A Solstice Missive
It seems I have started a tradition of writing something for the Winter Solstice, such as some prayer, a hymn, or a letter. It seems like a good enough tradition. So, I find myself struggling to find something relatively intelligent sounding about which to write for today.
This has been a rough year for many of us, and a rough year for the world. Many of my friends and acquaintances have suffered from illnesses, poverty, stress, and more and this year we’ve seen more mass shootings, terrorist bombings, and wars than we should ever have to see. The world is a hard place. In case we have forgotten this, or we are fortunate enough to escape much of life’s hardships, we certainly have Plato to fall back upon to remind us. In reading the Phaedo, we see the difficulties an embodied life brings: dulled senses, the demands of physicality, and the like. At the risk of sounding overly populist, to quote Admiral Ackbar: “It’s a trap!” And, as we are having this conversation in the first place, it is one into which we’ve all fallen.
And yet . . . I want to say something reassuring here. Something uplifting, something to make this year’s hardships feel less hard. I could talk about evil as a privatio boni. I could point out that so many others have it worse. And all that might be true, and perspective is important, but it also risks belittling the very real harms we have suffered.
And yet . . . the words, here, suggest hope. In Christianity, hope is one of the three theological virtues which were appended to the four cardinal virtues of Platonism. It refers to wanting something that is difficult to obtain and the active attempt to obtain it anyway. Hope suggests we recognize something is missing and are willing to do what it takes to get it. If we say we hope for a better new year, then hope tells us we must work for it. It is a good virtue, and of this, the Oracles says and prays “Divine Hope, which descends from Intellect and is certain, concerning which the oracle says: ‘May fire-bearing Hope nourish you…’” (Co 47, trans Ruth Majercik)
And yet . . . to the cardinal virtues Proclus adds three more, from the Chaldean Oracles: “(It is necessary) … to propose the virtues which, from creation, purify and lead back (to God), ‘…Faith, Truth, and Love,’ that praiseworthy triad.” (CO 46, trans Ruth Majercik) These virtues are cosmic forces, filling everything. Faith is closest to us here, assigned as it is to the material realm. This material realm, the one in which these hardships have, and continue, to take place. Faith is a theurgic power. It unifies the soul and unites us with the divine. It is our hope for overcoming the world of generation.
And yet . . . we learn from the later Neoplatonists that the world is not a thing from which to escape. That incarnation is not, at least originally, a punishment for some misdeed. It is not a trap. The Timaeus shows us the world soul, much as our own souls, was created in divine proportions and Iamblichus shows us it is the very image of the great pre-essential Demiurge, Aion. In short, creation, being the will of Nous, who is all good, is, itself, good. We find that incarnation serves a two-fold divine purpose, the primary of which is the bringing of divine blessings fully into the world through our participation of the divine. The teachings of the theurgist and theologians; Iamblichus, Proclus, Dionysius, etc., are those which are filled with faith, and truth, and love. And, in their writings, we see that these virtues are not only feelings or states, which they are, but verbs as well. The Platonic life is a life actively trying to improve not only itself but the world in which it is carried out.
None of this is meant to cover the hardships of our lives, or the evils in the world. Faith, truth, and love do not remove these realities from our lives. They do, however, gives us the means to improve the world in which we live, and charge us, as do all the virtues, to make those improvements, so far as possible. And this, ultimately, is a message of hope, one which is hopefully fitting for the solstice, on whichever hemisphere you may happen to reside.
Originally, I had planned to write about some of the movement made within the Ekklesia. For instance, the first comprehensive guide to the Mysteries of Divine Birth and Affirmation has been written for Agathos Daimon Seminary, and Ms. Glenda Shephard will be formally brought into the Ekklesia through those same mysteries and also initiated into the Order of Hierokerux later this coming year. The messages of darkness and light, or at least the good and the bad, are both important. They help us see where we are, where we are going, and what must be done to get there. So, perhaps I should have written more about these other things as they, at least for me, are signs of hope and faith. And it is these things which nourish and purify us, but always with the knowledge of that which must be overcome.
Blessings of the Divine, and the solstice, to you all.
Ekklesia Neoplatonismos Theourgia