On the Nine Offices of Saint Cyprian
August 12, 2015 1 Comment
Recently, as part of my effort to get off my fat, lazy ass and get myself into gear again, I started off with a novena to Saint Cyprian of Antioch, the patron saint of magoi and sorcerers and necromancers and all kinds of occultists. I pretty much winged it, and I wasn’t going off any particular novena rubric; I would say a few of his prayers I commonly use followed by his chaplet, but I did make it a contemplative novena. To explain how I did it, it would help to back up and explain one of the short invocations I make for Saint Cyprian of Antioch, which goes like this:
Holy Saint Cyprian of Antioch! Mage, martyr, and mystic; theurge, thaumaturge, and theophoros; saint, sorcerer, and sage! Pray for us, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
It’s a short prayer, but it encapsulates a lot of Saint Cyprian’s presence and symbolism. Besides, as one of the sacred symbols of Saint Cyprian is the number nine, I figured it would be a decent structure to use nine “offices” or “aspects” for the good saint, hence the threefold division of three offices, one for each letter. Plus, with nine offices, I figured it would be good to meditate and contemplate on the mysteries of Saint Cyprian of Antioch by focusing on each one of his offices each day of the novena.
Well, on day five of the novena (halfway through), an annoying thing happened. I wear a bracelet made of bone and precious stones dedicated to Saint Cyprian to keep his influence around me, and I took it off to take a shower in the evening before doing my novena (a little later than I had planned on doing because I was tired and engaged in conversation with other people). The bracelet snapped and scattered beads all over my bedroom, and I had the hunch that it wasn’t a mere accident. During my novena prayers that night, I did a bit of confirmation divination with the saint, and yes, it wasn’t just an accident; Saint Cyprian was miffed at me for being tardy with my prayers, and made the point that not only was I to shape up and act right in the future, but the bracelet could not be remade until an offering was made and the beads cleaned off. Moreover, as part of my “punishment” (or education, same diff really), he instructed me to keep better track of what I had been meditating on and what he had been teaching me.
Hence this blog post. I wanted to discuss some of my thoughts, in an abbreviated, short way, on the nine offices of Saint Cyprian of Antioch that make up his invocation I use. These were some of the thoughts and conclusions, sometimes spontaneously said aloud or sometimes silently passed on, that I think would be good to keep for records as well as for others to learn from. Yes, I’m aware that much of this is quite explicitly Christian or Gnostic in many aspects, but that makes sense, as Saint Cyprian is, well, a Christian bishop and hieromartyr. Dear reader, if you don’t much care for that kind of talk, you have been warned ahead of time.
The word “magician” comes from Greek μαγος, from the ancient Persian astrologer-priests, who managed the celestial forces as they achieved contact with the Earth as well as our own powers and prayers that rose to the heavens. A mage is an intermediary, in many ways, between the spiritual and physical, the celestial and terrestrial, the terrestrial and subterranean, the personal and impersonal, the internal and external. However, just as the magoi were seen as “foreign” the Greeks compared to their own goes, or goetic sorcerers or “shamans” as some people make them out to be, mages are always “foreign” to wherever they may be found. In some way, they do not fit: they are on the fringe, the outside, the external, always looking in and playing with things in a system that does not completely accept them. Magicians, by definition, are in the world without being of the world, for some definition of “world”. It is this stark differentness that is ostensibly a curse, but also its own blessing, when recognized for what it is: we must link being in the world without becoming part of it, and in doing so link what is with what is not.
The word “matryr” is Greek for “witness”. The good Rev. Dn. Strojan had this to say to me about the word:
…primarily is concerned with living in a manner consistent with Gospel teaching and nurturing a relationship with God. Martyrs are said to be witnesses of the faith by the fact that they are presumably killed for their beliefs.
The word is used based on what Paul said in Acts 22:15, that “you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard [of Christ]”. Indeed, Cyprian the Mage had no idea what he was up against when he tried to seduce, enslave, and eventually slay the virtuous maiden Justina, who defeated every single thing that Cyprian threw at her. Indeed, Cyprian saw firsthand the power of Christ and, even without being baptized or believing in Christ, made the sign of the Cross and drove back the Devil. Cyprian, as a mage, knows power when he sees it, and he had never seen any power like Christ before; Cyprian truly witnessed the power, grace, and saving strength of Christ. And, add to it, where there is such power, there is indomitable truth, and Cyprian could profess nothing but the truth he had seen, and he could never deny it, either, even in the face of certain death. That is where the word “martyr” comes in: martyrs are those who witnessed the power of Christ and professed it, even when they knew it would lead to their death. Cyprian would never budge from his position because of the true power he knew. What would it take for me, I wonder, to do the same? I am far weaker, and would naturally prefer to save my own neck than repeating truth, yet…truth is greater than I am, and Christ is greater than death. It’s not that Cyprian gave everything up for Christ, but quite the opposite; in Christ, Cyprian had everything, so death could not take anything away from him. A side effect of martyrdom: it truly is a crowning in its own holy way, a gifting of all power, that one may never be diminished after suffering the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of Truth.
A mystic is an initiate in the mysteries, and Saint Cyprian was initiated into them all, first to the god Apollo, then to the cult on Olympus, then the cabals in Argos, then the covens in Tauropolis, then the clans in Sparta, and on and on until he became a master of all gods, religions, and practices in his day, including ultimately the mysteries of Christ, greatest of them all. But what is a mystery? It is a truth, something true and mythic that lives on in the world outside us as well as the world inside us. In all mysteries, there must also be a mystagogue, a “leader into the mystery”, and Saint Cyprian is both mystic and mystagogue. He leads in a way not unlike Hermes, and in doing so, helps shine truth upon us; this was evident both when he was Cyprian the Mage as well as Cyprian the Saint. I sought his aid in leading me into his mysteries, as well as to those in which I am fit and made for.
The origin of the word “theurge” is from Greek, literally meaning “god-worker”. Yes, work is part of this word, but it’s a special kind of work, as this is a special kind of magic. Theurgy is magic that goes upwards, and I kept seeing an image of a double-sided Cyprian, one side facing me in his normal guise of old man in rags, but the other ennobled and enrobed facing away from me with arms outstretched towards the cosmos and all its stars and planets and lights. A theurge is no normal magician, but a “priest to the gods”, as in one who acts not in service to the gods but who acts on behalf of and ministers to the gods. In only approaching the gods as equals (God became man in Christ that man might become God in Christ), we help the gods and help ennoble and empower the gods above even their own rank, that all might approach the holy glory of the One. However, this is difficult as mankind, because we’re so trapped down here that we cannot see the cosmos in all its infinite glory. The body, especially, is something that is a tool, yet hinder us since we usually cannot use it well. We treat the body too well, or too lazily, or too softly, and in effect the body traps us. Yet, we cannot destroy the body, as it is our only tool in this world, and so we must treat it well enough that it lives well yet not so well that it becomes an obsession for us. This is much akin to the Buddhist notion of the Middle Way, which to an outsider would seem incredibly ascetic yet from its own system makes perfect sense as moderation; it just goes to show how far obscenely extreme we are in our indulgences that the Middle Way seems extreme in and of itself! In treating the body right, we can then, slowly, turn away and up from this world and engage in the right practice of the gods.
NB: this was the night that my bracelet broke, and I first asked Saint Cyprian about it. I had been lying on the couch, delaying going to my temple room for my novena, and chatting with friends before deciding a shower would be nice before making my prayers, and then my bracelet broke. Saint Cyprian firmly reminded me of our chat the previous night, about not overly treating the body well, which is exactly what I had been doing. Thus, a bit of a wonder had to happen in order to catch my attention, and this is where the role of thaumaturge comes in, literally “wonder-worker”. Little meditation was done tonight, instead to be replaced by an injunction to make my own wonders happen in the world. Cyprian showed me an image of his cauldron, and taking power out of it to cast death on this person, healing on that person, wealth on this person, poverty on that person, and so on. What is my cauldron? What is inside it? What is its fire? What is my hook? What is my spoon?
The office of “theophoros” was originally chosen on a whim, but it turns out to have been highly appropriate. Coming from Greek meaning “bearer of God”, the word “theophoros” was originally applied to Ignatius, student of John the Apostle and the third Bishop of Antioch (!). Saint Cyprian was not originally Christian, but born to pagan parents, dedicated to the god Apollo as a child, and initiated into countless mysteries before finally coming to Christ. In all these things, God was still present, and Cyprian took on more and more paths of God, taking a very roundabout way to his eventual ultimate initiation. In every work, every ritual, every spell, every tool, every initiation, and every step, Cyprian the Mage carried God around with him, though he did not know it; it was only during the climax of the Mage’s life and conversion into the Christian that Cyprian dug through all the detritus, muddled darkness, and clutter of practices that he found God at the center of each and every thing he had ever done. When he cleared all that away, Cyprian no longer had any burdens to bear, as God was, crucially, weightless; indeed, instead of bearing God, once the Mage became the Christian, God bore Cyprian, turning him from the Bearer of God into the Borne of God. God is in everything we do, from the smallest to the greatest, from the most mundane to the most spiritual, but we may have difficulty seeing him; that difficulty, that blind distance and rejection of grace, is our burden to bear. It is meant for us to bear, and it is eventually meant for us to one day put down our burden, cut to the heart of it all, and not only find that we have little to truly carry, but also to become carried by that which once we carried.
A saint, according to Catholic doctrine, is anyone who has holiness and grace enough to be granted access to Heaven, whether in life or in death. Saint Cyprian, obviously, is such a person, but it’s amazing that he could do so, given that almost for his entire life he was raised counter to everything in Christianity. He was part of every pagan path, every mystery religion, every magical order of his day; he worked with, worshipped, and worked upon countless gods and all but fought God himself. Yet, despite of and because of the spiritual darkness he lived in, he had grace and holiness enough to become a saint in his own, unpredictably magical way. Yet, moreover, he was human, like you or me. All of humanity possesses the ability to become saints, showing us that this is not something reserved for the elect or the blessed few, but that sainthood is open to all of us, each and every one of us. How do we become saints? It’s not that we stop sinning, for we can never really do that; even Saint Cyprian repented and shit and ate, although certainly his magical training gave him discipline enough to keep his sins at bay more than most. We become saints by enjoying grace, and grace…really isn’t that hard a concept to grasp. All we have to do is to keep looking at God and not look away. Much how Cyprian had everything when he converted to Christ and thus couldn’t lose anything, we don’t become blind to other things if all we look at and look for is God, because God is all and all are in God. It’s when we look at other things for their own sake that we lose sight of God, and that is when we turn our back on grace, but if we can just keep that Light in our eyes, it illuminates everything.
The word “sorcerer” is largely interchangeable with the word “mage” or “magician”, though it’s usually had something more of a sinister connotation. It ultimately comes from Latin sors meaning “lots” or “fates”, like the throws of a die or pulling of pieces of paper from a hat, by means of Medieval Latin sortarius “teller of fortunes by lot”. In a sense, it could be seen that mages work with the forces of the cosmos at their disposal to attain particular fates, while sorcerers manipulate the fate of the cosmos itself. This is kind of true, but also kind of not true; all sorcerers are magicians, but not all magicians are sorcerers. In some sense, sorcery is more difficult, yet also more popular, than magic meant in its stricter senses. While I thought that sorcery could be thought of as magic with a heavy bent on divination, given the emphasis on lots, it’s more that mages are the processors and implementors of the cosmos, while sorcerers are the engineers of the cosmos; we hack the systems at work themselves to change how they work, as opposed to putting them to work as they are. As for fate, well, if you consider destiny a destination after a long road, while magicians can make certain parts of the road easier or more difficult, it’s when you change the path itself or even the ultimate destination that sorcery is involved. Sorcery is the deception of the nature of reality itself.
Saint Cyprian showed me a vast city full of different types of buildings: some modern, some classically Greek, some Chinese, some simple mud-brick huts. This is the City of God, he said, and he asked “who built it?” It is the work of not God, but man; mankind brought each brick about, and each brick was inscribed with Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. Respect of God, who gives life, who gives grace, who gives guidance, is the key to wisdom, as it is by respecting the the Creator that we respect and know Creation. In recognizing our true power above, not a temporal or mundane power above us but a being that is actually greater than us in every way, we recognize the structure and harmony of the cosmos, and by respecting God, we inherently align ourselves with our purpose and plan in life. The world is meant to be lived in and manipulated to our good ends, not for our selfish or mundane ends, since it is by harmony with the created universe around us and all its creatures that we show God in ourselves as creators, yes, but also as maintainers and stewards and caretakers and inhabitants of it all. Why do we seek wisdom? We all have that flame of Sophia in our hearts, after all, but why do we let it burn, why do we want it to burn greater? There is no speakable answer; the only correct answer is by God, and it is by respecting God that we come to know God, and it is by knowing God that we come to knowledge of all.