Ritual: The Worship of the Gods in Hellenismos



What is Thæouryía?

Thæouryía (Theurgy; Gr. θεουργία, ΘΕΟΥΡΓΙΑ. Etym. θεός, "divine" + ἔργον, "work") Thæouryía or theurgy is divine work, the communication and interaction between Gods and men in ritual. Much has been made of this term but in the words of Damáskios (Damascius; Gr. Δαμάσκιος), it's meaning is very simple:

"As for theurgy, which is the worship of the Gods..." [1]

Thæouryía is only possible when there is true participation between Gods and men. Such participation can only occur when there exists a great attraction to the Gods which arises freely from the soul of man; in return, this same power reciprocally descends from the Gods upon us, but many times greater, for such is their capacity. This attraction, this great power, is called Ǽrohs (Eros; Gr. Ἔρως). When ritual is a mere formality, it is empty and is called thriskeia (threskia; Gr. θρησκεία), i.e. religion. This is why Ællinismόs (Hellenismos; Gr. Ἑλληνισμός), the ancient Greek religion, is sometimes not actually called religion but is described more as a way of life. We can experience Gods in our daily life, but thæouryía is the formal means by which we worship, communicate with, and experience the Gods and, as such, it is one of the Four Pillars of Ællinismόs.

Thæouryía and Magic

Thæouryía has been associated with mayeia (μαγεία), magic, because if the participant is sufficiently progressed, such an individual may have the ability to work with natural laws. These laws are under the dominion of the Blessed Gods and since thæouryía is communication with the Gods, union with the power of nature is possible. It is a misunderstanding to think that thæouryía has anything to do with mundane superstition, practices which are called in ancient Greek goïteia (goetia; Gr. γοητεία), sorcery or black magic. Goïteia should be viewed as manganeia (Gr. μαγγανεία), which is trickery. In the practice of thæouryía, we are speaking of genuine magic, when we speak of such a thing at all. The word mayeia is etymologically related to the root mǽgas (megas; Gr. μέγᾰς), which means "great" or "high." Such magic is great because its source is the Deathless Gods; any other so-called magic is false because the Gods cannot be compelled to act for the self-serving designs of the mundane. The way to differentiate between mayeia and goïteia is that genuine mayeia is entirely selfless, for it occurs through the will of the Gods; genuine mayeia is performed only as is necessary, and then too, purely for the benefit of others. Goïteia, on the other hand, is trivial, self-serving, and devoid of the blessings of the Gods. But all such discussion of magic is a waste of time because the genuine practice of mayeia has been lost; all that remains is goïteia, and goïteia is sacrilegious and is árritos (Gr. ἄρρητος): forbidden.

Genuine thæouryía is not magic: we cannot force the Gods to appear through prayers and incantations; if that were so, then such beings which appeared could not possibly be Gods, but could only be deception. Thæouryía is worship and, by means of our love, we invite the Gods to come. Thæouryía occurs in a field of mutual freedom enjoyed between Gods and mortals. Thæouryía is dependent on Freedom and the reciprocity of genuine Ǽrohs.

The word Thæouryía in other contexts

The term thæouryía is disliked by modern reconstructionists who do not think of theurgy as simple ritual, but rather identify it with various magical practices, including some which claim the ability to compel Gods to do the will of the practitioner. There are legitimate reasons why the reconstructionists associate the word with these practices. But as described above in the discussion of mayeia, such a use of thæouryía is entirely spurious and sacrilegious. The word seems to be of somewhat late origin, from the Neoplatonic tradition, and it is particularly identified with the philosopher Iámvlikhos (Iamblichus; Gr. Ἰάμβλιχος), while not being confined to his legacy. As such, thæouryía is sometimes contrasted with thæohría (theoria; Gr. θεωρία), the Neoplatonic idea of contemplation as developed by and associated with the philosopher Plohtínos (Plotinus; Gr. Πλωτῖνος). Much can be said of these ideas, but that is the subject of another discussion, as we are not defining thæouryía quite the same as the Neoplatonists.

The word thæouryía is used by teachers in Greece associated with this author; they use it in its pure form, and that is how we use it, and it is because they use it that we do not abandon the word, despite the fact that it is a somewhat troublesome term because of the various negative meanings which have become attached to it through the centuries. Therefore, it is worthwhile to repeat in order to be completely clear: thæouryía is the formal practice of ritual by means of which we communicate with the Gods. Even more simply, thæouryía is a ceremony to worship and pray to the Gods. At the same time, it is not merely thriskeia (Gr. θρησκεία), the outward expression of religion, because thæouryía is active and powerful and accomplishes its goal. It is the means by which we celebrate and participate in divinity and the workings of the Kózmos (Cosmos; Gr. Κόσμος), and the means by which divinity works with us. Because we communicate with the Gods in ritual, and there is an interchange which involves influence, thæouryía is called divine work, which is the meaning of the word itself.

The Privacy of Orphic Ritual

In our tradition, the rituals are viewed as so very sacred that they may not be displayed publicly. Why is this? Because, as we have already discussed, ritual, thæouryía, is the formal means by which we communicate with the Blessed Gods, those mighty beings of surpassing power, majesty, and purity. And our communication with the Gods is intimate and private. There are things that occur between those who love each other that are improper to be exposed in public. We do not put our rituals on display. They are not meant for the eyes of the casual onlooker who has no understanding of what they see, and it is proper for those who are privy to the rituals to keep them from those who may mock them. Thæouryía is for those sincere and well-meaning individuals who desire it with pure heart, those who respect what it is and who are willing to take the time and energy to learn the background foundation of knowledge which makes their meaning comprehensible. If someone desires these rituals for the right reasons and is willing to earn them through study, such an individual will not be prevented from having them, for it is wrong to hinder them on their journey.

The Rites of Thæouryía

In the thæouryía of Orphismós we have rites. These rites are called tælætai (Gr. τελεταί); a rite (singular) is called a tælætí (telete; Gr. τελετή). While there is the potential of infinite tælætai, all the rites follow a particular form consisting of certain logical conventions. We have discussed the privacy of thæouryía, nonetheless, there are some things which may be said, mostly because they are already known.

We maintain a specific altar and use many objects to represent sacred things, objects such as statues corresponding to the blessed Gods. We use candles, sometimes also to represent Gods and the great light which emanates from them; we also hold candles to represent the torches of the Mystíria, torches such as those held by Dimítir (Demeter; Gr. Δημήτηρ) as she went in search of her daughter Pærsæphóni (Persephone; Gr. Περσεφόνη) assisted by the Goddess Ækáti (Hekate; Gr. Ἑκάτη). We employ decorative cups such as the kýlix (Gr. κύλιξ) to pour offerings to our Gods. Sometimes we utilize unique ritual items such as the kǽrnos (kernos; Gr. κέρνος), a multi-cupped offering vessel associated with the tælætai of the Mystíria. And to make our altar pleasing, we decorate it with beautiful flowers and little votive offerings and other sundry items.

Like everyone in Ællinismόs, we wash our hands before commencing in order to be appropriate as we stand before the Gods, to purify our hands and face of dirt and as a tool to help us remember to be of pure heart as we worship the Gods and to try to attain a well-meaning disposition. And as is customary in Orphismós, we recite the famous phrase before commencing the tælætí forbidding entry to the profane and welcoming those who are worthy and meritorious. This is how we prepare before the ritual begins.

In the ritual itself, we honor the Gods in a formal manner by reciting their hymns, specifically the Orphic Hymns. Other hymns are permissible, of course, for we are free, but the Orphic Hymns are given precedence and form the backbone of thæouryía because they embody the highest understanding of the Gods.

As is ubiquitous in Ællinismόs: all ritual begins with homage to the Goddess Æstía (Hestia; Gr. Ἑστία). Æstía is the Fire of Life; not only does she preside over the hearth of the home, but she is the Hearth of the Kózmos. As such, she officiates over all ritual; indeed, she instructs us in the holy rites; therefore, we recite her hymn at the commencement of every tælætí inviting her to preside over our holy work. We then continue and honor the deities associated with the the specific times of the year, as well as all the Gods we love; and we never neglect to honor Diónysos (Dionysus; Gr. Διόνυσος) and thus we recite his glorious hymn, for he is the Klironómos (Cleronomus; Gr. Κληρονόμος) to Zefs (Zeus; Gr. Ζεύς) and was conceived to free us from the sorrowful circle of births (κύκλος γενέσεως).

And we worship the Gods by making offerings to them, a practice which, again, is universal in all Ællinismόs. We make oblations of laurel leaves, the most customary offering in our tradition, but we also offer libations, incense, and other nice things, not to propitiate, but we give freely out of our love for the Gods. And we share in the offerings, just as the Titánæs (Titans; Gr. Τιτᾶνες) partook of the sacrifice of Zagréfs (Zagreus; Gr. Ζαγρεύς) as told in the Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony (See The Sixth King); indeed, our ritual is in imitation, in honor of this.

And we pray to the Gods to express our deep devotion, gratitude, and great passion towards them, and to request their assistance in our lives.

As we honor Æstía at the beginning of each tælætí, at the conclusion we pay homage to her glorious sister, Íra (Hera; Gr. Ἥρα), and also mighty Zefs (Zeus; Gr. Ζεύς), who is our father and the father of Gods as well.

These things may be said of thæouryía as such facts concerning Orphic ritual are generally known.

Please also visit this page of links concerning ritual: Worship and Ritual in the Hellenic Tradition

How do we know there are Gods? Experiencing Gods

Please visit this page for a dictionary of terms related to Theurgy: Glossary of Thæouryía.


[1] Damáskios Philosophos Istoria I.4, trans. Polymnia Athanassiadi 1999, as found in the publication entitled Damascius: The Philosophical History, 1999 Apamea Cultural Association (Athens, Greece), Oxbow Books (Oxford, England UK), and The David Brown Book Co. (Oakville, CT USA), where this quotation may be found on p. 79.

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

The logo to the left 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 Apóllohn (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, you will find fascinating stories. 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 often 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 Rhapsodic 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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