In the Graeco-Roman world, every ritual of communion operated on an often misunderstood principle of do ut des, or “I give, so that you may give.” It is not the bribing of a God, but rather it is an establishment of a cycle of gift exchanging as a means of being brought into a relation with the divine, and thus being brought closer to their light.
The mutilation of Do ut des
The theory of do ut des is one that has been perverted. The reduction of do ut des to merely a “gift for a gift” is ultimately derived from Galilean and Pauline theology. This is a reductive form of the concept, made into a mere business transaction; giving it its sanitized appearance. It is a selfish attempt to manipulate or elicit favours by bribing a God with gifts. This act of bribery will never be looked upon favourably by the eternal Gods; however, this bribery is not do ut des. Instead, do ut des is very much in the spirit of hospitality (xenía/ξενία) and is the establishment of a relation with a God.
Do ut des properly understood
Do ut des is far more nuanced than a simple “gift for a gift.” In actuality, it is “I give, so that you may give.” Do ut des is far more charitable, and is about the establishment of a personal relation with a God through a fundamental exchange of gifts. Integral to the concept of do ut des is kharis (xάρις), which is best translated as grace. It is reciprocity and the religious relation one has with the divine, which is established by practicing eusebia (piety; the actual practice of worship the divine and building kharis). The concept of kharis partakes in the cycle of do ut des as one’s reputation with the deity an individual is engaged in a personal relation with, which is built through the variety of worship we provide to the Gods every day.
The theory is that we give the Gods something of worth, and in exchange, we receive from them something of value, which results in us giving more worth to the Gods, which results in receiving something else of value, and so forth. Instead of being a mere business transaction, it is the establishment of a fundamental cycle of gift exchanging. It is a concept that is, in actuality, wholly in harmony and inseparable from the concept of xenia. Do ut des proper seeks to establish a personal relation with the God, and has the ultimate goal of achieving henosis (unity with the divine).
We must understand that what the human gives to the God in offerings ultimately has no value to them. We must foremost understand that the divine are beyond us, being limitless and all powerful. However, it is a universal cultural assumption that when one is given a gift that an obligation is created. This gives rise to gift customs as a means of negotiating these obligations in the form of an answering gift being given back. The offering is a pretext for the God to offer us what the divine already offer; a pathway to henosis. We are brought closer to the divine with this cycle; not because the Gods are changing or we’re giving them they don’t already have, because as said, they have everything. Rather, we are brought closer to the divine because we worked together with the Gods to raise our souls upwards towards union, and for this, we are able to see their light more clearly. Through sacrifice and offerings, we only benefit ourselves by being closer to the Gods who love us all; as the Gods are beyond everything and thus need nothing.
We can see a good analogy made by Patrick Dunn in his book “The Practical Art of Divine Magic”; the act of offering is two polite people standing at an open door. “After you.”, “Oh no, after you.”, “No, I insist.” It is a back and forth exchange that, while useless for actually entering a building, is how our soul climbs back to its origin, the One/the Good, as far as possible.
With that, do ut des deeply ties into Theourgia. It is not bribing a God, nor is it merely for personal gain. Instead, it is working with a God to get closer to them to achieve a common goal; Henosis, or union with the divine. It establishes a relation with the divine that allows the individual vertically align themselves with the One, and thus aids in achieving henosis.
In short, do ut des is something that establishes a system of a cycle of gift giving through xenia. Do ut des is something that is, ultimately, charitable. As the establishment of a cycle of gift giving, petitions/vows are always positive, for example, “I will burn you a bundle of frankincense” or “I will offer you the sacrifice of a goat.” It is positive because you promise a gift, which is necessary for the gifting cycle. A negative vow is something done when one finds themselves in trouble, such as “I swear if I recover I will never eat seafood again!” is seen as improper since it is something that you do for yourself, not for the God; there is no exchange of gifts with a negative.
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Dunn, Patrick. The practical art of divine magic: contemporary & ancient techniques of Theurgy. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd, 2015.
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