Silent Fire

The “wryneck” is quite a strange bird. It has two fingers in front and two fingers in back, according to Aristotle. It makes little high-pitched screams. it is able to stick its tongue out for a long time, like snakes. It gets its name, « wryneck », from its ability to turn its neck without the rest of its body moving. It is also capable of making women and men fall in lovei.

But more importantly, the “wryneck” is a divine « messenger », according to the Chaldaic Oraclesii.

There are, admittedly, many other divine “messengers”, such as the Platonic « intermediaries » (metaxu) and « demons » (daimon). Among them, there is the « Fire », which is a metaphor for the « soul of the world ». All souls are connected to the Fire, because they originated from it: « The human soul, spark of the original Fire, descends by an act of her will the degrees of the scale of beings, and comes down to lock herself in the jail of a body.» iii

How does this descent take place? It is an old “oriental” belief that souls, during their descent from the original Fire, clothe themselves with successive ‘veils’, representing the intermediate planes they have to cross through.

Every incarnating soul is in reality a fallen god. The soul strives to come out of the oblivion into which she has fallen. She must leave the « flock », subjected to an unbearable, heavy, somber fate, in order « to avoid the brazen wing of the fatal destiny »iv. To do this, she must succeed in uttering a certain word, in memory of her origin.

These « chaldaic » ideas have greatly influenced thinkers like Porphyry, Jamblicus, Syrianus and Proclus, inciting them to describe the « rise of the soul », ἀναγωγη, thus replacing the more static concepts of Greek philosophy, still used by Plotinus, and opening the possibility of theurgy, the possibility for the soul to act upon the divine.

Theurgy is « a religious system that brings us into contact with the gods, not only by the pure elevation of our intellect to the divine Noos, but by means of concrete rites and material objects »v.

Chaldaic theurgy is full of signs, expressing the unspeakable, in ineffable symbols. « The sacred names of the gods and other divine symbols raise to the gods.”vi Chaldaic prayer is effective, because « hieratic supplications are the symbols of the gods themselves »vii, wrote Edouard des Places.

“Angels of ascension” make souls rise towards them. They remove the souls from the « bonds that bind them », that is, from the vengeful nature of demons, and from the trials human souls suffer: « Let the immortal depth of the soul be opened, and dilate all your eyes well above! ».viii

Many challenges await those undertaking the spiritual ascension. The Divine is beyond the intelligible, entirely unthinkable and inexpressible, and better honored by silence.

It’s worth noting that, in Vedic ceremonies, silence plays a structurally equivalent role in approaching the mysteries of the Divine. Next to the priests who operate the Vedic sacrifice, there are priests who recite the divine hymns, others who chant them and yet others who sing them. Watching over the whole, there is another priest, the highest in the hierarchy, who stands still and remains silent throughout the ceremony.

Hymns, psalms, songs, must yield to silence itself, in the Chaldaic religion as in the Vedic religion.

The other common point in these two cults is the primary importance of Fire.

The two traditions, which are so far apart, transmit a light from a very old and deep night. They both refer to the power of the original Fire, and contrast it with the weakness of the flame that man has been given to live by:

« [Fire] is the force of a luminous sword that shines with spiritual sharp edges. It is therefore not necessary to conceive this Spirit with vehemence, but by the subtle flame of a subtle intellect, which measures all things, except this Intelligible Itself. » ix

iIn his 4th Pythic, Pindar sang Jason’s exploits in search of the Golden Fleece. Jason faces a thousand difficulties. Fortunately, the goddess Aphrodite decided to help him, by making Medea in love with him, through a bird, the “wryneck”. In Greek, this bird is called ἴϋγξ, transcribed as « iynge ». « Then the goddess with sharp arrows, Cyprine, having attached a wryneck with a thousand colours to the four spokes of an unshakeable wheel, brought from Olympus to mortals this bird of delirium, and taught the wise son of Eson prayers and enchantments, so that Medea might lose all respect for her family, and the love of Greece might stir this heart in fire under the whip of Pitho.» The magic works. The « bird of delirium » fills Medea with love for Jason. “Both agree to unite in the sweet bonds of marriage”.(Pindar, 4rth Pythic)

iiChaldaic Oracles, Fragment 78

iiiF. Cumont. Lux perpetua (1949)

ivChaldaic Oracles, Fragment 109

v A. Festugière. Révélation (1953)

viCf. Édouard des Places, dans son introduction à sa traduction des Oracles chaldaïques (1971). (Synésius de Cyrène (370-413) énonce un certain nombre de ces noms efficaces. Άνθος est la « fleur de l’Esprit », Βένθος est le « profond », Κολπος est le « Sein ineffable » (de Dieu), Σπινθήρ est « l’Étincelle de l’âme, formée de l’Esprit et du Vouloir divins, puis du chaste Amour » : « Je porte en moi un germe venu de Toi, une étincelle de noble intelligence, qui s’est enfoncée dans les profondeurs de la matière. » Ταναός est la « flamme de l’esprit tendué à l’extrême », et Τομή est « la coupure, la division », par laquelle se produit « l’éclat du Premier Esprit qui blesse les yeux ».Proclus s’empara de ces thèmes nouveaux pour éveiller la « fleur », la « fine pointe de l’âme ».)

viiÉdouard des Places, Introduction. Oracles chaldaïques (1971)

viiiChaldaic Oracles, fragment 112

ix Chaldaic Oracles, fragment 1.

The Ink in the Sand

Iamblichus thought that humanity is composed mainly of fallen souls, but that the gods have sent some wise men like Orpheus, Pythagoras, Plato, or Hermes here to help them. Iamblichus also boasted being knowledgeable about theurgy.

What is theurgy? It is the idea that the human can unite with the divine through special practices. The soul is called, by means of intense religious gestures, initiation rites, sacrifices, invocations aimed at ecstasy, to unite degree by degree with beings of a higher nature, heroes, « demons », angels and archangels, and ultimately with the One, the ineffable God.

In the Mysteries of Egypt, a book devoted to Chaldeo-Egyptian wisdom, Iamblichus evokes the idea of a progressive « degradation » of man, of his fall from the divine plan. The hierarchy of this fall includes divine beings, archangels, angels, demons, heroes, archons. Human souls are at the end.

Iamblichus also describes two kinds of ecstasy, analyses the causes of evil, the theurgic power of sacrifice and presents the symbolic mystagogy of the Egyptians as well as hermetic theology and astrology. Every soul is guarded by a « demon » who helps it to reach its goal, happiness, union with the divine.

Unity is possible, but not through knowledge. « Actually, it is not even a knowledge that contact with the divinity is. Because knowledge is separated by a kind of otherness. »i

The contact with the divine is difficult to explain. « We are rather wrapped in the divine presence; it is it that makes our fullness, and we take our very being from the science of the gods. « ii

Iamblichus uses well-documented Egyptian metaphors and symbols, such as silt, lotus, solar boat. These are effective images to explain the background of the case. « Conceive as silt all the body, the material, the nourishing and generating element or all the material species of nature carried by the agitated waves of matter, all that receives the river of becoming and falls with it (…) Sitting on a lotus means a superiority over the silt that excludes any contact with it and indicates an intellectual kingdom in the heavens (…) As for the one who sails on a boat, he suggests the sovereignty that rules the world. » iii

Through the magic of images, the silt, the lotus, the boat, the whole order of the universe is revealed. Why go looking elsewhere for distant and confused explanations? Just look at the Nile.

Where does the anaphoric, anagogic power of these images come from? They are the equivalent of divine names. « We keep in our souls a mystical and unspeakable copy of the gods, and it is by the names that we lift our souls to the gods. »iv

Names have this magical, mystical and theurgic power because they have the ability to touch the gods, even if only in a tiny way, in a language that is their own, and that cannot leave them indifferent. « As the entire language of sacred peoples, such as the Assyrians and Egyptians, is suitable for sacred rites, we believe we must address to the gods in the language known to them, the formulas left to our choice. »v

All the religions of the region, from the Nile to the Indus, the religion of ancient Egypt, the Chaldean religions, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Vedism, have multiplied the names of God.

Each of these names represents a unique, irreplaceable way of knowing an aspect of the divine.

Men use multiple invocations, prayers, formulas. Religions give free rein to their imagination. What really matters is not the letter of prayer. The important thing is to place yourself on the field of language, the language « connatural to the gods ». We don’t know this language, of course. We only have a few traces of it, such as names, attributes, images, symbols.

Of these minute traces, we must be satisfied. In the early 1970s, an archaeologist, Paul Bernard, headed the French Archaeological Delegation in Afghanistan, and conducted research in Ai Khanoun, at the eastern end of the Bactria River, near the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

This city, located at the confluence of the Amu Darya River (the former Oxus) and the Kokcha River, had been nicknamed « Alexandria of the Oxus » by Ptolemy. The archaeological team uncovered the ancient Greek city, its theatre and gymnasium.

In a room of the great Greco-Indian palace of Ai Khanoun, invaded by the sands, Paul Bernard found « the traces of a papyrus that had rotten, leaving on the sand, without any other material support, the traces of ink of the letters. Wonderful surprise! The traces of papyrus fragments were barely visible in the corners, but the text in Greek could still be read: it was the unpublished text of a Greek philosopher, Aristotle’s disciple, who had accompanied Alexander on his expedition! »vi

The communist coup d’état, supported by the Soviet army, ended the archaeological work in 1978. The result of the excavations, deposited in the Kabul Museum, was heavily damaged by successive bombings, and a little later was vandalized by the Taliban.

Have the tiny traces of ink finally disappeared?

iMysteries of Egypt, I,3.

ii Ibid. I,3

iii Ibid. VII, 2

iv Ibid. VII, 4

vIbid. VII, 4

viCf. P. Bernard, Fouilles d’Ai Khanoun I, Paris, 1973. Qoted by Jacqueline de Romilly. Petites leçons sur le grec ancien.