The first degree of prayer is the introductory, which leads to contact and acquaintance with the divine; the second is conjunctive, producing a union of sympathetic minds, and calling forth benefactions sent down by the Gods even before we express our requests, while achieving whole courses of action even before we think of them; the most perfect, finally, has as its mark ineffable unification, which establishes all authority in the Gods, and provides that our souls rest completely in them.
Prayer establishes links of friendship between us and the Gods, and secures for us the triple advantage which we gain from the Gods through theurgy, the first leading to illumination, the second to the common achievement of projects, and the third to the perfect fulfillment of the soul through fire. Sometimes it precedes sacrifices, sometimes, again, it comes in the middle of theurgic activity, and at other times it brings sacrifices to a suitable conclusion; but no sacred act can take place without the supplications contained in prayers.
Extended practice of prayer nurtures our intellect, enlarges very greatly our soul’s receptivity to the Gods, reveals to people the life of the Gods, accustoms their eyes to the brightness of divine light, and gradually brings to perfection the capacity of our faculties for contact with the Gods, until it leads us up to the highest level of consciousness of which we are capable; also, it elevates gently the dispositions of our minds, and communicates to us those of the Gods, stimulates persuasion and communion and indissoluble friendship, augments divine love, kindles the divine element in the soul, scours away all contrary tendencies within it, casts out from the aetherial and luminous vehicle surrounding the soul everything that tends to generation, brings to perfection good hope and faith concerning the light; and, in a word, it renders those who employ prayers, if we may so express it, the familiar consorts of the Gods.Iamblichus, trans. Clarke et al., De Mysteriis V.26
You can also view the above in an Instagram post (nurselingofkronos).
I’ve been quiet lately apart from posting the commentaries on Sallust. Life has gotten busier as I prepare for my workplace to bring us back onsite (hybrid) at the beginning of August; I’m also co-running a two-half-day conference this week.
However, I am still praying and going about my daily routines — mindfully and intentionally. I light incense. I pour libations. I rest in the still light and the hum of the air conditioner after prayers come to a close. I chant, no matter how many or few repetitions I can do that day. It is prayer, as Proclus says, that renders us pious and puts us into contact with the Gods.
I’ve reflected over the past few weeks on just how magnificent Athēnē and Hermēs have been to me in my professional life. When I was 22, uncertain of where I would go in my life and resistant to the idea of following in my mother’s footsteps to become a librarian, they truly granted me the guidance and direction I needed, along with Apollōn and other Gods I worship. And now, twelve-ish years later, the food I eat, the apartment I live in, and the opportunities I have had are all due to the care of the Gods during that fluctuating period (not to mention whatever incarnation choice I made way back). Sometimes I feel like I haven’t used the resulting resources (of time, energy, and opportunity) wisely, and I have often fallen into autopilot and survival mode instead of remaining consciously present in the driver’s seat of my life. Intellect being in control, and not desires or emotions, leads to a quiet confidence that regardless of circumstances, we are doing what we can with what we have. I am by no means perfect at that (and no embodied person can be), but the past few weeks of reflection have given me a better sense of where I need to grow. A tree extending her roots through the soil may not grow visibly above the ground.
Excited by a new oracle deck (Threads of Fate, rose gold, discounted; I loved that it reminded me of the Goddesses upon the meadow in the Myth of Er and Apollōn’s aspect as Moiragetes, the leader of the Fates; I can hear the song of Plato’s enmeadowed sirens in the name) — which I bought to cover the types of “know thyself” and personal development questions that none of my other tools cover well — I asked Apollōn how to prepare for going back onsite and received THE PILLAR, which reminded me of the Seven Sages, the Delphic Maxims, and grounding in the virtues that is at the heart of all we need to do. It brought to mind my intentions to cultivate better focus and cut out distractions. (This was my first use of the deck on Saturday. It was Apollōn’s sacred day and a fitting time to ask him to bless the deck.) On Monday, when processing an empty feeling in my heart and a restless anxiety I couldn’t quite manage, I asked to know more about it and received THE OBSERVER. Having restarted my meditation routine with Headspace more earnestly as I get back into good self-care habits, it got me thinking about the resting awareness and compassion meditations that I have been doing. As the day wore on, and as the day turned into days, I realized that the emotions that had been torturing me so much earlier this week were transient pains, the emotional equivalent of what happens in the body when we wake up from a bad sleeping position and feel achey or when we have a mild cold, but will be okay. Without observing, I would have given those feelings more weight than they needed. The divinations I do are all conversations — with past, with present, with future, with the unity beyond them — and I think a common misconception is that divination is always about what will happen and not about how we build the character strength and use our current context to weather our allotments here. Meditation is quiet, and often silent, but filled with inner motion. It is something that can feed into our prayers, neither replacing them nor existing cut off from them.
In the passage I quoted at the beginning, Iamblichus is not referring to an Instagram-polished ritual experience, but an authentic one. Prayer and service to the Gods reminds me a lot of the two years I took ashtanga-style asana at a local yoga studio. (I was at the studio for a while, but the 6 PM M/W class changed content a few times.) We repeated the same sequence every class. Once I understood how to do each pose, the work lay in the details — how much the mind wandered and the thoughts raced, how tight my muscles were, whether I was fatigued. The “resting awareness” skill in meditation is present in yoga, too. Likewise, prayer is never just reading the same passages or lighting the same incense. Every one of us is a river that is the same and different each time we arrive at our shrines. We can learn a lot from the thoughts that arise, the emotions that pass through, and everything else that happens in that space. You note what is happening — thinking, feeling, anticipation/desire — and move back to the prayers. The self-awareness that arises is the gift of the Gods just as much as any of the other blessings they confer; a prayer routine nourishes our intellects and enhances receptivity just as much as the divine contact aspect of a prayer and offering practice.
Soon, I will need to give my commute back the time that I borrowed to do longer morning rituals since March 2020. It makes me a bit sad, but our lives are filled with seasons, and that is a holy thing, too. We do our best within the limits that we have.