(Diagram from “Elements of theology” by Proclus – source)
The best encapsulation of the neo-platonic creation story that I’ve found is in the second book of The Divine Pymander by Hermes Trismegistus. (Check wikipedia for his story.) It’s simple and to the point. Christians like myself can identify enough parallels to feel at ease in it, and pagans can find enough other gods that they feel at home too. It’s a good little catch-all, and that makes sense when you study its history. Which I won’t get into here. Lots of debate around that, and I’d rather get to the point.
My understanding of the Creation is summarized below. There’s a lot I’m omitting for the sake of brevity, but I’m trying to include the required pieces to to lay the foundation.
In the beginning was essential God-the-Progenitor, dwelling in perfect darkness. In that perfect darkness, God still and always resides. By its nature, it radiates infinite pure light. In The Divine Pymander, Hermes Trismegistus is given a vision of the creation of the material realm. Within the infinite light appeared a great darkness, smoking as if it were on fire. Out of the infinite Light leaped a “certain holy Word” and that Word joined itself to the dark mass of Matter that came into being. When this holy Word entered the darkness, it separated into four realms. Fire leaped up highest to be closest to the infinite light, followed by Air, which seemed to hang between the Fire and Earth-Water below.
Next, God created a Workman. This guy created seven governors, each with their own sphere, surrounding the realm of Matter. When he did, the Word leaped up and cohabited with the Workman. This being then set the spheres in motion, and the natural world began creating animals and plants.
Meanwhile, God made Man in Its image. Man was the honored and beloved “brother” of the family. Eventually, after a lot went down (!), Man entered the physical realm, containing a spark of infinite God within, and yet also loving and being loved by Nature. We’re of two natures, mortal and immortal.
The Spark of the Divine within is what gives us “authority” overt the elements, and the seven governors. We’re coworkers though, not masters and slaves.
Ptolemy laid out the basic cosmology of the NP system. the center sphere is the sphere of Earth, surrounded by the sphere of Water, then Air, then Fire. Then there are the seven Spheres of the Governors. Each of these spheres is associated with one of the seven planets of classical astrology, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Around these are the “fixt stars,” whose influence is primarily felt through the planetary governors. Beyond the stars is the realm of eternal light, and sitting in eternal divine darkness, radiating the light outwards and willing existence is the Primum Mobile, God.
As you can see, there’s a hierarchy involved. Each successive sphere heading “outward” brings you further from the realm of matter and closer to the realm of God. This is the structure brought to Creation by Logos, the “holy Word” created or uttered by God-the-Progenitor.