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Liturgy and Hiereús: a samaelite introduction

Curia Magistralis - Ordo Adamantis Atri


In this article we will deepen the premises of the Samaelite Liturgy [1] and, specifically, the reasons that led us in placing this peculiar form of ritual at the very centre of our spiritual practice.

The purpose of this article is therefore to highlight the use of the liturgy as a samaelite prerogative outside the christian world, structured and formed to be a symbolical representation of the mysteries of Creation [2] carried out by the Hiereús and useful to the samaelite in order to understand and comprehend the true essence of God.

The liturgical celebration in the Ancient World

In our attempt to reconstruct a brief, but effective, history of religious celebrations, we cannot refrain from analyzing the structure these used to take in the ancient world and particularly in classical culture. Specifically, we will try to analyze the anthropological category of sacrifice, which undoubtedly remained, at least symbolically, in the Christian liturgy as well.

In fact, when we talk about sacrifice, it is perfectly normal to start from a Christian meaning, which links this concept to the categories of deprivation and suffering [3]. But what really is a sacrifice?

According to Toutain [4], the Latin term sacrificium designates all those rites in which any object is made sacred [5]. More generically, we can therefore say that sacrificia are those rituals in which an animate or inanimate object, offered to the deity by an individual or a collectivity on or at an altar, is killed, burned, destroyed totally or partially [6].

Sacrifice is not, for Toutain, to be considered, as Smith, Mauss and Hubert did, as an object in itself, but rather as an action that takes on the meaning of "sacrifice" only in a given culture. What might fall under the definition of sacrificium for the Romans, did not automatically fall under the same conception for the Greeks.

Contrary to what is also modernly believed in certain circles, therefore, sacrifice is not something universally valid and the same for all cultures, and we would certainly make a mistake in unifying the narrative even in our attempt at analysis present in this article.

It seems more appropriate, therefore, to focus our attention on the Roman world, which is culturally closer to us and certainly more influential on the development of the Christian liturgy to which we are accustomed today. Focal, then, is to understand as completely as possible how a Roman celebration was structured in order to try to trace any remnants in modern celebrations as well.

In Rome, sacrifices were divided into three different categories: honorary sacrifices, in which the hostiae honorariae were the protagonists; expiatory sacrifices, with the hostiae piaculares; and divinatory sacrifices, in which the hostiae consultatoriae were employed.

Unlike this rather precise distinction, however, we have not received an unambiguous structure of sacrifice and so, anthropologists [7] have attempted to reconstruct it through the use of literary sources of different kinds.

We are thus able to get a clear and distinct picture of the Roman sacrifice and its structure, which turns out to be rather complex even compared to the more modern Christian liturgy. In fact, in the first place, a selection was made of the animals that were to be sacrificed. This selection was made according to different criteria: cattle or large animals were sacrificed for public rites, while smaller animals were used for private or, at any rate, less solemn rites [8].

Then follows a procession by which the victims are brought to the ritual site along with all the instruments that will be used. In front of the altar the ritual of praefatio is performed, that is, an offering of food or incense addressed to the gods with the explicit purpose of inviting them to feast on the animal brought for sacrifice. This was followed by the immolatio phase, during which the officiant poured wine and mola salsa, from which the same phase takes its name, on the animal's head. The officiant would then pass a knife held by the flat of the blade over the entire back of the animal, from the head to the tail. This solemn act served to further consecrate the beast to its ritual purpose.

The actual killing takes place, however, by the hands of the slaves, as does also the dismemberment of the beast, carried out to check that all the organs are in place. The presence of the organs in the right place was symbolic of the pax deorum and thus of the appreciation of the sacrifice by the gods themselves. The body was then divided into two selections: one, composed of entrails and called exta, was reserved for the gods, while the other was reserved for the banquet of men or, more rarely, resold in the butcher shops of the city.

It is to be said that the term sacrificium was used to indicate the sacralization of an object through a ritual act. There is thus a real transfer of ownership of the object, from the sphere of man to the sphere of god, as also pointed out by Trebatius Testa, a contemporary of Cicero, in his treatise De religionibus [9].

The act of sacrifice was not only indicated, however, by the Latin term above, but could sometimes also be represented by the word, already seen, immolatio. We find ourselves, in this case, before a synecdoche, since this term did not originally indicate the complete act, but only a specific section of the sacrifice itself [10].

The importance of immolatio is not, however, common, as we shall see, to all classical cultures: in Greece, the emphasis of the ritual was on the actual killing, whereas in Rome, precisely because of the presence of immolatio, it is easy to deduce that the central role was played by the moment immediately preceding the death of the animal.

Where, in fact, during the Roman celebration great emphasis was placed on the moment when the priest passed the ritual blade over the animal's back, in the Greek world things unfolded differently: first, the priest poured a mixture of water and barley in front of him, thus sprinkling the sacrificial site. This gesture, unlike the anointing with the mola salsa we have already discussed, was not meant to consecrate the victim, but rather to purify it [11].

Following this purification phase, the priest was concerned with cutting a lock of hair from the animal's head and throwing it into the fire: again, however, we are dealing with a gesture that has nothing to do with the Latin immolatio. In short, the contact between the divine and human worlds does not take place with the consecration, but with the act of killing, as also underscored by the ololugē, or ritual cry, with which women indicated the moment when the two realities, the physical and the metaphysical, finally went to touch [12].

Even more interesting is to go on to point out, however, how the action of immolatio was linked to a real manifestation of the metaphysical on the plane of the physical. According to Quintus [13], a character in Cicero's philosophical dialogue On Divination, it is precisely during the immolatio that malformations would be produced in the animal's internal organs. The fact that these malformations would be produced precisely during this moment is logically deduced from the evidence that if these malformations were present from birth they would not allow the animal to live. It was therefore normal for Roman men to believe that the malformation was the product of an intervention of the divine on the physical plane through the mediation of the performance of a sacred act. The same idea persists in Seneca [14], although the philosopher does not speak explicitly of immolatio.

It was thus quite common to believe that the gods were able to change the morphology and arrangement of an animal's innards, as reported in a macabre passage in Lucan [15] where a soothsayer, seeing the monstrosity of a bull's innards states «nec enim tibi, summe, litavi, / Iuppiter, hoc sacrum, caesique in pectora tauri / inferni venere » [16].

The idea that the gods could take possession of the body of a sacrificial victim is also taken up in Arnobius [17], who questions the possibility of the gods Mellonia and Limentinus getting into the intestines of victims.

The Birth of Liturgy

The term liturgy comes from the Greek leitūrgía, a derivative of lēiton (place of public affairs) and érgon (work). The term was employed by archaic Christian culture to refer, in the wake of the Jewish tradition, to "service at the temple."

Liturgy is thus, also etymologically, a public service, performed at the sanctity of a place of worship by an insider, attended by the entirety of the congregation.

Etymology aside, however, we can juxtapose the term "liturgy" with that of "religious celebration," both being related to the creation of a bond between human and extra-human.

In making this kind of study, however, one must not forget that, at least originally, Christianity was an illegal cult in Rome. The illegality of worship and thus the impossibility of coming together in communal celebrations naturally influenced the beginnings of the liturgy, which for this reason was very simple in its structure. Worship was originally composed of scripture reading, prayers and psalms, but it did not have a liturgical celebration as we are used to think of it today. The structure of the celebration was, basically, imported from Judaism, except for the Eucharist, which was introduced directly by Jesus of Nazareth to his disciples [18].

Today, we do not know how the liturgical celebration was constituted in the apostolic period, but thanks to an ancient source, we know that the epitome of this celebration was precisely the breaking of bread [19]. It is certain, therefore, that at least the Eucharistic celebration was not only the culminating part of the religious celebration itself, but also that already in archaic times there was a precise description of how this was to be carried out and what songs and prayers were to accompany it.

The initial stages of liturgical celebration mark numerous changes even in those community celebrations held not on a weekly basis, but on specific occasions, such as, for example, baptism. From some ancient sources we know that originally the Eucharist performed during the baptism liturgy was included within an actual community meal; such a meal, however, often caused numerous disturbances [20] and therefore, was separated and later eliminated from the Eucharistic celebration [21].

In the same world, the definition of what we now call the liturgical year also required numerous changes: again, the requirement to have a series of annual holidays to be strictly observed was imported from Judaism. However, the liturgical year did not come to fruition until the 6th century CE, and even the most important holidays, such as Christmas or Epiphany, were not canonized until the 4th century CE.

The Samaelite Liturgy

Substantially different is the Samaelite approach to liturgy. In Samaelism, in fact, the liturgy is a communal moment in which there is no qualitative difference between officiant and auditorium, and therefore, everything is constituted so that both parties have an active role in its celebration. Moreover, the Samaelite liturgy is not to be understood as a moment of conjunction between man and God, any form of eucharist being absent, but rather a long form of contemplation of God and the eleven mysteries of creation.

In order to understand this evidence, we will try to outline, in the course of this section, the fundamental differences between our liturgy and the Christian liturgy.

First of all, it should be noted how, in Samaelism, the liturgy is not a sacred moment in which the divine or non-human enters the realm of the human through the transformation of substance. In fact the fundamental assumption of the christian liturgy is the transformation of bread into body and wine into blood operated, generically, by the words: hoc est enim corpum meum.

The Samaelite liturgy, for its part, has nothing that can be traced back to a change of substance or transubstantiation. There are no miracles and no entry of the non-human into the field of action of the human.

On the other hand, the liturgy as understood by Samaelism is a symbolic representation of the so-called mysteries of creation which, for academic convenience, have been identified in eleven moments.

As we shall see in another article therefore, the Samaelite liturgy is divided into eleven sections, each of which allows the worshipper or celebrant to contemplate and perceive on a spiritual level one and only one of the aforementioned moments. Words, gestures and instruments employed in each section are closely related, therefore, to the symbolism of that section.

Etymologically, we find instead a certain connection between the Samaelite and Christian liturgies in their sense of "service at the temple." De facto, the Ierà, which is the main liturgy of Samaelism, is configured precisely as a public service of the officiant toward the community taking part in the celebration. Such service, however, is not a "facilitation" of a supposed communication between God and men, as it is in Christianity, but rather a mere symbolic representation.

Crucially, it should be emphasized that the officiant, known as Hiereús, has no privileged relationship with the Deity compared to the community of worshippers revolving around him: ergo, it is impossible to qualitatively distinguish a Hiereús from a lay Samaelite. The absence of a qualitative difference between the officiant and the auditorium does away with any kind of ontological difference present between these two elements in any other religion; that is to say, for example, that by not considering the priest (or Hiereús) better than any member of the Samaelite community, one deprives said priest of the power to preach, to redeem, to punish. Again, then, the Samaelite Hiereús is no better than his community; rather, he is a member of the community, quantitatively and not qualitatively distinct from it in terms of time devoted to the study of sacred things.

Thus, the Hiereús has been trained according to a special educational program and is able to meet the theoretical challenges of the twenty-first century through the use of such tools as philosophy, history of religions, and metaphysics. The only difference between a canonical member of our Order and any person who considers himself a Samaelite outside the confines of our institution is the amount of time devoted to worship, which in the former case is far greater than in the latter.

That is to say, a lay Samaelite may or may not participate in liturgies, public and group initiatives, charity et similia, instead living his or her spiritual life in his or her own intimacy and individuality. The liturgy is by no means an obligation for the Samaelite community, but only one more tool to all the possibilities of spiritual practice that each individual can accomplish on his or her own in autonomy. The Hiereús is not, therefore, an intermediary between Deity and man, so much as a mere facilitator, a guide for those who live where he operates.

The existence of the figure of the Hiereús could be somewhat debated, especially in LHP where the individualistic drift has reached disturbing heights. In Samaelism, on the other hand, it follows a perfect logic and assumes an essential significance for all our philosophy.

First, we should note how the phantom figure of a "priest" or "minister of worship" is part of the imagery of most, if not all, religions, even of organized groups in the LHP sphere. With the exception of a few cases of animistic communities where the shaman does not have the same social function as a "cult administrator," the figure of "priest," although called differently from time to time, has always been part of human religious life: that is to say, the idea that there were people dedicated more to the spiritual life than others is something perfectly normal and recognized on every continent of the World. As we were saying, even some LHP organizations, ignoring of course the sectarian ones that we completely repudiate, have over the years acquired the figure of the "priest," declining, however, as one of the initiatory degrees within their path. Of course, do not get us wrong, the role of the priest within these organizations is not, even remotely, comparable to what the priest is in an institutionalized religion or in Samaelism. Nonetheless, it must nevertheless be acknowledged that the very fact of calling an initiatory degree "priest" in an LHP path denotes a certain importance inherently recognized in this word, associated with a function of spiritual and sometimes even ethical guidance.

Leaving the LHP world instead and coming to that of institutionalized religions, we can see that the figure of the minister of worship is common to virtually every type of religion anywhere in the world: from the Jewish rabbis to the Christian priest, from the Muslim imam to the Buddhist monk, from the Totheist shaman to the Hindu Brahmin, every part of the world has its own minister of worship, whose life is dedicated to the contemplation of divinity, the leadership of the community of worshippers and is, often, also invested with a strong ethical value, where the priest often has the function of redeeming or punishing the sins of his worshippers.

Samaelism, again, stands in the middle between these two visions. That is to say, it does not reduce the figure of the "priest" to a mere initiatory degree where the function of "spiritual guide" is implied only by the semantics of the name, nor, however, does it recognize the figure of the "minister of worship" as an unambiguous and absolute guide for the community of the faithful who choose to identify with our thought. Certainly, our Order is responsible for the formation of Samaelite Hiereús, but nevertheless we are the first to emphasize that it is the sacrosanct right of each believer to live his or her religious life in an individual sense if that is what is needed.

We simply do not believe that it is useful to exclude one possibility rather than another aprioristically. This is therefore why Samaelism is, in this sense, an exception within religions. Although Samaelism is an institutionalized religion, reporting to our Order, it does not at all deny the possibility of living worship individually, avoiding liturgies or celebrations; on the other hand, although it is a religion founded on the need to develop the full individual potential of each man, we do not believe that it is useful to exclude the possibility of living a communal spiritual life, shared through participation in the liturgy or other shared works, above which is the practice of Agape, so important to us.

As the almost universally shared anthropological evidence shows us, then, the minister of worship is a figure present in almost every human society and, therefore, shared by almost all forms of religion or organized spirituality around the world: to deny such a figure aprioristically by virtue of extreme individualism is nothing more than a form of fanaticism from which every reasoning man should carefully steer clear. Fanaticism has nothing to do with spirituality: reason is the only means available to man to improve his condition.

Here then, in this sense, we can read the figure of the Hiereús as a facilitator to reason, as a spiritual guide for those who wish to deepen their liturgical, meditative or contemplative practice, as someone, in short, who has deliberately chosen to devote his entire earthly life to probing the mysteries of the divine in order to allow the human and the non-human to touch each other, for a very brief and fleeting moment, within and of themselves and each other.

Since, however, there is no qualitative difference between a Hiereús and a layman, there is no possibility for the former to redeem or condemn the latter, since Samaelism is devoid of that concept instead shared in turn by the majority of religious believes: sin.

Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto: this phrase by Publius Terentius Aphro is perfect to summarize, without getting lost in theological treatises, the reasons for the absence of the concept of sin in Samaelism. We are all human, so we cannot deem condemnable (or "alien" in the sense of "strange") anything that comes from being human. Certainly, there are lawful behaviors and unlawful behaviors, but it is the law of the state that must judge and not the man of faith, nor does it judge God as understood by Samaelism, who is too distant and disinterested in creation to care to pass judgment on an individual man.

In this view then, it is perfectly normal for the Hiereús to have no power to pass any positive or negative judgment on any human being, nor to inflict punishment, nor to confess sins, nor to redeem the condition of guilt. All this is also supported by the fact that Samaelism does not recognize the existence of an afterlife, nor that it associates with its eschatological theory a valence of guilt to be atoned for.

That is to say, since there is no Hell or Paradise, since there is no theory of reincarnation justified by the actions performed by the deceased during his or her lifetime, and since, on the contrary, everything is run by a peristaltic and random movement produced by the presence of the Polemos within the Pharmakon, nothing can be redeemed or condemned.

In this context, liturgy is indeed delineated as "service at the temple," thus understood as "service at the community," but it is not configured as an obligation. Liturgy is merely one of the ways that Samaelism makes available to enable individuals to stand at the center of an inner dialogue with the Deity. This in no way precludes that such a dialogue can also be conducted in the intimacy of one's own self, without the help and accompaniment of an appointed figure.

On the other hand, it would also make no sense to deny those who desire and need the presence of such a figure, because let's face it, to deny the possibility of making use of a guide is to deny the individuality of those who have needs different from ours. Simply put, if we do not need guidance in our spiritual practice, we have no power to deny it even to those who do need it. If we did, as is often done in the LHP world, then we would not be too different from the Catholics who, for centuries, have tried to impose the figure of the priest as the sole intermediary between man and God.

Pride and fanaticism, in one sense or another, always lie in the extremes; virtue, on the other hand, always lies in the middle path.

[1] Ordo Adamantis Atri, Exalogy of the Serpent Vol. VI, Amazon 2023

[2] Ordo Adamantis Atri, Treatise of Samaelite Doctrine, Amazon 2022, pp.79-130

[3]M. Bettini, W. Short, With the Romans: an anthropology of the ancient world, Il Mulino, Bologna 2014, p. 107

[4]J. Toutain, Sacrificium in Daremberg e Saglio “Dictionnaire des Antiquités graeques et romaines” vol.IV.2,1911, pp. 273-280

[5] Ordo Adamantis Atri, Exalogy of the Serpent vol. I, Amazon 2020

[6], M. Bettini, W. Short, With the Romans: an anthropology of the ancient world, Il Mulino, Bologna 2014, p. 108

[7]F. Prescendi, Décrire et comprendre le sacrifice : Les réflexions des Romains sur leur propre religion à partir de la littérature antiquaire, in “Mythos” vol. II, Stuttgart 2007

[8] M. Bettini, W. Short, With the Romans: an anthropology of the ancient world, Il Mulino, Bologna 2014, p. 110

[9]cfr. T. Testa, De Religionibus, in Macrobio “Saturnalia”, 3.3.2

[10] M. Bettini, W. Short, With the Romans: an anthropology of the ancient world, Il Mulino, Bologna 2014, p. 112

[11]J. Rudhart, Essai sur la religion grecque & Recherches sur les Hymnes orphiques (1958), Presses universitaires de Liège, 2013, pp. 259-260

[12]M. Bettini, W. Short, With the Romans: an anthropology of the ancient world, Il Mulino, Bologna 2014, p.113

[13] Cicerone, De divinatione, 1.118-119

[14]Seneca, Naturales Quaestiones, 2.32.4

[15] Lucano, Bellum civile, 1.609-638

[16] ibid.

[17]Arnobio, Adversus Nationes, 4.12

[18]Acts of the Apostoles, 2,42-46

[19]cfr. Anonymous, Didaché, 14.1

[20] Agustine, Letter to Aurelius, 22.4

[21]Tertullian, Apology, 39

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