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Iamblichus' Hierarchy of Spiritual Entities

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The cosmology of the Iamblichean school is summarised by Annie Besant as follows:

 "There is One, prior to all beings, immovable, abiding in the solitude of His own unity.  From That arises the Supreme God, the Self-begotten, the Good, the Source of all things, the Root, the God of Gods, the First Cause, unfolding Himself into Light.  From Him springs the Intelligible World, or ideal [archetypal] universe, the Universal Mind (or) Nous, and the incorporeal or intelligible Gods belonging to this.  From this the World-Soul, to which belong the "divine intellectual forms which are present with the visible bodies  [i.e. the planets] of the Gods".  Then come the various hierar-chies of superhuman beings, Archangels, Archons (Rulers) or Cosmocratores [Creators], Angels, Daimons, etc..."


We can distinguish here between the higher divine spiritual hierarchies and the more intermdiate beings

The highest Spiritual Realities

These can be listed from higher to lower [6]:

Three categories of psychic Gods are postulated [7].

Minor deities and intermediate spiritual beings

These minor deities (are enumerated in various ways; for example the twelve or thirty-six or three hundred and sixty heavenly gods; which give rise to seventy-two other gods.  In addition there are twenty-one chiefs (hegemones) and forty-two nature-gods (theoi genesiourgoi), as well as guardian deities of particular individuals and nations.  Indeed, according to the important Iamblichan text De Mysteriis, not only are all things full of gods (panta plere Theon, as the philosopher Thales put it), but each person had a special deity - an idios daimon (what would later come to be referred to in Christian thought as a "guardian angel") as his own guard and companion [7].   The Iamblichan cosmos was therefore a magical one, populated by a great diversity of superhuman spiritual beings, influencing natural events, communicating spiritual and prophetic knowledge, and accessible to prayers and offerings.


According to Iamblichus, between the gods and the pure (or purified) souls, and bridging the gap between the two, are two intermediate classes, the heros and the daimons [8].  The daimons have nothing to do with the "demons" of medieval Christianity, being more equivalent, like the "heros", to the Christian idea of "angels".

The daimons "serve the will of the gods, make manifest their hidden goodness, and give form to their superior formlessness" [9].   The gods have general and universal power in the universe, whereas the daimons have only partial power [10].  They are produced "through the generative and demiurgic powers of the gods in the furthest extremity of their procession and of their ultimate divisions" [10].  In other words, at the lowest subplane of the gods, where there is the greatest multiplicity, they emanate and give rise to subordinate beings, the daimons.   Although Iamblichus describes the daimons as the active principles of the gods, and the heros as concerned with saving souls and leading them upwards, the two groups would seem to overlap somewhat [11]


In Iamblichus' cosmology, the heros have very little to do with the heros of classical mythology, being totally spiritual beings.  Like the daimons, they help bridge the gap between the gods and the souls [8].   But whereas the daimons represent the lowest extension of the gods, one could say that the heros represent the highest degree of souls.

Pure Souls

The lowst category of higher beings, the psuchai achrantoi or pure souls, although possessing only partial powers relative to the daimons and heros, are nevertheless able to associate with or withdraw from whomever they please, and can join themselves to the gods [12].  "Through the goodwill of the gods they can ascend even to the rank of angel" 


[5] Annie Besant, Esoteric Christianity, pp.22-3

[6] John M. Dillon, Iamblichi Chalcidensis, (E.J.Brill, Leiden, 1973), pp.29-39

[7] William Ritchie Sorley, "Iamblichus", in Encyclopaedia Brittanica, vol XIV, p.214, (Eleventh Edition, 1911)

[8] John Dillon, Iamblichi Chalcidensis, (E.J.Brill, Leiden, 1973), p.49-52

[9] John Dillon, Iamblichi Chalcidensis, (E.J.Brill, Leiden, 1973), p.49.

[10] John Dillon, Iamblichi Chalcidensis, (E.J.Brill, Leiden, 1973), p.50

[11] John Dillon, Iamblichi Chalcidensis, (E.J.Brill, Leiden, 1973), pp.50-51

[12] John Dillon, Iamblichi Chalcidensis, (E.J.Brill, Leiden, 1973), p.51

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content by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 12 November 1998, last modified 27 April 2004