Though transcendent and beyond the kosmos, all the Gods, led by the King of the Gods and supreme Demiurge Zeus, are simultaneously ever-involved in the material kosmos, having organized it according to the eternal Forms. Thus, the Gods imprint the material kosmos and its objects with synthemata, or “signatures,” which can reveal these Forms and be used by the soul as a means of unifying itself with divinity. And so by retracing the divine synthemata through the layers of Being, we use them as a way to allow our own souls to be awakened to an awareness of its own divine nature, and hence get in touch with the Gods more directly. For example, Aphrodite’s love touches the world in all sorts of ways, and Her synthemata are left behind on roses, myrtle, certain colours, certain minerals, and so on; hence why we use those synthemata in rituals to Aphrodite. This is called theourgia (Greek: θεουργια), or theurgy, and it is described by Proclus as 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). It is a particular way of participating in all the diverse cults and performing all of their existing religious practices as ritual cosmogony, where a sacrifice and a prayer are a kind of work– an act with a purpose, 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. The goal of theourgia is achieving henosis (meaning “union with the divine”) with the divine intelligibles, and with the One, so far as possible, and attain “direct direct or intuitive knowledge (Gk: noera gnosis) of the Intelligible Realm” (Theourgia.org 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, 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.org Catechism, 83). Other terms used to describe theurgy include sacred rites (hierougia), initiated mysteries (mustagogia), liturgy (hieratike), sacred art (hieratike techne), divine wisdom (theosophia), noetic rites, and more.
The term was coined by a father and son, Julian the Chaldean and Julian the Theurgist, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius (r. 161 – 180). 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. 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, which now only survived in fragments.
The word theourgia derives from the Greek words theos, “god,” and ergon, “activity” or “work.” 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. 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. Nor is it some submission or sheer willpower. Instead, with theurgy you are collaborating with the divine to achieve a joint final goal: henosis, where you assist the Gods in administering the cosmos. It isn’t work on a God, nor is it the contemporary conception of “working with a God”— rather, it is doing the God’s work.
Theurgy is not magic. Iamblichus went to great pains to distinguish theurgy from other ritual practices, especially sorcery (goēteia/mageia). 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.org 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. In contrast, 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.
There are many different kinds of gnosis, and one can attain gnosis of multiple different things, beings and of the different realms. It is not “a single experience or understanding but rather a continuum stretching from the depths of the natural cosmos to the One itself” (Theourgia.org Catechism, 80). Gnosis is both acquired and given in that the theurgist must make real changes in themselves in order to become more like the divine, and that the divine is an active participant in the receiving of gnosis. For Iamblichus, “knowledge of the gods is virtue and wisdom and perfect happiness, and makes us like to the gods” (Protrep. 3)” (Uždavinys 2004, 300). In becoming like the divine we attain what Plato calls homoiōsis theō, “becoming like a God,” which later Platonists called henosis, the “end (telos) of life which is to be attained by knowledge (gnosis)” (Uždavinys 2004, 300). This purifies a soul into a Purified Soul, whose free will becomes ““fixed” in that the soul no longer needs to deliberate through discursive reasoning what actions to take,” and as such for a Theurgic Sage “proper moral activity is known intuitively through gnosis” (Theourgia.org Catechism, 93).
Demiurgy is divine behaviour in the physical and spiritual, and is the end result of theurgy. Demiurgy is the nature of purified Theurgic Sage, those who engage in Immaterial Theurgy. Demiurgy is the “active participation in the divine work of the celestial Demiurgos [Zeus-Helios] through the theurgic and the personal/universal processes of purification (Gk: katharsis), illumination (Gk: phôtisma) and perfection (Gk: teleiôsis)” (Theourgia.org Catechism, 83). Having cleansed themselves of the accumulation of matter and inclinations towards generation, the Purified Soul is never again lost in incarnation and are now instead engaged in demiurgy. They work and worship in accordance with the laws of theurgy and the intellect.
Both Gnosis and Theurgy are necessary to reach Demiurgy, and ultimately henosis.
The theory of worship central to the Hellenic religion.
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 proper household worship, including instructions on building a lararium.
On the significance of animal sacrifice and instructions on how to perform one.
On the importance of prayer and a prayer format.
On how to perform a libation.
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 matters of the dead.