Theourgia (θεουργια) is derived from the Greek words theos, “god,” and ergon, “activity” or “work.” 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), and plenty of others, almost all of which are rendered “theurgy” by scholars. The word theourgia is coined by a father and his son during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, in the second century ACE during the Marcomannic Wars. These two men, known as Julian the Chaldean and Julian the Theurgist respectively, are responsible for writing the Chaldean Oracles, which greatly influenced much of later Platonism, and with that Hellenism as a whole. The Chaldean Oracles especially influenced Iamblichus, who wrote a now lost thirty-volume commentary on the subject. While the father and son duo first developed and used the word, it is not until over a century later that theurgy is taken entirely into Platonist practice. While no Platonist theurgic rituals have survived in writing, we still know a great deal about how theurgy works, mostly thanks to Iamblichus’ De Mysteriis.
Theurgy is religious practices which aims to unite the worshiper upward to the One. These rituals are not mere hieratic rites, but bring us henosis, union with the divine, through divine involvement. Theourgia is ritualized divine activity, God working. On the surface this may appear to mean the work or activity in which 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. 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 doing theurgy, an offering and a prayer is a kind of work, an act with a purpose. Don’t misunderstand; 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, you are collaborating with the divine to achieve a joint goal: henosis.
The final goal of theurgy is union (henosis) with the divine intelligibles, and possibly with the One, so far as possible, and direct or intuitive knowledge of the Intelligible Realm. 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 is demiurgy, participation in the divine work of the Demiurgos and other spiritual beings. Through theurgy, we rise to the level of our supplication and so gradually take on a divine perfection.
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 noetic rites are nothing more than play-acting.
Theurgy is ritual cosmogony that initiates human souls into the activities of the divine through ritual activity that imitates the Gods. Ritual practice serves to animate prayer, as without imitation of the divine to bring life to the words, they are merely words, while with ritual and sacrifice those words are animated and become live words. 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 is not magic. Iamblichus went to great pains to distinguish theurgy from other ritual practices, especially sorcery or goeteia. 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 magic or 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.
Theurgic rituals can be divided into two:
- 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.
Types of theurgic worship
There are three general kinds of theurgic worship. These have been designated by Iamblichus as material, a median that uses both material and immaterial, and immaterial. The first introduces us to the Gods, the second connects us to the divine in demiurgy and intuitive knowing, realizing the benefits from the divine through participation, and the third brings about henosis. Each level of theurgy should be performed in relevancy to the amount one’s soul has remembered itself.
Material worship involves the use of material or physical tokens (synthemata), symbols and other offerings to raise ourselves to the encosmic divine intelligible and tertiary causes, such as archons and Daimons. This kind of theurgy is the type most commonly practiced. This form of theurgy introduces us to the Gods.
II. Median Theurgy
The median class of worship employs both physical and immaterial tokens to unite ourselves with the liberated divine intelligibles. This form of theourgia is more rarely practiced; only those who are beginning to move beyond the need for material worship engage in median theurgy. This form of theurgy connects us to the divine in demiurgy and intuitive knowing, realizing the benefits from the divine through participation.
This form of Theurgy involves worship of the Hyper-Encosmic or “Liberated” Gods, and employs an intermediate form of sacrifice. While material sacrifice such as that of animals or material foods might be appropriate to Material Theurgy, they are inappropriate to Median Theurgy. Instead, intermediate forms of sacrifice are offered that while material, is nonetheless less material than bodies. This includes hieratic characters and symbols, possibly talismans, divine names and images, incantations and musical compositions. All these depend on the physical world since things such as names cannot be spoken without lips to utter them or air to vibrate them; however, they are a kind of materiality that is less “material” and more refined than the sacrifice of bodies. The Hypercosmic Gods are those who tend to receive “barbarous names of invocation” or barbara onomata, are frequently directed to, those hieratic names with no human meaning, but are instead of divine origin and so have meaning only to the Gods.
III. Immaterial Theurgy
Immaterial worship involves the use of purely spiritual tokens without the use of to physical symbols or ritual. The purpose of immaterial theurgy is to unite ourselves with the immaterial Gods. This form of theurgy is very rarely practiced; only the most advanced souls, the Theurgic Sages, engage in it. This type of theurgy brings about henosis.
Gnosis isn’t a single experience or understanding but a continuum stretching from the depths of the natural cosmos to the One itself. 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. One can attain gnosis of multiple different things, beings and of the different realms. A purified Theurgic Sage will intuitively know proper moral activity through gnosis.
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. The Theurgic Sage fully participates in the work of the Gods and the Celestial Demiurge Zeus-Helios. Having cleansed themselves of the accumulation of matter and inclinations towards generation, they are 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.
Dunn, Patrick. The Practical Art of Divine Magic: Contemporary & Ancient Techniques of Theurgy. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2015.
Ekklesia Neoplatonismos Theourgia. “Ekklesia Neoplatonismos Theourgia Catechism.” Ekklesia Neoplatonismos Theourgia. Accessed July 17, 2017. http://theourgia.org/catechism/.
Flavius Claudius Iulianus Augustus, and Wilmer Cave (France) Wright. The works of the Emperor Julian. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.
Iamblichus. De Anima. Translated by John F. Finamore and John M. Dillon. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2002.
Iamblichus. De mysteriis. Translated by Emma C. Clarke, John M. Dillon and Jackson P. Hershbell. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003.
Kupperman, Jeffrey S. Living theurgy: a course in Iamblichus philosophy, theology and theurgy. London: Avalonia, 2014.
Medieval Astrology Guide Editors. “Theurgy.” Medieval Astrology Guide. Accessed July 21, 2017. http://www.medievalastrologyguide.com/theurgy.html.
Remes, Pauliina. Neoplatonism. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2008.
Sallustius, “On the Gods and the Cosmos”, 4th Century AD, accessed May 17, 2017, http://www.platonic-philosophy.org/files/Sallustius%20-%20On%20the%20Gods%20(Taylor).pdf
Shaw, Gregory. Theurgy and the soul: the Neoplatonism of Iamblichus. Second ed. Kettering, OH: Angelico Press, 2014.