Theurgy is a term derived from the Greek that describes the practice of rituals performed with the intention of invoking the action of one or more gods to perfect oneself.
Theurgy comes from the Greek word theurgeia (from theos, “gods” and ergeia “work.”) In ancient times, theurgy served as a traditional religious purification ritual. It involved a process of cleansing the lower aspects of the self to establish a higher philosophical foundation. Theurgy is based on the idea that the Demiuge, the Platonic creator god, organized matter in accord with the eternal Forms. Material objects, therefore, reveal the Forms and can be used as a means for the soul to realign itself with Providence and to unify itself with divinity. In particular, a theurgic rite makes use of certain symbols (signs, tokens), which the gods have imprinted with the Forms. For example, the heliotrope is a symbol for the sun because it turns toward it, as is the cock because it heralds the rising sun. Likewise, the sun, as source of light and life, governing our cosmos, points toward the Ineffable One. Similarly, the Demiurge has placed symbols within each embodied soul, but most people are unconscious of them.
The source of Western theurgy can be found in the philosophy of the Neoplatonists. During the first centuries of the Common Era, Theurgy developed into a distinct school and served as part of the same fusion of Platonic philosophy and popular occultism which gave birth to Hermeticism and Gnostic traditions. The chief contributor to Theurgy’s formulation was Iamblichus of Chalcis.
Iamblichus of Syria (ca. 240-325), set the final form of pagan spirituality prior to the Christianization of the Roman Empire. The most controversial aspects of Iamblichus’s teachings was the change in Theuristic meaning. Previous teachings stressed the elevated status of the human soul. Iamblichus taught that the soul descended completely into the body and thereby required the performance of theurgic rites-revealed by the gods-to unite the soul with the One. Iamblichus was considered one of the great philosophers whose teachings influenced subsequent Platonists. The Emporer Julian followed Iamblichus’s teachings and restored traditional pagan cults in his campaign against Christianity. Despite Julian’s defeat by Christianity, Iamblichus’s teachings persisted well into the Middle Ages.
Today, scholars have dismissed Iamblichus’s ideas and describe Theurgy as ritual magic . However, there is also a Christian interpretation of theurgy from the Greek and is decribed as “divine action.” Under the Christian definition, Theurgy is the inducement of a direct action of God through a human agent.