The below graphic is a digitised version of a graphic designed by Thomas Taylor in his translation of Elements of Theology by Proclus. The assignment of gods and goddesses to each of Proclus’ spheres is my own addition.
- A hyparxis is a Neoplatonic term for a hierarch or leader of a particular hierarchy, in this case a series.
- We will use the term hyparxis-god to mean a god (or goddess in the case of Athena) who fulfils the role of a hyparxis.
- A series is a group of things which share a likeness to, and source with, a common hyparxis.
- We will use the term series-goddess to mean the goddess through whom a hyparxis-god generates their series.
- The Act of a thing refers to the fundamental activity of that thing’s essence. As gods are eternally self-perfect and self-sufficient, the gods achieve their Essential-Act eternally and perpetually. Contrast against encosmic things which are bound by space-time, restricting their ability to achieve the wholeness of their Essential-Act.
Explanation of Proclus’ causes
Each of Proclus’ hyparxes have been assigned a god, with the exception of the final hyparxis over body, who is assigned the goddess Athena. The hyparxes-gods are masculine, imparting themselves upon the feminine serial-goddesses who enable participation. The serial-goddesses are receptive of the form hyparxes-gods impart through their Act, the receptive serial-goddess then replicating the form into a multitude of parts to form the series. The series remains with her, just as a mother’s children remains her flesh, but they are participle and are not like the hyparxis-god who contains no participles, remaining a unity.
The series participates in the nature of the hyparxis-god from whom they’ve take their form and in the essence of the serial-goddess from whom they are generated. It is by this the dodekatheon becomes the causes as per Proclus’ hierarchy of causes, detailed in the above image.
To explain in more lay terms, each god and goddess in the dodekatheon has a particular role in the production (causation) of things (beings). What role they have is dependent upon the god’s nature and whether they are a god or goddess. A god is masculine, and so by being masculine they are the ‘active principle’; a goddess is feminine, and so the ‘passive principle’. The active masculine and passive feminine complement each other in the process of generation.
The divine active masculine could be said to hold the energising force that is necessary to cause activity, but a god by himself is merely the will to act without anything to act upon. Hence the divine passive feminine complements him: a goddess does not possess the innate energy of the active masculine and so is passive and without activity, but she holds within herself the potential for realising (or actualising) activity, the active masculine lacking this within himself.
Therefore, it is by a goddess’ reception of a god’s energy that activity is kindled within her, leading to generation (causation). Hence in the above diagram every series is a goddess; it can only be by a goddess that the uniform and singular energy of a god could be turned into a multitude of things, just as a man is in need of a woman if he’s to produce a multitude of children, being incapable of doing it by himself. And likewise, the hyparxes are comprised of gods as it is the energy of gods that give energy and form to a goddess’ potential for activity.
As previously mentioned, the one exception to the masculine hyparxes is the goddess Athena, hyparxis of body and the cause of bodies. As seen in the diagram, Athena is the end of generation, and so unlike the prior hyparxes-gods, there is no further series for her to generate, and so fulfils a different function. More on her is written later in this piece.
The Dodekatheon in Proclus
In the following writing will be explained how the dodekatheon is within Proclus’ theology of causation. Each sphere upon the diagram has been labelled with the god or goddess from the dodekatheon that is responsible for the divine function described by Proclus in Elements of Theology. Below we will explore why the gods and goddesses have been arranged in this manner, starting from first sphere – The One, or Zeus – and ending with the final sphere – Matter, or Hestia. But first, let us consider the numerical importance of the dodekatheon.
The dodekatheon, as indicated by its name, is comprised of six gods and six goddesses. The six gods are Zeus, Poseidon, Hephaistos, Apollo, Hermes, and Ares; the six goddesses are Demeter, Hera, Artemis, Aphrodite, Hestia, and Athena. In regards to the multitude of other gods and goddesses not included within the dodekatheon, Sallust in On the Gods and the World says “the other gods are contained in these … Dionysius in Zeus, for instance, Asklepios in Apollo, the Charites in Aphrodite.”
Sallust describes four necessary divine actions: creation, animation, harmonisation, and maintenance of the harmony. These have been colour coded in the diagram. As it is appropriate for all actions to have their beginning, mean, and end, Sallust finds the necessity for twelve deities to fulfil the four acts, each having three parts.
Sallust’s explanation is quick and easy, but it may leave room for some doubt, and so we should find another explanation to confirm his assertions. The first instance of Zeus’ causation of being is the commencement of numerical progression, and so we shall count Zeus’ causation (though not Zeus himself, being beyond count) as the First. As all generation is achieved through numerical progression, the First – due to carrying with it Zeus’ generative nature having been directly begotten from Zeus – proceeds to the Second. A duality has now formed as there is the Second which is not the First. As Being’s nature is unity by virtue of Being taking its nature from Zeus, i.e. The One, and so does not exist in a state of pure duality, it is necessary to progress to the Third which harmonises the First and the Second into a common unity.
Hence then we have so far established:
1) Being, having generated directly from Zeus who is unity, must also be a unity;
2) that since generation is by numeral, each being must be the numerical subsequent to its prior (i.e. 2 must come after 1, 3 after 2, etc.); and
3) as Being does not subsist as duality and is unity, all beings are harmonised in triads.
As we have established that, in order for any number of gods and goddesses to exist, they must participate in a triad to harmonise their natures into unity, we know that the sum of their number must come always in multiples of three. The gods coming in multiples of three then, co-participating in their priors as well as their proceeding within harmonic union, and their common unity always divisible by three, the dodekatheon fits into this measure as four multiples of three. But why four multiples of three and not some other multiple of three?
For our answer, we must look to that which has been caused by the gods, that being the cosmos, as the gods impart their likeness upon the things they generate just as Zeus imparts himself onto the totality of gods. All things in the cosmos are caused, but nothing within the cosmos can be the ultimate cause as cosmic things require another cause for their being and cannot be self-caused. Therefore, when we speak to the nature of cosmic beings, we are at least in some small part making reference to the hypercosmic powers who are the causes for all things.
It is observable that all cosmic beings have their essence by way of multiple causes: the first is the efficient cause which is the prior which causes the being to come to be, the second is the material cause
In accord with Aristotle, it is observable that each cosmic being is the product of four causes: the material cause, the matter the being is constituted of; the formal cause, the shape and nature of the being; the efficient cause, the act which brought it to being; and the final cause, the final purpose for the being’s existence.
When we consider the four causes, a nuance often missed is an account for the being’s participation in superior unities. Each unity has its own causes, so by a being’s participation in within the unity, it is made subject to the cause of that unity. The causes of superiors can disrupt the causes of beings they have influence over, and when such disruption occurs, the causes of the superiors are prioritised over the causes of the inferiors.
EX GRATIA: Consider the causes of the human being: the material cause is their material composition; the constitution is flesh, this cause inclusive of any and all further material divisions such as atoms and the sub-atomics. The formal cause is humanness, the human-form causing their being to reflect that of humanity and to act accordingly. The efficient cause is parentage, a human’s mother and father the reason for why a human has individual being. And the final cause is union with the gods, the ultimate end sought by all human beings.
Causes are disrupted when the environment (either material or immaterial) within which a being is situated prevents the proper fulfilment and perfection of their individual causes. Should a child be born with severe birth defects, the birth defects are not a product of humanity’s four causes which govern the human being, but rather they occur due to the superior causes which govern the unities within which the human necessarily participates.
By this we mean that since the human causes, in this example the material cause, requires the human’s participation in a unity superior to the human, in this case Matter, the fulfilment of the individual cause is subject to the superior’s causes. In our example, should a cause in Matter direct it to disadvantage a human’s fulfilment of their material cause, then the human’s material cause will be achieved imperfectly, and so suffers degradation. As all four causes are inter-reliant, the alteration of one will alter the others.
Each of the four causes of all cosmic beings are subject to superior unities that will influence the outcome of particular causes positively or negatively. This leads beings into either greater or lesser perfection.
The Gods and Goddesses
The gods and goddesses described in the following sections have been described by order of their causes. However, it must not be misunderstood as being an explicit hierarchy of rulership. The order is according to the order of their act’s fulfilment and not by their authority over one another.
Divine authority, or imperium, is first held wholly by Zeus. Zeus then distributes his imperium to Hera and Poseidon, so making Zeus, Poseidon, and Hera the effectual superiors to the rest of the Olympian gods and goddesses. From these three then the rest of the dodekatheon receive their imperium.
A final note is that this hierarchy is according to the Greek tradition. Both the Greek and Roman traditions had many religious developments over the long time they were observed, so in some cases there may be differences. Most notably is in how Mars held a far loftier and more Jovian role than Ares, not embodying the same chaotic character as his Greek counterpart.
Nonetheless, the following does cohere with the natures of these gods and Proclus’ causes prove their harmony. They have been coloured according to the colour code in the diagram.
1. Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades are traditionally a triad within Zeus, and so are all Zeus, though Hades is not included in the dodekatheon as he resides in the Underworld, not in Olympus. Zeus is the beginning as Zeus is the supreme; he is the king of the gods, he rules over them. Like a kingdom, all power held within the kingdom is by virtue of the king’s power being distributed from the crown to the kingdom’s many faculties. His throne is the power of Ouranos, Kronos, and himself combined.
2. Poseidon comes after Zeus as Poseidon, being the god of the seas and being granted lordship over the second of the three portions allotted to the brothers (the other two being the heavens to Zeus and the underworld to Hades), is the origin of life. Water in ancient times was associated with potential for life and to be the origin of beings.
3. Hera presides over the series of beings because it is through Hera, goddess of marriage and birth, that the series of beings are created as she is in union with Zeus (and by virtue of that, Poseidon too, a tradition we see promoted by Gemistos Pletho).
4. Hephaistos, god of metalworking, volcanos, fire, sculpture, masonry, smithing, and so on, is life as the element of fire is associated with the spark of life in the ancient world and since he is the god of sculpture, metalworking, and so on, he is associated with giving shape and form to things. By classical elements too, life is a combination of air (Zeus), water (Poseidon), earth (Hera), and fire (Hephaistos). I forget who, maybe Plato? and likely others, said that life is a product of fire being imparted upon the mixture of water, earth, and air, furthering Hephaistos’ role in being the hyparxis of life, to which he gives form.
5. Demeter leads the series of lives as Demeter enables life to be self-generative. She is the goddess of the harvest, agriculture, fertility. She is also the goddess of divine or sacred order, and so the order of the living is made to participate in the order of divinity.
6. Apollo, god of the sun and sunlight, of knowledge, of music and the arts, of healing and protection from evil, is given intellect because it is through Apollo that life is made possible. Light as a necessity for life, without which the generative powers of Demeter would be null and the formative powers of Hephaistos baseless, and so Apollo causes soul with Demeter as soul combines the form (Hephaistos), the power to form (Apollo), and the serial generation of form (Demeter). All these form intellect as they are the spiritually intelligible.
7. Artemis is the series of intellects because she is the goddess of the Moon – a direct recipient of Apollo’s light (and the twin sister of Apollo). The Moon, being in the series of luminaries after the Sun (keeping in mind that Apollo is the god of ALL light, not just our specific Sun’s light), it is responsible for giving the cosmos the immediate presence of the intellects (the luminaries) even when the leader of intellect itself is not directly seen (as the Moon is a reflection of the Sun’s light even though the Sun can’t be seen). And so this ties into Artemis’ role in being the cause of paradigms as paradigms are the means by which the series of intellects present the leader of intellect (as light is a means of presenting the luminaries from which it comes).
8. Hermes, as the messenger god and psychopomp, is the leader of soul as he stands as mean between hypercosmos and cosmos. Like all the souls who take after him, he is both a participant in the divine world and the temporal world. He is the cause of paradigms with Artemis as he facilitates the passage of the paradigms produced by the intellects into the cosmos.
9. Aphrodite, goddess of love, beauty, and procreation, leads the series of souls as it is by her that the souls multiply. She is the goodness of the cosmic forms, imparting beauty and love to the world which drives souls to pursue their continual reproduction, and so in a sense she becomes the mother of temporal generation – in the Greek and Roman cult of Aphrodite, she was known as a mother goddess. She is married to Hephaistos, and so it can be said that she gives birth to the forms as they preside in the cosmos via her partnership with Hephaistos.
10. Athena is the leader of body and the end of paradigms because she is the goddess of wisdom and battle. As feminine wisdom, she is the total wisdom of the world, and so she is body because the totality of body knows itself and acts in accord with itself by its own knowledge. She was birthed fully adult directly from the forehead of Zeus, symbolising that she is a whole product of the divine mind. She is a virgin and perpetually chaste, representing that in her is the end of generation (and hence why she is the last in the series of triadic generation). She is the goddess of battle, generals, and strategy because conflict is integral to the cosmos, but she is goddess of generalship and strategy to emphasise that she, by her wisdom, has overcome the “chaos” of conflict and has brought it into order. She was known as “Polias” and “Poliouchos” in her cult, both derived from ‘polis’ i.e. city/city-state, and so complementing her place as a goddess of strategy that has overcome the chaos of conflict within the cosmos, she is civilisation as the polis stands as a unit which overcame nature.
11. Ares is god of war, brother of Athena. But especially within the Greek tradition, unlike his sister, he is the chaos of warfare and disorderly conflict. He is destructive, dangerous, savage, and rides his chariot with Phobos (fear), Deimos (terror), and Enyo (discord). This makes him the leader of bodies, as the cosmos without wisdom is destructive and dangerous, seemingly savage, and filled with fears, terrors, and discord. He is chaos in the sense that he represents the cosmos experienced by those without control. In myth, he was a lover of Aphrodite, presenting how even in the realm of bodies, though inferior in their good, we can still be led to commit adultery with it and betray our true form (as Hephaistos was the crafter of form, Aphrodite betrayed him in favour of Ares). Hephaistos captures them in the act and humiliates them after he was informed by Helios of Aphrodite’s infidelity, showing that the good reigns supreme and that adultery with the body leads to humiliation and defeat.
12. Finally, Hestia, goddess of the hearth, family, home, the state, and associated with the element of earth, is matter. Matter is necessarily presided over by a feminine principle as matter is the receptive and passive, awaiting another to impart upon it form to give it generation and form (just as the woman stands capable of the production of children and is the entirety of that process, but without the input of man she can produce nothing despite all her potentiality to do so). Homeric hymns to Hestia say that she has “one mind with Zeus the all-wise”, and in the second hymn to her it said that “without you mortals hold no banquet”.
She was the first of Kronos’ children, Kronos consuming her as he consumed all his children save Zeus. She was also the last to be “yielded up again” after Kronos was made to regurgitate his children by Zeus. This makes her the first and the last, the eldest and the youngest, encapsulating the nature of Matter being also the first – in the sense that matter was caused immediately by The One/Zeus (who gave cause to his siblings being regurgitated from Kronos), but is also the last in the order of beings. Matter is also the eldest as it has eternally existed alongside The One, but it is also the youngest as it is perpetually generative and youthful.