Theourgia (θεουργια) was coined by a father and son, Julian the Chaldean and Julian the Theurgist, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius (r. 161 – 180), which is derived from the Greek words theos, “god,” and ergon, “activity” or “work.” During the Marcomannic Wars, Julian the Theurgist had served the Roman Army during the Emperor’s campaign against the Quadi. The camp at one point came at risk of a severe drought, and was only saved when Julian the Theurgist caused a rainstorm which saved the campaign. Julian the Theurgist and Julian the Chaldean came to be responsible for the Chaldean Oracles. Other terms used to describe this kind of ritual action include sacred rites (hierougia), initiated mysteries (mustagogia), liturgy (hieratike), sacred art (hieratike techne), divine wisdom (theosophia), noetic rites, and more. And while the father and son duo first developed and used the word, it is not until over a century later that theurgy was taken entirely into Platonic practice. Though the Chaldean Oracles haven’t survived in their fullest, we know a great deal of theurgy thanks to the divine Iamblichus, who was influenced a great deal by the Oracles. While Iamblichus’ thirty-volume commentary on the Chaldean Oracles is lost to time, information on the practice is preserved thanks to his De Mysteriis.
Theurgy is ritual cosmogony which initiates human souls into the activities of the divine through ritual activity which imitates the Gods, as without imitation of the divine to bring life to the words, prayers are merely words, while with ritual and sacrifice those words are animated and become live words. Theurgy is a particular way of participating in all the diverse cults and performing all of their existing religious practices, with the goal of achieving henosis (meaning “union with the divine”) through divine involvement with the divine intelligibles, and with the One, so far as possible, and “direct [knowledge] or intuitive knowledge of the Intelligible Realm” (Theourgia.com Catechism, 70). This knowledge allows us to realize our true nature as souls by aligning the soul with its divine purpose, thus freeing ourselves from material existence. Another goal of theurgic practice is demiurgy, active participation in the divine work of the Celestial Demiurge and other spiritual beings through theurgic practice “and the personal/universal processes of purification (Gk: katharsis), illumination (Gk: phôtisma)” and once rising “to the level of our supplication,” perfection (Gk: teleiôsis) (Theourgia.com Catechism, 83). Theurgic ritual might look indistinguishable from an ordinary act of worship, and it’d be difficult to identify a theurgist from actions alone, but theurgy isn’t worshiping in the traditional sense of the word. For someone performing theurgy, an offering and a prayer is a kind of work, an act with a purpose. It is a “power higher than all human wisdom, embracing the blessings of divination, the purifying powers of initiation, and in a word all the operations of divine possession” (Dodds 1992, 63).
We can thus understand theurgy as ritualized divine activity, or God working. On the surface this may appear to mean the work or activity in which a God is engaged, however, theurgy is not only the activity of the Gods; it is also human activity participating with the divine. Theurgy is our engagement in the work of God, as far as possible. Henosis can only be achieved through the extending the theurgist’s soul upwards in participation with higher beings. If improperly experienced, and without a corresponding movement of divine beings to lift up the theurgist’s heart and mind, the theurgic rites are nothing more than play-acting. The theurgist, through an act of free will, and due to an increasingly deep experience of divine reality, chooses to give themselves willingly to the cycles and patterns of divine reality as they are made manifest in the cosmos.
Theurgy isn’t a bribery of divine forces, nor is it some submission or sheer willpower. It isn’t work on a God, or even work for a God— it’s work with a God. In theurgy, you’re not providing the God with a service nor are you bribing God to serve you, for with the former we must acknowledge the Gods have everything and lack nothing, and the latter is impious. Instead, with theurgy you are collaborating with the divine to achieve a joint final goal: henosis.
Theurgy is not magic. Iamblichus went to great pains to distinguish theurgy from other ritual practices, especially magic (mageia) and sorcery (goēteia). Sorcery brings about “disharmony in the world by separating parts of the hulic [material] cosmos for individual power by reuniting them under human rather than divinely created hierarchy” (Theourgia.com Catechism, 77). Theurgy is not simply a technique nor a technology, which are purely human machinations. Instead, properly understood, theurgy is both human and divine. Without the divine aspects, theurgy becomes no more than mere sorcery. From the theurgist’s perspective, magic and sorcery are merely techniques for controlling the physical world and some of the lower spiritual beings mired in matter. Such practices create artificial patterns that mimic the divine. This control is seen as artificial and merely part of the Realm of Generation. Theurgy engages directly with the divine patterns inherent to the Realm of Generation as well as the realms above. In this, theurgy is the opposite of sorcery.
Because theurgy is also human activity participating with the divine we can understand that there are two parts of theurgic rituals:
- Part Divine: This part of theurgy is part divine, and as such, this half of theurgic rituals cannot be altered.
- Part Mortal: Theurgy isn’t exclusive to Hellenic tradition, it’s existed for 1800 years across many cultures, and this half of theurgic ritual can be altered. It is the part of a theurgic ritual that is mortal and changeable, though this website focuses specifically on reconstructing Hellenic theurgy.
A commonly misunderstood theory of worship central to Hellenic polytheism.
An overview on miasma, what it is, and what kinds of purification rituals will be necessary when dealing with it.
On proper salutation that one should take when before an altar of the Gods.
On the art of divination, the practice of seeking knowledge of the future or the unknown through understanding symbols and messages sent from the divine, whether through discovering them in nature or through theurgic practice.
On the importance of prayer and a prayer format.
On the significance of ritual and instructions on how to perform one.
The daily prayer cycle in Hellenism, centered around the worship of Zeus-Helios, the All-Ruling Sun.
Theurgic rites which strives to unite the worshiper upward to the One through imitation of the divine.
Contemplation so the mind may access realms which are ontologically higher to ourselves.
On proper household worship, including instructions on building a lararium.
On matters of the dead.