have to move back to the source in order to reacquire those god points.
Plotinus would get really mad at me by explaining it this way.
So it is not pantheistic. So a monistic idea is the idea that everything is ultimately One can be pantheistic and, as I said, Pantheism means that godness is in everything but it for Plotinus it is not precisely like that because the One does not coincide with the world. The world derives from the One but the One and the world are not god to the same degree; they are god to different degrees. So the world is god to a much lesser degree than the One is; much, much, much, much lesser degree than the One is. Whereas, for example, in other philosophies in other pantheistic philosophies or even Animism, as we see in forms of Shamanism, we have the idea that the world coincides with god which means that god is literally in everything, that a chair is god, that a gemstone is god. Whereas in Plotinus and Neoplatonism you don’t have the idea that the world and god coincide. They are they all are manifestations of god but to different degrees and the degrees that to which you retain godness is, of course, essential to determine the agency that that being has.
So the ethical aspect of Neoplatonism is pretty interesting and we will go to the concept of evil which was asked the questions. So the human body is considered to be a prison for the soul. Here we see remembrances of Plato and Gnosticism. So, the idea for Neoplatonists is to live a life of contemplation where you have an ascetic, so it is a kind of an ascetic philosophy. So they would focus on ascending and becoming gods, which is something that we find also in the left-hand path, as I mentioned in one of my videos, but here you become god by freeing yourself from the imprisonment created by your body which, being made of matter, means that it is very far removed from the One which is immaterial, ethereal, is even beyond ethereal.
So people can have a gradual return to the One through contemplation, harmony, art and music. Music and art are considered to be very important because they are human endeavours which go beyond humanity. So the beauty and, you know, not the beauty that you see on Instagram but when you see a beautiful sunset or a beautiful zone or you listen to music that just awakes you to a degree where you’ve never felt before. So it is those kind of experiences which just throw you out of your human state. It’s like boom, it’s just like giving you a taste of the beyond. It is pure feeling, pure emotion, it bypasses your rational mind and just gives you a taste that you can feel beyond your senses. It is a degree of astonishment which connects you to what goes beyond you being a human and, according to Plotinus, would give you a glimpse of the One. So, according to Plotinus, this kind of intentional ascent can never quite reach the One, especially if you do so intentionally and especially as long as you are in a physical body. But Plotinus does mention that unintentionally, by constantly practising contemplation or, what would be now called, meditation, you can reach states of reconjunction with One. As long as we’re in a physical body you cannot be completely re-immersed in the One but you can access and get connected to that source.
So you can do so by unintentional, mystical ecstasy and it is important for it not to be intentional because when it is intentional there is a component of your reasoning mind which, as we have seen in our graphical representation, is not considered by Plotinus to be near the source but actually pretty far removed from the source of the One and godness.
So let’s see now, the problem of evil. I think that the problem of evil is particularly interesting because it helps us not only understand evil in your Platonism but also better understand how they conceptualize the One. So pure evil does not exist. The thing is that, as I said, for Plotinus the One, god is good. So, for Plotinus god equals good and being or existence equals good and these are all concepts which he sees as united, actually the same thing. So god is existence. Existence is good.
So evil is the absence of good. So, of course, evil can only exist for human beings or later emanations from the One. Pure Oneness is pure existence. So what is evil? Evil is a force of destruction and the One or god or godness is a force of creation. So evil, or destruction, can only exist in the absence of existence, where something is missing. The idea here is that when you are god, when you are existence in the fullest, more expanded way possible you are pure existence. Pure existence is pure creation. Pure existence is pure connection, so if you are everything, that is if you are pure overflowing existence and creation how can evil or harm, any harmful behaviour exist or occur in such a scenario? It is just not possible according to Plotinus. Evil only occurs when there is a lack of being, a lack of godness and a lack of existence.
So, for example, we human beings are a mixture of existence and non-existence and that is why we are subject to decay, that is why we age and we die. Because we are existing but at the same time we are not. Because we are both living and dying at every single moment, every single time and so, since we are this mixture of being a non-being, we are also a mixture of good and evil, of creation we are constant creation but we are also constant destruction. We have within ourselves the good as a creative state and a creative endeavour and we have evil because we do harm because we are in a state of emanation, where we see a separation between ourselves and others and so this distinction, this separation creates a lack of being and lack of goodness according to Neoplatonists.
Now let’s see other questions, whether there are other questions for me to answer.
So oh Hi Andrew. Andrew is always there. I love that. Let me see whether there are any questions. Please do remember, if you do have a question, write “QUESTION” in caps-lock as your first word so that I can easily spot whether there are questions.
Oh, John Francis asks: does Neos believe this… what do you mean by Neo? Neoplatonist? Does neo believe this… he transcends all wisdom and is above all intellect and his above all glory… Please expand more because your question is not clear.
Fernando, where are you from Fernando? Are you Spanish or Italian? Question: is Plotinus philosophy an extension of Pythagoras’ Tetractyls? No. I mean, of course, Plotinus is a Greek philosopher. He’s still part of the ancient Greek-Italian philosophy but no, it’s not quite related. I wouldn’t say it’s an extension of Pythagoras but Pythagoras is definitely an interesting philosopher which we should address in another Livestream lecture and how his philosophy is connected to magic and Esotericism.
Eric asks: so would Plato’s evil be the same as what we call entropy? No, I was referring to Plotinus rather than Plato Eric but actually, this concept of evil in Plotinus is pretty similar to Plato. Not quite the same but is similar. But would the concept would the evil in Plotinus be the same as entropy? It’s a good question, Eric. I don’t think that he would have thought so though. No, because it is more for Plotinus and Neoplatonist evil is more… it derives from a lack of existence to different degrees. So I’d say that it is different from – he would say that it is different from entropy. But that’s a very good question.
So Purple Pumpkin People asks: isn’t good and bad just a matter of opinion only? Not according to Plotinus and Neoplatonists. We can argue that from our personal standpoints but since we are talking about Neoplatonists I can tell you that they didn’t think that it was a matter of opinion at all.
Helena asks: what does the fire represent for Plotinus? What do you mean by the fire? Are you referring to my example of the candle? That was my example. It was my example to give you a visual manifestation of what the One may unfold into. So you have the flame at the centre of the room and the warmth can be detected even at the limitations of the room but you cannot really perceive that warmth through your five senses because it is so dispersed into the air that it is difficult to see, to perceive but it is still there – it is a way of saying that to imagine how Plotinus saw the world unfold and emanate from the One.
Dale asks: is this idea of evil the same as the Greek concept of miasma in Greek religion? No, it’s not really the same but thanks for asking.
Oh, I’m glad Helena. Then I answered your question.
Ken asks: is the Neoplatonist conception of evil as a lacking or a void similar to, or connected with the kabbalistic notion of the abyss that separates the supernatural triad from the created world? That is a very good question, Ken, actually. Well, if we have to be precise it’s not the same but I can tell you that in the Renaissance there have been, and we will go into a few of these later, not into Kabbalah, I’m afraid because that would deserve its own lecture. But I can tell you that there have been reinterpretations of the Neoplatonic philosophy which are connected to kabbalistic ideas especially the hermetic Kabbalah which is a form of Western Esotericism.
Alexis asks: if Monism means we all come from the One, does that not have a great deal of issue with how we treat the world around us? Given how all comes from One, we are pieces of the whole that is us.
Alexis that’s just a brilliant question. And actually, this concept of emanations will be picked up in the Renaissance once again. For example, in Giordano Bruno and in other philosophers, who also talked about magic, they do believe that this chain of being means that and even, I think that even in Plotinus, yes, even in Plotinus, you find this in the Enneads. We find this idea that we have to take care of the things that emanate from us. So since everything is an emanation there is also this idea that all things that come first tend to take care for the ones that come later in the emanation stages and this is because, of course, the action of emanating is a creative endeavour. And so, as we saw, for Neoplatonist’s creation is good and so it is also care. So they do have the idea of taking care of, for example, animals and vegetables are considered to be further away from the One, like a further emanation. So we come first and they come later and so they do believe that you, and you find this also in other philosophers who picked up Neoplatonist ideas, that we should take care of the environment and now they would seem like environmentalists. But at the time it was more like taking care of the surrounding, of nature and of animals.
So Noel asks: so is evil a perception due to our willingness for survival? No Noel. Evil is a lack of being and since, for a Neoplatonist, being and existence equals good because it is a creative force, the further we are from the source from the One, from godness the more we acquire non-existence and as a consequence a destructive force which creates evil.
Alexis: would these have an interception with Panpsychism? It can be. With Panpsychism, I wouldn’t say so because everything that has pan, pan is a Greek for all, for everything, but the thing is that in the case of Plotinus and Neoplatonism we don’t have the idea of the all, of the whole and of the all. We have the idea of the One which emanates into the multiplicity. So no, I wouldn’t say that it can be related. I mean you cannot find a monistic worldview in Panpsychism and in Pantheism but Monism, at least, the Monism of Plotinus and Neoplatonist is neither pantheistic nor panpsychic.
Okay, let’s move on with the slides.
So now let’s see a few of the philosophers who have reinterpreted or expanded, or expanded more in their own ways, the philosophy of Neoplatonist and, of course, in this case, we will relate this to magic.
So Iamblichus picked up a few of the ideas of Neoplatonism and he tried… it’s interesting because we find philosophers who utilize Neoplatonist ideas to explain and rationalize Christianity, whereas here Iamblichus tries to do the same with Pagan, with Greek, Pagan Polytheism. So he tried to re-elaborate Plotinus and Neoplatonic ideas to revive the Greek, Pagan Polytheism, so he created a multitude of hypostases. So he conceptualized more emanations from the One and not only did he conceptualize those but also the possibility of them interacting with each other. Whereas in Plotinus’ philosophy, you do have this emanation but they are not quite, really in a communication with each other. I mean because as, for example, we can slowly move forward towards godness but through stages of contemplation and emanation it’s not really like the hypostases have this kind of communication as you find in Iamblichus and in other philosophers who reinterpreted Neoplatonic ideas. So here the One and many are now in communication and you will see this is the first stage for our contemporary idea of magic and as influenced by Neoplatonism.
So here – before we had, with Plotinus, we had the idea of transcendence and immanence. So transcendence means that the god is outside nature. Immanence means that god is inside nature. With the Monism of Plotinus, we have both because we have that the One is transcendent in that amount of godness is only retained by the source but at the same time, in the world, there is some degree of godness, even though to a much much lesser degree. So here in Iamblichus, we have more emphasis on the immanence, toward the existence of the One in all the stages of the emanation and also he restored the active human agency. So in Plotinus, we have the idea that you can only move forward towards the One through acts of unintentional, ecstatic contemplation, whereas here you start to have the idea that human beings can have an active role in reuniting themselves with the One. And we will see that that is really important for the construction of the idea of magic in the Renaissance and up until this day.
So Marsilio Ficino is another key point, a turning point in history. If it wasn’t for Marsilio Ficino we may not have had Plato. The influence that Plato has had on European and western philosophy may have not occurred had Marsilio Ficino not translated, into Latin, his works.
And it’s interesting because Marsilio Ficino did all of his works financed by, funded, I should say, by his patrons and it’s fascinating because now I also have my patrons – thank you. And even with Justin Sledge of Esoterica, we were kind of amused and I think it’s a very nice thing how things, you know, come back in fashion. So Marsilio Ficino had Cosimo de Medici. I have my Inner Symposium on Patreon.
So he translated Plato, Plotinus, and the Corpus Hermeticum in Latin and at the time Latin was the international language just as now English is the international language and before English, French was the international language. So at the time, it was Latin and so translating something into Latin meant that other people in Europe could access those works. And that had a massive impact on the development of Medieval and Renaissance philosophy. Renaissance philosophy issues mostly.
Marsilio Ficino, interestingly, has a Christian view of magic. He creates this distinction between natural versus demonic magic. You know at the time there was the Inquisition and also, not only because of the Inquisition, because you find this in other Italian and German philosophers and magicians of the time, they distinguish between two forms of magic, one which is fine, is good and it is related to religion and the other one which is bad and should be punished so some call them natural magic versus witchcraft and others call them natural versus demonic magic.
The concept remains kind of the same so natural magic is the magic that utilizes the hidden forces of nature whereas demonic magic or witchcraft is the magic that entails communication with demons or other entities which would be of course forbidden.
So natural magic uses the hidden laws of nature which are created by God. So Marsilio Ficino thought as long as you use magic through the natural elements, the use of herbs, concoctions or even the hidden and concealed laws within nature, then you are just using what God gave you because God created nature and so God also created those hidden laws and hidden forces which you can channel and utilize to affect your reality. So here in Marsilio Ficino, we find the combination of Neoplatonic and Hermetic philosophy because we do have the chain of beings but we also have the idea that the human becomes at the centre. Which is something that we have in Renaissance and Hermetic philosophy. So in Neoplatonism, we have that, as human beings, we are the farther away from the One. So we are like the least, we have the least amount of godness that there is, whereas in Hermetic philosophy you have the idea that ‘as above so below’ and the human is kind of at the centre and can connect these two worlds. So he combines these two ideas. So he adopts the idea of the chain of beings but also puts the human being back in charge.
So here we have a graphic manifestation of how Marsilio Ficino thought of the influences of planets. So it is interesting because within the realm of the hidden forces of nature you also find planetary influences. So to connect with entities, demons are not fine but to channel the influences of the planets or herbs or gemstones, that is okay. So here we see, and this is very important, to see how this affected our contemporary understanding of magic and you see that from the planetary influences the first, primordial, primary way of channelling those is the ‘Vis Imaginativa’ which in Latin means the ‘force of imagination.’ Literally would be like the strength of imagining, the imaginative strength. But let’s not be too philological about it, let’s say the power of imagination. And so the power of imagination unfolds into the ‘Vis Imaginum,’ the power of images, the ‘Vis Verborum,’ the power of words the ‘Vis Musices,’ the power of music and ‘Vis Rerum,’ the power of things – natural qualities of the elements. And you can see that from these hidden forces in nature you can have effects and he even acknowledged the fact that these magical ways of channelling these hidden forces in nature could have psychological effects which could be subjective and inter-subjective and also physical effects like on the body.
I went more into detail on this in the lectures for my Magus-level patrons. So I think that I will go on and just answer your questions later because I can see that it’s already 10 past.
So let’s now see how this has influenced our contemporary esotericism and of course, this is not comprehensive, it can’t be. This lecture would need to be a series, not just one. But we find, in contemporary esotericism, elements which stem from Neoplatonism and reinterpretations of Neoplatonism such as the correspondences. So we have the idea that colours, specific candles, specific shapes, specific scents and herbs have a power to connect you with the intended purpose.
So it is here the idea that reality is made of a web of hidden forces. It is like a series of threads that you need to find. It’s like you cannot really see them but you are immersed within this web of threads and you just have to find how to pull one thread so that you can affect something that is actually at a far distance from you. So here you have the idea of correspondences that there are things that resemble each other or they are somewhat, in some hidden way, according to some concealed law of nature that connects the two. So that if I use a walnut I can affect a brain because it resembles a brain. And a Renaissance philosopher would say, working upon the reinterpretation of Neoplatonism and Hermetic philosophy, if this walnut is found in nature with the shape of a brain that it means that it retains an element or elements – influences that connect it with the brain. So things that resemble each other are not, just by chance, resembling each other. Things are connected by invisible ties. This is one of my favourite quotes, it is attributed to Galileo Galilei.
“Things are connected by invisible ties. You cannot pick a flower without upsetting a star.”Galileo Galilei
So here the idea is that everything is connected as if there’s this web that connects things even at a distance. So if you find the right thread to pull you can move things at a distance and by moving I mean affecting. These are also described by Fraser, James Fraser in “The Golden Bough” as the Law of Contagion and the Law of Similarity. The Law of Similarity says that if two things resemble each other it means that they retain the power to influence each other because their similarity means that they are connected to that web and they are kind of on the same thread so that you by pulling one you can move the other. And the Law of Contagion says that if two things have been in contact they retain an influence on each other. So, for example, my hair, even if it gets removed from my head it will still retain properties and a connection to me as a person or nails or any other… even you know clothes that have been in contact with me may retain something which mainly called fluid or elements which are connected to me and as a consequence that they can be used in magic to influence that.
These are all based on the idea of correspondences which are related and reinterpreted from the neoplatonic ideas of the One becoming the multiplicity. Because it’s creating the premises for this idea of connectedness and, of course, that was even more impactful with a philosopher – in Hermetic philosophy which we shall have a lecture on in the future. Also the belief in human agency in non-visible realms of reality, this is something that we also find in Neoplatonism. This idea that you can, and especially reinterpretations of Neoplatonism which we find as I said in the Renaissance especially, this idea that human beings can have agency over things which are not visible because they are, they do exist and they are connected to them even though and, sometimes, especially because they move beyond the realm of the five senses. Also, as we saw with Marsilio Ficino, the power of imagination. You know that in Latin magus is etymologically related to ‘imago.’ Imago is the same root as imagination and it means create. It means create by images, basically, and also the idea of the hidden laws and forces of nature which we also find in contemporary esotericism. There are hidden forces which practitioners can work with and also the re-enchanted reality, the idea that… this, of course, comes more from the Renaissance and pantheistic ideas. But you see Neoplatonism was a milestone and a stepping stone for those further developments in philosophy and in the conceptualization of magic to take place so we have that herbs, gemstones, geometrical forms, et cetera, bear hidden powers. And this is connected to the idea that the world is re-enchanted, the world has a soul and the world and every manifestation of nature are connected with the One. All the multiple manifestations, every single element is connected to the One and in a more Pantheistic worldview, every single element of reality is god.
So thank you for your attention and these are the references which you will also find in the infobox. Now I’ll go and answer a few questions before wrapping up the live stream.
ZombieAngel asks: What is the name of the philosopher who reinterpreted Platonism for polytheism?
It was Neoplatonism. It’s Iamblichus. Iamblichus is a philosopher who kind of expanded and reinterpreted Plotinus’ ideas so that he could revive the Greek, Pagan Polytheism.
David Kirby asks: can non-existence be protective like a cloak? It can protect you from becoming a god according to Neoplatonism.
Eddie says; thanks to Patreon for Western Esotericism.
Yes, I can tell you that it’s very nice how certain things come back in different ways and different ages.. mmmm as above so below also incorporates a bit of quantum universe theory.
John Francis question: how do Neo’s differ from Plato’s natural and demonic forces. I believe the Platos believe the winds are demonic? No, when talking about demonic versus natural magic I’m talking about Marsilio Ficino and other Renaissance philosophers. Not about Plotinus at all not about Neoplatonists and the daemon in Greek philosophy is completely a different thing it’s not what we mean by demons nowadays.
So, also did you guys find this live stream helpful also? I can see that there aren’t really many questions so…
Michael asks: what is your favourite esoteric text?
My favourite esoteric text? It’s very difficult to only select one. I guess the “Corpus Hermeticum” but also the “De Magia” by Giordano Bruno and “De Sensu Rerum et Magia” but by Tommaso Campanella and it must be translated in English. It means, the meaning of things and magic. I think that I also should address a few philosophers who talk about magic which maybe have not been translated in English or they are not as known because some of them really have interesting ideas of magic.
I’m trying to see whether there’s any question.
Jorge Quinones: Do you think our perception of Neoplatonism came from the Maimonides’ way of thinking? No. I think that had an influence but no, I wouldn’t say that in Europe and in western philosophy that was particularly impactful. Not that I know of at least. But if you do have references suggesting otherwise do drop them in the comment section after the video, after the live stream ends. Sorry.
John Sweetman asks: how is the use of relics in the Christian church linked to Neoplatonism? Why would it be? Christianity adopted the ideas of the One and how the One unfolds into the multiplicity to explain, to rationalize the Trinity at some point in history. To rationalize the idea of Trinity and how the Christian god created the world but they adopted a few ideas from Neoplatonism but not really the idea of relics.
Stefan: Neoplatonists fighted(?) or fought Gnostics always or was there a time of peace? Neoplatonists took some ideas from Gnosticism but I’d say the major, a more influential philosopher was Plato and Aristotle. But you do have the idea of, you know, the body as a prison for the soul and the idea of ascending.
Eric asks: Since all objects of the same type are related by emanating from the same Ideal-Form, does Neoplatonic philosophy warn against affecting more objects than intended when practising magick?
Very good question Eric. So, in this, it depends if we talk about ‘warn against’, well Neoplatonism per se is not particularly centred around the idea of magic. It is more the reinterpretation of Neoplatonic thought, especially in the Renaissance and from there onwards which like all those idea of correspondences are from the Renaissance and from, also, a combination with Hermetic Philosophy. So a Neoplatonist would only say you just have to contemplate and to contemplate or meditate, in a more contemporary terminology, and just basically seek for getting united with One in a more contemplative, ascetic way. So it’s not really centred around the idea of magic. But for those Renaissance philosophers who reinterpreted Neoplatonism and talk about correspondences were also clearly influenced by dramatic philosophy. I wouldn’t say that they warn against affecting more objects than intended, no, because the idea you find, Eric, is that the person, the Magus is at the centre and the will of the Magus it is the fuel for those correspondences too, you know, get reunited and affect changes so you wouldn’t really affect more things than intended because your will would drive you I guess. But it is a, I guess that here I’m more in the territory of personal speculations around the matter rather than what they actually said. I haven’t… I guess the correct answer is I haven’t come across any specific text from these philosophers who mention anything of this sort but if I do recall something like that I will tell you in our Inner Symposium Eric.
By the way, we are throwing a party, a Livestream party. Possibly next week if we get to 10, 000 subscribers and the party will be with the members of my Inner Symposium – that is my Patreon community with the members of the channel, those who join in in a Membership and that’s it actually. I was thinking of inviting, maybe, an academic or two but I want to discuss it with my Inner Symposium files to see whether they like it or not.
Don’t see any more questions. Hopefully, I haven’t missed any.
Oh, I see Daryl Kydd says: what is black magic? Well speaking of the philosophers we have covered in this lecture, as I said, in the Renaissance, they distinguish between demonic magic which they would consider what we now say is black magic – like evil, harmful magic which is the one that entails communication with demons and natural magic is the good kind of magic which utilizes so and natural magic is One that utilizes the natural forces and herbs and concoctions to affect changes.
Daryl: what is the most powerful magic you have ever done? I’m a scholar so I focus on academic knowledge around magic. I don’t share my personal belief system.
Helena: Angela do you think that one should read academic text in Latin or is it really difficult? Well, you don’t have to but it’s fun. Well, that is if you know Latin. I grew up eating pasta, Latin and ancient Greek. So I learned Latin and ancient Greek way before I even learned my first word in the English language. So I also did my Master’s thesis on the Maggia Naturalis by Giambattista della Porta which was a text in Latin and it was …it was really interesting because I had to go to this library and I couldn’t even touch the books because they were like the original books from the Renaissance. And they had to, you know, flip the pages and I could read them just keeping my hands away. So it was really interesting. Oh, you meant esoteric texts, I think that there is value in reading every source in its original language and I also think that learning new languages really broadens your horizons and allows you to acquire… it’s not just speaking in different words, it’s acquiring different categories whereby you can organize and build your thoughts. So every language has a completely different system of creating thoughts and reasoning around things. So the more languages you know, the more words you’ll be able to access. Wittgenstein would be so proud of me.
I think that I’m going to wrap it up now since it’s already been an hour and a half.
I’m going to answer the last few questions: how many lives have you had before this incarnation? I don’t really talk about my personal belief system. I’m sorry John.
Vidar: is our existence seen as part of the One subtracting or adding to it? is our existence part of the… Yes, our existence is seen as emanation from the One and it’s neither subtracting nor adding it is just an emanation from it. It’s like saying, for example, if you have a fountain which overflows into multiple layers and you will see that at the bottom layer you will have the least amount of water thus, that amount of water in the bottom layer adds or subtracts anything to the source of the water, up on the fountain. I’d say neither.
So John Francis: Is the One beginning and the end? Yeah, I guess in a circle way because, as human beings, we aim to ascend to the One so to that extent it can be soteriologically the end. But not in a linear way. I don’t think that Plotinus saw it in a linear way.
But I think I’m going to wrap it up now and thank you very much for coming. This was really fun and I hope you also liked the live stream. Do let me know. And also you can leave a comment in the comment section so that if there is any question that I miss in the chat because it goes very, very fast and it’s difficult for me to pick up everything. So if there’s anything I haven’t answered or more questions that come to your mind please leave them in the comment section and I will answer them because, as you know, I always answer each and every one of your comments.
So thank you very much for coming it really means a lot to me to see you all here and participating with me in all the academic fun. And thank you to everyone who will watch this at a later date.
So if you did like this video, SMASH the like button, subscribe to the channel, if you haven’t already. Activate, the notification bell and please share my videos, it really helps us grow, and, as always stay tuned for all the academic fun.
Bye for now.
Cocco, G. (1992) ‘La Struttura Del Mondo Soprasensibile Nella Filosofia Di Giamblico’, Rivista di Filosofia Neo-Scolastica, Vita e Pensiero – Pubblicazioni dell’Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, vol. 84, no. 2/3, pp. 468–493.
Copenhaver, B. P. (1984) ‘Scholastic Philosophy and Renaissance Magic in the De vita of Marsilio Ficino’, Renaissance Quarterly, vol. 37, no. 4, pp. 523–554 [Online]. DOI: 10.2307/2860993.
Gregory, J. (1999) The Neoplatonists: A Reader, Psychology Press.
Mebane, J. S. (1992) Renaissance Magic and the Return of the Golden Age: The Occult Tradition and Marlowe, Jonson, and Shakespeare, U of Nebraska Press.
Yates, F. A. (1999) Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, Taylor & Francis.
Zambelli, P. (2007) White Magic, Black Magic in the European Renaissance, BRILL.