Hubris (Latin: Superbia) can be defined in several ways, often as being insolent or having exaggerated arrogance or pride, especially in the eyes of the Gods, either willfully or in ignorance. Hubris always leads to the downfall, or nemesis, of the perpetrator of hubris.
The Oracle at Delphi had the inscription “know thyself,” something contemporary people often take to be an exhortation to contemplation; but also served to warn: know that you are human, not a God; and do not strive to be a God. This type of arrogance makes hubris one of the greatest sins; attempting to become what one is not. Claiming to be better than a God, for example, is a tremendous example of hubris, with examples seen with the son of Daedalus, Icarus, who flew too close to the sun and died in the sea, or in the Odyssey when Odysseus displays hubris when gloating that it was he who blinded Polyphemus, causing Polyphemus’ father, Lord Poseidon, to have Odysseus lost at sea for ten years on a journey home that should’ve taken less than a month.
Simultaneously, it is to be recognized that humans have a divine part. In one myth, humans are sprung out of the ashes of Dionysos and the evil Titans who consume Him. To reclaim and recognize that divine part is to, indeed, know oneself, and the theurgist must always guard against hubris.
Furthermore, a reduction of the Gods as mere tools is itself hubris. An example is seen in much of witchcraft, which defines a lot of spiritual practice generally as magic, as well as defining magic’s main purpose as to change things with your will. This reduces the Gods to mere tools or pools of energy that can be merely manipulated towards magical ends. This, ontop of the material nature of magic, is why witchcraft and forms of magical practice are seen as forms of hubris.
Nothing in Excess
When we have excess, we feel secure, and we forget our place in the cosmos, and thus we forget our nature. We can even look to our contemporary time for this: the super wealthy, who by forgetting their nature thanks to their massive wealth, produce a false sense of permanence. We must show Humility (Greek: Aidos, Latin: Pudicitia) and self-moderation (the virtue of temperance), so we may find our proper place within the cosmos, and not mistake our passions for the Good.
Hubris & Practice
At times hubris can be caused by bad practice, such as:
- When one knows the proper way of performing the rites but has decided to commit to performing them incorrectly. Worship of the Gods requires a practice centered around the Gods. This means you do the work, even if it seems like a lot. You make time, even if you lack it. You make room, even if it seems cramped. Period. To not do so, is to commit acts of hubris, day in, day out.
- When one is willfully ignorant of how to perform the rites. Not studying so you can continue lazy or bad practice is as much hubris as performing the rituals intentionally incorrectly.
None of this is to say that mistakes are unforgivable. If one discovers that they’ve been doing something incorrectly, offer words and offerings of supplication. Apologize for your error, explain you did not know any better and promise that you will do right, and hold onto that promise. We all make mistakes, and there is nothing wrong with that. Hubris in practice only arises when we are purposefully bad at our practice, either through performing the rites incorrectly or through willful ignorance.
Alexander, Timothy Jay. Hellenismos today. U.S.: Lulu, 2007.
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.
Temperance, Elani. “Hubris, Recon and Hellenismos.” Baris the Aegis. September 4, 2012. Accessed August 30, 2017. http://baringtheaegis.blogspot.ca/2012/09/hubris-recon-and-hellenismos.html.