8- 4th Theurgical Operation: Theurgic Ascent
We now come to the last, and most advanced, theurgic operation, the Theourgikê Anagôgêor Theurgic Ascent (also known as the Hieratic Ascent). Althoughthe procedures are similar to the operations already discussed, inparticular Desmos kai Eklusis, thereis a crucial difference between Ascent and all the other operations,for in those operations the Divinity is always experienced as "other,"but by means of the Anagôgê you ascend so that your soul,so far as is possible for a mortal, unites with a God. In thisway you experience deification(theôsis).
Thus the goal of theurgic ascent is union (henôsis) with a God. This may be any God, including even the Demiurge and The Ineffable One (an especially difficult operation). By means of this union you may experience your own inherent divinity and your continuity with The One, and thus, by means of the union, come to be in better harmony with Providence. Consciously experiencing your participation in Providence gives meaning to life.
The stages of the Theurgic Ascent are essentially similar to those of the Contemplative and Erotic Ascents, but the Theurgic Ascent makes more use of ritual (material substances and actions). Therefore, it may be effective when the other, more interior, ascents are not.
By the principle of like knows like, it is the image of The One in your own soul (called the Flower of the Whole Soul, Anthos Pasês tês Psukhês) that is able to unite with The Inefffable One. (See "Personal Daimones" previous pages on the Flower of the Soul.) By means of this "knowledge through identification," your individual One comes to participate more perfectly in The One Itself. This is the turn back toward the One (the ultimate source), known as the Epistrophê(Return; recall "Triadic Structure" in Part I), by which your soul becomes the energeia actualizing the power (dunamis) of the One. This is our destiny.
To accomplish the ascent, the parts of your soul that are more like The One must be separated from those that are less like It. This separation is accomplished by a symbolic death: "dying before you die." Before describing the procedure it is necessary to explain that the ascent is a cooperative activity beween the Initiate (masc. Tetelesménos, femn. Tetelesménê), who makes the ascent, and an Initiator (Telesiourgós) or Theurgist (Theourgós), who usually has (human) assistants. (As for Desmos, it is possible, but difficult, for a Theurgist-Initiate to make the ascent on their own.)
Step 1: Purification and Protection
Preparatory to the ascent is the Purification (Kátharsis) of the Soul, its Vehicle (ókhêma), and the Body. The principal goal is to facilitate the ascent by making the initiate as similar to the Gods as possible. Purification of the body may include a ritual bath (as in Desmos), sexual abstinence, and dietary restrictions or prescriptions, as appropriate to the Deity. The bath corresponds to the washing of the corpse, and after it the initiate dresses in a khitôn termióeis (funeral robe), which is a loose ankle-length tunic, white or mostly white in color. In addition, the initiate is purified by Burning Brimstone and is annointed with olive oil and other perfumed unguents. These preparations also will facilitate purification of the soul's vehicle, the goal being to make it "well-wheeled" (eútrokhon) for the ascent. Purification of the soul is directed toward quieting the lower parts of the soul, which do not ascend. To this end, the techniques described under "Contemplative Ascent" are appropriate. Clearly, these skills are not developed overnight; some of them require a lifetime of practice.
While, on the one hand, purification is intended to eliminate those influences that may impede the ascent, on the other hand we aid the ascent by means of sumbola and sunthêmata appropriate to the Deity who is our goal. Physical sunthêmata may be worn, ingested, or placed in the ritual area. Nonphysical sunthêmata, such as hymns, prayers, and chants, will be recited out loud or in the initiate's mind as the ascent proceeds.
Intermediate between purfications and sumbola are the apotrópaia, or averting charms, whose purpose is to ward off the Material Daimones, known as the Dogs of Hekate, for She is
the Driver of the Dogs of Water, Earth, and Air. (C.O. fr. 91)
(For more on Hekate, see Pt. II, "Hekate" and "Mediating Spirits" above.) The Material Daimones are not hostile, as is sometimes supposed, but it is their function in the Cosmos to carry forth the Ideas into material embodiment. Thus, in the ascent we oppose Their natural activity, and therefore They must be placated.
While the Material Daimones are agents of Procession (Próödos), the Heroes are agents of the Return (Epistrophê). Therefore, the Heroes, especially Heracles (see "Examples of Heroization" in "Fire" in Opsopaus, AGEDE), may be invoked to keep the Material Daimones at bay and to facilitate the ascent. This will be more effective if, through a prior Sustasis, you have recruited the Hero as a Paredros.
An apotrópaion may be a physical charm hung or tied on the initiate (called a períapton, "tied-on thing"), or it may be less material: an apotropaic prayer, chant, or hymn. The principles of sumbola and sunthêmata apply. In this way the initiate is "well-equipped" for the ascent, "all-armored" (pánteukhos) in Plato's terms (Laws VII, 796C1). Using the same word, Hekate Herself sets the example in the Chaldean Oracles (fr. 72): for now, equipped, all-armored, I have come Divine.
Step 2: Symbolic Death and Dissolution
The next step is a symbolic Thánatos Authaíretos (Voluntary Death) followed by a Funeral (Kêdeía, Kêdos) and symbolic Burial (Entaphiasmós). The procedure derives from an esoteric interpretation of the funeral of Patroclus in the Iliad (XVIII.343-53). The initiators (theurgist and assistants) have spread a bier cloth (strôma) over the garlanded bier (klínê) on which the initiate will be layed out. (The klinê is a waist-high, cushioned platform, but an ordinary bed or mats on the floor will work.) The klinê is oriented with the feet towards the (principal) door, if indoors, or towards the East, if out of doors, for the dead go to the Otherworld feet-first.
For the Próthesis (Laying Out) the initiate lays upon the bier with their head on a pillow (see illustration). The initiators spread the kosmos, a predominantly white funeral mantle, over the initiate; the kosmos (or pharos) represents Mother Earth, in which the initate's body will be buried (see Pt. II, "The Wedding" on the kosmos-pharos). The initiators station themselves around the bier, with the theurgist at the initiate's head. When the initiate has prepared themself for the voluntary death, they pull the kosmos over their face. The assistants begin their lamentation, but the theurgist interrupts it, saying something like this:
Euphêmeíte! Keep sacred silence! "What is this strange outcry?" [Phaedo 117D] Let there be no such lamentation, for [Initiate's name] has chosen die while yet in their body. "One's End [teleutê] ought to be in sacred silence" [Phaedo 117D, a Pythagorean precept].
There follows the Anakaluptêria (Uncovering), in which the theurgist uncovers the initiate's face. The initiate's head is uncovered because it is the residence of their immortal nous, which resides in the round cranium just as the Divine Nous resides in the Celestial Sphere. After some additional funerary rites, the initiators begin to sing chants and hymns while they process around the bier.
For the Entaphiasmós (Burial) the initiators return to their places around the initiate. The theurgist symbolically buries the initiate by tossing three handfuls of earth on them; the earth prevents the initiate's body from polluting the Divine Realms and permits its dissolution and separation from the initiate's soul.
Next is a very important operation called Breathing and Thrusting Forth the Soul (Anapnoê kai Psukhês Éxôsis). The theurgist grasps the initiate's head on both sides (see illustration) and invokes the Winds and Rays of the Spheres to fan the fire to separate the initiate's soul and body. Then the theurgist admonishes the initiate to shield themselves with Sounding Light and Three-barbed Strength in preparation for scaling the Rays. The thurgist might say: "My child, when thou hast donned the Vigor full-arrayed of Sounding Light, and hast equipped thy nous and soul with Three-barbed Strength, then cast the Triad’s whole Sign in thy breast, and haunt Empyrean channels, not dispersed, but gathered in." (C.O. fr. 2) The theurgist begins to call forth the initiate's soul, invoking the Three-barbed Strength, the Soul Spark born of the Father's Thought, to draw their soul forth from their body. He declares the initiate to be clothed in Shining Raiments, girded by the Substance of the Spheres, and bids them to concentrate their nous upon the sumbola and sunthêmata, and calls their soul to come forth to scale the Fiery Rays. The theurgist continues with various magical formulas to evoke the soul, and the assistants begin singing chants and hymns to aid the separation. While the theurgist calls forth the soul, the initiate focuses on their breath and begins to breathe more deeply and quickly, in time with the chanting or music.
Step 3: Ascent Through the Spheres
Through the following stages the assistants, under direction of the theurgist, adjust their chanting, singing, or other music to aid the elevation of the initiate's soul. Henceforth the initiate may breath through the mouth and intone the vowel chants, Onoma Barbara, and Voces Magicae selected to aid their ascent.
After an initial phase of relaxation, the initiate may experience opposition from the Material Daimones. By attention to the Three-barbed Strength and other sunthêmata of The One, and by appeal to the Heroes and Kosmagoi (Rulers of the Three Realms) the ascent through the aetherial spheres may proceed. (See Pt. III, "Iunges, Teletarchs, and Connectors," on the Kosmagoi.) In each of the planetary spheres the initiate gives up (sacrifices) one of the outer/lower layers of their soul. Eventually a new peace is attained, as the initiate rests at the Gate of the Sun.
Once the initiate has ascended above the aetherial sphere, they should focus on chanting the sunthêmata in their mind rather than out loud, for they are ascending through the immaterial empyrean spheres. Here the initiate may encounter the Gods, who may assist the ascent. Visions of the Gods are possible.
Step 4: Unification (Henôsis)
Ultimately the initiate may ascend all the way to The Ineffable One. At this transcendent pinnacle they will be beyond duality, beyond language and conceptual thought, indeed beyond all differentiation and change. In this eternal realm, beyond time itself, this domain of Aiôn, the initiate experiences immortality and deification. (Recall our discussions of Aiôn in Part I, "Theogony," and Part III, "The Monad and the Indefinite Dyad.") Henôsis cannot be described; it must be experienced.
Step 5: Redescent
The Initiate cannot remain in the state of unification for very long, and when they sense its dissipation they must begin to redescend and to redon the layers of their outer soul. The trained theurgist will perceive that the initiate is falling from the unitive state and assist their redescent with appropriate formulas, chants, songs, prayers, and hymns. The methods of the theurgic Release (discussed above) can be used to help the initiate to re-ensoul their body.
When the descent is complete, the initiate is "unburied" (i.e., the Kosmos is removed) and they rise from the bier. The initiators welcome the reborn initiatewith joyous hymns of welcome and praise.
As a result of the ascent, the initiate is transformed, reborn with a new soul. Although they have returned to the material world, henceforth their soul retains roots planted in The One. With this permanent connection to the Transcendent Source of Divinity, the initiate henceforth consciously embodies divinity on earth.
The theurgic ascent is a difficult and hence infrequent rite, for which years of preparation may be required. But when it is successful, the initiate is transformed into a Theios Anêr (God-Man), one of the Perfected or Immaculate Beings (Akhrantoi), who by Their very presence on earth bring grace to humanity and to all of Nature.
This completes our discussion of Theurgy and hence our Summary of Pythagorean Theology. Vale!