Theurgical (Magical) Heads

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andrewcriddle
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Theurgical (Magical) Heads

Post by andrewcriddle » Sat Oct 17, 2015 4:30 am

I'm posting this in the hope of constructive criticism. I'm not at all sure whether I'm on the right track.

Proclus the great 5th century CE neo-Platonist and theurgist (occultist) says in the Platonic Theology
But the entire, quietly stable, and simple visions, are unfolded to souls supernally from the supercelestial place, through the connectedly-containing Gods. For the mystic impressions of intelligibles, shine forth in that place, and also the unknown and ineffable beauty of characters. For muesis and epopteia are symbols of ineffable silence, and of union with mystic natures through intelligible visions. And that which is the most admirable of all is this, that as theurgists order the whole body to be buried, except the head, in the most mystic of initiations, Plato also has anticipated this, being moved by the Gods themselves. “For being pure,” says he, “and liberated from this surrounding vestment, which we now denominate body, we obtained this most blessed muesis and epopteia, being full of intelligible light. “For the pure splendor [which he mentions] symbolically unfolds to us intelligible light. Hence, when we are situated in the intelligible, we shall have a life perfectly liberated from the body. But elevating the head of the charioteer to the place beyond the heaven, we shall be filled with the mysteries which are there, and with intelligible silence
This unusual ritual of burial of the body leaving the head exposed, in order to achieve some sort of symbolic separation of the head from the body, so as to partake of heavenly mysteries, lacks good parallels.

However we know that Harran (in modern Turkey) had a pagan mystical tradition which survived into the early Islamic period under the name of the Sabians. There is some circumstantial evidence that this tradition was strongly influenced by Neoplatonism. See http://wiccanrede.org/2014/05/harran-la ... sm-part-i/ but treat with caution.

We have only the accounts of their opponents but they include the following strange story.
When al-Ma’mun meets the Harranians he asks if they are Magians. When they deny he replies: Then you are unbelievers, the slaves of idols, Adherents of the Head . an-Nadim continues to describe how a human man with an appearance like that of Mercury was seized upon with trickery and deception... He was placed in oil and borax and was prepared in a special way. The head was pulled off and then the tongue spoke like a kind of medium. an-Nadim: It has been confirmed at length in their book entitled al-Hatifi
His condition was such that if his head was pulled it could be lifted without tearing what it was fastened to...This they did every year when Mercury was at its height They supposed that the soul of this individual came to his head because of his resemblance to Mercury. It spoke with his tongue relating what was happening and replying to questions.
This is an opponents account, and if we treat it as to some extent a libellous misunderstanding, then the idea of the head separated from the body so as to become a medium of the heavenly gods does seem significant. Possibly the Sabians pretended to separate a volunteers head from his body and then received replies to their questions from the (apparently) disembodied head.

Are these two rituals connected or is it just parallelomania ?

Andrew Criddle
Last edited by andrewcriddle on Sat Oct 17, 2015 4:52 am, edited 3 times in total.

andrewcriddle
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Re: Theurgical (Magical)l Heads

Post by andrewcriddle » Sat Oct 17, 2015 4:42 am

Could title be changed from (Magical)l to (Magical) please ? Sorry.

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DCHindley
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Re: Theurgical (Magical)l Heads

Post by DCHindley » Sat Oct 17, 2015 4:48 am

andrewcriddle wrote:Could title be changed from (Magical)l to (Magical) please ? Sorry.

Andrew Criddle
Actually, unlike the board used by FRDB, if you open the original message, I believe you can edit even the Subject heading and it will change in the main display.

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Re: Theurgical (Magical) Heads

Post by andrewcriddle » Sat Oct 17, 2015 4:50 am

DCHindley wrote:
andrewcriddle wrote:Could title be changed from (Magical)l to (Magical) please ? Sorry.

Andrew Criddle
Actually, unlike the board used by FRDB, if you open the original message, I believe you can edit even the Subject heading and it will change in the main display.
Thanks done

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Re: Theurgical (Magical) Heads

Post by DCHindley » Sat Oct 17, 2015 8:21 am

andrewcriddle wrote:I'm posting this in the hope of constructive criticism. I'm not at all sure whether I'm on the right track.

Proclus the great 5th century CE neo-Platonist and theurgist (occultist) says ...
But the entire, quietly stable, and simple visions, are unfolded to souls supernally from the supercelestial place, through the connectedly-containing Gods. ... And that which is the most admirable of all is this, that as theurgists order the whole body to be buried, except the head, in the most mystic of initiations, ...


This unusual ritual of burial of the body leaving the head exposed, in order to achieve some sort of symbolic separation of the head from the body, so as to partake of heavenly mysteries, lacks good parallels.

However we know that Harran (in modern Turkey) had a pagan mystical tradition which survived into the early Islamic period under the name of the Sabians. There is some circumstantial evidence that this tradition was strongly influenced by Neoplatonism. See http://wiccanrede.org/2014/05/harran-la ... sm-part-i/ but treat with caution.

We have only the accounts of their opponents but they include the following strange story.
When al-Ma’mun meets the Harranians he asks if they are Magians. When they deny he replies: Then you are unbelievers, the slaves of idols, Adherents of the Head . an-Nadim continues to describe how a human man with an appearance like that of Mercury was seized upon with trickery and deception... He was placed in oil and borax and was prepared in a special way. The head was pulled off and then the tongue spoke like a kind of medium. an-Nadim: It has been confirmed at length in their book entitled al-Hatifi
His condition was such that if his head was pulled it could be lifted without tearing what it was fastened to...This they did every year when Mercury was at its height They supposed that the soul of this individual came to his head because of his resemblance to Mercury. It spoke with his tongue relating what was happening and replying to questions.


... Are these two rituals connected or is it just parallelomania?
Andrew,

This may be comparing apples & oranges. Proclus speaks of an initiation in which the initiate's body is buried with the head exposed to receive the mysteries. Initiations tend to be highly symbolic.

On the other hand, the "Sabians" have supposedly kidnapped (and it is assumed killed) a man who superficially resembles the popular representation of Mercury, embalms him, and then when they need a question answered, would reveal the body, lift off the head (separate it from the body) and it would magically speak in answer. This lifting of the head seems to have been based on trickery (like magician's mirrors?) but the head speaking is probably that of a living human being. It wouldn't have been the first time such a trick was perpetrated in antiquity by priests of a cult.

It doesn't help that "Sabian" is used to describe a wide range of people in Islamic literature, but does here seem to refer to those who chose to present the Hermetic literature as their "scriptures", so Mercury would actually be Hermes Trismegistus. It was a matter of convenience, as Magians (Zoroastrians) were considered infidels and the lives of the Sabians forfeit if they did not find a suitable "book" to adhere to the teachings of. There are just enough allusions to the book of Genesis in Hermetic mystical texts (not the alchemical ones) to treat them as part of the Judean tradition, which was considered acceptable to Islam (IIUC).

DCH

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Re: Theurgical (Magical) Heads

Post by DCHindley » Sun Oct 18, 2015 2:21 pm


andrewcriddle
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Re: Theurgical (Magical) Heads

Post by andrewcriddle » Tue Oct 20, 2015 11:20 am

The French translation of the Arabic text about the Sabian head ceremony is here http://menadoc.bibliothek.uni-halle.de/ ... iew/807881 It refers to the victim being in the oil with only the head visible. Which is what particularly recalled Proclus' account.

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Re: Theurgical (Magical) Heads

Post by Secret Alias » Thu Oct 22, 2015 6:27 am

One can also remember that Paul also speaks of the 'head' as being Christ in relation to a separate 'body' (Col 1.18). If I remember correctly there is a Jewish tradition that Adam Kadmion 'body' was a living personification of the universe with the 'body part' in this realm and the 'head' in heaven. It is likely for that reason that Jesus says that there is special significance to 'the head of John the Baptist' somewhere (it's about 7 am in the morning so brain not quite working properly). I think perhaps there are many related traditions to this idea of a cosmic man with his 'head in the clouds' but your example Andrew is even more overtly Platonic than mine.
“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.”
― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

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Re: Theurgical (Magical) Heads

Post by DCHindley » Thu Oct 22, 2015 6:48 am

andrewcriddle wrote:The French translation of the Arabic text about the Sabian head ceremony is here http://menadoc.bibliothek.uni-halle.de/ ... iew/807881 It refers to the victim being in the oil with only the head visible. Which is what particularly recalled Proclus' account.

Andrew Criddle
I have to assume the victim so immersed in the oil and borax is already dead, or is he supposed to be alive throughout the whole process? The fact that the account mentions that the head is lifted off without tearing, and afterwards the mouth is supposed to move as if speaking after the spirit of mercury/mars inhabits it, is what made me feel this was a trick with mirrors, like magicians do today. Even mirrors of that day could give the illusion with a little smoke from incense to obscure the view, and I also have to presume a bit of distance between the priests and victim and the observers.

DCH (off for a little while today)

andrewcriddle
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Re: Theurgical (Magical) Heads

Post by andrewcriddle » Thu Oct 22, 2015 9:34 am

DCHindley wrote:
andrewcriddle wrote:The French translation of the Arabic text about the Sabian head ceremony is here http://menadoc.bibliothek.uni-halle.de/ ... iew/807881 It refers to the victim being in the oil with only the head visible. Which is what particularly recalled Proclus' account.

Andrew Criddle
I have to assume the victim so immersed in the oil and borax is already dead, or is he supposed to be alive throughout the whole process? The fact that the account mentions that the head is lifted off without tearing, and afterwards the mouth is supposed to move as if speaking after the spirit of mercury/mars inhabits it, is what made me feel this was a trick with mirrors, like magicians do today. Even mirrors of that day could give the illusion with a little smoke from incense to obscure the view, and I also have to presume a bit of distance between the priests and victim and the observers.

DCH (off for a little while today)
The victim is fed daily (for forty days) with figs in sesame oil so he apparently remains alive until the head removal.

Andrew Criddle

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