4- Basic Principles of Theurgy

The Gods, which exist as Henads in the Monad (see Part III), proceed outward into manifestation, thereby becoming Living Ideas in the Nous of the Demiurge and giving rise to a lineage of Daimones and mortal human souls (see "Pythagorean Succession" on the first page). These Ideas descend through the World Soul, who births them into time and space to inform the material world. Thus all around us and in our souls we find the Forms and Ideas belonging to the Seirai(Chords) of the Gods; they are the material and means of theurgy, and our next topic.

Sumbola and Sunthêmata

When things that are enformed by the divine Ideas, whether they are found externally in physical reality or internally in psychical reality, are used in theurgy, they are called sumbola or sunthêmata. These words are often translated "symbols" and "tokens" or "signs," but we will understand better their role in theurgy if we begin by looking at their meanings in ancient Greek.

A súnthêma is something put together or devised (suntithêmi), an agreed upon signal, password, passport, indeed any token or sign. More generally, sunthêmamay refer to a pledge, covenant, or agreement, or to tokens of these relations. Further, it may refer to a communion or connection between two parties. Thus, in the context of theurgy a sunthêma is a password or sign, given to us by the Gods, in token of and to facilitate our communion with Them. Reread the preceding definition and try to grasp the full meaning of sunthêma, for it will help you understand the role of sunthêmata in theurgy.

A súmbolon brings together (sumballein) two things. We may begin with the most concrete meaning: in ancient times the parties to an agreement might break an astragalos (small bone), ostrakon (pottery shard), or coin into two pieces; the two parts, each retained by one of the parties, fit together like lock and key. So also a seal impression in wax or clay, such as made by a signet ring, is a sumbolon, a good metaphor (oft-repeated in antiquity) for the impression of the Forms on matter. The Material Form or Embodied Idea is the signature or imprimatur reflecting the sanction of the God. The sumbolon is a sign of goodwill, and thus in theurgy of a God's goodwill. The signet ring and like sumbola are proofs of identity, the passwords and secret signs that allow one to proceed and, in a theurgic context, to approach and contact the Gods. Such a password might take the form of signum and responsum, and so also in theurgy there is an interchange of signs. The God teaches the Signs; if the theurgist responds appropriately, they are admitted. So also, the sumbolon becomes a token of the agreement, treaty, or contract between the parties; here, between the God and theurgist. In particular, the sumbolon as secret sign leads to its meaning as allegory, omen, portent, or occult sign, and in these meanings we arrive at the English word "symbol." Again you should try to grasp the full range of meaning of sumbolon to understand the role of sumbola in theurgy.

The sumbola and sunthêmata are in the Seirai of the Gods; they participate in the divine Forms or Ideas; they are in the Gods as the Gods are in them. They are found everywhere, as the Chaldean Oracles (fr. 108) attest:

Paternal Nous sows Sumbola throughout the World; He thinks the Thoughts, called Beauties Inexpressible.

Literally, the Nous intuits (noei) the Ideas (Noêta). Henceforth, in the context of theurgy, I will use the terms sumbolon and sunthêma synonymously.

Examples of Sumbola and Sunthêmata

Once you understand the general principles of sumbola and sunthêmata, you can see that they take many different forms: anything in the God's Seira, anything participating in the divine Idea.

A sumbolon may be material. For example, gold and golden colored objects (e.g., the stone citrine) are in the Seira of the Sun. So also animals, such as the cock, which welcomes the Sun, and plants, such as the heliotrope, which turns toward the Sun. Hot spices, such as cinnamon, are sumbola of the Sun, and may be used in ritual food, offerings, or incense. Obviously images of the Sun or of the God Helios participate in the Form of the Sun and may be used as sumbola. More abstractly, various kharaktêres - secret gestures, figures, and geometric shapes that participate in the divine Form - may be used. Such figures may be written, drawn, or engraved, or they may be uttered or otherwise enacted in time.

Sunthêmata need not be so material. For example, a poem or hymn to the Sun may serve as a sunthêma, as may various musical modes, melodies, or vocalizations ("magic words") that have occult sympathies with the Sun. Indeed, the sunthêmata need not be external at all, but may be constructed or imagined in the soul of the theurgist, and contemplated and offered to the Gods upon that most sacred altar.

Furthermore, since the Celestial Gods are important mediators by which the Ideas proceed into the sublunary world and by which we return to the Gods, so also astrological correspondences are important sumbola, and astrological considerations enter into the timing of theurgic rites.

How does one learn a God's sumbola and sunthêmata? Sometimes they have been handed down by tradition and can be learned from ancient mythology as well as from more recent magical texts (such as Cornelius Agrippa's Three Books of Occult Philosophy), which tabulate correspondences. Such sources, however, cannot be accepted blindly: just because it's old doesn't mean it's correct! The more recent work of depth psychologists, such as Jung, can also be helpful, as can dictionaries of symbolism.

None of these sources can be accepted uncritically. At very least, they should be tested by your own intuition, for your individual nous participates in these same Ideas. (The Gods place the sumbola in our souls as well as in the material world.) In the final analysis, we must learn the sunthêmata from the GodsThemselves: They teach us the appropriate signa and responsa.

How do we learn them from the Gods? One of the principal ways is by theurgy, which is therefore the means as well as the end. By theurgy we learn the rites and sunthêmata for more advanced theurgy. As a practical example, the Chaldean Oracles are the result of Julian the Theurgist (2nd or 3rd cent. CE) learning theurgical technique from Hekate Herself.

Theurgic Invocation

It is necessary to say a few words about theurgic invocation, for when we invoke the Gods we do not in any sense order Them to come to us. Nevertheless, the theurgist's actions, including the invocations, are instrumental in the God's arrival. This may be explained by analogy.

We cannot order the Sun to shine, but by uncovering and cleansing our windows we can allow the sunlight in. So also, you cannot order a God to come, but by proper theurgic cleansing of your soul, you may make it a suitable Receptacle (Dokhê) for the God's presence.

To change the analogy somewhat, light follows its own law and the sunlight contains all the colors. You cannot command a certain color to descend from the Sun, but you can put a colored filter over a window to admit only one color, bathing everything in that hue. Or you can paint an object or make it of a material that reflects only one color; for example a golden object manifests the yellow light in the Sun's rays. That is, you can, by appropriately skilled means, create a Receiver (Dokhê) that is "tuned" to a particular color like a radio receiver is tuned to a radio frequency.

So also in theurgy. Although all the Gods are everywhere, like the colors in the sunlight, we may arrange suitable receivers or receptacles that are tuned to a particular God. This tuning is accomplished by means of the God's sumbola. Like one half of a sunthêma, they match and engage the God's energy, causing it to resonate and reflect, illuminating the world and our souls with this energy.

Like all analogies, these are imperfect and should not be taken too literally. Nevertheless, it's astonishing how much theurgy can be learned from them, and the student will be rewarded for contemplating them carefully.


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