On 351 ACE, Julian the Philosopher, before he became an Emperor, was permitted to go from Constantinople to Nicomedia, and on that year converted to Hellenism. Maximus of Ephesus wanted to prove to the young Julian that he would be a proper teacher for him, taking Julian and many others to the Temple of Hekate. Following the burning of incense and the singing of a hymn, the statue of the Goddess began to smile and then to laugh aloud. The torches in her hands were set ablaze. Maximus of Ephesus animated the statue of Hekate in the temple. This, obviously, shocked the whole crowd, and assured the youthful Julian of his conversion. But what was this recorded practice?
The term “animated statue” derives from the Latin word “anima,” from which the English “animated” is derived, and can be translated as breath, life, soul or spirit. Anima animates, or gives life. The Greek word pneuma, also means spirit. An animated statue is not necessarily one that moves, but one that is enspirited or is connected to the pneumatic vehicle of one of the greater kinds, the Gods. Not any statue can be ensouled though, it is specifically eikons that are ensouled.
Why create an ensouled statue? Can’t the Gods and Greater Kinds manifest themselves to us in other ways? Yes, however…
- Such appearances can be violent, even life threatening (Such a thing is seen with Semele), or require a specialized form of the telestic art in order to induce divine possession (which will be tackled later). Divine possession is primarily used for oracular purposes, which may not be what the theurgist wishes to accomplish.
- Furthermore, as Julian the Philosopher wisely spoke, even the Encosmic Gods (the Gods who, though above matter, take in matter to impose order on it) cannot be properly worshiped in their natural, transcendent state, nor can their divine images, the seven planets. Therefore another kind of body is created on earth. Ensouled statues are more than simply valuable tools. For those practicing Material Theurgy, the first stage of theurgy, animated statues are a necessary means of connecting ourselves to the divine.
- Finally, for any ritual, it’s helpful to have an image of the God or Gods who are the focus of that ritual. This is especially true in ritual reenactment, because an ensouled statue of a God can stand in for that God’s position and function in the original myth. They are the “thing shown” in these rituals.
An animated statue of a God is not merely a talismans. A talisman is created for a specific purpose and fulfills that particular application; meaning a talisman is at the command of the theurgist in their demiurgy. An animated statue, however, is at the command of the God who fills it with pneuma (soul). The statue is ensouled, and called by the theurgists an agalma empsychon (ensouled shrine). They are essentially “phone lines” that connect us to the divine by partaking in a God’s essence, and an easy way to work with a deity for an extended period without necessarily having access to a temple. Once animated, the statue may take on a certain additional presence to the sensitive. The statue may also seem to have facial expressions and react to events; although without moving, of course.
According to Olympiodorus of Alexandria, the statues themselves aren’t considered divine, nor do they literally house a God or other divine being. A God’s essence lies elsewhere. Instead of entering a body as a means of animating it as humans do with their own bodies, Gods don’t identify themselves with their bodies nor dwell inside them. Instead, the statue becomes connected to the invoked being and its pneumatic vehicle through its tokens, effectively making it a body for the divinity that is ruled from the outside rather than from within. Even further, it may very well not be a God at all, but a Daimon or messenger of the God.
People use statues to remind ourselves of the divine realm, by filling them with signs, symbols and tokens. This, in combination with theurgic worship, awakens in our souls the synthema placed there by the Celestial Demiurge, ultimately lifting us to the heavenly realm and our leader God. Of all this Proclus summarizes:
“The ensouled statue, for example, participates by way of impression in the art which turns it on the lathe or polishes it and shapes it in such and such a fashion, while from the universe it has received reflections of vitality which even cause us to say it is ensouled; and as a whole it has been made like the God whose statue it is. For a telestic priest who sets up a statue as a likeness of a certain divine order perfects the symbola of its identity with reference to that order, acting as does the craftsman when he makes a likeness by looking to its proper model.”
For really any ritual, it’s helpful to have an image of the God or Gods who are the ritual’s focus. This is particularly the case in ritual reenactments of myths since an Animated Statue of a deity can stand in for that God’s function and position in the myth.
The following ritual is about animating an eikon. This is to be understood in the original sense of “animation”: to put a soul into. I’m not suggesting that your statue will literally get up and move about physically; though as seen with Julian’s case, it’s not out of possibilities.
Do not undertake this ritual unless you have built up a close relation with the God in question. It is strongly advised several libations, sacrifices, and prayers of praise are done in the weeks or months prior to attempting this ritual. Furthermore, consider carefully:
- Convenience. Doing this ritual will mean you quite literally have a God in your house; and you can’t exactly decide to just throw it out if you have to move.
- Maintenance. At the very minimum, you will be responsible for dusting it and keeping it clean. You will also probably need to make libations and offerings of incense to it occasionally. It’s not exactly as complicated as having a pet and certainly not as complicated as having a child, but you are inviting a powerful being into your life and must take care of its avatar.
Do not go about filling a room full of animated statues. The cost is restrictive, and the work of set-up & maintenance is significant. Instead, carefully choose particular deities you wish to work with in this intensive way, based on your previous experiences, resonance with particular myths, and insights acquired through divination.
Iamblichus’ work that likely detailed animated statues in depth, On Cult Statues, is unfortunately lost, and thus our instructions for how to complete this ceremony is limited. It is clear, however, that the concept of the animation of statues comes from the Kemetic practice of opening the mouth (It was a tendency of Iamblichus to borrow from Egyptian theology and fit it in a Platonist framework). The opening of the mouth was done to newly created mummies and divine images in order to enliven them. From here, we can use what we know of animated statues and fill in the gaps with the opening of the mouth ritual. For the sake of clarity, I will give this ritual for the enlivening of a statue of Serapis, but I will place the names and incantations specific to Him in italics so you can modify them to fit the God you wish to work with.
Prepare an altar with these materials:
- A dish for libations
- A dish for sacrifice
- A censer with a charcoal fire
- The eikon behind these on the altar.
Further, you will need:
- A cup of wine or other appropriate beverage
- A symbolically significant sacrifice (e.g., bread, grain, animal, etc)
- An appropriate incense (especially good if significant to the particular God).
- Spring & sea water + a clean cloth
- A sprig or twig to light in the fire
- A candle or lamp.
You can also do this ritual with stick incense rather than charcoal.
When ready to begin the ceremony, recite these words which are attributed to Orpheus:
“I speak to those who lawfully may hear: Depart all ye profane, and close the doors. “
Step 1: Light the lampsaying
Light the lamp and recite a prayer to santify the fire, such as the following:
“The Sun is the outpouring of Fire, and the agent of Fire. For the creator of the fiery cosmos is the mind of Mind, and everything is produced from a single fire. And when you bear witness to that most sacred holy fire leaping and shining down through the whole world, hear and know the voice of the fire. For a mortal, having drawn near this fire, will perceive the light from God.”
Step 2: Light the twig with the lamp
Light the twig with the lamp, then use it to light the charcoal, and extinguish the twig in the bowl of water, thus creating khernips.
Recite the following fragment from the Chaldean Oracles as you pour the lustral water over your hands:
“So therefore first the Priest who governeth the works of Fire, must sprinkle with the Water of the loud-resounding Sea“
Dry your hands with the clean cloth.
Step 3: Circumambulate the altar
Take the statue in your right hand and the bowl of water in your left, then circumambulate the altar. Do this four times while reciting this once each time:
“You are pure. You are pure, O [God]” [x4]
When you return to the center, put the statue back in its proper position and dip three fingers of your right hand into the khernips, sprinkling it over the altar and then in the four directions.
Step 4: Contemplate its matter
Contemplate the matter on the statue until it’s reduced to formlessness in your mind.
I. Analyze out from that object all of its qualities. These are descriptors, usually either adjectives or nouns, that you might use to describe the object to someone else. List them out and categorize these qualities, a word or a phrase at a time, either in your mind or on a piece of paper if you need it. (Note that as you get better at this practice, you can abandon the paper and hold these qualities much easier in your mind.)
Example: visual, tactile, and so on.
II. Put the object down. While looking over your list, call up a phantasm of the statue in your mind. Now, begin removing qualities from the object. It’s often simpler to start with smell, taste, and color before going on to form.
Example: Holding the statue in your mind, remove some of its related qualities. Take away its shape, color, texture, and so on.
III. When you remove the related qualities, begin by removing the essential qualities.
It’s essential not to cheat. For example; when you remove color from the object, don’t simply imagine it clear or white: picture it without color. It’s not clear, it’s colorless. Don’t replace one quality with another; taking away the quality “smooth” doesn’t mean making the object rough; it means abolishing texture as a category altogether.
Example: Taking away the concept of color and texture, material phase (solid or liquid), and finally shape itself, one is left with pure matter (hyle).
IV. Try to hold the eikon in your mind without having any concept of its qualities for as long as you can. You’ll perhaps experience a mental blankness or fog. You will almost certainly experience the statue trying to take shape again, but whenever it does gently deny its qualities, so it returns to the formless chaos to which you have reduced it. You won’t be able to articulate your experience of what remains, as to do so will be to apply qualities to it; but what’s left is pure matter (hyle), without any shape given to it by the Demiurge.
Step 5: Recite a prayer
Recite the following prayer from the Hermetica with your hands in the air and palms facing upward, facing upwards and aspiring as much as possible to the Nous:
“Holy is God, and the parent of everything.
Holy is God, whose will is done by his own powers.
Holy is God, who wants to be known and is known by his own.
Holy are you, having coalesced existence in a word.
Holy are you, from whom all nature takes form.
Holy are you, whom nature did not shape.
Holy are you, the strongest of all powers.
Holy are you, better than all goodness.
Holy are you, too great for praise.
Accept pure spoken offerings from a soul and a
heart stretching out to you who are ineffable,
inexpressible, named in silence.
Give a sign to me that you will not reject my
petition for the knowledge of our being.
Empower me, and with this grace, I will enlighten
those of my kind who dwell in ignorance—
my siblings, your children.
Therefore, I believe, and I witness:
I progress to life and light.
You are the basis of rationality,
and your people want to join with you in
the sacred work, as you provided them
with the power to do so.”
Step 6: Recite a prayer to the particular God
Recite a prayer particular to the God, petitioning for them to dwell within the image. Use the prayer format for this.
Step 7: Rebuild
As you pray, use your mind to build a phantasm of the God, standing behind the eikon. After the prayer, continue your focus to further strengthen the power of that phantasm while exclamating these words of power from the Greek Magical Papyri:
“Aeēioyō iaō aiō aōi iōa ōia ōai oyoiēea”
Allow the phantasm to return form to the statue, rebuilding all the qualities you have stripped from it, however, this time reconstituted with their divine counterparts.
Step 8: Libation and sing
Perform a libation to the deity, then either recite a poem or sing a song in honor of the deity relevant to this ritual. You can compose one yourself, or merely chant a pre-existing one appropriate to the deity (Orphic and Homeric Hymns have a great selection), or you could even speak spontaneously.
Step 9: Offering
Burn a minor portion of the offering and a few grains of incense on the charcoal, and say:
“O [God], I have brought forth this offering to you. I have offered this to you. Take of it and be glad, and enter into this image, to walk among the Gods.”
Step 10: Touch the mouth of the figure and this three times
“O [God], I open your mouth with the finger.
I bring your mouth to the earth.
I open your eyes. I bring your eyes to the earth.” [x3]
Step 11: Add more incense to the charcoal, then pray anew:
“[God], who has arrived from your
home to set foot in this space and join me
in holy festivity, be praised and thanked.”
Step 12: Contemplate
Contemplate the God as long as you wish, whether that be a brief few minutes or an extended period. Do not rush through it.
Step 13: Gratitude
When finished, offer a short prayer of gratitude such as the following:
“I give gratitude to the Gods, the Daimons, and the
ancestors who have guided me to this place and
who support and aid me in the great work of
creation. May there be everlasting friendship sustained between us.”
Step 14: Close the Ritual
Close the ritual by placing the statue in an appropriate place, perhaps covered from prying eyes. When you are done, kiss your hand to it in adoratio, turn around and exit the room in muteness. Solemnly and respectfully shut the door.
After the Ritual
It is recommended to do something mundane after a significant ritual such as this.
It is crucial to make sure you can easily clean and care for the statue, as well as burn incense to it periodically. Pour out the libation outdoors, and let the incense burn down and cool before putting it away. Remember, this is a standin for a God. You are to take care of it as another member of the house.
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Betz, Hans Dieter. The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, Including the Demotic Spells. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.
Dunn, Patrick. The practical art of divine magic: contemporary & ancient techniques of Theurgy. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd, 2015.
Kupperman, Jeffrey S. Living theurgy: a course in Iamblichus philosophy, theology and theurgy. London: Avalonia, 2014.
Opsopaus, John. The oracles of Apollo: practical ancient Greek divination for today. Woodbury: Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd, 2017.
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Tanaseanu-Döbler, Ilinca. Theurgy in Late Antiquity: the invention of a ritual tradition. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013.