Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM the OXFORD CLASSICAL DICTIONARY ( (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 10 December 2018


Theurgy was a form of pagan religious magic associated with the Chaldaean Oracles and taken up by the later Neoplatonists. It covered a range of magical practices, from rain-making and cures to animating statues of the gods. Like other forms of magic, theurgy was based on a theory of cosmic sympathy but in theurgy, as in Neoplatonist metaphysics, sympathy was thought to extend beyond the material world and to unite it with a higher, divine world. Theurgy was accordingly believed to promote the union of the human soul with the divine. Plotinus shows no interest in theurgy but in the next generation it became the focus of a dispute between Porphyry and Iamblichus (2). Iamblichus' On the Mysteries argues, against Porphyry, that the human soul cannot attain union with the divine purely by its own efforts of philosophical contemplation; such union requires the assistance of the gods, which can be brought about by theurgy. Most of the later Neoplatonists accepted Iamblichus' position, although they varied in the emphasis they placed on theurgy. Eunapius records that the pupils of Iamblichus' pupil Aedesius differed on this point: Eusebius of Myndus apparently disapproved of theurgy while Chrysanthius and Maximus (3) were enthusiastic practitioners. Proclus and his school at Athens followed Iamblichus. It has often been thought that the 5th- and 6th-cent. Neoplatonists of Alexandria (1) were less committed to theurgy than their Athenian contemporaries. In fact, of the pagan Neoplatonists at Alexandria, Ammonius son of Hermeias is notably silent about both theurgy and the Chaldaean Oracles but the rest share the views of the Athenian school. Theurgy continued to attract the interest of the Byzantine Neoplatonists, particularly Michael Psellus. See neoplatonism.


E. R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational (1951).Find this resource:

A. Smith, Porphyry's Place in the Neoplatonic Tradition (1974).Find this resource:

G. Shaw, Theurgy and the Soul. The Neoplatonism of Iamblichus (1995).Find this resource:

E. C. Clarke, Iamblichus’ De Mysteriis: a Manifesto of the Miraculous (2001).Find this resource:

Do you have feedback?