Put simply, mathesis is theurgy, literally “god-working”. While this can mean several things, the sense I use it is in the sense of elevating oneself to the level of the gods and beyond to henosis, a mystical union with the Monad, the Source, the Good, the All, God, or whatever you want to call It. The whole purpose of mathesis is to perfect the self both in body, soul, spirit, and mind, and in that sense it takes mathesis as one would a spoonful of medicine to encourage healing and health. After all, in Agnosis we are trapped in a disease of ignorance, but it is by Gnosis that we begin the process of healing ourselves. If we falter in Gnosis, we lapse back into Agnosis, much as one relapses into disease if one forgets to take their medicine or skips their physical therapy or exercise. It’s hard, but it’s worth the effort. The purpose of mathesis is seen in many Hermetic or Hermetic-related disciplines from the spiritual alchemy of the Rosicrucians to the theoretical kabbalah of the Jews, and to that end we have plenty of Work to do.
However, in order to engage in the practice of theurgy, we need to prepare ourselves for engaging with the gods and the forces of divinity. This is no light task; while some people can just easily walk up to a temple and go “sup”, being on that casual level of entering into the presence of the gods is difficult. Often enough, not only are we trapped in Agnosis, but we’re just simply too dirty to engage in their presence. The gods, after all, hate miasma and flee it as we’d flee the plague, and we incur miasma in any number of ways. Christians, similarly, have their notion of sin, which impedes the progress one makes to Christ and inhibits the spiritual medicine of the Eucharist. In these traditions, as in many others, there’s a process of purification involved to prepare ourselves to walk more properly into the presence of the gods. In the ancient Hellenic practice, one would lustrate themselves with khernips as well as living in a proper manner of piety as well as making the right sacrifices in the right way; in Christian practice, one would anoint themselves with holy water and holy oil, undergo confession and penance, and carry out good works in addition to partaking in the Eucharist. Even the low-down dirty ATR I’m involved with has their purification and purging practices which need to be undergone before major initiations, if for nothing else than to prepare the body to receive something Bigger.
There’s a similar role that purification has in mathesis, as well. During the ritual of initiation, one has to undergo the Mathetic Rule of Observance to help direct the body and mind to live in a proper way, and the ritual itself involves a cathartic freeing of the self from ignorance as well as purifying the scene with lustral water. Add to it, one should always be spiritually washed before engaging in mathetic practices, hence the role of making and using khernips on a daily basis. Even though the daily use of khernips helps raise our standards of spiritual hygiene and keeps us there, however, on occasion khernips simply isn’t going to be enough. After all, sometimes a stain can be gotten rid with a cloth damp with water wiped once or twice, but sometimes it requires lye, bleach, and a lot more effort. If we want to undergo the process of mathetic theurgy, then we need to make sure we’re in a suitable state at all times, or as often as we can, to engage with the forces of divinity, and if we’re in such a state that khernips itself doesn’t wash away our stains, then we need something stronger.
Thus, mathesis should have a heavy-duty purification ritual, something like a banishing ritual as used by magicians (e.g. the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram/Hexagram) and something like a healing ritual (e.g. the Christian Anointing of the Sick) as used by other religions. The question is, how would we formulate such a purification ritual? To have one purify themselves is possible, though it’s preferred to have one already pure to perform the purification. Since there’s no Matheteion or association of Mathetai set up just yet, a self-purification will have to do for the time being for those of us who want to engage in mathesis. The idea and reason for a self-purification is the same; much as we call upon Hermes as mystagogue when there’s no initiator into mathesis for a candidate, we need to call upon a god to act as καθαρτης (kathartēs, purifier) for us in the stead of a human priest or purifier. For that, instead of turning to Hermes, we call upon his half-brother Apollo, the unparalleled god of purification and himself the god of καθαρσις (katharsis, purification or purgation of miasma), which is accomplished through the ritual of καθαρμος (katharmos, the ritual of purification).
The role of Apollo here is pretty much straightforward. As a solar god, he shines his light and burns away the darkness, dispelling shadows as easily as he does lies; he illuminates and enlightens, not only with his solar chariot or oracles, but even spiritually so, as lies and deceit incur a kind of miasma on ourselves. Plus, he’s the father of Asklepios, the god of healing and healer of gods, men, souls, and heroes; Asklepios takes care of the physical body, while Apollo takes care of the spiritual self, and both tie in together holistically to ensure a proper life and lifestyle. Moreover, Apollo concerns himself with the health and well-being of humankind, while Asklepios concerns himself with the health and well-being of individual humans. However, Apollo is notably connected with katharmos, especially caused by murder, because he himself underwent purification as a result of killing the Python at Delphi before he set up his oracle there and so that he could be pure enough to do so and to purify others as Apollo Katharsios. The Pythian herself, all her priests, and all her supplicators purified themselves in a similar manner to Apollo, by bathing in a special spring and suffumigation with barley.
One of the more dramatic instances of Apollo’s concern with the well-being of humankind via purification is the role he plays for Orestes in Aeschylus’ triology Oresteia; there, Orestes kills his mother Clytemnestra who had killed his father and her husband Agamemnon who himself had sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia. Having incurred the miasma of killing his own blood (his own mother!), Orestes is pursued by the Furies to Delphi to be purified by Apollo, who himself had helped Orestes carry out the vendetta-driven matricide so as to finally put the generational curse of Pelops and Tantalus to rest. By bringing peace back to House Atreides (yes, the same one in Frank Herbert’s Dune, no less, though there’s more drama going on there a few tens of thousands of years after this point in history), Apollo helps not only Orestes but also all of Greece by introducing, with Athena’s help, the jury trial. A little convoluted, but that’s what you get for involving the Far-Shooter into things.
However, Apollo plays a special part in mathesis for us beyond having a significant mythologic role in Greek paganism. Apollo, after all, is the half-brother of Hermes, and Hermes’ best friend after they made peace over the whole cow-stealing incident, and the two team up often enough in a godly bromance in many myths and practices. However, looking at Apollo another way, we find that he’s claimed to be the father of Pythagoras of Samos himself, you know, the dude who founded Pythagoreanism, one of the core traditions that mathesis has. And, as we all know, Pythagoras had a major spiritual hard-on for purification, issuing lots of vows and rules one should undertake to make sure they’re spiritually and mentally and physically fit enough for engaging in his philosophical and theurgic practices. My own Mathetic Rule itself is based on his stuff, too, and helps one purify the body and mind slowly. By calling on Apollo Katharsios in a ritual katharmos, however, we can further engage the purificatory practices of the god and of mathesis.
While I won’t yet release my ritual of mathetic katharmos, the idea is fairly straightforward. First we undertake the Mathetic Rule of Observance for several days, at least one day but preferably four or ten depending on the level of miasma incurred, along with regular physical therapy or exercise to get the body working again in a proper way. After this period, we take a special ritual bath; lacking water from the Castalia Spring at Delphi, we use a batch of khernips made especially for this purpose and in a slightly different way from our daily-use khernips, something that packs a powerful purgative and purificatory punch. After undressing and physically cleaning ourselves off, this special khernips (as icy-cold as one can stand it) is poured over the body while prayers are said to Apollo Katharsios and while a special incense of bay laurel and other herbs and plants is burning to surround oneself. After air-drying, one dresses in all white and spends some time in contemplation of their actions, especially those that incur miasma; this is sort of a devotional conversation-cum-introspection to dig deep as to why thekatharmos was needed in the first place and how one can live better so as to avoid the cause and need for it again. Readings of the Delphic Maxims, Golden Verses of Pythagoras, and similar texts can have a calming and directive influence on the mind to inculcate a better life. Based on the reason for miasma, a special offering might be made to Apollo to act as a type of payment, votary, or personal sacrifice so as to help one overcome the miasma fully both internally and externally. In this way, we develop a holistic treatment of purification: physical fasting and hygiene, religious cleansing and purgation, and spiritual counseling and guidance. Having a trained therapist or priest playing the role of kathartes in the stead of Apollo Katharsios would help, especially to offer one a confidential and objective opinion on things, though that’ll have to wait until there’re more trained mathetai to do so.
This katharmos ritual isn’t something to be undertaken lightly, and it operates in a different way than simple lustration with khernips (χερνιμμα, khernimma) or an energetic/spiritual banishing ritual . Those latter two types of ritual wipe away the spiritual grime we accrue through our day-to-day actions, like dust on a mirror; we can’t help but incur miasma through our daily lives, though we’re naturally in a pure (ish) state that these rituals help us return to time and again. These simple rituals, as well, can help one in getting rid of harmful or negative spirits that cling on for energy or emotions, and keep them safe from them for a time. However, katharmos operates on a different level; there are things that make us so impure, so jarred, so off-balance that we can’t easily return to our natural state of purity through the normal means, or we have let our day-to-day minor miasmas congeal into something that dominates our lives and prevents us from taking the steps necessary on our own to help ourselves. The fasting with the Mathetic Rule helps begin the process of change in the body, the cleaning of the body prepares the soul, the ritual bath purifies the spirit, and the counseling elevates the mind in a holistic manner that gives us a total reset in every level of our body. The presence and blessing of Apollo Katharsios helps initiate these changes and sees them through, and while I wouldn’t consider this an energetic ritual, the changes made are such that the energies of the body (either in the vague sense of subtle forces or winds or in the sense of processes of change and action) are altered, redirected, and purified to resume working in a proper way.
Of course, by the same token, the katharmos ritual is pretty heavy-duty and not something one could do on a regular basis. I mean, you could, but generally speaking it’s not needed unless you’re, like, murdering someone every week or your family is having a child every month. Mathetic katharmos is going to be a high-grade thing, several steps above the daily or pre-ritual khernimma. As of right now, there’s little place for a middle ground between the two. Either:
- You’re fit for ritual.
- You’re not fit yet but can become fit with khernimma.
- You’re not fit yet and khernimma won’t help without katharmos.
Khernimma is the general cleansing ritual for mathesis, not quite a banishing but accomplishing many of the same goals. Sprinkling khernips around a room can do the banishing as well as cleanse other people, which in the majority of cases is all that’s needed to ritually prepare a space; however, just as katharmos accomplishes what khernimma cannot, perhaps a heavy-duty banishing or exorcism ritual for a space or place can be called for in the future. This would perhaps fall under a different god’s jurisdiction, say Ares or Zeus, since it’s less that the area needs to be purified and more that it needs to be emptied of spiritual malignance; the area would be purified just fine if the spirits there would let it happen, but the spirits must be removed first. Katharmos, then, deals with the person, while khernimma can be used for people and places; perhaps a ritual for εκβολη (ekbolē, throwing out/banishment) could be written in the future for dealing with places or even things.
While Apollo makes sense and is definitely useful in calling upon for katharmos, I’m wondering whether there’s a way or even a reason to mix Hermes into this. At first glance, that wouldn’t fly; purification is definitely associated with Apollo and Delphi, and Hermes swore an oath to never go near the houses of Apollo. Then again, we’re not necessarily involving ourselves with making a temple of Apollo, just calling on him for his help, and since our work is heavily influenced and guided by Hermes, he should have some hand in all this. Although we do find the occasional votive offering given to Hermes in sacrifice for healing or helping one out from a tight spot, the vast majority of votive dedications are nothing related to this, more often connected to gymnastics, wrestling, marketing, and the like. However, two things come to mind about Hermes that I picked up on from the Hermes/Mercury conference earlier this year: Hermes both gives speech and takes it away (mentioned on day one), and Hermes is the god of banter, cajoling, and “heart-cutting” words (day two).
- By giving his scepter to someone, Hermes bestows the power to speak; by taking it away, he takes away their ability to speak. Hermes is the god of both speaking and silence, and has been known to silence or put to sleep any dangers to his travels and exploits so as to preserve himself. Speech and travel are intimately connected in Hermes, as is knowledge and motive, and we have to experience the same as we travel along the Gnosis Schema. If we fall off, our journey is stopped and we’d do best to shut up and stop getting ourselves into more trouble; the longer we hold onto that scepter of speech, the more we mislead ourselves, and the more evident it becomes that Hermes needs to take it back so we’re lead back to the path we should go on instead of the one we’ve found ourselves on.
- Hermes is the god most closely associated with hilarious, vulgar, obscene, and disturbing humor, all falling under the word κερτομον (kertomon, heart-cutting). While we don’t need to go to the level of Hipponax, such humor points out cruelly and pointedly our flaws, our pretentions, our pride, and anything that makes us hilarious to others as well as to the gods themselves (and seeing a god laugh isn’t usually a sign of benevolent mirth). Without paying attention to the heckling, groaning, and popcorn-tossing vulgarity of the gods, and especially Hermes, we sometimes get wrapped up in ourselves and either blithely ignore the miasma we’re incurring or puff ourselves up in overmodest wailing of how terrible we are. We need to lighten up without making light of our situation, and the best way we can do that is by cutting to the heart of the matter and telling it how it is, often with a bit of humor.
To that end, this mathetic katharmos ritual can be done for anyone as a stand-alone ritual as they need it, but mathetai would need another ritual to be done afterward to ensure that they’re brought back spiritually and gnostically to the place they should be at, letting Hermes reorient them to the Path they should be on and keeping them from getting lost any longer. At that point, the caduceus of speech and gnosis can be spiritually “returned” or renewed back to the mathetes, entrusting them once more with the authority to continue on the Gnosis Schema. Of course, all this should be coupled with a good dose of hilarity and good-natured poking fun at yourself; the best medicine is laughter, they say, and Hermes can definitely pull that off as the god of heart-cutting wise-cracking and snarky comedy. In addition to the kathartes who’d carry out the katharmos ritual, there should be someone else there to make sure things don’t get too serious or too out-of-hand with the purgation while, at the same time, pointing out objectively and offensively what it was they did and how easy (perhaps) it is to not fuck up. By shedding a candid, common light on the situation, Hermes can also help us reorient ourselves through blunt and snarky comments, which helps to bring a bit of realism to our lives and to our situations in general. After all, every tragedy play in ancient Greece was followed up by a hilarious and crude satyr play to lighten the mood and make sure the audience wouldn’t leave the festival sour and dour. Likewise, the mathetes shouldn’t leave the ritual without being returned to good health, good life, and good humour; if the mathetes feels worse off or guilty for having needed and undergone katharmos, then the ritual wasn’t worth it or it was done badly. Hermes Kertomios can help us laugh at ourselves while being cruelly instructive, and can help jeer us back into the Work we need to be doing.
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