Chapter 13. Concerning the Mystic Rites

I think, therefore, that all who delight in the spectacle of Theurgic reality <sup>1</sup> will acknowledge this: that it is not proper to render to the gods partially or imperfectly the devotion which is rendered to them. Thus, therefore, before the gods make their appearance at the Rites, all the powers (potestates or daemons) that are subject to them, are set in motion; <sup>2</sup> and when the gods are about to move toward the earth, they come ahead and go before them in procession. He, therefore, who does not bestow on all of them what he should, and address every one according to the honor to which he is entitled, is made to go away uninitiated and disappointed of the participation with the gods. But he who propitiates them all, bringing to every one the gifts in his power that are most suitable and acceptable, always remains safe and without blame, having well and most carefully accomplished the reception of the divine chorus. <sup>3</sup>

Since, therefore, this is the case, which of the two is proper: that the ceremonial of the Sacred Rite shall be simple and consisting of a few particulars, or elaborate and adapted to every move – or, so to speak, as if from everything in the world mingled together? If, indeed, the power that is invoked and influenced by the Sacred Rite were simple and of one order alone, the ceremonial of the sacrifices would be of necessity also simple. But suppose the multitude of other powers (daemons and minor spiritual beings) that are aroused and set in motion at the descending of the gods can be included in no simple rite. The theurgists, from being experienced in the performances, are the only ones that know these things accurately, and they alone are able to cognize what constitutes the perfect celebration of the Sacred Ceremony. They are also aware that the omissions, though few, defeat the whole performance of the Sacred Rite, just as when in a harmony a single chord is broken, the whole becomes out of tune and discordant. <sup>4</sup>

As therefore, in the divine descents which are visible there occurs manifest injury to those who leave any of the superior beings unhonored, <sup>5</sup> so likewise when they are present at the sacrifices unseen it is not well to honor one and not another, but instead every one should be honored according to the order to which he is allotted. He who leaves any of them without a gift holds the whole thing fast and destroys the one and entire arrangement. He does not, as some may therefore imagine, make the reception an imperfect one, but, on the other hand, he absolutely overturns the whole purpose of the Sacred Rite.

What then? Does not the highest part of the Sacred Technic recur of itself to the One Supreme above the whole multitude of divinities, and yet at the same time worship in him the many essences and principalities?

Certainly, I may be answered, but this takes place at a very late period, and only with the exceedingly few; and if it comes at the very sunset of life, they are content. Our present discussion, however, does not set forth the law for a man of such character, for he is superior to all law; <sup>6</sup> but it establishes such a system of law for those who are in need of superior legislation. <sup>7</sup> It says accordingly, that as the universe is a system from many orders combined into one, so it is proper that the complete ceremonial of the Sacred Rites, unceasing and entire, shall be joined with the whole category of the superior races. Certainly, indeed, if the cosmos is manifold and entire, and is constituted in many orders, it is proper accordingly that the Sacred Performance shall copy its various features, because of all the powers which they present to view. <sup>8</sup> Hence, in relation to these and to the various kinds that are about us, it is not proper for us to be intimately connected with the divine causes (or beings) that are over them, from a part of the qualities in them. On the contrary, we should not aspire to be with their leaders, when anything on our part is omitted or incomplete.

The diversified mode of celebrating the Holy Rite in the Sacred Performances, therefore, not only purifies us, but it also makes perfect something of the defects in us or about us, establishes in harmony and order, and otherwise delivers us from faults of deadly character. <sup>9</sup> It likewise brings all into familiar relations with the races superior to us. And, certainly, when the divine causes and the human adaptations closely resembling them meet together to the same end, the initiation or Perfective Rite assures every full and ample benefit of the sacrifice.

It will not be amiss, however, to add such particulars as the following in order to give an accurate understanding in respect to these things. The divinities of the highest order have always a superabundance of power, and while it is superior to all it is at the same time present with them all equally without impediment. In conformity with this statement, therefore, the very first illuminate the last, and those who are superior to matter are present with those belonging with matter, but not after the manner of the world of matter.

Let no one be surprised even though we say that there is a certain matter that is pure and divine. For it originates from the Father and Demiurgos of the universe and possesses a completeness of its own suitable for a receptacle of gods. At the same time nothing obstructs the superior races from being able to illuminate the lower orders from their own substance. Nor does anything hold matter back from participating of the superior natures. So far as it is perfect, pure and evidently good it is not an unsuitable receptacle of the gods. <sup>10</sup> For as it is necessary that the races in the earth shall be in no respect deprived of a divine participation, the earth also receives a divine portion from it, which is sufficient to admit the gods.

The Theurgic discipline, therefore, recognizing these things and thus discovering in common with others the suitable receptacles of the gods according to the individual peculiarity of each, often joins together stones, plants, animals, and sacred aromatics, perfect and godlike, and afterward forms from all these a receptacle complete and pure. For it is not proper to be dissatisfied with everything material, but only with that which is repugnant to the gods. But that particular matter is to be chosen which is akin to them as capable of being in accord both in building the Houses of the gods, in the setting up of carved images, and, in fine, in the sacred ceremonial of sacrifices. For in no other manner can there be any participation in the receiving of the superior beings in places upon the earth or by human beings dwelling there unless such a beginning shall have been first established.

We ought; then, to confide in the arcane declarations, that by means of the holy spectacles, a certain principle of matter is transmitted from the gods. This matter without doubt is of the same nature with the very ones themselves by whom it is given. Hence, does not the sacrificing of such a kind of matter arouse the gods to the visible manifestation, invite them to come quickly to our perception, and likewise receive them when they are present and cause them to unfold them-selves perfectly to view?

The same things may also be learned from the assignment of the gods according to places, and from the division of authority over every particular thing, so far as they are assigned according to the different ranks, or the greater or lesser allotments. For this is certainly plain: that to the gods that are in large over particular places the things that are produced by them are the most, proper to be brought for sacrifice, and those that pertain to the governed are best suited for the divinities that govern. For to the makers their own works are most particularly gratifying, and to those who first of all introduce certain things such are acceptable above all else. If, on the other hand, certain animals, or plants, or other of the productions upon the earth, are under the rule of the superior races <sup>11</sup> the divinities participate together in their superintendence and procure for us an inseparable union to themselves. Some of these things, therefore, being carefully saved and guarded, increase with the gods the intimate familiarity of those who hold them fast, inasmuch as by being kept inviolate they preserve in full force the communion of gods and men.

Of such a character are some of the animals of Egypt, and in the same manner, the human being everywhere is sacred. <sup>12</sup> Some of the consecrated victims, however, make the familiar relationship more conspicuous, so far as they affect the analysis in respect to the kindred and more sacred origin of the primitive elements with the Superior (divine) causes. This being accomplished, the benefits which are imparted from it are more perfect.

If, then, these were human customs alone and so derived their authority through our institutions, it might be asserted that the Holy Rites of the gods were inventions of our own devising. Now, however, God, who is thus invoked in the sacrifices, is their author, and the gods and angels <sup>13</sup> around him constitute a numerous throng. Under him, likewise, there is a public Overlord assigned by allotment to each nation upon the earth, and to every sanctuary its own. <sup>14</sup> Of the sacrifices made to the gods, a god is director; of those to the angels, it is an angel; of those to the daemons, a daemon; and in like manner in other cases a superintendent is appointed over each in the manner consonant with the particular race. When, therefore, we bring our sacrifices to the gods, in company with the gods that superintend and make complete the mystic rites, it is our duty at the same time to revere the institution of sacred divine worship in regard to the Sacrifices. At the same time, however, it becomes us to be of good courage as we celebrate the holy rites under the ruling gods, and like-wise to exercise suitable caution, that we may not bring some gift unworthy of the gods, or obnoxious to them.

In conclusion, then, we admonish at all events that the endeavor be made in respect to those around us, gods, angels and daemons, that are distributed according to race, in every part of the universe; and that an acceptable sacrifice shall be presented alike to them all. For only so can the Holy Rites be celebrated in a manner worthy of the divine beings that preside over them.

A part of the Sacred Rites and not the least important is that of the prayers. They fill out the sacrifices to the fullest extent, and through these the entire performance becomes established and perfect. They likewise effect the general combined operation with the worship, and bring the Sacred Service into indissoluble copartnership with the gods. It will not be amiss to relate a few things in respect to this subject. For this very thing is of itself worthy to be learned, and it makes our superior perception in respect to the gods more perfect. <sup>15</sup>

I affirm, therefore, that the first ideal of prayer is a collecting (of our thoughts) and likewise a leading to contact and a genuine knowing of God. Next after this is the binding in communion with a single mind, and also the calling to us of the gifts which the gods have sent down, before the uttering of a word, completing the entire performances before it was perceived. But in the most perfect ideal which is the most perfect form of prayer, the occult union is sealed and its validity assured by the gods, procuring perfect repose in them for our souls. In these three limits in which everything divine is measured, prayer, making our friendship worthy of the gods, gives us the sacred aid from them three-fold. <sup>16</sup> The first of these relates directly to illumination, the second to a general completion of effort, and the third to the complete fulfillment by means of the fire. <sup>17</sup> At one time, prayer precedes the Sacred Rites; again it divides the Sacred Performance in the middle, and at another time, it further effects the purpose of the sacrifices. No sacred performance takes place properly, without the supplications in the prayers. But continual exercise in them nourishes our mind and spiritual nature, makes the reception-chambers of the soul vastly more spacious for the gods, <sup>18</sup> opens the arcana of the gods to human beings, accustoms us to the irradiations of the Light, <sup>19</sup> and by degrees perfects the qualities within us to a conjoining with the gods, bringing us back again to the very summit. <sup>20</sup> It quietly draws upward our habits of thought and imparts to us the moral qualities of the gods. And besides this, persuasive discourse awakens a fellowship and affection that are indissoluble. It likewise augments the divine love and lights up the divine quality of the soul. It also cleanses away every-thing from the soul that is of a contrary character, and removes whatever about it is of æther-like and luminant spirit, so far as it is allied to the sphere of generated existence. It likewise makes perfect a good hope and confidence in respect to the Light, and, in short, brings to perfection those who are exercised in these disciplines, so that we may call them Companions of the gods.

If this is what may be said of prayer, that it effects in us benefits of such importance, and likewise that it has a close relation to the sacrifices which we have mentioned, does not the object of the Sacred Rites thereby become clear, that it is a participating in intimate relations with the Creator? As then through the celebrating of the Rites, the benefit from it is as much as is conferred by the demiurgic divinities upon human beings. <sup>21</sup> Indeed, from that source the exalting, the perfecting and completing influence of the prayers becomes manifest, how it becomes active, how unifying, and it has a common bond which is given from the gods. In the' third place, therefore, any one may easily perceive from what has been said, that the two (prayer and sacrifice) are established through each other and impart to each other the sacred power of the holy perfective rite.

Hence there is manifest through all parts of the Sacerdotal System, the complete agreement and joint working with itself: the parts of it being more naturally connected than those of any animal, and joined together by one uninterrupted continuity of substance. Of this fact we ought never to be unmindful; nor should we accept half of it and reject the other half, but should be exercised in them all alike. It is necessary that they who desire genuinely to be conjoined with the gods should be initiated through the whole of them.

These things, therefore, may not be otherwise.



  • 1. The spectacular representations exhibited at the Sacred Rites to candidates for initiation and others participating in the worship.
  • 2. The “powers” are here distinctly set forth as spiritual essences. Proklos recognizes them as belonging to the order of daemons, and informs us that there is an innumerable company of them about every god, and that they are named by his appellations, as though they were themselves the divinity. “In the most holy scenes of the Initiatory Rites,” says he, “prior to the manifestations of the divinity as present, troops of chthonian daemons make their appearance, calling the attention of the candidates from things pure and good to the realm of Matter.”

I am reminded of the “subject-spirits” described by Emanuel Swedenborg. If one of them is imagined by the individual with whom it is communicating, to he some particular person, then the spirit, as if mesmerized, immediately supposes itself to he that person. -A.W.

  • 3. The primitive conception of sacrifices was that they afforded refreshment to spiritual beings; as for example, the deceased member of a family. Such offerings are made at stated periods in China and India and were once universal. Daemons and embodied souls were also considered as thus receiving service and delight, and it was to them that the sacrifices were actually devoted. (I Corinthians x, 20.) Hence, sacrifices became festivals to which friends were invited, and the principal viands were consecrated by invoking the divinities. See I Samuel ix, 12, 13-21, 23, and Malachi i, 12.
  • 4. “In the Divine Dramas or Discourses,” says Simplikios, “if anything is omitted, or is displaced, or comes up afterward, the divine illumination does not take place, but the remissness of the one who is doing this makes vapid the power of what has been accomplished.”
  • 5. Aeneus, the king of Kalydon, it was fabled, once celebrated a sacrifice at which he omitted to honor the goddess Artemis. She by way of punishment sent a boar to ravage his dominions.
  • 6. This declaration is sustained by the Apostle Paul. “If you are led by the spirit of noetic faculty,” says he, “you are not under law.” The Greek term here used by both writers is nomos, an enactment, and not thesmos, a sacred decree. Plotinus has explained this mental exaltation here affirmed. “We receive the Infinite by a faculty superior to the understanding,” he inculcates; “we enter into a condition of mind ill which we are no longer our own selves, but become partakers of the divine nature.” The philosopher, it is recorded, has attained this mental and moral exaltation. Its similarity to the state of Yogi or consecration, described by Indian sages, is evident.
  • 7. Syrianos, and Taylor following him, have substituted thesmos for thumos in the Greek text. The phrase otherwise would have read: “for those who are bound by passion.”
  • 8. “Religion is the imitating of what you worship.”
  • 9. Expositors interpret these statements as setting forth that the Sacrifices were expiatory or purifying in the way of averting diseases and other impurities, as seems to be signified by the establishing in harmony and order. In the sixteenth chapter the benefits of the Initiatory Rites are substantially classed under three heads, which have been denominated astrologic, iatric or curative, and telestic or perfective. The initiatory or Perfect Rite, it was considered, exalted the candidate beyond the sphere of generated existence, as in the maksha or nirvana of the Buddhists.
  • 10. Plato in the Timaeus denominates matter, the materia or maternal principle of the universe, the tithoné or nurse, and the upodoché or receptacle, the womb of created things. Professor Butler remarks accordingly that “it is the transition-element between the real and the apparent, the eternal and the contingent.”
  • 11. The ancient Egyptians were famed for their veneration of sacred animals, plants and other objects, and many absurd and ridiculous jests have been made on this account. Plutarch carefully explains the matter. “Nothing can be a god to men,” says he, “that is either without soul or is under their power.” But language is often mistaken in its purport, and symbolic language in particular. What the teacher utters as from his right hand, the hearer receives as with his left. “Those who have not learned the true sense of the words will also mistake in the things.” In this way statues and emblems have been spoken of as actual objects of worship, and animals that were only symbolic personifications of divinity have been asserted to be the real divinities that were worshipped. The intelligent worshipper had no difficulty in perceiving the real truth.
  • 12. In other words, likely to be a victim at the altar. “As Manetho related, they were used in archaic times to burn living men in the city of Ilithyia, styling them Typhonian.” Ashmes, who expelled the Hyk-sos rulers, put an end to the custom. It existed in Asiatic countries, where Semitic worships existed, and even the Hebrews seem not to have been an exception. As late as the period of the Persian wars with the Greeks, Themistokles is said to have sacrificed three Persian prisoners to the daemons or chthonian gods, and Amestris, the Queen of Xerxes, to have buried fourteen Persians alive. Even at a later period Caius Marius immolated his daughter to propitiate the gods; and some tribes still keep up the custom. There is a formula for human sacrifice among the Shiva-worshippers of India.. The putting of prisoners to death and cannibalism are vestiges of the same practice.
  • 13. The angels are not a common constituent in the Egyptian and Hellenic categories. They were adopted evidently from Judaea or Assyria about the same time.
  • 14. See Daniel x, 13, 21; xii, 1.
  • 15. “Prayer is by no means an insignificant part of the upward path of souls,” says Proklos. Sacrifices and Holy Rites were considered as the body of the prayers, and prayer as the animating principle of sacrifices. The Chaldaean Oracle also declares: “The mortal approaching the fire will receive illumination from the divine ones.”
  • 16. The edition of Scutellius has this fuller reading: “Prayer not only assures to us the friendship of the gods, but brings to our hand three fruits, which are, so to speak, golden apples from the Hesperidean gardens.”

Proklos designates these three stages of prayer sunafh, ekpelasis, and enwsis, the contact, the approach, the perfect union. These are preceded by two conditions: to know the different ranks of the divine beings to which they belong, and the oikeiwsis or family alliance by which we become adopted by the gods. We are then without contact or any thing of matter made ready for the illumination.

  • 17. The Chaldaean Oracles describe the Supreme Divinity as Fire, creative-life-bringing and intellectible. “A whirlwind drew forth the bloom of the shadowy fire and impregnated the wombs of the universe.” (Compare Genesis i, 2.) “She is the producer of the work, because she is the giver of life-bringing fire.” The fire as a symbol in the shrine if the temple, and the employment of sacred fire to consume the consecrated parts of the sacrifices, thus represent the Supreme Fire by which all things subsist and are made complete.
  • 18. Proklos adds the following in the way of comment: “It fills the entheast soul to its full measure.”
  • 19. The representation of the Divine essence as a supernal luminance is universal. The passage in the proem of the Johannean Gospel has been the philosophic dogma of all periods: “In the Logos or divine mason, was life, and the life was the light of mankind.” The Chaldaean Oracle also says: “When thou shalt see a very holy fire without definable shape, leaping as it shines, hearken to the voice of the Fire.” Moses and Zoroaster both professed to hear the words of the Deity spoken out of fire. (Deut. v.)

Pure fire unmingled with material particles is not visible to the human faculty of sight. This explains satisfactorily the apparent contradiction, in which the Supreme Being is depicted as light, and likewise as enveloped in clouds and thick darkness.

  • 20. “Through Prayer,” says Proklos, “the summit of moral excellence, the holiness which pertains to the gods, is attained.”
  • 21. This is an allusion upon which Plato throws light in the Timaeus. He (the Demiurgos or Creator) charged the junior gods with the work of constructing mortal bodies, as well as everything additional that was required for the human soul. He gave them dominion over these and all things consequent thereto, and bade them rule over the mortal creation as nobly and honorably as they could, in order that it might not become the cause of evil to itself.“ The “Junior Gods” are those so generally mentioned by our author. They are also classed under the head of aitia – causes or categories – and as we here observe, are the demiurgic or organizing causes.