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Plotinus Meets a God January 8, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient , trackback

A WIBT (Wish I’d been there) moment from later antiquity, brought to mind, in part by stories at the end of 2011 about Socrate’s daemon. The subject is Plotinus, a follower of Plato and the thinker who offered the ancient Mediterranean a ‘sensible’ alternative to Christianity: neo-platonism.

Plotinus, as all Platonists, had mixed feelings about magic. On the one hand, Plotinus saw magic as a distraction from the goal of unity or identification with the ‘One’; a particularly dear aphorism of Plotinus is that ‘I will not go to the gods, but they must come to me’.

But Plotinus also seems to have had a ‘gift’ for magic. He was either extraordinarily percipient (Beachcombing’s explanation) or (for those psychically minded) a clairvoyant for he managed such tricks as identifying a household thief and predicting the future of a child; he also was alleged to be able to turn black magic on those that attacked him with spells.

But most interestingly Plotinus once got involved in what Beachcombing can only describe as a séance. It is a particularly haunting scene because it shows foolish mortals getting in way over their heads.

An Egyptian priest who came to Rome and wanted to give a display of his wisdom asked Plotinus to come and see a visible manifestation of his own companion spirit [i.e. his daemon]. Plotinus readily agreed, and the evocation took place in the temple of Isis; the Egyptian said it was the only pure spot he could find in Rome. When the spirit was summoned to appear a god came and not a being of the spirit order, and the Egyptian said ‘Blessed are you who have a god for a spirit and not a companion of the subordinate order!’ It was not, however, possible to ask any questions of the god or even to see him there any longer, for the friend who witnessed the manifestation strangled the chickens he was holding as a protection, either because of jealousy or because he was afraid.

When Beachcombing thinks of conjuring up gods he imagines Edwardian gentlemen playing at the occult in underground basements in east-end pubs: the poor sops! But here is a ‘real’ encounter from the heart of the pagan Mediterranean in the third century A.D. The Egyptian priest summons Plotinus’ daemon and to his amazement finds that he is not dealing with a household ‘brownie’. Unfortunately before the god can properly reveal himself ‘the friend who witnessed the manifestation’ strangled the chickens he was holding ‘as a protection’. That begs a number of questions…

Beachcombing remembers that the Temple of Isis in Rome was outside the pomerium in the campus Martius. Presumably an almighty gust of wind blew through the doors unhinging for a second the tense players in the ritual. Perhaps even Plotinus blanched momentarily! Oh to have been there…

Any other ancient rituals to conjure up spirits? Drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com