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Title: Theurgy  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Neoplatonism, Maximus of Ephesus, On the Mysteries of the Egyptians, Chaldeans, and Assyrians, Hermetic Qabalah
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Theurgy (; from Greek θεουργία) describes the practice of rituals, sometimes seen as magical in nature, performed with the intention of invoking the action or evoking the presence of one or more gods, especially with the goal of uniting with the divine, achieving henosis, and perfecting oneself.


  • Proclus (c. 480): theurgy 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"[1]
  • Keith Thomas: "Spiritual magic or theurgy was based on the idea that one could reach God in an ascent up the scale of creation made possible by a rigorous course of prayer, fasting and devotional preparation."[2]
  • Anne Sheppard: "Theurgy, the religious magic practised by the later Neoplatonists, has been commonly regarded as the point at which Neoplatonism degenerates into magic, superstition and irrationalism. A superficial glance at the ancient lives of the Neoplatonists, and in particular at Eunapius' Lives of the Sophists, reveals a group of people interested in animating statues, favoured with visions of gods and demons, and skilled in rain-making"[3]
  • Pierre A. Riffard: "Theurgy is a type of magic. It consists of a set of magical practices performed to evoke beneficent spirits in order to see them or know them or in order to influence them, for instance by forcing them to animate a statue, to inhabit a human being (such as a medium), or to disclose mysteries."[4]


Theurgy means 'divine-working'. The first recorded use of the term is found in the mid-second century neo-Platonist work, the Chaldean Oracles (Fragment 153 des Places (Paris, 1971): 'For the theourgoí do not fall under the fate-governed herd').[5] The source of Western theurgy can be found in the philosophy of late Neoplatonists, especially Iamblichus. In late Neoplatonism, the spiritual Universe is regarded as a series of emanations from the One. From the One emanated the Divine Mind (Nous) and in turn from the Divine Mind emanated the World Soul (Psyche). Neoplatonists insisted that the One is absolutely transcendent and in the emanations nothing of the higher was lost or transmitted to the lower, which remained unchanged by the lower emanations.

Although the Neoplatonists are considered polytheists, they embraced a form of monism.

For Plotinus, and Iamblichus' teachers Anatolius and Porphyry, the emanations are as follows:

  • To Hen (τό ἕν), The One: Deity without quality, sometimes called The Good.
  • Nous (Νοῦς), Mind: The Universal consciousness, from which proceeds
  • Psychē (Ψυχή), Soul: Including both individual and world soul, leading finally to
  • Physis (Φύσις), Nature.

Plotinus urged contemplations for those who wished to perform theurgy, the goal of which was to reunite with The Divine (called henosis). Therefore, his school resembles a school of meditation or contemplation. Iamblichus of Calcis (Syria), a student of Porphyry (who was himself a student of Plotinus) taught a more ritualized method of theurgy that involved invocation and religious, as well as magical, ritual.[6] Iamblichus believed theurgy was an imitation of the gods, and in his major work, On the Egyptian Mysteries, he described theurgic observance as "ritualized cosmogony" that endowed embodied souls with the divine responsibility of creating and preserving the cosmos.

Iamblichus' analysis was that the transcendent cannot be grasped with mental contemplation because the transcendent is supra-rational. Theurgy is a series of rituals and operations aimed at recovering the transcendent essence by retracing the divine 'signatures' through the layers of being.[7] Education is important for comprehending the scheme of things as presented by Aristotle, Plato and Pythagoras but also by the Chaldaean Oracles.[8] The theurgist works 'like with like': at the material level, with physical symbols; at the higher level, with mental and purely spiritual practices. Starting with correspondences of the divine in matter, the theurgist eventually reaches the level where the soul's inner divinity unites with The Divine.[9]

Emperor Julian

The Emperor Julian the Apostate (332-363), embraced Neoplatonic philosophy and worked to replace Christianity with a version of Neoplatonic paganism. Because of his death and the hold mainstream Christianity had over the empire at the time, this was ultimately unsuccessful, but he did produce several works of philosophy and theology, including a popular hymn to the sun. In his theology, Helios, the sun, was the ideal example of the perfection of the gods and light, a symbol of divine emanation. He also held the mother goddess Cybele in high esteem.

Julian favored ritual theurgy, with an emphasis on sacrifice and prayer. He was heavily influenced by the ideas of Iamblichus.

Esoteric Christian theurgy

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn claim to teach a type of theurgy that would help one ascend spiritually as well as understand the true nature of the self and its relation to the Divine and the Universe. The Golden Dawn has a somewhat significant historical following and influence;[12] while it is held that many theurgists are usually solitary practitioners and seek the divine light alone through ritual and inner spiritual and psychological equilibration. Theurgy in this hermetic sense stresses the need for the individual to separate and analyze the individual components that constitute everyday consciousness and reunite them in a way that changes one's personal awareness into a state that understands and partakes in spiritual grace.[13]

Jewish theurgy

Following a pattern very similar to the Neoplatonists, the Medieval Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah developed the concept that the Universe is regarded as a series of emanations from the Godhead, namely, the 10 sephirot. It is said that God created the world using the sephirot, pouring Divinity into creation through these "vessels," which also have personality traits. The highest sephirah, Kether, holds the most divine light and is the least accessible to humanity. The lowest sephirah, Malkuth, is still higher than matter itself, so the parallel with Neoplatonism is not complete, but Malkuth is considered that aspect of God that can be perceived in the material world. It is also known as the Shekhinah.

For the Kabbalist, God is a single oneness, not separate "gods". The teaching avoids polytheism by insisting that the sephirot are not to be prayed to, but rather, to be meditated on and experienced as manifestations of how God acts in the world. They are envisioned as arranged in three columns, in a pattern called the Tree of Life. By meditating on the sephirot and praying for their unification, Kabbalists seek the theurgic goal of healing a shattered world.

For Kabbalists, the sephirot are as follows: Kether (Crown); Chokmah (Wisdom); Binah (Understanding); Chesed (Loving kindness); Geburah (Strength); Tiphareth (Beauty); Netzach (Endurance); Hod (Glory); Yesod (Foundation); and Malkuth (Kingdom or Sovereignty).

See also


  1. ^ Proclus, On the theology of Plato, 1.26.63. E. R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational, University of California Press, 1959).
  2. ^ Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (1971), Penguin, 1973, 320-321.
  3. ^ Anne Sheppard, "Proclus attitude to theurgy", Classical Quarterly, 32 (1982), 212-224. Eunopius, The Lives of the sophists (c. 395), chap. III, London: Harvard University Press, 1921).
  4. ^ Pierre A. Riffard, Dictionnaire de l'ésotérisme, Paris: Payot, 1983, 340.
  5. ^ Cf. "Lewy">Lewy, Hans, Chaldaean Oracles and Theurgy, Cairo 1956, pp. 421-466 (mostly consulted and quoted from the revised edition by Michel Tardieu, Revue des Études Augustiniennes 58 (1978)).
  6. ^
  7. ^ SIORVANES, LUCAS (1998). Iamblichus. In E. Craig (Ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London: Routledge. Retrieved September 17, 2013, from
  8. ^
  9. ^ Cf. "Shaw">Shaw, Gregory, Theurgy and the Soul: The Neoplatonism of Iamblichus, Penn State Press, 1971, page 115.
  10. ^ Christian Mysticism: An Introduction to Contemporary Theoretical Approaches by Louise Nelstrop, Kevin Magill, Bradley B. Onishi, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2009, pages 109-110.
  11. ^ Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires By:Aaron Leitch pgs. 241 - 278 (chapter 8)
  12. ^ Self-Initiation into the Golden Dawn tradition: Chic and Tabatha Cicero, Chapter 1
  13. ^ The Tree of Life: an Illustrated Study in Magic By: Israel Regardie, Revised by Chic and Sandra Tabatha Cicero

External links

  • Two Orations of the Emperor Julian
  • Plotinus' Enneads
  • Iamblichus' Theurgia or On the Egyptian Mysteries
  • A Modern Theurgic School
  • A site devoted to theurgy
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