The horizontal division of Godheads

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Not only is there a vertical division of Divine hypostases, but on each plane there is a horizontal series of gradations as well.  This is described in only a few teachings.

The Islamic neoplatonism of Avicenna (980-1037) posits a series of angelic emanations, each identified with an Intellect and a celestial sphere or Heaven [Nasr, Three Muslim Sages, pp.28-29].  The First Intellect is the only entity to originate from the One Being (or supreme Godhead).  Through its threefold contemplation this generates a Second Intellect, the Soul of the First Heaven, and the Body of the First Heaven.  The Second Intellect in turn gives rise to the Third Intellect, the Soul of the Second Heaven, and the Body of the Second Heaven, and so on down to the Tenth or Active Intellect, which has already been identified in relation to the Creative Divine plane.  So we have not only a vertical sequence of emanation, but on each Divine plane a horizontal sequence of: Intellect ('aql), which is completely seperate from matter; Soul (nafs), which occupies an intermediate position; and Body (jism), which possesses divisibility and extension, and which constitutes the particular Heaven.  The fact that Avicenna identified each of these "bodies" with the celestrial spheres of astrology (which one would expect to pertain to a much lower plane of existence) need not distract us, as it is commonly teh case in visionary theologies cosmologies that the various planes and strata of existence are confused and jumbled together.

Altogether more sophisticated though is the system of Proclus, who refers not only to the standard late-Neoplatonic emanation sequence Body, Soul, Intellect, Life, Being, and Unity, but also a series of degrees, from most Unparticipated and universal to most participated, in each hypostases.  A consideration of his diagram (fig.  ) reveals that what one would normally assume to be the vertical division (body, soul, etc) is actally the horizontal (and hence equivalent to Avicennan cosmology, albeit with more divisions), and vice-versa.  In this ontology, the first emanation from the One are the Henads or Divine Unities, which, although ineffable, constitute the gods or archetypes of all subsequent creation.  Hence a body can be derived ultimately ultimately back to the henadic "infra-cosmic gods"; a soul to the "supracosmic gods", and so on.  (Things are actually a bit more complex than this, because Proclus presents the rather strange theory that any one higher principle can infuse only one lower principle.  Since there are more bodies than gods, not every body can be divine, or divinely derived.  But the description provided by Ibn Arabi, the Kabbalists, and others, of creation proceeding in a branching manner, makes more sense, and allows every lower element to be traced back to a higher).

Inasmuch as Proclus' Unity, Noetic, and Noetic-Noeric and Noetic hypostases can be tentatively correlated with the Absolute-Divine, the Transcendent, the Higher, and the Creative Divine planes, this gives a rather elaborate map of the various Divine hypostases, which, although not as extraordinarily complex as the Lurianic classification of hypostases, sefirot, and sub-sefirot, is a lot more managable.

Employing this ontology as a practical hermenuitic, we could say for example, that the Goraknathian, Kashmir Shaivite, and Avicennan series of Divine hypostases (which are characterised largely by Cosmic Unity) correspond to - or rather, are visions or experiences of - the henadic column.  It doesn't matter whether there are four, seven, or ten members in the series; the basic idea behind it is the same.

On the other hand, the Lurianic Kabbalistic sefirot and partzufim, with all their divisions, sub-divisions, and inner tensions and reconciliations, are represented more by the other columns.  The transcendent Ze'er Anpin could be identified with the "Participated Nous", with the immanent Nukvah or Malkut or Shekinah as the equivalent "Infra-cosmic unparticipated body", one of the subtle spiritual degrees behind the ordinary physical.  In this way, a series of meditations on various aspects of the Divien could be built up.

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page uploaded 18 April 1999