In book ten of Odýsseia (Odyssey, Ὀδύσσεια), the hero Odysséfs (Ὀδυσσεύς) is about to encounter the witch Kírki (Circe, Κίρκη), who has transformed his men into pigs. Mighty Ærmís (Hermes, Ἑρμῆς) gives him the herb móhly (moly, μῶλυ) to protect him from her magic. This is an early example from Greek mythology given as evidence of magic in Hellenic antiquity. There is the story of Mídeia (Medea, Μήδεια), in the same family line as Kírki, who is also presented as practicing magic. Isíodos (Hesiod, Ἡσίοδος), however, introduces these two (Kírki and Mídeia) as Goddesses and makes no mention of their magic. They are divine by genealogy (Θεογονία Ἡσιόδου 993-10111), but in later literature they are portrayed as practicing some kind of magic. Also we have the stories of Ækáti (Hecate, Ἑκάτη) who Isíodos praises as one of the greatest of the Gods (Θεογονία Ἡσιόδου 411-452) but no mention of magic, yet elsewhere she is described as a witch-Goddess. Why would Isíodos neglect to mention the magic, the very quality that everyone would come to see as identifying these Goddesses?

In reality, the ancient literature abounds with examples of magic. The Greek poets were overflowing with imagination and color, and stories involving magic were as thrilling to the ancient audience as they are today, and, as such, provide a great literary device for any writer. So we read of all kinds of magical practices from divination, to curses and spells...the whole gamut of occult experience. This can be found not only in the mythology, but in the histories of Iródotos (Herodotus, Ἡρόδοτος), Thoukydídis (Thucydides, Θουκυδίδης), Xænophóhn (Xenophon, Ξενοφῶν), and others. The concept and experience of magic was common in antiquity.

This article will attempt to explain that while magic was certainly present in the ancient Hellenic world, it was not viewed as religion, and that it should not be viewed as such in the modern religion either. In particular, we will endeavor to explain that the Mystíria (Mysteries, Μυστήρια), the deepest teachings of Ællinismós (Hellenismos, Ἑλληνισμός), the ancient Greek religion, are devoid of magic, at least as that word is ordinarily understood.


In the modern Ællinismós, it is frequently taught that the religion is based on reciprocity, quid pro quo. We make offerings to Gods and, in exchange, receive gifts. In antiquity, farmers offered first-fruits (ἀπαρχαί) in anticipation of future prosperity. Likewise people made offerings in hope of avoiding calamity or to propitiate Gods for having offended them. There is ample evidence for all this in the historical literature. The real import of reciprocity, however, is a type of friendliness, gratitude, and humanity; we do not just take, but we also give. Seen another way, reciprocity is a type of dance; we are not alone, but we move in conjunction with Gods who are part of nature. So we pray to them and make offerings, not so much to attain benefits, but more as a heartfelt exchange of love. This is only natural in our religion. You will even find it in the texts, “to love the Gods.” When Ællinismós is reduced to mere expectation of reward for offerings, the religion becomes considerably diminished. Nonetheless, this is the popular religion, but beyond this popular religion, there is unquestionably more.

Proper reciprocity is based on appreciation and respect for the dignity of the other. Reciprocity is not something only reserved for Gods. My teacher in Greece actually says that those who do not give, who do not help, are not Hellenic, regardless of their blood. To be Hellenic is to be kind-hearted. Generosity is so essential to the religion, that a selfish person can hardly be regarded as a practitioner of Ællinismós. It is also well known that we try to practice hospitality (ξένια). In fact, to be inhospitable, particularly to those who are in a vulnerable position, is an offense, not only against a fellow human being, but to be inhospitable is an offence against Zefs (Ζεὺς) himself and all the Gods. The ultimate reciprocity has no expectation whatsoever, but is the spontaneous exchange of love between Gods and men.

So what does magic have to do with all this? Magic has its roots in the mentality of reciprocity, but rather, a distortion of proper reciprocity. Proper reciprocity is a matter of dignity. Magic is a type of barter, a type of exchange that attempts to force its way. It is manipulative and in some cases believes its practices to be coercive. At least this is true in some of its forms.


According to Iródotos (Herodotus, Ἡρόδοτος), the ancient historian, there were six tribes in the region of Midía (Media, Μηδία) (Ἱστορίαι Ἡροδότου 1.101), located in what we now call Iran. One of these tribes were the Mídi (Medoi, Μῆδοι). These were priest-functionaries in the First Persian Empire founded by Cyrus the Great (the Achaemenid Empire). If you were one of these priests, you were known as a Mágos (Magus, Μάγος). Μάγος is the etymological root of the word “magic,” which in ancient Greek is μαγεία, which originally meant simply “the religion or theology of the Magians” (the aforementioned Mídi). These priests were thought of as wise men who performed rites, interpreted dreams, and cast spells. Eventually, all sorts of occult practices became associated with this word, μαγεία or magic.

There are two general words in ancient Greek for magic: goïteia (goeteia, γοητεία) and mayeia (mageia; μαγεία). These two terms may be used interchangeably but goïteia is sometimes thought of as black magic, while mayeia can denote something genuine and well-meaning. Closely related are the words for witchcraft: mayévmata (mageumata, μαγεύματα) and pharmakeia (pharmaceia, φαρμακεῖα). There are numerous other words, mostly for specific types of magical practices, many of which can be found in the glossary which accompanies this essay.

It is a bit bewildering to discuss magic because it appears in many forms. There was the magic of antiquity, forms of which are known through texts, but modern people who practice the ancient religion have adopted new forms of magic and divination. Most of these modern forms have roots in magical practices of medieval Europe and the Renaissance. Such magic can be found in the practices of Wicca and various Neopagan groups, along with entirely new religious and magical practice. Nonetheless, there are common characteristics which can identify magic and differentiate it from other things.

Magic consists of various beliefs and practices which are separate from religion as well as science. It is the attempt to bring about changes in the world...benefits for one’s self or others...through the force of will by application of various occult practices. These techniques are believed to give access to power. The result of this process is attained, not by ordinary human effort, but by invisible means which generally cannot be proven scientifically. If you apply for a job for which you have the necessary credentials and then are hired as a result, no-one would call this magic because the entire process is logical and ordinary. On the other hand, if you cast a spell and then win the job because of this spell, this is called magic and the result can only be accounted for with an explanation which is cryptic.

Magic is often associated with the idea of “sympathy” (συμπάθεια), a type of synchronization believed to exist between all things. The concept of sympathy is an ancient one. In truth, this is a beautiful idea, that even the heavens are inseparably connected with the earth and its creatures. The entire Kózmos (Κόσμος) is a macrocosm with infinite microcosms within it which are intrinsically linked together. Because they are linked together, they are thought to have sympathy between related parts, even though those parts may be far removed. Sympathy in itself may appear to be a type of magic, but there is some scientific evidence of sympathy in, for instance, quantum entanglement. As a simple example of how sympathy can be found in religion, many people feel that certain objects have sympathetic radiance because they were found near a sacred sanctuary. If you acquire a rock or a pinch of soil from such a place, you could take that power home with you. Sympathy is not actually magic itself, but it is used by those who practice magic. The idea is that it is possible to cause something to happen distantly by means of a related article. Perhaps the voodoo doll (a type of poppet) would be the most familiar example; such an effigy may include clothing or hair from an intended victim and is used to cause suffering by sticking it with pins.

The power of magic is usually viewed as supernatural, deriving its abilities from something above or outside of nature in an alternate “spiritual” realm (although there are some practitioners who believe that all these capabilities are within nature). In any case, the adept understands that through magic, he or she can attain power over natural forces, control over which is ordinarily viewed as beyond human capability. The idea is that you can impose your will on nature and force nature to comply with your directions through occult practices. Therefore, the words compulsion and manipulation have become linked to magic.

Magic falls into various categories. There are ancient practices to gain knowledge of the future or answer questions by means of divination (μαντοσύνη), astrology (ἀστρολογία), inspection of the liver of sacrificial animals, (ἡπατοσκοπία), divination by fire (πυρομαντεία), and necromancy (ψυχαγωγεῖν). There is witchcraft (φαρμακεῖα), binding by spells (κατάδεσις), and the use of magic charms (μαγγανεύω). In reality, there is a wide spectrum of magic. On one end of the scale are naïve beliefs and observances. On the other end are practices which are highly impious (ἀσεβής) and an enormous pollution (μίασμα) to religion. These abhorrent practices involve the attempt to force daimonæs (demons, δαίμονες) and Gods (Θέοι) to the will of the sorcerer. Magic has notoriously been used for malevolent purposes such as causing harm to enemies by using hexes and curses, attempting to gain power over others through occult means, forcing someone to fall in love, deliberately blaspheming the Gods, and more. Therefore, the word evil has become attached to magic. In ancient times, its power was taken seriously and various practices were forbidden by law with the damaged party given legal remedy.

Because it employs forces which are essentially unverifiable and which are believed to produce fantastic results, magic has been used to take advantage of gullible people for which it has earned association with words such as trickery, forgery, and imitation.

In antiquity, the sorcerer was regarded as a pollution (μίασμα). Apollónios of Tyanéfs (Apollonius of Tyana, Ἀπολλώνιος ὁ Τυανεύς), the Pythagorean sage, was denied initiation into the Ælefsínia Mystíria (Eleusinian Mysteries, Ἐλευσίνια Μυστήρια) because he was accused of being a sorcerer (γόης) and casting out demons (καθαρῷ τὰ δαιμόνια) (Φιλοστράτου Τὰ ἐς τὸν Τυανέα Ἀπολλώνιον 4.18). Apollónios successfully defended himself and later was initiated (Φιλοστράτου Τὰ ἐς τὸν Τυανέα Ἀπολλώνιον 5.19), but this incident attests that the ancient people did not consider an altruistic outcome as justification for magic. It would seem that the act of freeing someone from demonic possession would be a good thing, yet doing so by means of magic disqualified one from initiation into the Mysteries. It must be understood that while magic has acquired a bad reputation and that many of its practices are clearly malignant, many if not most people perform magic for neutral or even beneficial purposes, and sometimes magic is used in an attempt to produce virtuous results. Citing such uses of magic, adepts strongly disagree with those who condemn them for their practices, yet the example from the life of Apollónios of Tyanéfs would seem to demonstrate that their arguments would not have been accepted in antiquity.


It would seem that the general consensus of modern academia is that religion is magic. This determination emerges in relatively recent scholarship (a hundred years or so). It is a conviction arrived at largely on the grounds that religious beliefs are unverifiable. There are other and very specific reasons for this opinion, but it all ultimately is contingent on improbability, and, therefore, suggests that it may reflect the biases of scholars who embrace atheism. Since the existence of the divine cannot be decidedly proven, religion is delegated to the category of primitive beliefs and magic is also consigned to this category. Since they both share this characteristic, it is convenient to draw certain parallels between the two, ultimately equating them with each other. In antiquity, knowledge of divinity was believed to be inborn (σύμφυτος) and beyond dispute (κρίσις) or individual choice (προαίρεσις). We feel differently in modern times. Nonetheless, without going into the reasons why people come to believe in Gods, it can be argued that religion is still something other than magic. I would propose that the idea of classifying religion as magic reveals a hidden agenda; it endeavors to demote religion, to demoralize and trivialize it by reducing it to superstition. This conclusion is an expression of the belief system prevalent in the modern historical period.

The idea that religion is nothing but magic is also appealing to some Neopagans. It is appealing because it normalizes their magical practices and acts as a defense against Christians who persecute them. From this perspective, Christianity is just another type of magic. It is interesting that such Neopagans know and actually declare that they are practicing magic, so by using the word in this way, it singles magic out as something not quite the same as religion. Furthermore, there are some Neopagans who declare that they do not practice magic at all. So it could be acknowledged that it is possible that someone can practice religion and also practice magic, but it should be admitted that the two are separate things that have become wrongly identified with each other.

In the above two critiques, all religion is being called magic, but there is another view. Exclusivistic religions declare all other religions false and some condemn certain religions as deriving power from demons and magic. Ællinismós has been treated in this way by Christians, although we are not alone. This will be discussed below in the section entitled Magic: The ultimate “other.”

Magic appropriates the trappings of religion, conducting ceremonies, lighting candles and incense, utilizing implements such as offering vessels, and reciting liturgies (spells and incantations). All of these things may have the appearance of religion but they are of an entirely different disposition. The aspirations of genuine religion are lofty and its practitioner is the humble suppliant. Religion is gentle and seeks out truth. Magic, on the other hand, is concerned with will and desire, the fulfillment of which may have a good, neutral, or malevolent objective. In its worst form, the magician believes he can force an “arcane” being or even a God to act on his behalf. This is clearly the opposite of religion which is unfettered (ἄδεσμος) and imparts the means to freedom (ἐλευθερία), while this form of magic attempts to enslave and make a prisoner (δέσμιος) of a divine soul. Although to bind a God in this way is impossible, the foolish attempt to do so is one of the most grievous forms of impiety, and automatically disqualifies one from the Mysteries (Μυστήρια), the deepest teachings of the religion which liberate (ἐλευθερόω) the soul.

The sorcerer performs an action designed to do something, to make something happen by means of an agency which is invisible. Such magic either works or doesn’t work, the desired result is achieved or not. It is result-oriented. Religion is not so much like this. While there is some concern for results in religion, these results are measured in lifetimes and are not for the moment. Magic is more oriented to immediate results. Religion, on the other hand, is a way of life concerned with living properly. Religion attempts to make a transformation of character, but it involves genuine work on the part of the worshiper, the results of which are understood by anyone with a rational mind. In other words, although Gods assist in the process, the practitioner of religion is expected to do work, to make ordinary human effort. Our prayers, while having value, are not sufficient in themselves as though they were spells and incantations that could make things happen. The goals of religion are concerned with benefit for society as a whole and for the well-being of the Earth with all its creatures and flora, not so much for the needs and desires of a single person.

Magic is an attempt to seize power from a realm above nature. It places this power in the hands of an individual who can use it according to his or her will. Religion, on the other hand, celebrates the power of Gods who are part of nature. The power is in their hands and benefits the humble suppliant and society by fostering the compassionate providence of Zefs (Ζεὺς), who is their king. Magic seeks power, but genuine religion seeks virtue. It could be argued that you could use magic to seek virtue, but this author would contend that it just simply doesn’t work that way. Virtue is an achievement resulting from hard work; it is not a power that can be purchased or won by casting a spell. Magic attempts to bypass the work necessary to accomplish things, to give oneself an advantage not shared by others. Religion, on the other hand, is the celebrated path of hard work. Of course Gods play a role, but they expect you to make an honest effort, as in the fable of Aesop Hercules and the Wagoner. For those drawn to the mysteries of religion, to its very heart, this work transforms character, not by magic, but by means of personal industry and the assistance of Gods.

The concerns of religion are related to the well-being of the state, to society, to the family, and to the progress of the soul. Religion is concerned with Gods, whom we worship and supplicate with great awe and humility. Magic is concerned with power and manipulation. The Gods have no role in this magic. Such a role can only be found in the imagination of the practitioner, who seeks access to their power, which they do not realize is actually inaccessible to them. Religion is based on living in harmony with the laws of Nature. Magic seeks to gain control over those laws, to supersede laws to which even the Gods are subject, by means which defy nature.

Prayer and magic

Obviously, impiety (ἀσέβεια) is contrary to religion. Plátôn (Plato, Πλάτων) in Nómi (The Laws, Νόμοι) describes three types of impiety:

“...but he who must have (ed. intentionally did an unholy act) supposed one of three things, - either that they (ed. the Gods) did not exist, - which is the first possibility, or secondly, that, if they did, they took no care of man, or thirdly, that they were easily appeased and turned aside from their purpose by sacrifices and prayers.” (Νόμοι Πλάτωνος 10.885b, trans. Benjamin Jowett, 1892)

In other words, Plátôn says that impiety is: 1. atheism, 2. belief that the Gods do not have compassion for mankind, and 3. the belief that one can easily appease the Gods by prayers and offerings, and divert them from their designs. This third type of impiety is seen here as a form of magic. Following this logic, practitioners of magic say that it is unjustified for religious people to condemn magical practices if prayers and offerings are nothing but magic itself.

How are prayers magic? The idea is that the prayers, the words, are a type of spell or incantation compelling Gods to fulfill one’s wishes. Such an idea is delusion, because it is impossible to coerce a God to do anything. The Gods are in a state of freedom and possess power far superior to mortals. Do people who practice religion actually believe that they can force Gods to act by praying? Knowing many who practice religion and who love the Gods, this author is not acquainted with anyone who believes that. Someone who believes that Gods are forced to act by their prayers is actually practicing magic, not religion, and, if they are honest with themselves, will have to admit in time that their magic is ineffective, other than by coincidence. Such beliefs should ultimately be a source of atheism for a rational person.

The proper way to pray is to be a humble suppliant (ἱκέτης) who puts himself in the hands of the Gods. The way of piety is far superior and it is the legitimate purview of religion: we trust the Gods and put ourselves in their care. Religion is not the way of manipulation. Respectful prayers of petition (λιτανεῖαι) are natural and need not have the idea of compulsion attached to them, they simply make requests of Gods. When a child receives an apple after entreating his mother and offering to put his toys away in exchange, no reasonable person would call that magic, and neither are the simple prayer-requests of the humble suppliant. In the beginning of this essay, the subject of reciprocity was discussed. It is important to understand proper reciprocity, for this is the area where religion and magic can become confused. Nonetheless, for the pious worshiper, this area will never become confused because piety is one of the characteristics of genuine religion. The best way to pray is to pray very generally, to trust the Gods, to not ask for specific things. This is difficult to do in a troublesome world, but it is the best way to pray.

Magic in the modern religion

This author is fully aware that there are many people who are practicing magic quite innocently. We have an entire generation which has grown up enjoying the Harry Potter series and the endless fantasy books and movies. Many people would do anything to live in these worlds of imagination. I grew up in the 1950’s and in the 60’s when J. R. R. Tolkien was all the rage. I remember how mesmerized I was by those books, which were written almost as though they were actual history. Then I discovered that some of my youthful friends were declaring themselves to be the reincarnation of characters from the series. The comical absurdity of these pronouncements woke me from the spell. This author would like to propose that the fostering of fantasy in a religion which is trying to establish itself in society is not helpful. If people are truly serious concerning the future of Ællinismós they should take responsibility and try to create an atmosphere of authenticity, not fantasy. We are accountable to the next generation. If we fail, the entire enterprise will collapse. We are trying to construct a foundation for a religion which will survive and prosper.

I encounter many people who practice magic. When questioned why, they invariably reply saying, “I do magic to get things I want,” or something to that effect. I keep looking for something loftier in their responses. Of course, when people have great needs...a seriously ill spouse or child, money to pay rent, funds for education, help to acquire friendship or love, luck to win better employment, and so many other important things...who can blame someone for trying any means to improve their situation? And I assume there must be people who do magic for great things, things which require virtue. I am inclined to think that all these various people feel that magic helps them achieve their ends.

Before coming to Ællinismós, most people were first exposed to various forms of Neopaganism. Many of these religions teach magic as intrinsic to their practices and belief-systems. This is what people with this background are accustomed to and familiar with: magic is normalized throughout much of Neopaganism. Then they come to Ællinismós and want to import this magic into the religion, assuming it is “just another pagan religion” and something very similar to what they have already been doing. Quite honestly, this author has discovered that once exposed to these practices, most people become addicted to them. They were taught that these practices are good and part of religion. Such people argue that all these practices were present in the ancient religion, but that is not actually true. What is true is that there has existed magic since great antiquity. Just because something existed in antiquity does not mean it was legitimately part of the religion. As a matter of fact, there is ample evidence of the opinions of venerable authors from antiquity who condemned magic.

The tendency of importing magical practices into Ællinismós has caused considerable consternation with some of the stricter Hellenic Reconstructionists, and this has caused friction between various groups. Because of the ubiquity of such practices in the west (and a variety of other things), some teachers in Greece have, for the most part, rejected western students. Whether it is wise to mingle religion with magic is something that individuals must work out for themselves. In the tradition held by this author...a Greek tradition...magic is forbidden (ἀπόρρητος). There are other teachers in Greece, however, that tolerate magic, but even when this is the case, the practices are not viewed as part of the religion. From my perspective, magic is something extra, something unnecessary, and something which could cause your confidence in Gods to falter. Why? ...because to adopt the attitude that you need magic, is as though you feel that the Gods are not concerned with your welfare, but although it may not always be obvious, the Gods give us what we need. To genuinely trust the Gods is enormously liberating. It is as though an enormous burden is taken off of your back.


An important subject in regards to how magic is approached in society is the attempt to punish or even eradicate those who practice it. Scholars say that magic is a category beyond the norms of society; it is the ultimate “other.” This becomes a dangerous situation when dealing with cultures dominated by a single religion which practices exclusivity. What is an exclusive religion? is a religion which believes itself to have exclusive access to divine authority. When you combine exclusive religion with the fear of the “other,” the result can be disastrous for those who are placed in such a category.

Historically, Christianity has condemned all other religions as false (or incomplete in the case of Judaism). If any such religion is believed to have some kind of power, this power is denounced as magic and dangerous. Where do they say the power comes from? They say it comes from evil demons. As preposterous as such an idea may seem, it is literally in their texts, and this condemnation has given Christianity an excuse to subjugate non-Christians and even eradicate their cultures. There is a history of Christians practicing forced conversion during, for instance, the colonial era, but that is just one of the more familiar examples. In reality, Ællinismós was the very first victim of this religious genocide. The highly influential Augustine of Hippo in his De doctrina christiana in Book 2 condemns not only magic but the ancient religion, which he claims derives its power from evil demons. You find this idea repeated in the writings of many other Christian church fathers. During the reign of Emperor Theodosius I, the practice of the ancient religion was forbidden and the famous sanctuaries forcibly closed. Since Christianity is totally belief-based, it was obvious to church leaders that the ancient religions had to be eradicated, because our beliefs did not agree with theirs.

Persecution of non-Christian religion has slowly diminished following the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and loss of Christian political power. With the rise of science, persecution of witchcraft has become generally viewed as absurd and cruel. In recent decades, however, evangelical Christianity has joined hands with right-wing politics and as they gain political power, renewed persecution is possible. With such a volatile political climate, it is important to acknowledge that magic and religion are separate things. Regarding persecution of those in Neopagan traditions which incorporate magic into their religion, the potential problem is amplified.

Three observations: 1. In late antiquity, when Christianity acquired political power, any association with magic was a huge negative and grounds for persecution. 2. Ællinismós was now being identified with magic, not by its own adherents who denied such identification, but by the Christian church fathers. 3. Since Ællinismós and magic are not the same, there is no reason to make it so, as such an association was disastrous in the past and has potential to be disastrous in the present and future, and this for more reasons than one.


Once the ancient religions were abolished and forced underground, Christians, no longer having temples and priests to destroy, eventually concentrated their persecution on common magical practices which became classified as witchcraft. Most of the individuals who were victims of these persecutions were women. Consequently, some in the modern feminist movement have embraced witchcraft in part as homage to those who through history have suffered for these practices. We can find this association in books by writers such as the Zsuzsanna Budapest (Feminist Book of Lights and Shadows) and “Starhawk” Miriam Simos (The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess) and others. Some women feel that witchcraft empowers them and that the magical practices can be identified as distinctly feminine. This makes it awkward to critique witchcraft and magic when such individuals may want to see any criticisms as misogyny.


The philosopher Iámvlikhos (Iamblichus, Ἰάμβλιχος. 245-325 CE) is frequently accused of practicing magic in his application of thæouryía (theurgy, θεουργία). His ideas were highly influential on later Neoplatonists, most notably Próklos (Proclus, Πρόκλος. 412-485 CE) and Damáskios (Damascius, Δαμάσκιος. 458-538 CE), the last head (σχολάρχης) of the Athenian school. These were highly learned scholars and philosophers whose opinions should not be taken lightly.

In the Hellenic tradition held by this author, the word thæouryía (theurgy, θεουργία) is a synonym for ritual. From our perspective, anyone doing any religious ritual is practicing thæouryía, which is the worship of the Gods. The word literally means “divine work.” When we do ritual we worship the Gods and participate in the divine work of Zefs (Ζεὺς), we participate in his divine providence. It is not magic. Nonetheless, Iámvlikhos was doing something in his thæouryía which aroused the suspicions of many people, beginning, it would seem, with his own teacher Porphýrios (Porphyry, Πορφύριος. 234-305 CE). Because it became associated with certain questioned practices, the word θεουργία came to be defined as magic. To this day, many scholars entirely dismiss the ideas of Iámvlikhos and other associated philosophers as being irrational. It has been thought by some that he corrupted the Platonic tradition. This opinion has slowly been changing positively with some modern scholarship.

The philosopher Porphýrios makes certain criticisms in a work entitled Letter to Anebo. The criticisms concern how Anebo, an Egyptian priest, was practicing religion. It is believed by some scholars that Porphýrios’ remarks were, in reality, aimed at Iámvlikhos, his former student, although there is the possibility that Anebo was an actual person. In the letter, Porphýrios argues for a religion of reason, and that physical rites were ineffective. A response to the letter was made in the book entitled On the Mysteries of the Egyptians (Περὶ τῶν Αἰγυπτίων μυστηρίων) by the Egyptian priest Avámmohn (Abammon, Ἀβάμμων). The book was possibly written by Iámvlikhos. Such was the belief of the philosopher Próklos, and it was thought so for centuries, but this authorship has been questioned in recent years on grounds of style and content. For the sake of simplicity, we will follow the convention that Iámvlikhos was the composer of the book.

In On the Mysteries (De Mysteriis Aegyptiorum), Iámvlikhos discusses the limitations of reason and philosophical discourse, this in contrast to the physical acts and objects used in worship. Porphýrios disregards making offerings to Gods and using symbols in ritual, but Iámvlikhos strongly disagrees:

“For, let ‘ignorance and deception be error and impiety,’ yet it does not follow that, on this account, things which are offered to the Gods, and divine works, are false. For a conception of the mind does not conjoin theurgists with the Gods; since, if this were the case, what would hinder those who philosophize theoretically, from having a theurgic union with the Gods? Now, however, in reality, this is not the case. For the perfect efficacy of ineffable works, which are divinely performed in a way surpassing all intelligence, and the power of inexplicable symbols, which are known only to the Gods, impart theurgic union. Hence, we do not perform these things through intellectual perception; since, if this were the case, the intellectual energy of them would be imparted by us; neither of which is true. For when we do not energize intellectually, the synthemata (token, symbol, συνθήματα) themselves perform by themselves their proper work, and the ineffable power of the Gods itself knows, by itself, its own images. It does not, however, know them, as if excited by our intelligence; for neither is it natural that things which comprehend should be excited by those that are comprehended, nor perfect by imperfect natures, nor wholes by parts. Hence, neither are divine causes precedaneously called into energy by our intellections; but it is requisite to consider these, and all the best dispositions of the soul, and also the purity pertaining to us, as certain concauses; the things which properly excite the divine will being divine synthemata themselves. And thus, things pertaining to the Gods, are moved by themselves, and do not receive from any inferior nature a certain principle in themselves of their own proper energy.” (Περὶ τῶν Αἰγυπτίων μυστηρίων 2.11, trans. Thomas Taylor, 1821.)

While reason is critical to the philosopher, it ultimately cannot conjoin the soul with the divine. This is only possible with ritual, for thæouryía directly unites the practitioner with the Gods, who he describes as free and completely transcendent beings who actually cannot be exploited. It is not thoughts that unite us with divinity, but, rather, the tokens (or symbols, συνθήματα), the prayers and implements which perform their proper functions along with the response of the Gods. Iámvlikhos takes issue with the idea that the Gods are remote from mankind and tries to make the case that thæouryía enables us to connect with the energy of the demiurgic powers innate in creation. This idea of Iámvlikhos, that the Gods are accessible, is extremely powerful and true.

Iámvlikhos claims that the thæouryía he is practicing is not magic (γοητεία). While magic attempts to coerce divine beings to the designs of the sorcerer, thæouryía, he says, aligns mankind to the divine will. He believes that prayers and sacrifices cause something to happen, but he attributes this to the free generosity of the Gods. This does seem to have characteristics of magic, that if you do theurgy properly, the Gods will come and respond, but he feels that their action is actually free. Ultimately, he believes that the aim of thæouryía is to unite man with the Neoplatonic “One.”

In defense against accusations of magic, Iámvlikhos taught that the power accessed in thæouryía comes from a source outside of nature. He explained that magic, on the other hand, works with the material world and could not transcend it. Thæouryía is work beyond the material world; it is divine, a work of God. Why is he framing his argument in this in this way? It has its source in Platonism and the description of the Form of the Good as not material. By the time of the philosopher Plotínos (Πλωτῖνος, died 270 CE), the Form of the Good was referred to as The One (Τὸ Ἕν), the creative principle which is described as beyond being. The material world has been so greatly separated from the ideal that Iámvlikhos is talking about things beyond nature, in other words, supernatural. Some of the later philosophers (Plotínos, for example) tried to put this into practice by living a completely ascetic life-style. The implications of such philosophy are far-reaching, ideas which were appealing to Christian theologians and became incorporated into their religion. It is not so strange, therefore, that when we find what appears to be an integration of magic and religion, it is in a form of Neoplatonism. Nonetheless, the idea of vilifying the material world and creating a supernatural world, ultimately has its roots in the dialogues of Plátohn (Plato, Πλάτων). Iámvlikhos identifies the source of the power of thæouryía in this supernatural world. Of course, “supernatural” would not be the word of choice by Platonists, yet the description given is that there is a world or area beyond nature, and that this is the dwelling-place of the divine. If it is beyond or above nature, then it is supernatural and this very word frames the conversation in a world of magic, although he sees it as exactly the opposite. Nonetheless, by his own apology, Iámvlikhos is actually describing what may be magical practice, albeit a pious one. (Similarly, if this be admitted, Christianity would fall into the very same category, since the Christian theologians [following the Neoplatonists] place God in a category above nature.)

In book two of On the Mysteries, Iámvlikhos discusses various types of beings: Thǽi (Gods, Θέοι), arkhángæli (archangels, ἀρχάγγελοι), ángæli (angels, ἄγγελοι), íroæs (heroes, ἥρωες), árkhondæs (archons, ἄρχοντες), various types of daimonæs (demons, δαίμονες), and psykhai (souls, ψυχαί). This is, of course, a Neoplatonic hierarchy with Gods at the top and the various souls (including humans) at the bottom, and everything else in between, in the exact order laid out above. The word daimohn (demon, δαίμων) is a neutral term; it refers to a soul without a mortal body, and there are many types of such souls. All the Gods are daimonæs, and when we die, we too will be daimonæs, if for a brief period. But Iámvlikhos is not speaking here in this general sense, but more in a Platonic sense, as in the Sympósion (Symposium, Συμπόσιον) of Plátohn, where the daimonæs are the intermediaries between Gods and man, yet he goes beyond this, saying that there are good daimonæs and evil daimonæs. In book 9 he speaks of the personal daimohn, as in the daimohn of Sohkrátis (Socrates, Σωκράτης). In part 7 of book 2, he says that the purified souls exhibit a fiery form (in a good sense), while the soul which tends downward is enslaved and subject to punishments, and is beholden to the authority of generative daimonæs. In book 6 he discusses daimonæs in the practice of divination, while in book 3 he attributes all foreknowledge to Gods who, at their desire, deliver it by various means. In any case, there is much talk of demons, and the book, no doubt, influenced Augustine of Hippo, who was well-read in the Neoplatonic authors. As mentioned elsewhere in this essay, Augustine condemned our religion as attaining power from demons, and this very book may have been an inspiration for his judgment. Such an idea through the centuries has indeed painted Ællinismós in a very bad light, regardless of the actual meaning Iámvlikhos intended.

The latter Neoplatonists embrace the idea of συμπάθεια. This also may arouse suspicions as the term is very much associated with ideas about magic, as discussed earlier in this essay. According to the Neoplatonic doctrine, the origin of all things is the One (Τὸ Ἕν). In this later form of Platonism, all things participate in the One by means of the Blessed Gods, each of which, in this philosophy, being called an Ǽnas (Henad, Ἕνας). From each Ǽnas extends a series (σεῖραι). Since all the members of such a series have a common cause, there exists sympathy between them. It is through this sympathy that the worshipper is able to access the divine, with the aid of the practice of thæouryía. The practitioner of Neoplatonic thæouryía makes use of σύμβολα in order to attract the divine. These are physical objects which are used as symbols or tokens which have sympathy with divine things. This is believed to be possible because the objects are in the same series (σεῖραι), as described above. The physical objects are at a greater distance from the Ǽnas, but are being from the same series, and sharing συμπάθεια, have the ability, therefore, to attract the divine powers. The idea is certainly interesting but, again, sounds like a type of magic, if not an elevated one.

Unfortunately, the word thæouryía has become associated with magic, largely because of Iámvlikhos, but a close study of this book as well as a study of religion in his time may convince you otherwise, or perhaps confuse you. He talks about divination, but he is talking about communication with and uniting with the divine. So the book needs to be understood in context. Perhaps Iámvlikhos, or whoever wrote the book, is at the extreme of what ritual and religion can be, but to this author’s mind, it seems to be some kind of combination of religion and magic. I am not trying to condemn Iámvlikhos. I am simply relating what I perceive from his writing. At one time I had a negative opinion of Iámvlikhos, but I discovered that he admonishes his students to live virtuous lives, as Platonic philosophers generally do. This is a great thing and is harmonious with true religion. Perhaps the thæouryía of Iámvlikhos is the perfect example of an integration of magic and religion, without impiety. Nonetheless, his is an extreme example and must be understood in relationship to his association with Platonic thought. It also sheds light on the effect of Platonic ideas concerning materialism and how ideas can unfold as time progresses, perhaps changing original intent, but more possibly exposing faults in the original ideas.


μάγους οἴει δεῖν ὀνομάζειν τοὺς ἀπὸ Πυθαγόρου φιλοσόφους, ὧδέ που καὶ τοὺς ἀπὸ Ὀρφέως. ἐγὼ δὲ καὶ τοὺς ἀπὸ τοῦ δεῖνος οἶμαι δεῖν ὀνομάζεσθαι μάγους, εἰ μέλλουσιν εἶναι θεῖοί τε καὶ δίκαιοι. (Ἀπολλώνιος ὁ Τυανεύς epist. XVI p. 113 Herch., Orphic Critical Testimony 85)

“You think one ought to call “magicians” the philosophers from Pythagóras, just as you likewise also see those from Orphéfs (Ὀρφεύς). But I, then, think one ought to call those from anyone magicians, if they should be both holy and just.” (trans. by the author)

The Wikipedia article Magic in the Graeco-Roman World is quite good, but on one point, it is not at all correct. It describes Orphéfs (Orpheus, Ὀρφεύς) as a type of benign magician. Unfortunately, the reader will find this idea repeated in other articles on the Internet, but the evaluation is false. To be fair, the Wiki article cannot be blamed, for there are even ancient sources which call Orphéfs a magician, but is this true? The quotation above from Apollónios of Tyanéfs (Apollonius of Tyana, Ἀπολλώνιος ὁ Τυανεύς), would question that. As a matter of fact, if you look at the section above entitled What is magic?, you will read the story of Apollónios being accused of practicing magic, and at first denied initiation into the Mysteries on this account ... but the Mysteries are from Orpheus. So there is obviously some kind of contradiction here. Apollónios later proved that he was not a magician and was then admitted into the Mysteries. But you can clearly see that the Mysteries...intimately connected with Orphéfs and his disciple Mousaios...forbid magic.

It must be emphasized that the stories of Orphéfs are heavily mythologized, as should be obvious. Much of this literature is poetry and it should be easily recognized that the stories are lyrically exaggerated. This applies to all Greek mythology. Ællinismós is not like the Christian evangelicals who believe the Bible is literally true, but rather, we interpret our literature, for the mythology is clearly symbolic.

The religion of the great Theologian

Orphéfs is known as the great theologian (θεολόγος). He holds this title because he taught the theogony, the story of the genesis of the Gods. This narrative tells of the origin of the Kózmos and the reign of Six Kings, starting with Phánis (Φάνης). It describes in highly mystic language how Zefs (Ζεὺς) attains infinite freedom and re-creates the universe. He then designs a race of creatures. This is our universe, beautiful and magnificent, created as perfect as possible, but also filled with great pain and misery, for we are entangled in an involuntary circle of births (κύκλος γενέσεως) from which it is almost impossible to escape. Our suffering is not the will of Zefs, but, rather, an inevitable consequence of natural laws to which even Gods are constrained. Zefs knows all this. He feels and understands our sufferings, and in his vast compassion, devised a solution: he has conceived a son, Diónysos (Διόνυσος), who has powerful teachings which free us from the vicious circle of births. The practice of these Mysteries is the religion, a religion which is based entirely on compassion. This warm and living teaching, given by Gods, is a way of life which has the potential to transform the soul and set it free.

What does this above-described religion have to do with magic? Nothing. The character of this mythology is so entirely different from what we have been discussing, that it almost seems as if does not belong in this article. That is because it describes true religion. Yes, the story told is fantastic. It involves divine beings, and sons who castrate their fathers, and a divine prince whose heart continues beating and alive after being cut from his body, and his resurrection from the leg of Zefs. Strange stories. If you were to take it all literally, such a tale could not be accepted as true, but the theogony was never intended to be taken literally. Yet concealed in this story is great truth. Of course there are those who want to see any mythology as complete proof that religion is magic, on the grounds that the existence of Gods of any kind is unprovable. This is the atheistic point of view and if you hold that point of view, this author will not attempt to change it.

There is no “supernatural” in Orphism

Orphism is based on a philosophy of materialism, not hedonism, but literal philosophic materialism. Everything is material substance (Πρώτων ἀρχῶν Δαμάσκιου 123c bis {i. 317-19 R.}; = Orphic fragment 54) and based on the primordial Earth and Water. Not only is the earth material substance, but so also are the heavens, the soul, animals, rocks, and humans. Even the Gods are material substance. There is no supernatural anything, because everything is material and everything is nature. So in Orphism we say that the meaning of “supernatural” is illogical and therefore the word means nothing. Anything that happens in the Orphic religion happens in the natural world, as Orphism does not admit a supernatural anything. Magic is said to draw its power from a supernatural realm, but such a world does not exist in the purview of Orphism.

The singing of Orphéfs

Orphéfs is, perhaps, most famous for his association with music and song. It is said that with his singing he was able to mesmerize both man and beast. The Wiki article takes the position that the singing is somehow a form of magic, like a spell...but that is a strange and unfair idea. Why? Consider this: Orphéfs is sometimes compared to St. Francis of Assisi, who is said to have preached to animals who appeared to listen to him. I have never once heard anyone describe St. Francis of Assisi as a sorcerer. That is an absurd idea.

Anyone who sings while working in a secluded garden (such as myself), if you are a gentle person who sings sweetly, will notice that animals will sometimes stop and listen, particularly, if, through time, they learn that you are not a threat. Actually, they will frequently stop and listen. I have even had animals follow me as I sing in my garden, and I guarantee you that I have never practiced any magic in my entire life. And if you kindly talk to animals, sometimes they will actually listen; they appear to be amazed that you would do so. So not only do I think that it is absurd to call this magic, but I find it completely plausible that animals are mesmerized by any gentle person’s singing. I have a friend who had a neighbor that was so patient and gentle, that, not only did he feed the squirrels in his yard, but they actually walked all over him as he was doing so. Yes, of course the mythology describes Orphéfs as “mesmerizing” with his singing, but he was not casting spells on anyone.

Music generally has entrancing qualities, as should be well known, and some musicians and singers are quite adept at creating wondrous moods and atmosphere. I remember hearing the stories of the jazz and R&B singer Little Jimmie Scott. He became famous as a young man whose singing produced a most unusual phenomenon. It would begin in a performance when small groups of people would simultaneously start crying. This spread through the audience and soon the entire hall...hundreds of people...were weeping. Such is the ability of music. If it is magic, it is only metaphorically so, yet its power is quite real and amazing.

Orpheus and Eurydice

The Wiki article also gives, as an example of magic, the descent of Orphéfs to the Underworld bringing his wife back from the dead. To see this myth as an illustration of magic is another strange idea, and should certainly be rejected by anyone who studies mythology. There are many such stories of a descent into the Underworld (κατάβασις) followed by an ascent (ἀνάβασις). These are not magic, but are symbolic of deep things in religion.

The common story is told by Virgil and Ovid and others. In this myth, Evrydíki (Eurydice, Εὐρυδίκη), who has just married Orphéfs, is fatally bitten by a poisonous snake and dies. When Orphéfs discovers this, he decides to go to Ádis (Hades, ᾍδης)” and Pærsæphóni (Proserpine, Περσεφόνη) and attempt to receive permission to bring his wife back to the land of the living. Pærsæphóni is so delighted with his singing that she prods Ádis, her husband, to grant Orphéfs' request. He does so, but with a stipulation: Evrydíki is to follow behind Orphéfs. He is not to turn around and look upon her before ascending to the land of the living. Of course, as we all know, Orphéfs fails. He turns around and loses his Evrydíki forever, for the dead cannot come back to life. This is the natural law.

Some scholars argue that there must have been an earlier version of this myth in which Orphéfs succeeds in bringing his wife back from the dead. They cite a number of quotations from ancient literature which could be read that way, but not convincingly. Most of the quotations in question can be found in Note 1.

No, the dead do not come back to life. Orphéfs taught the Mysteries (Μυστήρια) of Diónysos (Dionysus, Διόνυσος) which transform the soul and free it from the circle of births. Yes, it could be said that the soul is “dead” because it is entombed in a mortal body, and it is “brought back to life” when it is freed from this cycle, but this has nothing to do with reviving a dead corpse. The freeing of the soul from its “tomb” is symbolic of the power of religion, not magic. The very word Mysteries misleads many people. Μυστήρια means “secret rites.” The Mysteries are not magical things, but secret and deep teachings. The Mysteries are the deepest meaning of the religion, the very heart of the religion, and they have nothing whatsoever to do with what people call magic.

The opinion of Plátôn concerning Orphéfs

Magic was regarded negatively and thought of as fraudulent and potentially dangerous. This can be found in the writings of great thinkers from antiquity. Plátôn in The Republic describes how gullible people are tricked by faulty rhetoric and magical rituals:

“And mendicant prophets go to rich men’s doors and persuade them that they have a power committed to them by the Gods of making an atonement for a man’s own or his ancestor’s sins by sacrifices or charms, with rejoicings and feasts; and they promise to harm an enemy, whether just or unjust, at a small cost; with magic arts and incantations binding heaven, as they say, to execute their will.” (Πολιτεία Πλάτωνος 2.364b-c, trans. Jowett, 1892)

Just a short while further, the dialogue goes on to describe fraudulent teachers bearing books by Orphéfs (Ὀρφεύς) and Mousaios (Μουσαῖος) tricking those who hear, into paying for rituals and mysteries to redeem them from the pains of hell:

“And they produce a host of books written by Musaeus and Orpheus, who were children of the Moon and the Muses --- that is what they say --- according to which they perform their ritual, and persuade not only individuals, but whole cities, that expiations and atonements for sin may be made by sacrifices and amusements which fill a vacant hour, and are equally at the service of the living and the dead; the latter sort they call mysteries, and they redeem us from the pains of hell, but if we neglect them no one knows what awaits us.” (Πολιτεία Πλάτωνος 2.364e-365a, trans. Jowett, 1892)

The above quotations are often cited as evidence that Plátôn disapproved of the teachings of Orphéfs, that these teachings were magical and fraudulent. If you read the quotations carefully, Plátôn is not speaking of Orphéfs, but he is condemning those who misrepresent the Theologian and his teachings, for it is well-known that Plátôn borrowed heavily from Orphism for some of his most seminal ideas.

The astrological and magical texts

In the book Orphicorum Fragmenta, for almost a century the most complete collection of Orphic fragments, Professor Otto Kern includes a number of texts on astrology and magic. It is the opinion of author that not a single one of these texts were written by Orpheus. See this page for an explanation of why this is so: The astrological and magical texts of Orpheus

The question of the Lithiká

The Lithiká (Lithica, Λιθικά) is a poem written either in antiquity or late antiquity, of uncertain authorship, discussing the magical qualities of gems. The name Orphéfs has been linked with this poem. It is offered as proof that Orphism is connected with magic. I ask the reader to peruse the poem. You will find no Orpheus there. His name is not mentioned even once in the text, therefore, for this and reasons of content, the Lithiká will not be discussed here.

"However, it (the Lithiká) does not really deserve a place in a discussion of Orphic literature, since it says nothing about Orpheus and makes no pretence of being by him. His name had become attached to it by the time of Tzetzes." (The Orphic Poems by M. L. West, Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford & New York, 1983, p. 36)


One thing is absolutely certain: if you define magic as something which is above nature, as super-natural, such magic is impossible from the Orphic perspective. There is nothing above nature, for nature is the Kózmos (Cosmos, Κόσμος), and, by definition, includes everything. Even the Gods are within nature. This is why, in the Orphic religion, we avoid the word spiritual, because this word implies a realm beyond nature. According to Orphéfs, everything is material substance. Even the Gods are material substance. There are certain theologies which create problems for themselves and for human beings, with the idea of a realm which is above nature. Such ideas condemn the body and create psychological problems for people who are commanded to deny their very nature. When taken to extreme, the true believer flees to asceticism, which has the tendency to pervert the human psychology, and those who fail to subdue their bodies become submissives to a cruel god who demands their penance. We can see this in the later forms of Platonism which try to separate material from νοῦς (mind). And it is this form of philosophy and religion which greatly influenced Christian theology. Such theology distorts value, such that, for instance, any human activity which in any way involves sex is amplified beyond its real value, because sex reminds us of our material nature better than almost any other thing. Such a religion requires magic which gives access to a non-material realm which can forgive us for being human and save us from our sins of materialism. So we make an incantation and expect the supernatural god to cleanse us of what we are naturally. But there is no supernatural god; if he exists, he exists within nature, and if he exists, this author hardly believes he is so very cruel as to so enslave his creation.

Likewise, if there really is legitimate magic, it must exist within nature. There may be such a thing as genuine magic, but there is no-one who has such an ability now, so it is believed by those who taught this author the religion. Perhaps in the future; perhaps in the past. Such magic, real magic (μαγεία), has no need of spells and incantations, and bears no resemblance to anything which is called magic in the modern world, because it is not the same thing. In truth, it is awkward to even use the word “magic” in this way because its original meaning has been lost. Such genuine magic is only accessible to Gods (Θέοι) and Demigods (Ἡμίθεοι), beings on the cusp of deification. These souls are in such great harmony with nature (φύσις) that they have completely identified with it. They have become one with nature. Because they have become nature, they have control over it. To say that you can perform magic is saying that you are such a being, that you have such an enormous progression of soul that you can control the powers of nature (δυνάμεις φύσεως). This is what I have been taught, that genuine magic is the possession of Gods and Demigods, and that the real magic is inaccessible to human beings. The other kind of magic (γοητεία) is something else, and whatever power it possesses is not the same. In genuine religion, you will not find this magic. Yes, there are, obviously, people who practice religion yet also dabble in magic, but magic, as it is ordinarily understood, is not the same as religion. In the tradition taught to this author, it is incompatible, forbidden, and even forbidden to teach those who practice it. To pursue magic is to divert your energies from the true path of religion, to invite yourself to become lost. True religion is to align one’s self with the providence of Zeus. What is the providence of Zeus? is compassion for mankind and for all things, and this has nothing to do with magic.

The purpose of this article is to present an opinion. The idea of magic being connected with the religion has become so commonplace in the modern Ællinismós that it was felt necessary to present an alternate point of view. All people have freedom and it is their right to use their own judgement as to whether it is wise to mingle magic with religion.


1. The following quotations are offered by some scholars as proof that there must have been a version of the myth where Orphéfs succeeds in bringing back Evrydíki to life, but when examined carefully, they prove nothing. Each quotation states that Orphéfs leads his wife back, but in reality, these authors are just simply not completing the thought, because there was no need to do so. Of course Orphéfs was bringing her up, this is part of the myth, but he loses her in the end. These authors did not feel the need to state what everyone knew, as the conclusion of the story would have been very familiar to any ancient reader, and explicitly stating it would interrupt the poetic flow of their writing:

Isokrátis (Isocrates, Ἰσοκράτης, 436-338 BCE) Βούσιρις Ἰσοκράτους 11.8

ἢ τοῖς Ὀρφέως ἔργοις ὁμοιώσωμεν; ἀλλ᾽ ὁ μὲν ἐξ Ἅιδου τοὺς τεθνεῶτας ἀνῆγεν, ὁ δὲ πρὸ μοίρας τοὺς ζῶντας ἀπώλλυεν.

“Are we to compare his (Βουσίρεως) works to those of Orpheus? who led the dead up from Áïdis (Hades, Ἅιδης), while (Βούσιρις) slew the living before their day of destiny.” (trans. by the author)

The poet Móskhos (Moschus, Μόσχος, approx. 150 BCE) writes:

κῶς Ὀρφέϊ πρόσθεν ἔδωκεν ἁδέα φορμίζοντι παλίσσυτον Εὐρυδίκειαν, καὶ σὲ Βίων πέμψει τοῖς ὤρεσιν.

“Even as once she (Περσεφόνη) granted Orpheus his Eurydicè’s return because he harped so sweetly, so likewise she shall give my Bion back unto the hills...” (Ἐπιτάφιος Βίωνος Μόσχου, trans. J. M. Edmonds, 1912)

The tragedian Evripídis (Euripides, Εὐριπίδης 480-406 BCE) puts the following words in the mouth of Ádmitos (Admetus, Ἄδμητος):

εἰ δ᾽ Ὀρφέως μοι γλῶσσα καὶ μέλος παρῆν,

ὥστ᾽ ἢ κόρην Δήμητρος ἢ κείνης πόσιν

ὕμνοισι κηλήσαντά σ᾽ ἐξ Ἅιδου λαβεῖν,

κατῆλθον ἄν, καί μ᾽ οὔθ᾽ ὁ Πλούτωνος κύων

οὔθ᾽ οὑπὶ κώπῃ ψυχοπομπὸς ἂν Χάρων

ἔσχον, πρὶν ἐς φῶς σὸν καταστῆσαι βίον.

“But if the tongue of Orpheus and his strain were mine, so that invoking with hymns the daughter of Ceres (Περσεφόνη the daughter of Δημήτηρ) or her husband (ᾍδης), I could receive thee from the shades below, I would descend, and neither the dog of Pluto, nor Charon at his oar, the ferryman of departed spirits, should stay me before I brought thy life to the light.” (Ἄλκηστις Εὐριπίδου 357-362, trans. Theodore Alois Buckley, 1892)

An ancient scholiast on the above lines states:

Ὀρφέως γυνὴ Εὐρυδίκη, ἧς ἀποθανούσης ὑπὸ ὄφεως κατελθὼν καὶ τῇ μουσικῇ θέλξας τὸν Πλούτωνα καὶ τὴν Κόρην, αὐτὴν ἀνήγαγεν ἐξ Ἅιδου.

“Evrydíki (Euridice, Εὐρυδίκη), the spouse of Orphéfs (Orpheus, Ὀρφεύς), dying of a snake, having descended and charmed Ploutohn and Kóri with music, he himself led her up from Ádis (Hades, ᾍδης).” (trans. by the author)

In the Dialogues of the Dead (Νεκρικοὶ Διάλογοι Λουκιανού) Section 28 (sometimes numbered 23) Loukianós (Lucian, Λουκιανός) makes it clear that while Love is a factor, Ádis also listens to Pærsæphóni (Proserpine, Περσεφόνη) in these matters. In this dialogue, Protæsílaos (Protesilaus, Πρωτεσίλαος), the hero from Iliás (Iliad, Ἰλιάς) had left for battle the day of his marriage, but he has now been killed. His soul approaches Ploutohn (Pluto, Πλούτων), asking that his life be restored for just an hour to spend with his wife. Ploutohn is not so helpful until Pærsæphóni intervenes:


Πρωτεσίλαος: ἀναμνήσω σε, ὦ Πλούτων· Ὀρφεῖ γὰρ δἰ αὐτὴν ταύτην τὴν αἰτίαν τὴν Εὐρυδίκην παρέδοτε καὶ τὴν ὁμογενῆ μου Ἄλκηστιν παρεπέμψατε Ἡρακλεῖ χαριζόμενοι.

Πλούτων: θελήσεις δὲ οὕτως κρανίον γυμνὸν ὢν καὶ ἄμορφον τῇ καλῇ σου ἐκείνῃ νύμφῃ φανῆναι· πῶς δὲ κἀκείνη προσήσεταί σε οὐδὲ δυναμένη διαγνῶναι; φοβή σεται γὰρ εὖ οἶδα καὶ φεύξεταί σε καὶ μάτηνἔσῃ τοσαύτην ὁδὸν ἀνεληλυθώς.

Περσεφόνη: οὐκοῦν, ὦ ἄνερ, σὺ καὶ τοῦτο ἴασαι καὶ τὸν Ἑρμῆν κέλευσον, ἐπειδὰν ἐν τῷ φωτὶ ἤδη ὁ Πρωτεσίλαος ᾖ, καθικόμενον ἐν τῇ ῥάβδῳ νεανίαν εὐθὺς καλὸν ἀπεργάσασθαι αὐτόν, οἷος ἦν ἐκ τοῦπαστοῦ.

Πλούτων: ἐπεὶ Φερσεφόνῃ συνδοκεῖ, ἀναγαγὼν τοῦτον αὖθις ποίησον νυμφίον· σὺ δὲ μέμνησο μίαν λαβὼν ἡμέραν.

28. (23) PROTÆSÍLAOS, PLOUTOHN AND PÆRSÆPHÓNI (trans. H. W. and F. G. Fowler, 1905)

Protæsílaos: Bethink thee, Pluto. 'Twas for this same cause that ye gave Orpheus his Eurydice; and Heracles had interest enough to be granted Alcestis; she was of my kin.

Ploutohn: Would you like to present that bare ugly skull to your fair bride? will she admit you, when she cannot tell you from another man? I know well enough; she will be frightened and run from you, and you will have gone all that way for nothing.

Pærsæphóni: Husband, doctor that disease yourself: tell Hermes, as soon as Protesilaus reaches the light, to touch him with his wand, and make him young and fair as when he left the bridal chamber.

Ploutohn: Well, I cannot refuse a lady. Hermes, take him up and turn him into a bridegroom. But mind, you sir, a strictly temporary one.

Perhaps the most compelling of these quotations comes from Marcus Manilius (1st century CE) which states that Orphéfs defeats death. I would argue that this quotation is not referring so much to the myth of Orphéfs and Evrydíki, but rather, it refers to the teachings of Orphéfs, which are the Mysteries of Diónysos, Mysteries which free the soul from the circle of births. In other words, there will be no more death:

qua quondam somnumque fretis Oeagrius Orpehus et sensus scopulis et silvis addidit aures et Diti lacrimas et morti denique finem.

“(with his lyre) Orphéfs, son of Íagros (Oeagrus, Οἴαγρος), once gave sleep to the waves and feeling to rocks and ears to the forests and finally the end of death.” (trans. by the author)

Please visit this page: Glossary of Magic in Ancient Greek Language.

Please also see: Divination in Ancient Greek Religion.

The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Theogony.

We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology.

Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

Introduction to the Thæí (the Gods): The Nature of the Gods.

How do we know there are Gods? Experiencing Gods.

What are the Orphic Fragments? The Orphic Fragments of Otto Kern.

This logo is the principal symbol of this website. It is called the CESS logo, i.e. the Children of the Earth and the Starry Sky. The Pætilía (Petelia, Πετηλία) and other golden tablets having this phrase (Γῆς παῖς εἰμί καὶ Οὐρανοῦ ἀστερόεντος) are the inspiration for the symbol. The image represents this idea: Earth (divisible substance) and the Sky (continuous substance) are the two kozmogonic substances. The twelve stars represent the Natural Laws, the dominions of the Olympian Gods. In front of these symbols is the seven-stringed kithára (cithara, κιθάρα), the lyre of Apóllôn (Apollo, Ἀπόλλων). It (here) represents the bond between Gods and mortals and is representative that we are the children of Orphéfs (Orpheus, Ὀρφεύς).

PLEASE NOTE: Throughout the pages of this website, you will find fascinating stories about our Gods. These narratives are known as mythology, the traditional stories of the Gods and Heroes. While these tales are great mystical vehicles containing transcendent truth, they are symbolic and should not be taken literally. A literal reading will frequently yield an erroneous result. The meaning of the myths is concealed in code. To understand them requires a key. For instance, when a God kills someone, this usually means a transformation of the soul to a higher level. Similarly, sexual union with a God is a transformation.

The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Theogony.

We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology.

Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

SPELLING: uses the Reuchlinian method of pronouncing ancient Greek, the system preferred by scholars from Greece itself. An approach was developed to enable the student to easily approximate the Greek words. Consequently, the way we spell words is unique, as this method of transliteration is exclusive to this website. For more information, visit these three pages:

Pronunciation of Ancient Greek

Transliteration of Ancient Greek

Pronouncing the Names of the Gods in Hellenismos

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