Theurgy: What it is & How it Relates to Ritual Invocations
I remember the first time I heard the word 'invocation' thrown around with regards to Wiccan religious practice. Contextually I understood it to be a sort of 'honoring' or acknowledgment of a god and goddess within our ritual's sacred space. But beyond that, the idea was sort of confusing. What made it different than a prayer? Was it just a prayer?
In Western mystery traditions, invocation more often refers to a theurgistic process of drawing a god/dess into the individual (or, depending on the group, the sacred space itself) for the duration of a ritual's magical working. Its roots can be found in the ancient theurgy, or, divine-working of the Neo-Platonists.
A Kabbalistic Approach
Think of the space that's beyond space, beyond form, beyond even what you can think about when you think of these things. This spaceless space is given lots of names depending on the tradition you study, but for the purposes of this post, we'll call it the G-dhead. In terms of Kabbalah, theurgy is all about propelling ourselves towards the G-dhead. To get there, we actually meditate on different forms or levels of awareness, sometimes including gods, angels, or other entities. But, our goal is to eventually push beyond these spheres of awareness and at least momentarily taste the oneness of G-d. This process of shedding the divisions of lower levels of conscioussness is also called henosis.
Now, I use the term G-d (rather than God) to describe this sphere or level of consciousness, because in Western esotericism, there are actually numerous gods who can help us realize this level. Throughout culture and history, different peoples have elevated different gods to the status of a singular or chieftain God who most closely resembles this formless form we are discussing. But from a universal approach--that is, given our present awareness of all these cultures--the specificity of one culture's name for God often feels inadequate, biased, or untruthful.
Returning to Wicca and other magic-centered religions which may use invocations, the god/dess we invoke in ritual is likely someone whose power or domain we are trying to access or appeal to in the process of charging our magic. On the more religious side of things, we may develop a strong relationship with this god/dess. We may come to view them as God/dess, rather than just a god/dess. We may invoke them just to feel and meditate on their presence, without the objective of charging our spells or other magical workings.
Likewise, we may push ourselves to explore the G-dhead beyond them. This is theurgy.
For example, I began my theurgistic work with the goddess Astarte in part because I felt a strong association between her and mother goats who I was learning to milk at the time. As I learned more about her and realized her ancient domains were more oriented towards war and sexuality, she began to appeal to me as a more dynamic goddess than I originally understood. Over weeks of devotional work, she went from being a goddess of goats to a goddess of feminine energy, sexuality, vitality, and even the Supreme Goddess with Multiverses of Dust Dancing at Her Feet.
As my visualizations of her grew stronger, so too did my awareness that she wasn't actually the End-All/Be-All of Worlds. I began to visualize her as bowing and praying to an even greater force. I ended this working with a conceptualization of the G-dhead beyond (but also in) the god/dess-form I'd reached it through.
For those interested in exploring theurgy more in depth beyond a sabbat or esbat circle, magician Aleister Crowley penned the text Liber Astarte which provides a framework for designing devotional work to a god/dess of your choosing. In addition to advice over curating imagery and other associations of your god/dess, Crowley's format highlights seven different relational perspectives to the god/dess of your focus: a slave to a master, a vassal to a liege, a child to a parent, a priest/ess to her deity, one sibling to another, one friend to another, and one lover to another.
Through workings based on Liber Astarte, a magician may come to experience her god/dess more fully, and launch herself into awareness of the G-dhead beyond.
While Crowley identifies several areas of consideration in designing devotional work (along with a handful of cautions), central to this work is a hymn or incantation to be used in invoking the god/dess of our working's focus. As an example, here's an incantation I wrote for work with the goddess Nuit using Crowley's format (numbered to correspond to the seven different relationships he describes):
"(1) Oh Great Goddess of Starlight, I witness your brilliance even so far away as the darkness of my window.
(2) I listen for your wisdom and distill my dreams for guidance from your lips.
(3) Holy Mother of Ghosts, I will walk with you for lifetimes,
(4) Pale gold-faced goddess in the dark who stirs my dreams and in them whispers,
(5) Sister, I hold you as Mother Earth comforts Mother Sky, growing together in aching ancient herstories of civilizations born and buried.
(6) Blessed be your dominion and your will among the universes tended in your leisure.
(7) With hair of tree bough shadows let free from scarves of midnight, my Goddess, you are the beauty of stillness humming in space-time, and I count the stars each night to learn the magic of your every freckle.
In your own work, you may find it useful to repeat prayers you write in this format everyday, or to focus on specific lines for a longer period of your choosing. In my own experience, I have found it helpful to dedicate a full seven-week period of devotion to each god/dess I work with, allowing for a full week to each of the seven perspectives Crowley describes. The time-frame you choose may be different, listen to your intuition for guidance.
For those of us with baggage around various deities or religions, I have also found Liber Astarte a useful jumping off point for healing from religious trauma. For instance, I have worked with El-Shaddai, a specific name of the Semitic and Abrahamic god associated with my childhood religious upbringing. This work tremendously helped me process remaining emotional and psychological baggage around Abrahamic faiths, and helped kindle my interest in exploring the angels of both ancient and contemporary Abrahamic traditions.
As a general note: picking a god/dess to do theurgistic work with does not always mean a relationship will develop or be reciprocal. I believe it is also possible to have a kind of relationship with a deity, but not the kind of relationship that is open to theurgy (or perhaps specific intentions within the practice of theurgy). Again, it is necessary to use listen to your intuition or guides for direction.
And of course, if you ever feel uncomfortable working with any deity, remember that you are in control of your full mind, your heart, your body, and your prayers, and you have the freedom to stop at any point. Ask for help from your guardian angel if you feel you need an ally to reclaim yourself in this process. Angels are always available to help.
Pat Mosley (NC LMBT #16882) is a licensed massage and bodywork therapist in the Winston-Salem area. His work is rooted in compassionate touch, permaculture, and deep ecology with the resilience of all Earth's children in mind. Connect with him via email to firstname.lastname@example.org