Who Is Plethon?
Nevertheless, Plethon was widely respected as a philosopher and advisor to the Byzantine rulers, and he had many ideas for the preservation and revitalization of Western civilization. He reawakened interest in Platonism in western Europe, which helped to launch the Renaissance and to inspire such Renaissance occultists and mages as Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, and Cornelius Agrippa.
The rumors of Plethon's Paganism were confirmed after he died in 1452, when his Book of Laws was discovered. This book contained a complete Pagan polytheist theology grounded in Platonism, with a comprehensive system of rituals, invocations, hymns, and even a sacred calendar to organize the holy days. It also included legislative principles for organizing a community based on this Pagan religion and Platonic philosophy. Although Plethon's followers attempted to obtain the book, it fell into the hands of George Scholarios, the future Patriarch of the Orthodox Christian Church, who long suspected Plethon of Paganism. He burned the book, but saved enough, as he said, to prove Plethon's "crime," and so to justify his destructive act. Only about one-third of the book survives, but it is fortunately the part that is most useful for those of us today who want to practice Plethon's religion. But why should we?
Platonists investigate the eternal Ideas or Forms as the ultimate cause of everything in the universe, for the Forms give structure and order to the world around us. These Forms exist in a Platonic realm outside of time and space, which seems mysterious, but numbers are a good example. The numbers 1, 2, 3, etc. exist eternally, independently of whether anyone has ever thought of them, and relations among them, such as 1 + 2 = 3, are eternally true. Moreover, numbers govern many processes in our universe. According to Platonists, the gods are also eternally existing Platonic Forms.
Based on the work of earlier Platonic philosophers, Plethon was able to describe the various orders and ranks of gods. In accordance with ancient Greek tradition, he called the highest god Zeus and, like other Platonists, considered him the Good Itself. Zeus is the chief over the supercelestial gods, who are the gods who exist outside of time and space, like other Platonic Forms, but are ultimately responsible for creating the things that are in space and time: our world. There are two ranks of supercelestial gods: the gods of Olympus and the gods of Tartarus, also called Titans. The Olympians create beings that are everlasting, although they exist in space and time; these are the celestial gods of the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars, and also the terrestrial daimons. The Titans, with the help of the celestial gods, produce mortal beings here on earth. Plethon explains that all daimons are beneficial, and that they assist the gods in their care for the cosmos. Moreover, since the world is an emanation of Zeus and the other gods, who are good, the world is fundamentally good. Here is a summary of the gods:
We humans are unique in that we have an immortal soul, given to use by the Olympian god Pluto, and a mortal body, given to us by the Tartarean goddess Kore or Persephone, his queen, for this earth is the "underworld" ruled by these gods. Thus humans fulfill an essential and unique function in the cosmos by uniting its immortal and mortal realms.
Plethon provides rituals for every day, with morning, afternoon, and evening worship services, including ritual gestures, invocations, and hymns, but there are also special rituals for the various holy days in his calendar. The month is divided into four seven-day weeks, each of which ends in a holy day, as follows:
Therefore, the monthly rituals address all the beings with immortal souls, from the highest, Zeus, to the lowest, human beings.
Plethon's sacred year is divided into four quarters, but they don't correspond exactly with the solstices and equinoxes, because the year begins with the new moon following the winter solstice; this is his way of solving the problem of having a calendar that obeys both the Sun and Moon. The annual celebrations are as follows:
Thus, the annual celebrations cycle through all beings from the highest, Zeus, to the lowest, us.
This may seem like a lot, and it can be, but Plethon makes it clear that we do not need to perform all the rituals he provides, and he gives suggestions for making practical alterations (as I do also in my book, Secret Texts of Hellentic Polytheism). The goal is to help us live our lives in better relation to the gods, not to take over our lives. In the remainder of this article I will explain two of Plethon's rituals, which you can include in your own practice.
Threefold Adoration Ritual
Normally the Threefold Adoration would be part of morning, afternoon, and evening rituals, but you can perform it on its own at those times, or if this is too much, then once a day. The kneeling and bowing may be new to you, but it has precedents in ancient Greek ritual and it is good for grounding your practice in the earth. By the way, Plethon says that if kneeling is difficult for you, then you may approximate the gestures in any way convenient.
A Hymn to Chant
Second Perennial Hymn, To the Gods
You can recite or chant this hymn after you perform the Threefold Adoration.
John Opsopaus, PhD, (Tennessee) has practiced magic since the 1960s and his writing has been published in various magical and Neopagan magazines. He frequently presents workshops on Hellenic magic, Neopaganism, ...