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The Theology of the Hypsistarian Church
Part II of our Hypothetical Reconstruction of Pagan Monotheism
Last week I began a reconstruction of the Hypsistarian Church of God Most High, an ancient cult of monotheism, indigenous to the Hellenistic region dating to at least the 2nd Century BC and possibly much further back.
In that first essay, we were able to rely on the abundant epigraphic evidence to firmly reconstruct Hypsistarian practice - how they prayed, when they prayed, and where they prayed. In today’s essay, I’m going to attempt to reconstruct Hypsistarian theology - e.g. why they prayed.
Given the absence of any theological writing at Hypsistarian sites, my reconstruction of Hypsistarian theology will necessarily be much more speculative than my reconstruction of Hypsistarian praxis. However, it will not be entirely speculative, because I have, I believe, discovered a sort of “missing link” between the Platonic theology of the “God of the Philosophers” and the religious practice of the Hypsistarians…
The Pagan Monotheism of the Priest of Apollo
We know from the discovery of the Oenoanda inscription at a Hypsistarian temple that the Hypsistarians held a theological belief that Apollo was an angel of God Most High; and, since the Oenoanda inscription is itself a copy of an inscription found at the Oracle of Apollo at Claros, we likewise know that the priests of Apollo who wrote the inscription also held a theological belief that Apollo was an angel of God Most High. We can, therefore, conclude that at least some theological beliefs held by some priests of Apollo in Late Antiquity were the same as those held by the Hypsistarians, and vice versa.
This documented similarity suggests that, if we were able to access an extensive body of writings by a priest of Apollo who was also a trained theologian, and were able to use that body of writings to demonstrate that he was a monotheist, then we could, cautiously, use the rest of his theology to reconstruct a presumptive theology of the Hypsistarians.
Now, as it happens, we have such a body of writings by a priest of Apollo who was a trained theologian and those writings do show he was a monotheist. I refer, of course, to the corpus of Plutarch of Chaeronea!
Peter Lötscher, a theologian at the Institute for the New Testament at the University of Bern, in his article “Plutarch’s Monotheism and the God of Mathematics,” explains:
As a priest at the Oracle of Delphi and as a Platonist philosopher, our author combined traditional cult and philosophical thought. Plutarch’s testimony, consequently, is especially interesting for the connection he established between a coherent theology and the lived religion of his time…
Lötscher then analyzes Plutarch’s dialogue On The E at Delphi, in which Plutarch discusses the meaning of the mysterious symbol “E” found at the entrance to the temple at Delphi. After exhaustively discussing a number of possible interpretations, Plutarch ends the dialog with what Lötscher takes to be a conclusive statement of his view of the supreme deity. The statement is fictionally presented as if spoken by Ammonius, Plutarch’s teacher, and is understood by scholars to represent Plutarch’s own view:
But God is — if there be need to say so! — and he exists for no stretch of time (khronos) but for eternity (aion), which is immovable, timeless, and undeviating, in which there is no earlier or later, no future or past, no older nor younger; but he, being “One",” has with only one “now” completely filled “forever;” and only when Being is after his pattern is it in reality Being, not having been nor about to be, nor has it a beginning nor is it destined to come to an end.
On the basis of this and other evidence in Plutarch’s writing, Lötscher ultimately concludes:
Plutarch was a monotheist, but not in the Christian sense. The oneness of God or the Divine plays a highly prominent role in his work… [but] his monotheism has to be distinguished from a Christian form of monotheism in Antiquity, which identifies the gods of the nations with evil spirits… Plutarch would never have demanded the elimination of traditional gods of various peoples…
If Plutarch was a monotheist, but not a Christian (or Jewish) monotheist, he was necessarily a pagan monotheist of exactly the sort I wrote about in my first article on this topic. He therefore meets the criteria we described above: a monotheistic priest of Apollo who was a trained theologian.
The rest of this essay will therefore use Plutarch’s theology as the speculative basis for our reconstruction. As we shall see, Plutarch gives Hypsistarianism a well-developed system that covers all of the major elements of a monotheistic theology: ontology; cosmogony; theodicy; soteriology; and eschatology.
John Dillon, in his authoritative treatise The Middle Platonists, explains Plutarch’s view of God:
Plutarch’s view of God— that is, of the Supreme Being— is just what one expects of a Platonist: God is Real Being (to ontos on), eternal, unchanging, non-composite, uncontaminated by Matter… [T]he various traditional gods have become aspects of the godhead… God also knows all things (Of Isis and Osiris 35id ) and directs (kosmei) all things (ibid. 382B)… He is also presented as ‘the object of striving for all Nature’ (for instance at The Face Which Appears in the Orb of the Moon 944E), which reflects the Aristotelian doctrine of the Prime Mover. Besides being ‘really existent’, God also for Plutarch possesses the two other basic Platonic epithets: he is the Good (On the Failure of Oracles 423D ), and he is One (On the E at Delphi 393BC).
These views, of course, closely match those found in the Oenoanda inscription:
Born of himself, untaught, without a mother, immutable, not contained in a name, known by many names, dwelling in fire, this is Theos. We, his angels, are a small part of Theos….
Thus we can be confident that God Most High is eternal, immutable, self-begotten, purely good, and - though non-composite and singular - somehow also has aspects that are subordinate to him. 1
Plato’s Timaeus, which explains how the One created the cosmos, is central to the cosmogony of pagan monotheism, Plutarch included. However, most of the ancient philosophers interpreted Timaeus metaphorically, believing that the creation story was merely an allegory because the cosmos had always existed eternally. Plutarch believed that God had created the cosmos, which thus had a temporal beginning — yet another reason why Plutarch was much-beloved by the early Christian doctors.
Unlike modern-day Christians, however, Plutarch believed that God had created the world from primordial chaos, rather than from nothing. In his essay On the Generation of Soul in the Timaeus, Plutarch writes:
[T]he creation [of the cosmos] was not out of nothing, but out of matter wanting beauty and perfection, like the rude materials of a house lying first in shapeless confusion. For before the creation of the world there was nothing but a confused heap… [The] all-receiving principle of matter possessed magnitude, space, and distance; but beauty, form, and measure of proportion, it had none.
However, all these it obtained [in the act of creation], to the end that, when it came to be thus embellished and adorned, it might assume the form of all the various bodies and organs of the earth, the sea, the heavens, the stars, and of all those infinite varieties of plants and living creatures.
[We] avow… that the glory of the structure [of the cosmos] belongs to God, for the frame itself is the most beautiful of all masterpieces, and God the most illustrious of all causes; — but that the substance and materials were not created, but always ready at the ordering and disposal of the Omnipotent Builder, to give it form and figure, as near as might be, approaching to his own resemblance.
Reasons of space preclude us from an exhaustive explanation of the various works of God and his intermediaries during cosmogony. For our purposes it is enough to state that, according to Plutarch, God created the cosmos — and it was good.
If we are correct in taking Plutarch’s views to be Hypsistarian, then Hypsistarianism is decidedly not a branch of Gnosticism. Gnostics believe that the cosmos was created by a malevolent demiurge and consider it a trap for the soul, and that is not what Plutarch believed. But if evil does not come from a malevolent demiurge, where does it come from?
Plutarch’s theodicy emerges from his cosmogony. Plutarch believed that the primordial chaos was more than just matter. Yes, it possessed an amorphous and incoherent corporeality, as we might expect of pure potentia or prima materia, but it also possessed a demented and irrational “motivity":
What preceded the generation of the cosmos was disorder, disorder not incorporeal or immobile or inanimate, but of corporeality amorphous and incoherent, and of motivity demented and irrational, and this was the discord of soul that has not reason…
In other words, the primordial chaos contained not just undifferentiated matter, it also contained a discordant and irrational principle or soul. And it was this evil soul that was the cause of evil in the cosmos. Matter, contra the Gnostics, was not evil; the discordant and irrational soul was evil.
This is a subtle point, and one that Plutarch believed most of his contemporaries had misunderstood. He writes in On the Generation of Soul in the Timaeus:
Eudemus… taxes [Plato] with asserting the first matter to be the cause, the root, and principle of all evil… Whereas Plato gives to matter only the titles of the mother and nurse; but the cause of evil he makes to be the moving force residing within it, not governed by order and reason thought not without a soul neither, which, in his treatise of the Laws, he calls expressly the soul repugnant and in hostility with that other propitiously and kindly acting.
Plutarch elaborates on this theodicy in his essay On Isis and Osiris, where he writes:
Neither is the Universe without mind, without reason, and without guidance, and tossed about at random, nor yet is there One Reason that rules and directs all things as it were, by a rudder and by guiding reins, but that there are many such directors, and made up out of good and bad; or rather, to speak generally, inasmuch as Nature produces nothing unmixed here below, it is not one Dispenser that like a retail dealer mixes together things for us out of two vessels and distributes the same, but it is from two opposite Principles and two antagonistic Powers; the one guiding us to the right hand and along the straight road, the other upsetting and rebuffing us, that Life becomes of a mixed nature; and also the Universe (if not the whole, yet that which surrounds Earth, and lies below the Moon), is made inconsistent with itself, and variable and susceptible of frequent changes.
For if nothing can happen without cause, and good cannot furnish cause for evil, it follows that the nature of Evil, as of Good, must have an origin and principle of its own.
Plutarch refers to the disordered source of evil as "the “Bad One,” personified as the demon Typhon. He makes it clear that the Bad One is a lesser being than God Most High:
[T]he origin and constitution of this world are mixed, being formed out of opposite principles—not, however, of equal force with each other, but the superiority belonging to the Better One. But it is impossible that the Bad One should be entirely destroyed, as it is largely implanted in the body, largely in the soul of the all, and always contending against the Better One…
For the generative and conservative Principle of Nature is set in motion against Typhon for the purpose of Being, whilst the determinating and corrupting part is moved by Typhon for the purpose of not being…
Typhon, as above stated, is called Seth, Bebon, and Syn—these names being meant to declare a certain forcible and impeding check, opposition, and turning upside down.
Plutarch asserted that the existence of a separate evil power was not just a belief peculiar to him, but rather stood at the center of what today we call the prisca theologia, the ancient truths revealed to all men by God in antiquity:
And this is the opinion of most men, and those the wisest, for they believe, some that there are Two Gods, as it were of opposite trades—one the creator of good, the other of bad things; others call the better one "God," the other "Demon," as did Zoroaster the Magian, who, they record, lived 5,000 years before the Trojan War. He therefore calls the former "Oromazes," the latter "Arimanios;" and furthermore explains that of all the objects of sense, the one most resembles Light, the other Darkness, and Ignorance…
Now the Pythagoreans characterize these Principles by several names: the Good One, as the "One," the "Definite," the "Abiding," the "Straight," the "Exceeding," the "Square," the "Equal," the "Right-handed," the "Bright;" the Bad One as the "Two," the "Indefinite," the "Unstable," the "Crooked," the "Sufficient," the "Unequally-sided" (parallelogram), the "Unequal," the "Left-handed," the "Dark"—inasmuch as these are supposed the final causes of existence—Anaxagoras defines them as "Mind," and the "Infinite;" Aristotle, the one as "Form," the other as "Deprival." Plato, as it were mystifying and veiling the matter, denominates in many places one of the opposing Principles as "The Same;" the second, as "The Other;" but in his "Laws," being now grown older, he no longer speaks in riddles and symbolically, but names them directly. "Not by one soul," says he, "was the universe set in motion, but by several, perhaps, at all events, by not less than Two; whereof the one is beneficent, the other antagonistic to this, and the creator of opposite effects: and there is room for a Third Principle to exist, one intermediate between the Two, which is neither destitute of soul, nor of reason, nor of impulse from within (as some suppose), but subordinate to those Two Principles, ever seeking after the Better One, and desiring and following after it…"
Against this Typhonic and entropic force, God must ceaselessly sustain the existence of the cosmos:
If the One be done away with, once more the Indefinite Dyad2 will throw all into confusion, and make it to be without rhythm, bound or measure.
The existence of this cosmic dualism raises an important question: Does the struggle between the One and the Indefinite Dyad, between God and Typhon, the Bright and the Dark, endure endlessly without changing, as in Egyptian eschatology? Or does the struggle culminate in the victory of good, as in Zoroastrian and Christian eschatology?
To answer that question, let’s return to On the Generation of Soul in the Timaeus, where Plutarch seems to contemplate the possibility of an end time:
“The world,” saith [Plato], “received from the Illustrious Builder all things beautiful and lovely; but whatsoever happens to be noxious and irregular in heaven, it derives from its ancient habit and disposition, and conveys them into the several creatures…
In process of time, when oblivion had encroached upon the world, the distemper of its ancient confusion more prevailed, and the hazard is, lest being dissolved, it should again be sunk and plunged into the immense abyss of its former irregularity…
However, in a later passage, Plutarch explains that the encroaching oblivion will not destroy the cosmos:
There shall come a time, as it has happened already, when the world’s moving wisdom shall grow dull and drowsy, drowned in oblivion of its own duty; while that which is familiar and agreeable to the body from the beginning draws and winds back the righthand motion of the universe, causing the wheels to go slow and heavy.
Yet shall [the evil principle] not be able to dash in pieces the whole movement, for that the better part, rousing and recollecting herself and observing the pattern and exemplar of God, shall with his aid reduce all things again into their former order.
Plutarch, then, seems to contemplate a cyclical eschatology, in which God imposes order on the pre-existent cosmos, after which comes a slow and gradual entropic process of dissipation back towards chaos, until such time as God restores things again to their former order.
What is particularly interesting about this cyclical theory is how closely it parallels the the cyclical theory of the Traditionalists. As I wrote in “Nerd Among the Ruins”:
A Traditionalist… is someone who believes that human society ought to be structured around an appropriate manifestation of the perennial philosophy. Such a society sets the stage for the highest forms of human life. Evola labels these as “Olympian,” “Apollonian,” or “high” civilizations… In contrast to the “high” civilizations are those which have rejected the perennial philosophy and therefore destroyed the very foundation for properly organizing human life. Evola calls these “Telluric,” “Titanic,” “Satanic,” “earthly,” “liberal,” “bourgeoise,” and “modern” civilizations.
Traditionalists hold that the commercialism and materialism of modernity are anathema to the higher, spiritual purpose that should characterize life. Rather than represent the height of human achievement, modernity is actually an epoch of chaos and ruin, an Iron Age, a Kali Yuga.
Only when we reject modernity and embrace (capital-t) Tradition will this dark age end and a new golden age of high civilization begin again. Or so the Traditionalists assert.
What is the destiny of the soul in this eternal struggle between the One and Indefinite Dyad? To answer that question we must examine Plutarch’s soteriology.
The soteriology that most of us are familiar with, Christianity, promises the faithful a resurrection into eternal life in the kingdom of God, and threatens the unfaithful with either annihilation or damnation (depending which denomination is answering the question). Plutarch’s soteriology is quite different.
In The Life of Romulus, Plutarch writes:
[To reject entirely the divinity of human virtue would be impious and base; but to mix heaven with earth is foolish. Let us therefore take the safe course and grant, with Pindar, that ‘our bodies all must follow death’s supreme behest, but something living still survives, an image of life, for this alone comes from the gods.’
We must not, therefore, violate nature by sending the bodies of good men with their souls to heaven, but implicitly believe that their virtues and their souls, in accordance with nature and divine justice, ascend from men to heroes, from heroes to demigods, and from demigods, after they have been made pure and holy, as in the final rites of initiation, and have freed themselves from mortality… to gods.
In The Obsolesce of Oracles, Plutarch explains the origin of this doctrine and the method by which it operates:
Hesiod was the first to set forth clearly and distinctly four classes of ration beings: gods, demigods, heroes, in this order, and last of all, men…
[I]n the same manner in which water is seen to be generated from earth, air from water, and fire from air, as their substance is borne upward, even so from men into heroes and from heroes into demigods the better souls obtain their transmutation. From the demigods, a few souls still, in the long reach of time, because of supreme excellence, come, after being purified, to share completely in divine qualities.
And what makes for a “better” soul?
[F]or all being that which is divine is most excellent, and man amongst all animals is adorned with the greatest beauty, is also the best, being adorned by virtue above the rest because of the gift of intellect: there it was thought that those who were admirable for excellence should resemble that which is the best and most beautiful [e.g. the divine].
Plutarch thus takes what is, in Christian terms, the Pelagian position: that humans by divine grace have free will to achieve human perfection, and doing so is what earns one a place in heaven. However, Plutarch, unlike Pelagius, believes that even if a soul has ascended to heaven, it is possible to yield to temptation and fall back into darkness:
But with some of these souls it comes to pass that they do not maintain control over themselves, but yield to temptation and are again clothed with mortal bodies and have a dim and darkened life…
What do ascended souls do, once they become heroes? In On the Sign of Socrates, Plutarch explains that they become guardian angels of the living:
Souls delivered from birth and henceforth at rest from the body — set quite free, as it were, to range at will — are, as Hesiod say angels that watch over man.
For as athletes who from old age have given up training do not entirely lose their ardor and their love of bodily prowess, but look on with pleasure as others train, and call out encouragement and run along beside them, so those who are done with the contests of life, and who, from prowess of soul, have become angels, do not hold what is done and said and striven after in this world in utter contempt, but are propitious to contenders for the same goal, join in their ardor, and encourage and help them to the attainment of virtue when they see them keeping up the struggle and all but reaching their heart’s desire.
For angels do not assist all indifferently, but as when men swim at sea, those standing on the shore merely view in silence the swimmers who are still far out distant from land, whereas they help with hand and voice alike such as have near, and running along and wading in beside them bring them safely, in such, too, my friends, is the way of angels: as long as we are head over ears in the welter of worldly affairs and are changing body after body, like conveyances, they allow us to fight our way out and persevere unaided, as we endeavor by our own prowess to come through safe and reach a haven; but when in the course of countless births a soul has stoutly and resolutely sustained a long series of struggles, and as her cycle draws to a close, she approaches the upper world, bathed in sweat, in imminent peril and straining every nerve to reach the shore, God holds it no sin for her angel to go to the rescue… but if she pays no heed, she is forsaken by her angel and comes to no happy end.3
What about those souls that ascend to the status of demigods? In On Isis and Osiris, Plutarch explains:
Hesiod calls the worthy and good demigods “holy deities” and “guardians of mortals” and “givers of wealth, and having therein a reward that is kingly.” Plato calls this class of beings an interpretative and ministering class, midway between gods and men, in that they convey thither the prayers and petitions of men, and thence they bring hither the oracles and the gifts of good things.
But he reiterates that demigods, too, can fall from grace. In Of Isis and Osiris, Plutarch explains:
[T]he demigods must pay the penalty for the sins that they commit and the duties that they neglect… until, when they have been chastened and purified, they recover the place and position to which they belong…
Only those who achieve “supreme excellence” and ascend to gods share completely in divine qualities and therefore never fall.
And what is the fate of those who fail to ascend to the heavens or who, having ascended then later fall back to moral existence? The destiny of these souls is the “course of countless births” consisting of a “long series of struggles” described above.
If Plutarch can be taken as representative of the beliefs of Hypsistarians, then Theos Hypsistos offers his worshippers two paths in the afterlife: those who achieve supreme excellence follow a path of ascension and become heroes, demigods, or gods; those who fail in the struggle for excellence follow a path of reincarnation and proceed through the cycle of rebirth.
The Traditionalists among my readership will certainly have noticed that the soteriology described here is remarkably close to that which Julius Evola describes in Chapter 8 of Revolt Against the Modern World, “The Two Paths in the Afterlife.” I do not believe this is coincidental. For more on Evola’s view of the afterlife, see Episode 9 of Substacker’s YouTube series.
What I also find remarkable is the extent to which Plutarch’s soteriology resembles the soteriology of the sort of “Pop Christianity” which often has human beings becoming angels after they die and being assigned various tasks. For instance, in the beloved classic It’s a Wonderful Life and its less-beloved sequel Clarence, we learn that Boston-born Clarence Odbody became a “guardian angel, second class” after he died; with two centuries of good work under his belt, Odbody will “earn his wings” and ascend to “guardian angel, first class” if he persuades George Bailey not to take his own life. This makes no sense whatsoever under any legitimate Christian soteriology, but it is sensible under a slightly tongue-in-cheek version of Plutarch’s.
Is the existence of “pop” angelology evidence of some ancient pagan belief handed down or carried over from the first centuries AD? I don’t know and I’m curious if anyone among the readership does.
What does it mean that those who are “admirable for excellence” are those who “resemble that which the best and most beautiful”? What does that tell us about how a man ought to live his life? John Dillon in The Middle Platonists explains:
For Plutarch, as for all Middle Platonists of whom we have knowledge… the supreme object of human life is Likeness to God, not Conformity with Nature.
Plutarch expresses this view in his dialogue On the Divine Vengeance, where he states:
Consider that God, as Plato says offers himself to all as a pattern of every excellence, thus rendering human virtue, which is in some sort an assimilation to himself, accessible to all who can follow God… for man is fitted to derive from God no greater blessing than to become settled in virtue through copying and aspiring to the beauty and the goodness that are his.
In Letter of Condolence to Apollonius, Plutarch elaborates on the morality of excellence and links it to his soteriology:
In general, everyone ought to hold the conviction… that not the longest life is the best, but the most excellent. For it is not the man who has played the lyre the most, or made the most speeches, or piloted the most ships, who is commended, but he who as done these things excellently. Excellence is not to be ascribed to length of time, but to worth and timely fitness… The measure of life is its excellence, not its length in years…
And if the account of the ancient poets and philosophers is true, as it most likely is, and so there is for those of the departed who have been righteous a certain honor and preferment, as is said, and a place set apart in which their souls pass their existence, then you ought to be of good hope for your dear departed son that he will be reckoned among their number and will be with them.
Plutarch’s morality and thus (if my theory is correct) Hypsistarian morality is a form of virtue ethics. The traditional Homeric emphasis on arete (excellence) and agon (struggle) is integrated into and part of the struggle for moral excellence.
A further elaboration of these moral principles would require an article - or perhaps a book - in itself. For now, let me end our section on morality with this passage by Goethe, the polymathic titan of German culture, in which he declares himself a Hypsistarian, but is left wondering what that means:
...I have found no confession of faith to which I could ally myself without reservation. Now in my old age, however, I have learned of a sect, the Hypsistarians, who, hemmed in between heathens, Jews and Christians, declared that they would treasure, admire, and honor the best, the most perfect that might come to their knowledge, and inasmuch as it must have a close connection to the Godhead, pay it reverence. A joyous light thus beamed at me suddenly out of a dark age, for I had the feeling that all my life I had been aspiring to qualify as a Hypsistarian. That, however, is no small task, for how does one, in the limitations of one's individuality, come to know what is most excellent
After last week’s essay, Substacker Fat Rabbit Iron offered to translate the Theos Hypsistos inscriptions from Ancient Greek into English. I had hoped that the translations would represent a major step forward in Hypsistarian Studies.4 Unfortunately, they are all just short dedications in an almost standardized format that present the religion without any accompanying theological sentiments.
Of course, the Hypsistarian inscriptions are not the sole source of monotheistic pagan prayer. The Greek Magical Papyri overflow with prayers and bequests to God Most High. Here I quote a small number of them.5
PGM I 165:
Hither to me, King, God of Gods, mighty, boundless, undefiled, indescribable, firmly established Aion. Be inseparable from me from this day forth through all the time of my life.
PGM IV 1170
I praise you, the one and blessed of the eons and father of the world, with cosmic prayers. Come to me, you who filled the whole universe with air, who hung up the fire from the heavenly water and separated the earth from the water.
PGM IV 1200:
Creator of the world, creator of the universe, lord, god of gods, I have spoken of your unsurpassable glory, you who created gods, archangels, and decans. The ten thousands of angels stood by you and exalted the heaven.
PGM XII 245 - 265:
Who molded the forms of the beasts of the Zodiac? Who found their routes? Who was the begetter of fruits? Who raises up the mountains? Who commanded the winds to hold to their annual tasks? What Aion nourishing an Aion rules the Aions? One deathless god. You are the begetter of all and assign souls to all and control all, king of the aions and lord, before whom mountains and plains together tremble, springs and streams of rivers, and valleys of earth, and spirits, and all things that are.
High shining heaven trembles before you, and every sea, lord, ruler of all, holy one, and master of all. By your power the elements exist and all things come into being, the route of sun and moon, of night and dawn-all things in air and earth and water and the breath of fire. Yours is the eternal processional way of heaven, in which your seven-lettered name is established for the harmony of the seven sounds of the planets which utter their voices according to the 28 forms of the moon. Yours are the beneficent effluxes of the stars, angels, and fates. You give wealth, good old age, good children, strength, food.
You, lord of life, ruling the upper and the lower realm, whose justice is not thwarted, whose glorious name the angels hymn, who have truth that never lies, hear me and grant me this consecration so that I may wear your power in every place, in every time, without being smitten or afflicted, so as to be preserved intact from every danger while I wear your power. Yea, lord, for to you, the god in heaven, all things are subject, and none of the demons or spirits will oppose me because I have called on your great name for the consecration.
PGM XIIII 65-70:
I call on you, who are greater than all, the creator of all, you, the self-begotten, you who see all and are not seen. For you gave Helios the glory and the power, Selene the privilege to wax and wane and have fixed courses, yet you took nothing from the earlier-born darkness, but apportioned things so that they should be equal. For when you appeared, both order arose and light appeared. All things are subject to you, whose true form none of the gods can see; who change into all forms. You are invisible, Aion of Aion.
PGM XIII 330:
Archangels, decans, angels rejoice. For Aion of Aion himself, the only and transcendent, invisible, goes through this place.
A few thing stand out to me about these passages.
God Most High is frequently referred to as Aion or even Aion of Aions. Aion is the Hellenistic deity of eternity, associated with cyclic ages, which tracks the Hypsistarian belief in a cyclic eschatology. Aion was frequently considered synonymous with the primordial sky god Caelus, also known as Caelus Aeternus Iupiter; and Caelus Aeternus Iupiter (translatable perhaps as “Eternal Lawgiving Father of the Heavens”) was associated with the monotheistic god of the Jews (Yahweh) and the Zoroastrians (Ahura Mazda).
There is no indication of any strain of Gnosticism within the monotheistic prayers in the Greek Magical Papyri. God Most High is always acclaimed as the good, just, and wise creator of a glorious cosmos of order and light. This is in accordance with the cosmogony I have ascribed to Hypsistarianism.
There is indication of a Plutarchian dualism. In PGM XIIII, the supplicant notes “you took nothing from the earlier-born darkness” — that earlier-born darkness perhaps being symbolic of the evil principle.
If we accept that Plutarch was some sort of Hypsistarian, and that his theological writings are representative of the beliefs of at least some Hypsistarians, then it seems we might have achieved an adequate, if not impeccable, reconstruction of one possible form of Hypsistarian belief.
Of course we must admit that Plutarch nowhere calls himself a Hypsistarian; but then we have no evidence that any of the Hypsistarians ever did — for “Hypsistarian” was a label assigned to them by Christian commentators, just as “Mohammedan” was a label assigned to Muslims. What the Hypsistarians actually called themselves, we do not know with certainty.
Still, it is entirely possible that Plutarch’s theology is not representative of Hypsistarianism theology. Worse, it is entirely possible I have made an erroneous presumption in thinking Hypsistarianism had any theology. Many ancient religions were focused entirely on rite and ritual. Based purely on the epigraphic evidence that Fat Iron Rabbit translated for me, the cult of Theos Hypsistos was such a religion; nothing found at any of the archeological sites, other than Oenoanda, evidences that it was a “high pagan” cult with the sort of theology that, e.g., Julian the Apostate tried to develop.
I confess that I find the speculative theology above to be beautiful. But that does not necessarily mean that it is true (as in a true presentation of Hypsistarian belief), let alone True (as in a true statement of the nature of God). Thus, whether the reconstruction I have offered can ultimately be considered a success I leave to the reader. Personally, I found the exercise a delightful mental challenge, and I appreciate those of you who explored these concepts with me.
Next week we will turn our attention to other, more pressing, matters. Having stated last month that we had a mere 16 months until the end of the world as we know it, I now believe I was overly-optimistic.
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Plutarch’s views on God also have interesting parallels with Jewish and Christian views on God. In On the E at Delphi, for instance, Plutarch notes:
The God… addresses each of us, as he enters, with his “KNOW THYSELF…” We answer the God with “EI” (Thou Art), rendering to him the designation which is true…and alone belongs to him, and to no other, that of BEING.
“Thou Art” is, of course, merely the second person of “I Am.”
The Indefinite Dyad here is a reference to Plato’s unwritten doctrines, and is a synonym for the irrational soul or Typhon.
The actual Greek word used in this passage is δαίμων, which is Anglicized as “daimon.” However, the word daimon has no actual equivalent in English. I tend to translate daimon as “angel” when the daimon is benevolent, and translate it as “demon” when the daimon is malevolent. This should not be construed to mean angels in the Christian sense, but more angels of the sort presented in pop culture as “guardian angels.”
I temper my despair by reminding myself I just made up this entire field about 5 minutes ago.
Some of the passages in the Greek Magical Papyri purport to be incantations or spells with words of power. In order to help you avoid accidental exposure to occultism, I have deleted all of those sections from the passages.