Epictetus on Priests

The stoic philosopher Epictetus writes about those who want to become priests before they are ready and rightly trained and the importance of the correct priest during the ceremonies. Many people have supported and still claim to be priests and priestesses of the Goddess Hekate or other Gods, while others claim to be priests/priestesses of a magickal tradition. Being a priest/priestess demands great commitment and a lot of hard work internally and externally, in theory and practice. It is time consuming and someone has to devote himself to it. Some people take this task lightly and after they have achieved a personal standard they believe they are fully qualified to undertake what their title demands. However, sometimes our personal standards may be lower than the generally accepted standard for each tradition and it is good to keep ourselves informed, open-minded and ready to hear from people who may see something that we ignore. There are of course, many good priests and priestesses in every tradition and even better, priests of a God/Goddess. The stoic philosopher Epictetus in his work "Discourse" writes about the importance of the correct leader during the ceremonies and those who want to become priests before they are ready and before they are trained accordingly.

"They, who have just adopted theorems and nothing more, immediately wish to vomit them forth, as persons whose stomach is diseased with food. First digest the theorems and then you will not vomit them up: if you do not digest them, they become truly emetic, a crude food, inappropriate to eat. But after digestion, show us some change in your ruling soul, as athletes show their shoulders as a result of their exercise and diet and like those who have taken up certain arts, show their results from what they have learned. The carpenter does not come and say, “Hear me talk about the carpenter's art”; but having undertaken to build a house, he makes it, and proves that he knows the art. You also ought to do something of the kind. Show us these things that we may see that you have in truth learned something from the philosophers.

And how can you give them any of these things which you do not possess? These things are not done in a careless way nor accidentally; but you must have the proper age and way of life and God as a guide. You say, no. If a man has undertaken so great a work without the help of the Gods, will he undertake it safely and shall those who approach him are going to be lucky to come to him? What else are you doing, man, other than vulgarize the Mysteries? You say:

“There is a temple at Eleusis, see, there is one here also. There is a Hierophant there and I also will make a Hierophant. There is a Keryx there and I will establish a Keryx. There is a Torchbearer there and I also will establish a Torchbearer. There are torches at Eleusis, and I will have torches here”. You say that the words are the same: “how do the things done here differ from those done there?”

Impious man, do you believe that there is no difference? Do the same things benefit anyone when they are done in the wrong place and at the wrong time? No, but someone must come accompanied with sacrifice and prayers, after he is firstly purified, and when he is disposed in his mind to the thought that he is going to approach sacred rites which are ancient. In this way, the mysteries are beneficial, in this way we come to the notion that all these things were established by the ancients for the education and improvement of life. But you publish and vulgarize the Mysteries out of time, out of place, without sacrifices, without purity. You have not the garments which the Hierophant has, nor the hair, nor the headdress, nor the voice, nor the age nor have you kept yourself purified as he has, but you have memorized his words only and you speak. Are the words sacred by their own?

You ought to approach these matters in another way: this thing is great, it is mystical, not a common thing, it is not given accidentally nor to every man. A man must have also a certain readiness and purpose and a certain quality of body, and above all things, he must have God to advise him to occupy this office. Why then do you take risks in things of the greatest importance? Why are you careless? Why do you undertake a thing that is in no way fit for you? Leave it to those who are able to do it, to those who are notable."

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Theurgy and Philosophy are two different methods which lead to the union with God.


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