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.
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’). 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 ofemanations 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.
- To En (τό ἕν), The One: Deity without quality, sometimes called The Good.
- Nous (Νοῦς), Mind: The Universal consciousness, from which proceeds
- Psychè (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 ofmeditation 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 invocationand religious, as well as magical, ritual. 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. Education is important for comprehending the scheme of things as presented by Aristotle, Plato and Pythagoras but also by the Chaldaean Oracles. The theurgist works ‘like with like’: at the material level, with physical symbols and ‘magic’; 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