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© Stephen Ronan, 1998
ON THE SIGNS OF DIVINE POSSESSION is my title for an extract from Proclus preserved in a work by the Byzantine Christian Neoplatonist, Michael Psellus, in his Accusation against Michael Cerularius before the Synod (Pros tên sunodon katêgoria tou archiros) ed. by É. des Places Oracles Chaldaiques Paris (Les Belles Lettres) 1971. ( pp 219, 14 — 220, 32). It has not, to my knowledge, been translated into English before.
This extract, brief though it is, gives crucial information on how the later Pagan tradition experienced and understood the phenomena of divine possession. It has obvious importance for studies on trance and possession, and for theurgy, that much-misunderstood ritual practice of late antiquity. But it is also relevant for the study of consecration and invocation in ritual, as well as mediums and mediumship in general, spiritualism, gossolalia, and states of trance in magical and healing contexts. I plan to discuss this text, and theurgy in general, in much more detail on these pages. Stay tuned!
In the translation which follows, square brackets like this [ ] indicate editorial additions, which are there to clarify the meaning of the text.
….to d’ atrekes en bathei esti.
Chaldean Oracles 183 (ed. Des Places)
Hastings UK, September 1988
He [i.e. Proclus] speaks first about the differences which separate the so-called Divine Powers, how some are more material and others more immaterial, some joyous (hilarai) and others solemn (embritheis), some arrive along with daemons and others arrive pure. Straight afterwards he goes on to the proper conditions for invocation: the places in which it occurs, about those men and women who see the Divine Light, and about the divine gestures (schêmatôn) and signs (sunthêmatôn) they display. In this way he gets around to the Theagogies of divine inspiration (tas entheastikas theagôgias)[a theagôgia is a drawing in or drawing down of the divine]. "Of which, " he says "some act on inanimate objects and others on animate beings: some on those which are rational, others on the irrational ones. Inanimate objects, " he continues "are often filled with Divine Light, like the statues which give oracles under the inspiration (epipnoias) of one of the Gods or Good Daemons. So too, there are men who are possessed and who receive a Divine Spirit (pneuma theion). Some receive it spontaneously, like those who are said to be ‘seized by God’ (theolêptoi), either at particular times, or intermittently and on occasion. There are others who work themselves up into a state of inspiration (entheasmôn) by deliberate actions, like the prophetess at Delphi when she sits over the chasm, and others who drink from divinatory water". Next, after having said what they have to do [i. e. to gain divine inspiration], he continues "When these things occur, then in order for a Theagogy and an inspiration (epipnoian) to take effect, they must be accompanied by a change in consciousness (parallaxia tês dianoias). When divine inspiration (entheasmôn) comes there are some cases where the possessed (tôn katochôn) become completely besides themselves and unconscious of themselves (existamenôn…kai oudamôs heautois parakolouthountôn). But there are others where, in some remarkable manner, they maintain consciousness. In these cases it is possible for the subject to work the Theagogy on himself, and when he receives the inspiration (epipnoian), is aware of what it [i.e. the Divine Power] does and what it says, and what he has to do release the mechanism [of possession](pothen dei apoluein to kinoun). However, when the loss of consciousness (ekstaseôs) is total, it is essential that someone in full command of his faculties assists the possessed". Then, after many details about the different kinds of Theagogy, he finally concludes: "It is necessary to begin by removing all the obstacles blocking the arrival of the Gods and to impose an absolute calm around ourselves in order that the manifestation of the Spirits (pneumata) we invoke takes place without tumult and in peace (atarachos kai meta galênês)". He adds further "The manifestations of the Gods are often accompanied by material Spirits which arrive and move with a certain degree of violence, and which the weaker mediums cannot withstand."
Apart from downloading a copy for your own use, please do not reproduce or disseminate this document without written permission. © 1998 Stephen Ronan.