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The Sacred Ego in Mediterranean Magical Traditions

Author: Kedeshim
Posted: June 1st. 2017
Times Viewed: 5,680

Hubris gets bandied around a lot in revivals or reconstructions of Hellenic, Hellenistic, and Roman polytheism. It has been conveyed one of the most reprehensible crimes or impure actions one can make. In the lore, acting from hubris generally resulted in the Fates stepping in, overriding the Gods in some cases, and the guilty party getting their ass served to Kereberos.

Needless to say, it has become popular to levy accusations of hubris against any person or organization that one disagrees with.

But what is hubris?

Hubris* is usually (quickly) translated as arrogance or pompous pride. This quick translation is usually offered when trying to explain one’s beliefs and devotions to intrigued family, friends, et al. In this light, such definition is a decent perspective, though it does fall short.

Hubris can more accurately be defined as a sense of entitlement for what is not licitly yours. Digging deeper, it is arrogance, but arrogance in the sense that we presume to A) tell the Gods how to do Their jobs, B) blaspheme the Gods, C) rob the Gods of what is rightfully Theirs, and/or D) dare to set one’s self or interests above the Laws of Themis (to which even the Deathless Ones are bound) .

Skepticism per se and/or a respectful disbelief was tolerated as the State Cults were matters of civic duty and identity. The proviso was, however, that you kept your mouth shut when participating in the rituals of the community.

An accusation of hubris was one of the reasons Socrates was condemned to death. Later translators have confused this with our fairly modern concept of atheism.

Socrates believed in Divinity. He was himself extremely devoted to Pallas Athena. He was also a priest of Apollon and held regular concourse with his Agathos Daimon.

However, Socrates refused to believe the legends about the Deities, preferring to see in them moral allegories or simple human projection. He also actively encouraged people to question the status quo, tip sacred cows, and dare to think for themselves.

Unfortunately, because some of those sacred cows being tipped happened to be politicians taking bribes... and some of his students dared to call them out for their injustice and blind superstition... the government REALLY had a problem with him. THAT is the reason why they killed Socrates. That is the choice he made when he drank the hemlock: better to honor the Gods who are Truth than kowtow to the lies that people tell.

You want an example of hubris? Prometheus.

Oh, many folks tidy Prometheus up. They make him a hero for giving fire. However, tucked behind the nuances of Hesiod, as well as in the Orphic fragments, we find that Prometheus created humanity to outwit Zeus. And then he stole fire because he wanted humanity to feel indebted to him. (In some of the fragments, Zeus had intentions to give fire to our forebears in time.)

THIS...this was hubris. It was for THIS that Prometheus was enchained and the vulture set to devour his entrails. And only when he helped Herackles without expectation of reward was he set free.

And so, the Pan Theoi created Pandora (meaning “many-gifted”) to be the *doom* of humanity. Here, doom can be something ominous, though - at the time - doom was analogous to moira (fate) . She was also identified as being one and the same as Ge (the most holy Earth) .

In the legend of Pandora and the Ills, some see a deeper meaning. With the preemptive gift of fire, the Gods gave Pandora the urn with those ills (plus hope) . A dear friend, following in the Greek Traditionalist Craft, once noted that Zeus must have told Pandora something akin to this: “Here is the urn. It is in your safe-keeping. You may keep them bottled up, and humanity will enjoy a Golden Age but they will have no growth or merit. Or, you can unleash the plagues so that they may learn from suffering and surmount it. Then, they will pass from death into Immortality, and take their rightful place in the Company of the Deathless Gods.”

And, after a deep silence, Pandora tipped the urn, unleashing the plagues. She died, becoming the first woman to enter the Underworld. Thus did she become the Hope of Humanity as much as its doom.

{Nota Bene: I am grateful for Olympias for sharing her insight into the Mysteries of Pandora and Prometheus. The above is my own adaptation and retelling, but she deserves credit as original source, as well as being a mentor during my early years of the Craft.}

Coming back to the theme:

It is safe to say that hubris is, generally, bad.

However, then as now, sometimes, what outsiders see as hubris just is not so. We find this in the Mystery Cults and amongst the practitioners of hiera mageia (holy magic) in antiquity. In both these cases, initiates were adopted by the Gods, taught various sacred technologies allowing for direct contact with the Same, and brought to remember their own innate divinity.

The merest suggestion of the latter can send some folks into an unnecessary tizzy.

However, the Greeks held that each person had a Divine Spirit attached to them (in either the sense of a guardian OR a higher self of said person) . The Romans, too, held each man had their Genius and each woman had their Iuno, divine spirits deserving of worship.

In the Orphic Mysteries, humanity was held to be a combination of Dionysian (divine) blood and Titanic (mundane) ash/flesh. The author Kouros Mystes** once noted further that all humanity, as descendants of Deucalion and Pyrrha after the Flood, are also descendants of Ge and the meliai (ash tree nymphs) .

The Orphic Mysteries also held that the primordial serpent-man Ophion was broken apart. Sparks of his divinity became the seeds of all life. And it is the fate of all life to one day prove its merit and rise as a redeemed Ophion, worthy to take Eurynome (the White Goddess) as his Bride. This was later echoed by the Naasene and Carporatian Gnostic sects, who recognized Dionysos as the original of Christ, and worshipped the Greek philosophers as Saints.

Slumbering within us lies the divine fire. It is our inheritance. It is our birthright. We may not be Gods now. However, that is our ultimate fate, both individually and collectively. By the sacred technology of the Mysteries, by the teachings and workings of Magic’s art, this fire is quickened. This quickening re-affirms our kinship with the Holy Ones.

We see this concept enduring throughout surviving magical and mystical traditions throughout the Mediterranean. The much-talked about practice of Italian Witches threatening the Saints (and occasionally the Deities) has its roots in this.

First, it is recognition that we meet the Holy Ones halfway. We do not snivel as cowards, but hold our heads up in recognition that we and They are both worthy.

It can occasionally be a survival from the PGM, where one would constrain a Deity, albeit AFTER securing the favor of another Deity who “outranked” the Deity you were commanding.

There is also the sentiment, noted by Leo Martello after visiting family in Sicilia. Sicily, and the other islands once known as Magna Graecia, have seen so many invaders and influences. On a very localized level, some approach the Deities and Spirits with the sense of “If you don’t work out, you can be replaced.”

Lastly, it is a recognition that this Divine Potential is something to which even the most high must bow. With Gnostic Christian influence during the Renaissance era, this innate divine worth was identified as both Lucifer and Christ.

{Addendum: The practices mentioned above are NOT universal, and tend to be VERY localized. That said, they are common enough that folklorists, anthropologists, and independent researchers have all acknowledged them.}

To outsiders, this may be tantamount to hubris of the worst sort. And, they would be right... if they themselves were the ones to do so.

To those who know, they are a recognition of something deeper, as well as being an expression of mutual respect, personal sovereignty***, and the courage to do whatever is required in the face of adversity. It is THIS that has allowed our magical traditions to endure. It is THIS that has inspired us to survive.

* Hubris is the Greek term, though it was adopted by the Romans and Etruscans to describe offenses against pietas and gravitas. Similar concepts undoubtedly existed in other ancient cultures and creeds, as did the not-always-exclusive concept of the self-that-is-sacred et al.

**Kouros Mystes was the pen name for the author Robin Artisson when he was exploring Hellenic Polytheism. He used to maintain a separate website under this name, though it has since vanished.

*** It may be this ideal of personal sovereignty, mutual respect, and a willingness to assert Self-as-Sacred that may account for the lack of the phenomenon of being “god-bothered” or similar in Italian or Greek magical systems (and their heirs through emigration elsewhere) .



Location: Fall River, Massachusetts

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