“Hearken You Gods holding the helm of wisdom, who having kindled an upward leading Fire, draw to the Immortals those human souls who leave the dark abyss behind, purified by the secret initiation of hymns”
The prayer or hymn to a God or Goddess is one of the key means to return to the realm of the purest Ideas, i.e. to the Gods, to take the upward path leading the soul to the secure harbor of peace and realization. Proclus (commentary to the Timaeus) so beautifully says: “Prayers enormously contribute to this epistrophe (return) by means of the ineffable symbols of the Gods, that the Father of the souls has sown in them…” Again, in the commentary to the Politeia of Plato, Proclus says: “the Gods Themselves rejoice at hearing such symbols…” and also: “the classes of beings superior to us, which follow the Gods, awaken in us by means of our love for such signs”, here meaning that the Daimones (the beings that are superior to us and that follow the Gods) are awakened by the love for these signs sowed by the Father in the souls, and this is correctly defined as the first stage of the Theurgic process. The theurgist does not try to “force” the Gods to give Their blessings, the Gods shower these blessings out of philia (friendship and love), according to Their own will (boulesis), without envy (aphthonos), and because the prayer persuades (peithò) them. In short, the prayer leads to the union with the Gods (he arretos henosis).
A true prayer has five main traits or rules or features:
1- Gnosis: in ancient Greek this word has many meanings. It comes from gignosko, meaning “to learn, to understand” and it can be translated with “cognition, knowledge” but also with “science, wisdom”. It can also indicate the means to reach such knowledge and wisdom (referring to the identity between means and goal). The Ancients said that every ascending movement (of the soul) starts with the acquisition of knowledge, followed by the purifications obtained in the sacred rites. Here gnosis means that one who wishes to pray must know all the seirai or emanations of the Gods, i.e. all the ranks of the Deities that he/she wishes to pray.
2- Oikeiosis, “to become familiar with the Divine”. The primary meanings of this term are “affinity, attachment, familiar relation, propensity and inclination”. This implies that the worshipper must become similar (homoiosis) to the Gods, in terms of purity, self control, education and knowledge, and order (internal and external).
3- Synaphè, “contact with the Gods”. This word comes from the verb synapto, that has the main meanings of “to tie, to knot, to join, to link”. Accordingly, this word contains the various meanings of “connection, link”, also referred to the planets, to geometry and so on. Here it tells us that, after having obtained knowledge, understanding and a great wisdom about the Divine Realities, and after having attained the required purity and all the superior qualities of the highest beings, the worshipper becomes worthy of getting closer to the object of his/her love, and developing a connection, a permanent link with a Deity.
4- Empelasis, “the approaching”. This word comes from the verb empelazo that only means “to approach, to come near”; hence the only possible translation is actually “approaching”. It seems strange to use it here, after mentioning the requirement defined as “contact”: if we are already in contact, why are we told now to approach the object of our prayer? We can understand the actual meaning if we remember the Chaldean Oracle: “Because the mortal who has approached the Fire will possess the light from the God”. The worshipper needs this light, and the only way to get it is to respectfully approach the Deity, after the bond has been created. Proclus, in the commentary to the Parmenides, says: “When a man is anticipating the appearance of the Divine, he must strive to stir up the Divine spark within himself in preparation to participate in the reality of the higher beings.”
5- Lastly, the goal of the prayer or hymn: henosis, “the union”. This word comes from the verb enoo, with the only meaning of “to unite or reunite”; thus henosis can be translated as “union, reunion”. In this religious context, we can freely translate it as “return”; it also gives a strong idea of deep union, because the soul of the worshipper establishes himself/herself into the very soul of the Deity. At this level there is no more identification with male or female: the soul possesses both features, just like the God that is “youthful boy and immortal maiden”. This elevated stage takes the soul into the Deity, realizing a perfect union; it is said that this action unites our own energeia (“power, energy, potency of the spirit, active supernatural power”) with that of the Gods. We can remember here a beautiful statement of the divinely inspired Iamblichus: “It is the complete fulfilling of the arcane performances, carrying them through in a manner worthy of the Gods and surpassing all intellectual concepts, and likewise is the power of the voiceless symbols perceived by the Gods alone, that establishes the Theurgic Union”. This is the deep, theurgical meaning of the prayer or hymn: our sacred energy comes back home, it rises up to finally return to the Olympian “luminous” palace of the Father, the Demiurge, and the Source of all Life (Rhea, Hekate, Deó, Kore) and, even more, to the absolute oneness of all the Divine Essences, the Mystery or arretos – something that must not be revealed, that is secret by its own nature, unspeakable, inexpressible, and immense.
Here is an appropriate quote from our beloved Proclus, from his commentary to the Cratylus: “Such are the above-mentioned symbols of the Gods: in the higher regions they are uniform, whereas in the lower they are multiform. In imitation of this situation, Theurgy presents the symbols by using exclamations, even unarticulated ones. The third class of symbols have come down from the noeric realm (i.e. the realm of the Ideas) to all the peculiar properties and emanated as far as us are the divine names by means of which the Gods are invoked and honored in hymns. These symbols have been revealed by the Gods themselves and make us turn around toward Them; the clearer they are, the more they contribute to human knowledge”.
“One ought to pray not for what he wants, but for what the Gods want”