A Pagan's Blog

I took a day off from the chaos of beginning my move when
Theurgicon convened in Berkeley Saturday, August 21.  The disruption of the move plus the
wanting to do justice to the richness of the presentations has kept me from
posting until now.  But since this subject goes back over 2000 years, I think the lateness of this post in
contemporary terms won’t matter much.

As I mentioned in my post announcing Theurgicon, theurgy is
a late Classical Neoplatonic practice engaging with direct contact with deities
through possessory trance, mediumship, and animated statues.  It possesses such powerful similarities
with British Traditional Wicca that some investigators have made powerful
arguments modern Craft’s roots are late Classical rather than Celtic.

As I worked on my write-up, I realized it had become a bit overwhelming for a blog post.  So I’ve divided it up into several sections, each oriented around a single presentation and the issues it raises for modern Pagans and my own take on it.  That makes commenting on these issues a lot easier.  This first deals with Tony Mierzwicki’s  historical presentation. It begins below the fold. 

Morning sessions began with Tony Mierzwicki’s historical overview beginning with
theurgy’s earliest recorded roots in Egyptian magick, which with later
material, was incorporated into the Hermetica.  The Hermetica, along with much
now lost material, was attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, a being sometimes described as a man and more often as a deity conceived
as a blending of the Egyptian Thoth and the Greek Hermes

Those texts that survived were important in the last late
Classical Pagan center, Harran in what is now southeast Turkey.  Harran was where the last Pagan philosophers traveled after being expelled from the Christian and increasingly totalitarian Byzantine Empire.  To the surprise of many today, Harran kept its Classical Pagan culture into the 10th

From this last outpost of Classical Civilization, Hermeticism extended its influence in many directions. Within the Islamic world Hermeticism influenced Sufism, the Islamic tradition most recently in the news over the so-called 9-11 Mosque issue.  This influence  presumably came from its Harranean base deep within the Islamic world which was long
more tolerant than the Christian Empire to the West. 

Mierzwicki argued
important Christian Fathers such as Augustine and Tertullian held that Christianity was in some ways the flowering of Hermeticism.  I have been unable to verify this claim, but it does
seem as if their influence was not entirely rejected as bad. Many scholars have long emphasized the importance of Neoplatonism as the early church tried to come to terms with the intellectual richness of late Classical culture.

Hermeticism re-entered the West during the Renaissance, initially under
the sponsorship of the d’Medicis.  Originally many believed Hermes Trismegistus had been at least as early a figure as Moses, and scholars thought they were finally encountering the true roots of religion. The texts ultimately proved to be much earlier, but Mierzwicki emphasized, reasonably, that while the texts were written in the early CE, the spiritual and magickal material on which they were based was often very old.   

Hermeticism flourished in Florence until the city was taken by the
French with Catholic support in 1492. 
By this time Hermetic writings had penetrated throughout much of Europe and exercised an important influence throughout the continent.

Mierzwicki argued that central to Hermeticism was the view
that knowledge comes through revelation from divine sources, and not simply
through reason.  Here was its core importance, for contemporary philosophy has long denied this and modern religion almost always emphasizes the importance of faith, not personal experience.

During the discussions afterwards I was most intrigued by
those who compared the Hermetica with the Kabbalah of Jewish mysticism in many
of its basic concepts.  In Googling around I have been unable to determine how far back the Hermetic influence on Jewish mysticism extends, but perhaps some readers will be able to shed light here.

Why Care?

All this happened a very long time ago, and the very width of Hermetic influences in the West and elsewhere suggests it is anything but narrowly focused towards any particular spiritual practice.  In addition, its writings, inspired or not, preceded the modern world and reflects a view of reality modern science has in important respects seemed to replace.  Why care?

For modern Pagans there are several reasons we should at least keep an eye on developments within this field.  First, Neoplatonism was the final intellectual and spiritual achievement of the Pagan Civilization that most shaped the modern West. It was a culmination of the entire heritage of Mediterranean spirituality.  Many of the issues it addressed remain central spiritual questions today for people in all religions, and for that reason alone, we might well pay attention to their answers.  

Second, and for me even more importantly, Pagan Neoplatonism appears to be the end of an unbroken line of thinking and practice extending back into the Paleolithic origins of human civilization.  By contrast what we have inherited most directly today has been severed from those roots by a totalitarian effort to extirpate that past in word and practice, except for where it could be integrated into the very different world view of what I call Transcendental Monopolistic Monotheism.  European Pagans were the first victims of Christian intolerance, and despite their achievements in philosophy, science, and the arts, among the most thoroughly annihilated. We see their achievements through eyes distorted by this intervening disjuncture, and only recently have begun to be aware of the distortions this involves.

Third, if the world is Sacred, as we generally hold, and if the world is aware, as most of us also hold, coming as we do from a society that can accurately be described as autistic to this reality, we need all the help and insight we can get in learning again to communicate with the more-than-human and other-than-human.  I think theurgy, as the culmination of Pagan Neoplatonism, offers us important insights.

My next “installment” will cover Brandy Williams’ discussion of the Chaldean Oracles.

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