We have mentioned in other places on the website that our school and its system differ from the common form of western esoteric methods. We are not rooted in the Golden Dawn movement and its subsequent sects, we are not a Christian Qabalah derivative, we are not another reinvention of Freemasonry or Martinism, our students will never be taught things like the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, and in general, we escape most of the other standard qualities of a modern hermetic school. Aspiring magicians of our age have no need for another one of those kinds of schools or Orders – if that is what someone is drawn to, then there is ample choice for selection. Instead, we have brought in a different line of training.
The essential components of this school have been received from long-running lineages of magicians in multiple parts of the world, rather than being confined to the particular form of Christianized or purposely Egyptianized neo-Arabian occultism which has dominated western magic since the time of Reuchlin and Agrippa. Our system takes a broader view of magic to consider and includes the significant advancements and achievements of a global society of magicians. These magi spread throughout the world, though speaking different languages and having different gods, have none the less all hit upon a certain root system which defines what magic really is. This “root” is what we have tried to formulate in a systematized way free of the native cultural elements which have previously characterized it so that it can be more easily digested by a western mind.
The goal in presenting this root system, or our version of it, is to expand upon the mysteries of western occultism with deeper and more authentic wells than it tends to drink from. The development of hermetic philosophy and practice has been greatly impeded and obstructed at many different times throughout its history, causing it to empirically fall behind the great speed of development being enjoyed by similar forms of spirituality in more fertile cultural lands. To illustrate this, we are going to take a somewhat lengthy but meaningful diversion into the case of the theory of internal energy:
The Loss of Ancient Doctrines
At the same time as the earliest references to an anatomy of internal energy in China and India, the philosopher-physician Praxagoras was postulating the role of pneuma in the body in ancient Greece. Like his oriental counterparts, he theorized multiple mental and physical functions for this energy. Only a short while after him various Stoic philosophers connected the pneuma to universal functions and included it in their cosmology and cosmogenesis, bringing the understanding of this energy to a more transcendent level. Plato had given its place in the cosmos, Aristotle had explained its methods of absorption, and subsequent Stoics gradually built the bridge that linked universal pneuma with individual pneuma and health. These same developments were coming together to form not only early yogic philosophy but also Ayurveda during that same era. By the first century AD, we learn of a school of medicine focused on the pneuma and its interaction with the four elements of the body, who called themselves the Pneumatici. We see early Romans continuing this knowledge, performing pneumatic experiments with different metals and magic wands to induce energetic trances or trigger astral projection – a level of understanding which will sadly not be seen again in the West until the discoveries of Anton Mesmer many centuries later.
There is some evidence that during this time the first methods of purposeful breath retention for spiritual purposes began to appear. The Orphica was a compendium of Orphic theology and praxis gathered from many resources, going far beyond the poems first brought back to public attention by Thomas Taylor. We know for certain that it was held in high regards by the late Platonists in the line of Iamblichus who wrote numerous commentaries on it. In it, there appeared certain practices such as inhaling the rays of the sun three or nine times and parts of prayers or rituals where exhales were forcefully done while making specific sounds, as far as some modern scholars have been able to reconstruct its fragments or identify practices influenced by it. In its early appearance, it very much resembled the earliest framework in which yogic pranayama appeared as well, being a part of Brahmanic rituals still done to this day.
Then things changed. Under Emperor Jovian (331-364 AD) the state religion was again returned to Christianity and the Roman Empire began to adopt an increasingly hostile attitude to its ancient traditions, philosophies, and practices. The Library of Antioch, which had been stocked by the previous emperor Julian with many precious Theurgic and early hermetic writings, was razed in 364 during the short reign of Jovian. Just thirty-five years later in 369, the Coptic Pope Theophilus ordered the destruction of the Serapeum, which contained many ancient mystical and religious writings preserved from Alexandria, and this demolition is still regarded as being iconic of the loss of ancient wisdom. In quick pursuit of these events was the reign of Theodosius I who encouraged and allowed the wide-scale massacre of philosophers and magicians, the ruin of Hellenic and Roman temples (which functioned as libraries), and the destruction of the famous Temple of Apollo at Delphi. In 393, all pagan rituals were banned. Between this time and the final banishment of the philosophers under Emperor Justinian, an extraordinary part of the western spiritual heritage was destroyed. Because of the split between the Eastern and Western Roman empires, Galenic medicine continued in Byzantium but under the scrupulous observation of religion. As the centuries plodded along the medical knowledge of the west continued to fall, until, in the 1480’s, we see the philosopher and translator Marsilio Ficino being labeled as a blasphemer and heretic for having the audacity to suggest, in his De Vita Sana, that diet may influence your health. With these transformations, the ancient philosophies of pneuma virtually disappeared, and it became relegated to whatever what was left of the skeletal Galenic corpus allowed to be practiced.
Meanwhile, in the Orient, the paradigm of internal energy flourished under royal patronage and with the support of an exhaustively increasing literary culture. Rajgurus, the teachers of kings, set up large and famous ashrams which attracted the attention of many seekers and who took certain writings of energy-based mystics as their sacred scriptures. In China, the confluence of native Taoism and Indian-Buddhist influence resulted in a beautiful internal universe, peopled with gods and energies alike, and a sophisticated method of energy development emerged out of the previous medicinal templates for it. The ingredients had been the same in all of these cultures: the simultaneous existence of a spiritual philosophy which united man to the heavens, of a detailed paradigm for medicine, and of a sophisticated cosmology, in all three of which an invisible life force or cosmic breath played a central role. The difference is that in the orient it was allowed to flourish, set up elaborate schools, create temples, and infuse widely spread monastic orders. Under Mongol rule, the practitioners of such arts were even tax exempt! In the occident, however, religious oppression prevented its further growth. So much work was done to preserve what fragments remained that innovation and further discovery concerning those inner technologies were luxuries affordable by none. The doctrine of internal energy had been almost completely extinguished in the west, only appearing briefly and partially from time to time before disappearing again.
The ancient Greek mysteries were the forerunners in thought and lineage of what we now call western occultism. The entire breadth of Hermeticism is a commentary on Plato’s universe, tinted various colors by the Chaldean influences of the Iamblichean line. The occult renaissance was sparked by the new translations of the late Platonic writers emerging in Italy during the 15th century. Discussing what became of those ancient mysteries is also discussing what happened in the history of Hermeticism, as one intricately influenced the other. Though many western occultists now consider doctrines of internal energy to be “Eastern,” it is only so because of the atrocities which befell the lineages of western spirituality. The makings were all there for it, and the doctrine had in fact begun to emerge: were it not for its interruption, breathing techniques would no doubt figure into the dogma of nearly every Order and Society of Hermeticism. They were not adverse to its idea, as is shown by how incredibly swiftly Mesmer’s doctrines of animal magnetism were adopted by nearly every occult society of his time.
For that matter, modern Hermeticism was not particularly slow to invite the oriental teachings on the matter into the fold. Max Mueller’s literary work and translations, especially those of the Upanishads, grabbed the curiosity of nearly every occultist in Europe and America in the late 19th century at the new dawn of new occultism in the West. The explorer and lecturer Louis Jacolliot, from whom’s “Occult Science in India” many of Franz Bardon’s practical examples are derived, had been published with much attention and painted an extremely romantic and mysterious picture of India. At that same time, Helena Blavatsky lit up the stadium of both occultism and academia by publishing her books detailing the knowledge of the East and her personal adventures. All of this had a powerful influence on modern occultism, and very few occult authors resisted the temptation of demonstrating their pieces of oriental knowledge. The knowledge was desirable and desired.
What we have attempted to demonstrate with this is that a particular doctrine, in this case, that of internal energy, was anciently as much the property of western spirituality as it now is of eastern spirituality. Only the unfortunate twists of history made it otherwise. Such knowledge should therefore not be rejected by modern occultists as “Eastern,” since in truth it is not. If they only looked to their own source material, to the writings of those they hold in high esteem, they would find all of the grounding for this doctrine in their own home. The void created by the interruption in the development of those teachings is still present, and the detection of this void is no doubt the reason that many of the younger generation of occultists increasingly supplement their occidental mysteries with initiation into oriental lineages. Pasting Anton Mesmer’s animal magnetism onto Hermeticism, and ornamenting it with a few congruent thoughts and investigations from his contemporaries, still only results in an understanding already achieved in India and China 1,500 years ago. There is no need to spend another millennium independently developing the ideas of vital force further, simply so that we might christen it as Western.
This line of thinking is the basis for what might be seen as our eclectic form of practice in this system. What we have attempted to create is a holistic and fully synthesized approach to magical development, practiced in the fullness enjoyed by many ancient traditions which have survived to the present day, yet grounded in the clear and rational philosophies of the western theurgic tradition. This was not hard to do, for as we mentioned above there were many ancient precedents for including certain teachings no longer found in the hermetic corpus. The vocabulary was already there, the philosophies into which those theories fit were already fully formed, and the world view and essential beliefs of the ancient theurgists already anticipated the discovery or advancement of those teachings as far back as the fourth century.
Then is This Really Theurgy?
The word “theurgy” has been poorly defined in the recent past. In its fullest sense, theurgy refers to a system of spiritual development established upon Platonic philosophy, but which is distinguished from purely contemplative methods by its sophisticated use of ritual and the employment of an elaborate cosmology. As coined principally by Iamblichus (though the word in Greek appears in both Plotinus and Plato), it is a wedding of Platonic mysticism and philosophy with the Near-Eastern magic of his time.
To better understand what kind of a system can and should be called Theurgic, we should develop a clearer understanding of the situations surrounding the birth of Theurgy in antiquity. In the time of Iamblichus, Theurgy was essentially “Chaldean” occultism united with Platonic philosophy. The term Chaldean in that time, however, was a kind of misnomer applied to anything appearing from the Near East, and could refer to ancient Iranian and Zoroastrian religious practices, to Syrian practices, to Babylonian astrological magic, and to the gnostic-hermetic brew of philosophies appearing in places like Panopolis. Most frequently, it referred in a broad way to an eclectic combination of all of these things together, each being themselves distinctly influenced by their own interactions with ancient cultures. Rome in late antiquity was a cultural melting pot, and Iamblichus, being from a Syrian family with Babylonian slave-tutors living on the border of unconquered Syria, was in a unique place to birth his new form of spiritual development. Seeing how mixed the cultural and philosophic background of Theurgy was at its very inception, we must understand it to have originally been a highly eclectic system itself. Indeed, the entire pedestal of Iamblichus was upon the central concept that the Greeks and their inheritors should not insulate themselves from other ancient forms of wisdom.
The system of Iamblichus was then based on an eclectic “Chaldean” ritual theology and its union with Platonic philosophy. Where, then, did Platonic philosophy come from? Its obvious influences are perhaps the naturalist philosophies of people like Heraclitus and Thales, but by its own account, it draws heavily from Pythagoras. Pythagoras was trained initially by Pherecydes in the mysteries of the Orphic rites but, while still a teenager, left for Egypt to absorb their mysteries. Afterwards, he traveled progressively East, through Phoenicia and Babylon, eventually arriving in India only a short time after the Buddha’s teachings. Here, he remained for around a year before beginning his journey back, receiving a few lingering initiations before finishing with a 27-day fasting meditation in the Idean Cave at Crete and then returning to his homeland. Imagine, then, how eclectic Pythagoreanism must have been? And what would Pythagoras have thought about learning wisdom from other cultures and bringing it into one’s own?
Then there is the matter of Apollonius of Tyana, a sage who remains of great fame even today, two thousand years after his time. That he was already divine when he left Greece can be of no doubt, at least if we are to believe any of the stories compiled about him. At a very young age he is said to have stopped a riot simply because rumor spread that the he was nearby, and the shame of such behavior anywhere near his vicinity was sufficient to end it all. Far more famous than his time in his own land, though, is his iconic journey eastwards. There he studied with many different cultures until, no doubt following in the footsteps of Pythagoras, he arrived in India. It is here that he said he met the wisest of men, learning from a Brahman which popular legend recounts as being the reincarnation of Achilles. He was initiated into the Brahmanic rites, but also shared the mysteries and philosophies of his homeland which were in much desire during his time. Indeed, the story goes that upon arriving by ship to the docks of India, he observed people interrogating each traveler in hopes of finding anyone who knew more about the wisdom of the Greeks. Word of his own wisdom had preceded him, and the local ruler invited Apollonius to become his guest in exchange for western teachings.
Apollonius is particularly significant in this chain of East-West interchange because, to this day, he remains one of the most central figures of Arabic magic. In turn, it was Arabic magic which most powerfully inspired European Renaissance occultism, though it was often transformed to take a more Judeo-Christian form. Whether or not there is any truth to the claims of lineage descent from this great magician is hard to tell. However, the fact that he is still honored at least figuratively as its master and teacher shows how prominent a figure he must have appeared to be in the eyes of the Arabs when they first began to translate Greek and Roman literature in the eighth century. Discounting his influence on the development of subsequent magical traditions in Greece and Rome would be as deceitful as ignoring the influence of the eastern cultures upon whatever his teachings must have been.
In engaging the question as to whether or not we are really Theurgic, we would therefore have to respond that perhaps we are especially Theurgic in that we have followed not only the teachings but the lives of our predecessors as our model. There was a time when being a philosopher, a true philosopher, meant loving wisdom in its nakedness. Those who pursued her, ignored the unique and colorful clothing which she took in this land or that and sought the underlying principles which embodied her. Like Tiresias, they desired to be struck blind to the details of the world so that they might see the things that are invisible to most. Pythagoras did not feel that he was being “unwestern,” as his goal was not to be anything other than a lover of wisdom. Our conviction is that we should pursue wisdom in that same nakedness, loving the peculiar kind of diamond which each land has produced in the pursuit of the holy stone.
All that remains is to choose how this wisdom will be brought into life once its traces have been found and its symptoms confirmed. The wisdom of the theurgist, the sufi, the shaman, the yogi, the Taoist, and the Buddhist is not different, for as Plotinus taught, we grow perfect in only one way. It is the mode of knowledge which encompasses and adorns that wisdom which is different, and the personal philosophies as to how that wisdom should be pursued and activated once it has been discovered are what vary. In this there is no right and wrong, merely differences in personal conviction.
The ornamentation of this unitive wisdom with Platonic-Hermetic philosophy and practical magic is what we call Theurgy. For our system, we no longer confine the “magic” component of this formula to the pseudo-Chaldean mixture of Iamblichus’ time, since we are certain that if he had readily been able to access Tibetan or Mongolian magic (for example), he would have been just as happy to do so. Indeed, it was Mongolian magic which, a thousand years later, conquered the lands of Chaldean and Arabic magic: the mongols themselves saw success in war firstly as the responsibility of magicians and secondly of generals.
In order to acquire this Theurgy we have, like its ancient founders, studied the wisdom not only of the west but also of the orient. We have assembled this knowledge under the banner of Plato because, in spite of journeys and education in other places, the ancient Platonic philosophies seem to shine resplendently with a kind of unique universalism. It helps in that endeavor that the knowledge of many other mystical and magical traditions is itself already rooted in Platonism because of this universal quality. The entire vocabulary of Christian theology and the praxis of its monks owes itself to Plato and the Stoics, and heroic efforts by luminaries like Dionysius of Aeropagus developed Platonic philosophy into the basis for much of the Church’s cosmology. In Islam and Sufism the early grounds for much theology and philosophy were provided by translations of late Platonic writings coming out of Baghdad, which marked what is now widely hailed as the Islamic Golden Age. Many philosophers and magicians which are still hailed as influential in Arabic magic, and many great sufis, perpetuated Platonic philosophy. Then, through both its time in Alexandria under the guidance of Philo as well as its extensive sojourn through Arabic and Persian lands, Qabalistic theology came under the influence of Platonism. Many of these elements came together in the Renaissance thanks to the efforts of the Medici intellectual circle, and Plato was very much at the center of the subsequent Age of Reason and its forms of occultism. What better to unite all these branches of western esotericism, then, than Platonism itself? It is the one element which they all share in common.
The universalism of Platonism extends far beyond its direct chain of influence. It molded easily between the western cultures for the same two reasons that it is capable of accepting within it the teachings of the eastern cultures: (1) it is fundamentally non-religious and (2) it is based primarily on the result of reasoning processes which have been experienced by many other great thinkers throughout the world. There is a kind of “self-evidence” in much of its teachings, and for this reason, similar or identical conclusions were reached by people who were completely removed in time and place from Greek philosophy. Its ability to react to the needs of any religion and to find a place within it for nearly every mystic teaching is why Platonism is such an important foundation for the future of esotericism in our newly global society.
We might also add that recognizing the Platonic foundations of western esotericism is also important during a time when the identity of these mysteries has been greatly confounded by charlatans, myths, and imagination. We no longer live in an age where, as happened frequently in Medieval Europe, we need to conflate Moses and Jesus with Orpheus and Apollonius. There is no longer a point in imagining that an out-of-place Hermes Trismegistus initiated Moses or, conversely, that Moses brought the mysteries to Egypt, or that either of these people taught Solomon or were taught by him – these and many other fantastic lineages are still maintained in some systems today. It is time to remove the mask and give Plato his due.
But what of Hermeticism? The ancient city which birthed this pansophic sect is now widely thought by scholars to have been Harran. All of our very limited number of resources on the matter attest that it was largely Neoplatonic, and upon the entryway to its central hall, there was written in Syriac, “He who knows himself is deified,” a quote from Plato. In our system, we embrace Platonism and Hermeticism as a continuation of the same fundamental stream of instruction, a balance we did not have to create, as it already occurred in the Muslim world over a thousand years ago.
The difference between us and other systems masquerading as “ancient” or “orthodox” is not whether we have digested the teachings of other peoples and places but simply that we have here openly admitted to it. We have not accused Moses of teaching Spanish 11th century Qabalah or Mohammad of teaching alchemy and Platonic dialectic. We have spared Orpheus and Solomon discipleship to Hermes Trismegistus and have not accused Akhenaten of being the first Rosicrucian. Unlike even Iamblichus himself, we have not adopted the name of a supposed Egyptian instructor to teach thinly-Egyptianized hellenic philosophy, and we are not proposing that a secret enclave of otherwise invisible masters in some remote mountains are secretly communicating with us alone. Whether we hold such anachronistic accounts to be true or merely fables aimed at legitimacy ultimately matters little. The truth is that no matter what new revelations and innovations might appear along the way, we have all walked this path together. One might reflect upon the fact that the famous “Kamea of Saturn” used frequently in almost all western esoteric circles actually originated in China, where it first appears in the Zhou dynasty ritual manual entitled the Da Dai Liji – one of the five essential Confucian classics.
Once we can separate cultural restrictions from fundamental qualities it becomes easier to see what Theurgy really is. In our system, we have presented a well synthesized and internally-synchronized purview of magical theory and practice, and we have grounded this in the ancient philosophies of Plato and his Theurgic successors. In essence, this is no different than the actions taken by the founders of the theurgy of antiquity. Even further, we have tried to emulate their love of wisdom, displayed not only through their writings but also in their actions, which reached beyond the cultural and linguistic barriers of their day in the pursuit of what truly matters. Let us clarify that our resulting system is not a patchwork stitched together; our students do not learn Sanskrit terminology or the theosophical emanations of Allah, they are not made to chant the panchakshara of Shiva or the zikr of the Sufis. Everything has been brought together harmoniously as a flowing system, unified within the already existing pleroma of western esotericism. In doing so we have identified four essential bases which indicate the presence of Theurgy in different forms throughout the world, and which were first delineated by the ancient Platonists: what we call the four pillars. They represent the four “actionable” principles of Theurgy, and are accompanied subsequently by the six “intellectual” principles called the six gates.
The Four Pillars of Theurgy
It can be said that there are four main components of theurgy which unite every kind of theurgy, if we are to expand our view beyond its immediate western heritage. Even within this, it was the ancient Platonic commentators who expressed this view and spoke of these qualities. They are theoria, therapeia, muesis, and teletas, which we will now consider in turn.
Theoria is the ancient Greek word from which our common English term “theory” is derived. It refers on its surface level to the investigation of knowledge. This is only its most superficial use, however. The “theo” in “theoria” refers to God, and the domain of the knowledge of theoria is divine matters. By breaking the word into “theo” and “ora” we can understand its translation as “god-speaking” or speaking about divine matters – a kind of synonym for theology. Yet there is also another dimension of theoria, its internal and mystic dimension. For this reason the Greek word serves as the basis and root for several other closely associated terms which translate as “seeing,” “viewing a spectacle,” and “shining.” This reveals the metaphysical component of theoria as referring to meditation, and the ancients used the term interchangeably in this fashion. Continuing such uses we also see theoria as referring to both knowledge and meditation.
There are many schools of mysticism in existence which go no further than theoria. A basic study of their acceptable scriptures is accompanied by either dialectic consideration or meditative contemplation. This is what we consider a simply mystical path, and it principally engages intellection in order to arrive at Intellect, consciousness itself. Systems which revolve around mindfulness alone would also fall into this category. Still, we extend theoria to include the general field of inner development. This might be the development of psychic faculties, control of the inner life force, control of the bodily functions, or meditations of a more transcendent aim.
The next integral quality is the presence of therapeia. This is the ancient word from which the English term “therapy” is derived, perhaps because it indicates an actionable process of reform or resolution. In some ancient texts this term refers to religiously obligatory rites. In the more universal minds of the Platonists it tended to indicate living in righteousness as a general rule, regardless of whether particular religious customs fall into that domain. We have taken a definition which falls somewhere between these two. The fields of devotional practices of any kind or custom, and the honest attempt to live a virtuous life whether by religious decree or personal ethics, is all encompassed in our understanding of this word.
This is an important pillar, for the higher rites and initiatory practices of the magicians frequently if not nearly always evolve out of the common religion of the area (and to a degree, vice versa). What became the “rules of purification” for the magi, now often invoked by today’s occultists when building up to an invocation or an initiation, were the essential observances of religious priests in ancient times. The mysteries are so-called because they are the mysteries of religion, namely those religions which surrounded that particular group of magicians. The theoria of the theurgists was concerned with the underlying principles of religion, the initiations were into the hidden principles of religion, and the sacred rites were modeled after the universe of religion. Even as early as the late Platonists of the Roman era, the magicians had greatly separated themselves from religion in favor of a more universal view, but the vestiges of that connection remain even today.
In our system, a personal therapeia is greatly encouraged in order to maintain a clear moral compass and keep the heart open. We provide teachings on essential ethics from the views of Plato and Aristotle, and we share what the stream of magicians between us and them have often taught as necessary, but otherwise, we let this element of theurgy remain a personal matter. We do not give nor preach any religion, but we do encourage that each person have a religion even if it is an intensely personal one. It is important for a human being to have a name and a word for God and a means of feeling connected to what that is.
Muesis is our third pillar. This term, according to Proclus, alludes to having the eyes shut (perhaps from “muo-”). He defines it as the condition of the seeker as opposed to the adept, one who now sees with eyes open. In popular language, the term referred to initiation, usually either into a special teaching or a society and most often both together. This is an important third element which we see as essential to defining a system as “Theurgic” rather than something else.
Rites of initiation are present in every culture. In “modernized” society the apparent ritual element of this process has often been abandoned, but we still observe it in odd ways: getting your driver’s license, going off to college, bachelor parties, and other cultural norms. They always represent a kind of portal which a person has passed through. In systems of Theurgy throughout the world special rites are used to indicate when a person has become ripe for acceptance into a certain set of teachings. These rites are not only thought to be psychologically powerful and transformative, but are also held to be possessed of special powers in and of themselves. They are simultaneously a recognition of one’s growth, an opportunity for transformation, a chance to present teachings in dramatic and psychologically meaningful forms, and a magical act of consecration which connects a person to unique power sources. In some Theurgic societies these initiations are as simple as a laying on of hands or a sprinkling of water. In others they are elaborate trials lasting for several days and filled with ceremonies. Either way, an official transference of authority and permission to the student always takes place. Without this, we are taught, the methods and techniques of the lineage are mere empty vessels – like owning the title for a car without having the car itself.
Finally, when one has passed through the portal of initiation, the sacred rites are learned. Prior to Iamblichus, Theurgy was often called “telesiourgia,” meaning “the workings of perfection.” The word for sacred ritual in ancient Greece comes from “telos,” which means total and utter completion and perfection. What could more perfectly indicate the aim of these ceremonies? Whoever thinks the rites of the Theurgists were nothing other than sorcery need only look at the words themselves. These rituals are intended to bring about a universal rectification happening within the inner “little world” and the outer “vast world” simultaneously. They are the hieratic rites which connect the Theurgist to the universal founts in which, as Proclus says, “the Theurgists place their hopes of salvation.”
We have placed meditation in theoria, but the Teleta, on the other hand, are the sacred rites. Meditation is essentially passive and ritual is essentially active. The union of these two components is the explosive combination which Iamblichus no doubt discovered. It is no doubt because of this that more sages riddled the countryside of eastern Rome in the century following his time than in any other pagan era. Indeed, this union triggered a manner of spiritual and occult golden age, and ancient historians writing shortly after that time have painted an image for us of troupes of disciples, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, roaming the country from the house of one magus to another. This union of purified intellect and sacred activity is the most essential distinguishment between Theurgy and mere sorcery.
When a system of spirituality provides a method of inner development, involving principles of living and “ritual purity,” requiring initiation between important stages of growth, and utilizing ritual and ceremony in both a mystical and magical capacity, then we consider all four ingredients of theurgy to be present. If they have some of these traits but not others, then they may well be systems of magic, of meditation, of internal alchemy, of religious living, of devotional absorption, or mystic tranquility, and so on, but they are not fully theurgy. This understanding allows for the identification of theurgy anywhere in the world, regardless of its linguistic, ethnic, or religious differences from Greek theurgy. In so doing, we all move towards a more universal society of magi.
The Six Gates
The four essential foundations of Theurgy as seen above are the practical components, called the pillars because it is upon practice which real progress is most founded. But along with the practices there are certain intellectual sciences which we call gates, for they are not only better understood through practice, but their understanding also permits deeper entry to the practices. In our system, there are six such fields of study. Their study does not necessarily go in a specific order. Instead, every student learns components of all six fields throughout his or her time in the school. By the end, the student has a thorough grasp of what these intellectual studies can provide to a theurgist in our tradition and what importance they have.
The first gate is philosophy. For us this is the study of the ancient teachings concerning ethics and knowledge. It is important to learn in what ways the thinking process is corrupted, as well as to understand the dialectical proofs which show the underlying psychological factors in both material and spiritual life. As with any philosophic tradition, we emphasize the importance of the spiritual and examined life over the material and unexamined life. Philosophical studies range from Plato and Aristotle to the end of the chain of Greek commentators, but in most cases, these teachings are presented organically and woven into the educational process as a whole. Our teachings are concerned more with preserving and presenting the essential concepts of those ancient teachings and not with making scholars in Greek philosophy.
The second gate is cosmology. It is important for a magician to have a clear and useful universe. If it is too simplistic then the path towards practical Theurgy remains vague. Too elaborate and that same path becomes overwhelming. The study of the universe in our system concerns itself with the human being’s position in regards to the rest of the intelligent universe and how our tradition arranges and names the components of that universe. Such names, in whatever language or culture they are set, are understood to be necessary analogs so that the mind can grasp and differentiate the things it wishes to come into contact with. The essential cosmology of our school in particular involves the twenty-seven forces: the twelve zodiac, seven planets, five elements, and three essences. These are arranged by meaningful analogy and the process of emanation on a ladder which spans the three fundamental planes of spirit, soul, and matter. How the ancient Theurgists perceived this universe, as well as how those of later lineages came to understand it, is taught and absorbed after preliminary learning.
The third gate is ontology. This is the study of being, and of the human soul’s nature and substance in regards to itself and as concerns the universe in which it is immersed. This field covers the ancient teachings on how the human soul comes into being, from what substance and towards what end, and how the soul is equipped to rediscover its innermost divine essence. The nature of mind, energy, and matter are investigated in relation to one another. As magicians, we take this study a few steps further and move on to the specific anatomy and mechanisms of the energetic bodies, how they interface with the physical body, and in what way a knowledge of this interaction can allow for more effective progress. The three parts of the soul in Platonism are emphasized and their energetic effects explored. Ontology is one of the most important components of any spiritual path because it deals with how human beings arrived at an unenlightened condition and how they can return back to it.
The fourth gate is occultism. This can broadly be defined as the investigation of invisible but connective qualities between seemingly disconnected or only metaphorically connected things. The effective powers behind numbers, words, sounds, colors, directions, and many other things found in nature make up the most important part of this science, for which reason it was often called natural philosophy. Studies in astrology, divination, and geomancy can be considered within this field. Knowledge is power in this regard, and understanding becomes a veritable tool in the hands of a magician. A Theurgist must be a well-versed occultist, though unfortunately, most well-versed occultists never take the necessary steps towards becoming a Theurgist.
The fifth gate is mythology. We might have been well justified in calling it “symbology” rather than mythology, as this science involves the study of traditional symbolism, but in our system, we principally study the symbols of the ancient religions. This is not only because of the impressive psychological influence many of those symbols continue to wield today but also because these symbols are founded in the ancient belief of poet-seers, people who were able to enter into conditions of divine enthusiasm and interpret cosmic events or energies through symbols that are intelligible to the average mind. It was important to the ancient Theurgists to keep their philosophies and esoteric teachings in line with the mythologies of the poets or prophets they revered, and in our system, we explain this connection and present the associated teachings, looking at the symbolism of several Theurgic traditions.
The sixth gate we call hierosophy, the study of hieratic wisdom. Under this sixth field come the more transcendent teachings associated with the hieratic rites, teachings on the ladder of cosmic transformation, and the study of the inner and secret capacities of human beings and the mind itself. This is the more experiential field of knowledge which fuels the ability to be a practicing Theurgist.
We have given a very generalized and brief outline of how our particular school approaches these six sciences. Like the pillars, however, any system of Theurgy in the world has some form or manifestation of these six studies.
The Difference Between Magic and Sorcery
Magic and theurgy are intricately connected. The six sciences are essentially fields within magic, and the four practical pillars are the employment of magic’s principles. An important conviction in our system is that true magic is something divine, and therefore is principally intended for other things which can be classified as divine. Though there are certain underlying effective mechanisms that are the same in any form of what can broadly be called “magic,” the intent of the user and the degree of understanding involved can powerfully change what is really being done.
There is a difference between a Thai household that hangs a large bronze phallus from its doorway in hopes of the wife bearing a son, and a magus who is trying to climb the cosmic ladder via elaborate and lengthy rituals. Both employ the essential principles of magic, but only in the same manner that a cowbell and a violin use the same fundamental physics of sound. We recognize that not all sound falls within the more specific domain of music. Likewise, we must recognize that not all invisible principles fall within the domain of real magic.
Magic is more than the mere use of occult qualities or invisible principles to bring about, by invisible media, a certain effect. The Greek word for magic means wisdom. To the ancients it referred principally to the wisdom-arts practiced by the priests of the near-east. In their sciences, those of ancient Iran and Zoroastrianism, invisible principles were used ritualistically in the form of adorations, oblations, and fire rituals, as a form of cosmic restitution. The purpose and aim of those ancient sages can hardly be reduced to a few side-effects of their path, such as the magical and psychic powers. We should not let their namesake be reduced to such things either.
We maintain magic to be a species of special knowledge which encompasses wisdom. The special knowledge of the magician is an understanding of the invisible cords which connect everything, and which Plato calls the cords or bindings of analogy. What decides whether or not something becomes truly magical or simply sorcery depends on how this rule is interpreted. If this rule is applied in the direction of chaos and division then it is sorcery, because it can only be based on the same misapprehensions which keep the mind so powerfully bound by the ego and the worries of a temporal life. Thus the sorcerer reconfirms the false knowledge that “I am temporal and I need things which are temporary.” The magician, on the other hand, finds within magic a beautiful harmony of causes. The chain of emanations from the highest to the lowest is perceived, and the clear knowledge that everything is bound together with everything else as a single unfoldment is made clear.
To a sorcerer, the metal tin is connected to the planet Jupiter and no further consideration is merited beyond what this knowledge can produce within the field governed by Jupiter: wealth, acknowledgement of rulers, political activities, etc. This knowledge becomes a stairway straight into deeper materialism. To the magician the special connection between a metal and a planet is just one symptom of a universal accord between all things, and the progression of divine images from the highest down through the lowest. Even Jupiter is just recognized as a link in this chain – for just as our tin is to Jupiter, so Jupiter is to something ineffably higher. Both the magician and the sorcerer may have their special talismans made out of tin, but the sorcerer intends to use it for the solidification of his temporary ego, and the magician for its usurpation.
As Paracelsus said, “Magic is wisdom, and there is no wisdom in sorcery.” Magic is composed of the laws which tie everything in the universe together into a simplistic unity. With man-made machinations we can turn these effective causes aside for temporary uses and exploit them for reasons contrary to the truth which birthed them.Yet the magi say, “As within so without,” and whatsoever we do to Nature, she does back to us. By dividing her, we become more divided, and by exploiting her, we become more exploited. The true magician finds Nature beautiful in her essential nakedness, and hopes for a sacred union.
It is in this vein that we approach magic in our system. To us, magic refers to the sacred truths which collectively promise the hoped for enlightenment and reunification. Its principles are the stones which build the way of return. If everything is connected by invisible threads of causation, then there is a golden chain which leads back to unity, even in a seemingly divided world. The ancient Theurgists took this to be the sacred meaning of that episode in the Iliad, when Zeus declares:
If you tied a chain of gold to the sky, and all of you, gods and goddesses, took hold, you could not drag Zeus the High Counselor to earth with all your efforts. But if I determined to pull with a will, I could haul up land and sea then loop the chain round a peak of Olympus, and leave them dangling in space. By that much am I greater than gods and men.
There are many things in creation, be they gods and goddesses or everything else on land or in the sea, yet the Creator is never removed from that essential unity and can easily bring everything in creation back to a single place. The links of that golden chain are the principles of magic on which Theurgy relies. The efficacious power of prayer, the internal link to a greater source, the interface of heaven and earth, the entire intelligent cosmos, the mechanisms of salvation, the powers of cause and effect, all of these things are within the bosom of magic. A magician is a physicist of invisible causes.
Magic is transformation, and the magician causes transformations in the inner world as well as the outer world. One must start with the inner world, however, in order to achieve the necessary self control. Without certain preliminary attainments and realizations, the pursuit of magic is likely to lead the would-be magus into the traps of sorcery, effectively strangling any hopes of greater progress. In our system, the student is first dedicated to the practice of these internal transformations, and only when suitable progress has been made in this field is a bridge built to the outside world. All of the ancient systems understand this method of approach and the idea of necessary preliminary training before one can actually be initiated into the mysteries of high magic.
The reason for this preparation is twofold, being of both an ethical and a practical manner. In the first place, it is ethically important for the same reasons as equipping a child with a weapon. Like any form of power, whether it be temporal, physical, political, or magical, it is ideally accompanied by a kind of personal maturity. Many people are not very different from children in their basic understanding of themselves and their relation to the world. When we are children we behave recklessly until we learn about the lines of punishment which follow such actions. When we are adults this understanding keeps things in check, the way one might suddenly press the brakes when driving by a police officer. But most people drive the speed limit in order to avoid the ticket that would come with ignoring it rather than out of a deep and coherent understanding of why a certain speed is safer in certain places. It is coherent understanding which must accompany magical growth.
Secondly, this preparation is highly practical. It is an extremely longstanding error in the psyche of western esotericism that simply having a “magic spell” is sufficient to be a magician. The images which accompany media and cinema, of one becoming a magician by virtue of a magic word or the possession of a special wand, are children’s stories. Yet many occultists today still pursue magic as though it behaved in this manner. Working with spiritual forces is, like anything, something which one can be good or bad at, and which one can get better or worse at with effort. If you can barely move internal energy from your knee to your toe with broken concentration, what do you expect your hopes to be of calling some entity from a distant realm to manifest in your practice room? If you can not telepathically understand mental impressions coming from living people, why would you be any better at doing so from an angelic being? Long before the occultist should worry about “planetary initiations” or crossing any manner of “abyss,” the proper tools needed to be active on those levels must be developed. Without proper preliminary training and attainment, the aspirant would be walking into a very real world while being robbed of all his senses.
This habit has continued on today with little double-checking due to a conflation of ego with imagination. Self-styled magicians all over the world (the West is not unique here) attempt to perform hieratic rites with very little success. They hold imaginary converse with spiritual beings in their heads, rather than in reality. Those people then think up many justifications for why that was the case or trick themselves into seeing “something” in a poorly lit room filled with smoke. Generation after generation decide to silently and mutually accept this condition, while lauding such titles as “master adept” and “supreme magus” upon one another in exchange for the study of much but the accomplishment of little. This bleak picture is not true of every situation and every case, but it has become more the rule than the exception. A number of conditions contributed to this, but none more so than the disappearance of proper preliminary training.
The Pythagoreans enjoined a five-year probationership upon their new recruits involving the strict observance of vows, most famously silence and celibacy. Why? Not just to demonstrate surrender to the Order, but also to build up a very real power. Speaking and sexual intercourse are two of the most energetically draining activities, especially when done wrongly. After five years of abstaining from both, the newly accepted initiate had restored his internal energy reserves and now had the force necessary to enter upon the theurgic path. The Orphics had a three year vow for the new student and are now thought to have been vegetarian. The Eleusinian Mysteries required a waiting period of seven years before full initiation. In The Republic of Plato, his preceptor Socrates enjoins twelve years of preparation before beginning philosophic training. In the Theurgic Academy of late antiquity, they imposed three years of studying Aristotle and Euclid, followed by three years of studying Plato in a specific pattern, before being introduced to the Theurgic mysteries of the Orphica and the Oracles.
All of these ancient magical sects required periods of training before full admittance to the mysteries themselves. In the earliest years, this was done by the strict observance of religious vows. A thousand years later, during the time of the last Greek Theurgists, this was done by a progressive system of education which gradually advanced the student from material philosophies to spiritual ones, with close attention paid to the development of ideal moral character. By a thousand years after that, in the Arabic and Persian continuations of those same ancient lineages, inner purification by the more direct means of meditation and breathwork had been added. This was the case not only for the Greek lineage but also for the independent Theurgic systems present in the tantras of India and Tibet and in the classics or treasure texts of China. The purpose of this training is not only to prevent the fall into sorcery, but also to encourage meaningful success. Many students who could have become great Theurgists have fallen off the path or given it up because of inconsistent results or the lack of success at all. This can be greatly remedied by understanding the necessary prerequisites for success.
What are these prerequisites then? First, one must start with the mind, for everyone depends on that. Without concentration, memory, and comprehension, many spiritual systems become ineffective. Energy is the mover of matter, and mind is the mover of energy. Without a mind that is free from unneeded burden, no other progress is really possible. Thus, the mind must be strengthened and tuned, and its natural capacities like memory and comprehension must be enhanced long before any of its supernatural capacities can come under control. Accompanying the exercise of the raw substance of the mind should also come intellectual teachings which help reshape the mind and allow the student to rebuild a mental process that he or she likes, understands, and finds useful, rather than simply that which has been programmed by culture. These teachings should also provide a foundation and a grounding for the experiences of the mind which can run amuck and become entangled in the webs of imaginations without a point of a reference.
With the subtle component of mind coming under control, one must then advance to developing control of the denser form of mind: internal energy. This energy is the functional substance of activity. Without it, the things in the mind remain in the mind, and even if the ego is overcome, it can not take the step outside of itself to connect to the surrounding universe. Energy translates the phenomena of mind into the world of action, and by consequence, the realms of matter. Without energy there is no magic, because the awareness of the student remains disconnected from the Nature within which magic occurs. This energy is itself an extension of mind, and without its control and rectification, the mind itself can not really be thought of as under control. To gain hold of this great inner power, likened in the myths to a powerful horse or bull, a suitable method is required. This method is what we call internal alchemy.
When Theurgy traveled into the Arabic and Persian worlds, the alchemical line of thought which had been developing in the Hermetic Harran-Panopolis accompanied it. In the seventh century, as the Arabs gained control of the previously Roman Syria and the Levant, the distinctly Eastern-Roman forms of spirituality came together under a single banner which they believed collectively represented the beliefs of their precursors. Under the new banner of Hermeticism, Theurgy became united with the various sects it had once helped inspire. One of the most important of these was alchemy.
The appearance of alchemy as a material pursuit appears to have been in Alexandria in Egypt during the first or second century AD. There can be little doubt that the alchemy of Maria the Hebrew and her teacher Democritos was concerned principally with producing very concrete results. Like everything in that time, though, it would have been natural to relate it to the philosophic and religious atmospheres in which it was taking place, and we can hardly doubt that there was still a spiritual component of the early alchemists’ endeavors. By the time of Zosimos, however, who scholars think to have been writing around a hundred years after Maria, a distinctly inner dimension had appeared. In Zosimos, we see an internal psychodrama playing out, in the form of dreams and visions, where it becomes clear that external alchemy is triggering a metaphorical internal alchemy. While he is imbibing the first matter of the stone during the day, at night he is being given goblets of nectar to swallow by divine beings. If the essence of philosophic mercury was distilled during the day, then in his dreams Zosimos was being lifted among the clouds. We will likely never be able to know for sure whether this was an original expression of Zosimos, or if he was having these experiences in line with an already established tradition of internal reactions to external activities. Regardless, the inner dimension of alchemical activity had officially been recognized and was beautifully illustrated. That these experiences had a powerful impact on later Theurgic principles is reflected in an essential term which, as far as we know, Zosimos coined: photeinos anthropos, the man of light.
The progression of lead into gold quickly became a metaphor in the hands of the romantic poets of Islam, but became much more than that in the hands of the serious spiritual practitioners within its ranks. Just as external alchemy was seen as a technology aimed at perfecting that which was impure, so also there arose a desire for a systematized inner technology which refined the personal self into a perfected condition. Drawing upon suitable analogies within their own texts, an exegesis of certain Qur’anic verses, and an influence from India and China, a very real methodology for inner development began to appear. The goal? To become a “man of light,” the sheikh nurani. The method? A careful combination of visualizations, sounds, sensations, and light-phenomena tracked in a progressive manner and refined by breathing methods and the use of physical anatomy. By the time of the translation efforts of the Italians during the 15th century, this method was already well developed but tended to be carried on orally or in carefully guarded manuscripts rather than taught openly. Thus this inner science did not appear in the Arabic-inspired Renaissance.
In our school we lay great emphasis upon internal alchemy as the quintessential method of preparing to become an effective theurgist. The ancients accomplished much without this knowledge, but that they did not know they were doing it does not change what they were doing. There is an inner science to the hieratic rites, and there is an inner response to every ritual and its phenomena, as Iamblichus himself well says. The methods of internal alchemy developed partially from the careful examination of these internal responses and from the discovery of methods to generate them more consistently. Once the underlying mechanisms of the hieratic work were understood people could be better prepared for them. Thus in ancient times, for example, a magus might spontaneously become clairvoyant as a result of interaction with the subtle energy of the rites. But he may just as easily never become clairvoyant at all, for reasons that were entirely unknown! As internal alchemy developed, methods were established for consistently achieving all of the faculties which supported the successful practice of theurgy.
This “new” field of methodology began in the Greek theurgic lineages surviving in Arabia and Persia at around the same time that a science began to emerge surrounding qigong and energetic meditation in China and the advent of the pranayama-based forms of hatha yoga in India. In our system, we have thoroughly appreciated the contributions to this field from all of these different traditions and are thankful that the Islamic theurgists established a suitable bridge by which we might reconcile those teachings with the theurgic corpus. Each system of internal alchemy develops somewhat differently and specializes in different things, but they are all united by a single symbolic interpretation of the works of external alchemy.
The essential goal of this internalized alchemy is to rectify and empower the body and its energies. Just like nature has many metals and minerals, the body is envisioned as having many energies existing in many conditions. The external alchemists envisioned four elemental colors of sulfur, the animating principle of the universe. The internal alchemists discovered four elemental qualities within their own energies. The external alchemists aimed for the true mercury which devours and digests all metals, but the internal alchemists aimed for the inner pristine reality into which all thoughts, desires, and differentiation disappeared. The outer alchemists created powerful “fiery waters” which softened the hardest metals, while the inner alchemists, as Rumi said, sought the burning water of love to soften the heart. By proper heat and digestion, the philosopher’s stone could be made, but by energetic purification and maintaining silent awareness, the inner divinity could be given a body. By concoction and rectification, the stone could project its power like a thousand suns, but by inner sublimation, the internal elixir could transform one into pure light. These and many others are the analogies which were drawn, whereby the sages confirmed their philosophy both inwardly and outwardly.
The phrase “perfecting one’s philosophy” is an ancient saying meant to indicate the path as a whole and complete journey. To the Theurgist, it is not sufficient to perfect philosophy in the mind alone. This is where they differed considerably from their contemplative Platonic predecessors. Rather, it is important to realize the true philosophy in the mind, in the universe, and by extension, even within the body itself. This latter part was a component of the Pneumatici we mentioned earlier who healed the body not only with medicine but with applied philosophy. Seeing the effects which even the external rites had on the body, Iamblichus commented:
The presence of the Gods indeed imparts to us health of body, virtue of soul, purity of intellect, and in a word elevates anything in us to its proper principle.
And in a Chaldean Oracle fragment preserved by Julian we read:
The Oracles of the Gods declare, that through purifying ceremonies, not the soul only, but bodies themselves become worthy of receiving much assistance and health, for, say they, the mortal vestment of coarse matter will by these means be purified.
In these early sources we begin to see an understanding of the manifestation of everything’s proper principle, even within dense matter and the physical body. The goal of internal alchemy is to return the energies of the body and soul to their own proper principle. This monadic principle is envisioned as being essentially One on every level: mental, psychic, and material, as Iamblichus illustrates above. By the proper application of internal alchemy, the many diverse conditions of mind are simplified to a single present awareness, the elemental and planetary energies of the soul are reduced to an animative hypostasis, and the myriad components of the physical body are absorbed into a unitive resplendent light.
It is important to remember that the hieratic rites themselves are capable of doing all of this, but that the application of internal alchemy represents a step forward in the paradosis (lineage transmission) of this inner technology, meant to prepare one so that the rites have a maximum effect. It is thought that the two have an important relationship with one another. The teletai bring influences in from the universe but have a difficult time cracking the shell of the ego to create meaningful and permanent inner change. The internal alchemy specializes in personal transformation but has a difficult time building a relationship directly with the rest of the universe. By combining the two in the right time and order, a bridge is built between microcosm and macrocosm. Only under this unified condition can the personal being return to real cosmic beingness. Both the inner path of meditation and the outer path of high magic are capable of effecting this result by themselves, but the wisdom of the succession of adepts through very long lineages has realized the importance of combining them into a single path.
Ritual: Coordinating the Inner with the Outer
In our system the spiritual path begins with greater emphasis on the inner practices and utilizes only occasional outer magical practices. As one advances through the different stages of growth the instructor begins to shift the emphasis towards the outer dimension in accordance to the needs of the student. By the completion of the outer school, The Divine Science, the internal methods have created certain unique attainments. These attainments are suitable goals in and of themselves, but for those with the desire to push onward, these attainments are waiting for further refinement from ritual practice. One can see the distinction as internal magic and external magic. You start with primarily internal and some external and end with primarily external and some internal. Magical training begins very early in our system, but it steps up only very gradually as the student advances and proves his or her maturity.
Even many of our magical training methods are fundamentally internal or meditative in nature in the beginning. This can create a conundrum that even weathered students will face. What is the value of ritual work, when so much progress seems perfectly obtainable from meditation alone? This question is a fundamental point whose argument goes back as far as the discussion between Iamblichus and Porphyry as to the effectiveness of theurgy in general. Its supporters and critics continue their disagreements even to this day in cultures where these two kinds of spirituality coexist together.
Briefly, we may give the theurgists’ answer to this question. Meditation is an excellent form of advancement, but one which fundamentally only examines and explores the inner world. This is fine from the standpoint that the entire world is within the inner dimension, and the experience of the sages has proven this to be true enough. For this reason, systems like ours devote a considerable amount of time to exploring and understanding this inner world first before taking that next step over into the outer world. Where purely internal meditation can fall short is in the extended understanding that both the inner world and the outer world are gateways into a collective vaster Self which perfectly comprehends these two in a complete unity with one another. Theurgists work to experientially establish this unity from the inside as well as from the outside and choose to work on the denser layers of mind that we call energy and matter instead of restricting themselves to intellect alone. This is variously called Building the Diamond Bridge, Walking the Chinvat, Transcending Ordinary and Extraordinary, Realizing the Oneness of Reality and Appearance, Reconciling the Two Faces, and other such names that indicate this unity of two apparently different things.
The philosophical premise for this position is rational enough. Many systems safeguard all of the possible expressions of mind in activity by restricting them and ultimately removing them, leaving the meditator in a completely passive condition as regards the rest of the world. They achieve enlightened visions under the strict parameters of completely withdrawn senses and completely deactivated activity. Among their adepts even the physical body will shut off so that there is no possible expression or activity at all. In the more magical systems of development, all of these “undesirable” activities are actually seen as special manifestations of mind that still need to be empowered, purified, and enlightened rather than be ignored and subjugated. In alchemical terms, they are all seen as possible ingredients for creating the personal philosopher’s stone.
The hieratic rites are an important way to coordinate the expressions of your energies, and therefore of your mind, in a manner which synchronizes them with divine truths and exposes them to transcendent essences. The Theurgist’s voice is filled with the power of the invocations and sacred words, his movements are synchronized with cosmic forms and inner transformations, his intent and focus are placed upon images that are connected to a higher essence, and all five senses are engaged by the use of colors (vision), sounds (hearing), scents (smell and taste), and sensations (touch). All of these things are arranged by a kind of hieratic knowledge to connect an apparent diversity with a transcendent unity that they all share in common. When the archetype of that energy finally steps forward to touch the ritual with its energy then, as Proclus tells us, its power travels through all components of the ritual like lightning travels through all objects without losing its own essential nature. Thus, all the senses and energies of the Theurgist become blessed by an overarching unity, and as Iamblichus says, he becomes “filled from above with transcendent goods.”
When this divine energization occurs frequently enough, it not only opens the road from Nature into the theurgist, but also from the theurgist into Nature. Not only the intellect and inner vision of the theurgist becomes blessed by divine unity, but every component, even the dense physical matter, starts to become spiritualized by it. This is important to the theurgists because we believe that our matter and senses are an extension of the mind, and until they are unrolled and perfected on their own grounds, they represent a part of the mind which is still not enlightened.
Important Influences in our System
As we have mentioned several times above, our system is somewhat eclectic in its range of influences. There are no real surviving lineages of Theurgy in the west, nothing that predates the 1600’s and meets the requirements for Theurgy that we have outlined above. Older is not necessarily better, but there is a kind of wisdom that comes from long established lineages that have consistently produced master-level adepts. When we surveyed the typical contents of western esoteric societies and Orders, it seemed that, for us at least, a great deal was missing when compared to the oriental systems which had been allowed to progress without as much religious and cultural oppression. The philosophy of Hermeticism had remained very much in tact thanks to the massive translation efforts of the renaissance, but those translators themselves lacked initiation into the lineages whose manuscripts they were translating and lived a world apart from the surrounding culture and atmosphere which nurtured those teachings. Thus, it was easy for us to retain and propagate the essentially-hermetic doctrines of the ancients, but finding a methodology for attainment was more elusive.
In accordance with ancient standing principles, none of the practices had been written down, and therefore, there was no practical backbone to the translations of that era beyond intellectual games. Everyone simply did the best they could to reconstruct supposedly Chaldean rites based on what very, very little information was at that time available. If one surveys the very few Arabic accounts of the ancient Sabean rites that made it into European translations by the 1500’s, you will discover nearly the entire corpus upon which the symbolism of many modern rites are based. This was only modified slightly during the eighteenth century, when it became very popular to create initiation rituals based on the alchemical symbolism that was at that time attributed to the Rosicrucians. We studied the existing material thoroughly but then set our eyes abroad.
In terms of influencing this school and its teaching, various practical and philosophical components were inspired by five basic fountains of knowledge on the subject: the sages of the Islamic world, Tibet, India, China, and of course what remained of the ancient Greek writings. Our goal was to keep the ancient Theurgic teachings of the west as a rational platform by which Theurgy, stripped of specific culture, could be identified anywhere in the world. In the process, we were very blessed to find a small but very real community of true magi who are to be found everywhere and who respect the art of Theurgy in any form it takes. They no longer belong to this or that brotherhood but to a universal society of Theurgists who all recognize their own when they encounter one another. One and the same adept might wear the turban of a Sufi and address a crowd in Arabic in the morning, only to hold a secret conclave with hidden Buddhists at midnight while addressing them in Hindi. There were Taoists dressed as lamas in Tibet, and lamas dressed as Taoists and posing as Mongolians in China. If ever there was a true Rosicrucian brotherhood, living out the pansophic and cross-cultural ideals of those famous manifestos, it was these people.
By effort, travel, and practice, we were able to meet some members of this universal society. Their essential philosophies were in perfect accord with one another, and their practices only differed in nomenclature and superficial details but never in essence. We presented our hopes of supplementing the teachings of western esotericism to them, and they encouraged our efforts by teaching us the things that would be useful and elaborating upon oral instructions regarding important practices and rites that are now absent in most esoteric circles. Under their continued guidance over the years, we have developed and subsequently refined the system we now teach. Researchers of different systems will likely be able to see some teachings or methods that they are somewhat familiar with. If you have a history in Buddhism, for example, you will see its subtle influence in how we present certain things. People familiar with other teachings will see hints there as well. Specific techniques themselves have also been powerfully influenced by some specific systems: three of them, for example, are based explicitly on the Taoist model of internal alchemy. Others are based on traditional practices of the hermetic lineages that still exist elsewhere in the world or are influenced by other important sects. All of these teachings were reconciled with effort and time to the Platonic-Hermetic corpus which we still maintain to be the most sublime philosophical model.
The precise details of the people we met and their overt lineages are kept secret in our school until a higher level, when things can be shared in certain confidentiality. We understand that this might be offsetting to some people, but it is a combination of our choice and theirs. We have no problem openly declaring the presence of Taoist, Buddhist, and Sufi teachings, each more prevalent in the area that the particular system happens to specialize in. There were also masters from family or village systems whose founders have been lost to antiquity and who therefore know little of their lineage beyond their direct family line. Some people we have learned from are very well known, and some are entirely private. None of them, however, leapt at the chance to be openly connected to a system that could be classified as magic and occultism, nor were they particularly interested in a flood of messages and contact attempts from a western audience who, in the orient, are seen as being particularly disrespectful and difficult students. One of our hopes in this school is to present some of the teachings which have been kept hidden in the orient, not because of their transcendence, but simply because of cultural limitations. As the mindset of the west concerning magic and its real meaning changes, some of those teachers may choose to be more forward.
There is a very real community of highly attained adepts spread throughout the world. They are not connected to one another by oaths, initiations, or specific fraternities, but rather are united by a similarity in attainment and realization. They are aware of each other’s presences, sometimes specifically and sometimes generally. Secret handshakes and passwords are not how they recognize each other; they look for clear signs within one another’s energetic bodies to recognize each other. The essential teachings of these real Theurgists are what we have tried to faithfully represent in the practical dimension of our teachings, and their wisdom has supplemented our philosophy.
A Culture of Practice
There is one last emphasis in our school and system that we will discuss here, and this is the development of a culture of practice. This means that the emphasis in our teachings is practical rather than intellectual, though there is an extensive intellectual component. The philosophical teachings provide a reference point and a basis for the experiences that the student accumulates through practice. Knowledge does not equate to realization in our system any more than it does to most systems in the world. The purpose of knowledge is to aim the arrow in the right direction, but the bow itself is drawn back by practice alone.
New students are given a basic daily practice routine that could last as little as twenty minutes if everything was done all at once. Many of our probationers, even if they are from Orders or other systems, have never been engaged in consistent daily practice. This can be a large psychological hump for people, sometimes referred to as “going from the armchair to the altar.” Everyone is always encouraged to advance at their own pace. None the less, it is partly the job of the teacher to apply enough pressure to ensure progress in the same way that a school teacher assigns homework and exams.
In the world of practical spirituality, there are two fundamental kinds of people: householders and renunciants. Our system is geared towards householders, and many of the sages from ancient times to now have themselves been husbands or wives, fathers or mothers. No one is ever told to practice at the expense of their family. At the same time, every person is encouraged to push themselves enough to discover what they can really do versus what they just happen to feel like doing. Needing to get four hours of video-game playing in every day, for example, may need to take a step back if you intend to be a student in this system. As Pythagoras is said to have taught, the management of one’s time is the very first task of the aspirant.
In our system, it is daily practice which stands out as the most important. Some people may practice less and some may practice more, but it is practicing every day which is the key to progress. Students who are able to dedicate even thirty minutes to their “askesis,” or spiritual practice, often make better progress than people who practice long periods of time but only sporadically. Every person has their own ideal rhythm as far as that goes, and that rhythm will change much over the years.
Evidential success is an important concept in our system as well. There are certain signs and symptoms which mark significant inner transformations. Students are encouraged to keep track of their practical experiences in a journal so that anything which stands out can be remembered and reported to a teacher. We also understand, however, that this is a holistic path where the growth of any given student rarely occurs along a precise predetermined line. For this reason, there is a close teacher-student atmosphere encouraged. The student not only receives the specific guidance needed, but the teacher develops a clearer picture of the many different ways in which the student might be growing. No path works for every single person, but we have recorded consistent results with the vast majority of people who honestly and diligently apply themselves. If something does not work for a certain student, then the teachers will work together diligently to discover why and set in place a new plan or routine catered to the individual as needed.