The main samaelite liturgy, called Ierà [i.e. sacred things] , is a highly symbolic practice, in which each movement, instrument, vestment or spoken word has a specific function onto the representation of the so-called "mysteries of Creation". Samaelism sees and practice liturgy not only as a way of celebrating God as the supreme architect of Creation, but most of all as an instrument to better understand the mysteries of self-enclosure, reflection and emanations. In this article we will try to understand the fundamentals of the symbolism of the Ierà and the main elements that constitute the aforementioned celebration.
The Symbolism of the Ierà
As we have seen, the Ierà is the fundamental liturgy of samaelite practice, employed to represent, in a symbolic way, the miseries of Creation. Needless to say, Ierà is closely connected to samaelite philosophy, without which it could not exist. The Ierà is employed to represent the eleven mysteries of creation, that is, the eleven moments that characterize the life of all entities. The Ierà is thus a symbolic journey, a troubled path full of mystery, in which each participant can contemplate, with the help of the symbol, the invisible. Just as the task of the icon is to make the invisible visible, so too the Ierà allows one to touch what would otherwise be theoretical, intangible, mysterious.
In structuring the Ierà, therefore, it was chosen to identify eleven key moments in creation, each of which has its own intrinsic meaning designed to facilitate the perception of that eternal and imperishable substance we call Pharmacon. These moments are: Nihil, Conscitum, Conflictus, Coniuctio, Reverbero, Emanatio, Unctio, Devotio, Agàpe, Ratio and Cooptatio.
The first moment of the Ierà is the Nihil, or Nothingness. At this stage there is nothing but the Farmacon: the serpentiform icon is therefore covered and all the candles, except for the two placed at the sides of the icon itself, are extinguished. There is no sound of êchos since there is no creation, there is neither space nor time, there is nothing outside the Farmacon. The opening words spoken by the Hiereús emphasize this state of Nothingness represented by the total absence of symbolism: «Farmacon, qui Nihil fuisti et Nihil eras, accipe nos in hoc loco sine tempo et lice nobis laudare tuam interminam gloriam.» Here, then, in a space that is defined as sine tempo, that is, without those characteristics proper to Creation. In fact, the samaelite sacred space, during the celebration, is referred to precisely as "Acronide", i.e., "timeless." This is followed by a series of invocations to the Farmacon that lead to the second moment of the celebration, the Conscitum.
By the stage of Conscitum we refer to the creative moment of self-enclosure, that is, that key element of samaelite doctrine in which the Farmacon, filled with its own essence, became self-aware and became God. Without a shadow of a doubt then, the key element in this passage of the Ierà is the uncovering of the icon, which, as mentioned, was previously hidden by a black cloth. The act of uncovering the icon and revealing the presence of the Serpent on the altar thus indicates God's self-dedication to Creation, the becoming aware of the One. It is also at this moment that the êchos is first sounded: for it is with the moment of self-enclosure and thus with the "birth" of God understood as Deus Conditus that all temporal and spatial reference begins. Sound, then, is now permissible in the celebration. God's eternal silence is interrupted by eleven strokes of êchos that call the auditors back to the contemplation of the Serpent and its mysteries.
The third moment is that of Conflictus, i.e., that phase in which the first of the samaelite archetypes is introduced into Ierà: Polemos. After the invocation of Polemos, in fact, the Hiereús proceeds to light the central candle in front of the icon, the black one, the symbol of the descent of the eternal movement within the Farmacon. It is after the lighting of the aforementioned, that the following exclamation is made. «Mihi concede percipere quam semper diversae aquae fluent in eodem flumine, sicut venter et dorsum unterque necessari sunt pro existentiam tuam [...].» This phrase, of obvious Heraclitean derivation, serves to underscore the contradiction of the things of Creation, their eternal opposition, the perennial clash of opposites that nevertheless have not yet been introduced into the symbology of the celebration. All things, in short, are in eternal change, all things are in eternal contradiction: just as a river is such only because its waters flow continuously, so it is the presence of Polemos that makes all things what they are.
The fourth phase, the Coniuctio, is when, after Polemos, the two archetypes of Neikos and Philia are also introduced, represented, as mentioned, by the kopis (knife) and kotûle (cup). These two objects, held one in the left hand and the other in the right hand, are raised to the sky above the icon and joined in a simple touch. The joining of the two polarities, possible only after the introduction of Polemos, which, let us remember, is the condition of the possible relationship between opposites is what allows us to continue on our journey of the mysteries of creation: having understood that all things are founded on opposition and change, we must now understand that aggregation and disintegration are both necessary, that good and evil are nothing more than human projections, and that within the Pharmacon there is room for all that is thinkable, knowable, perceivable.
This stage corresponds to what is known in samaelite doctrine as reflection. Existing nothing but himself, God could do nothing more than think about himself, therefore, reflect on himself. Such reflection on himself produced what, at a later stage, will be identified as emanations of God, in a theory of obvious Kabbalistic inspiration.
The symbolism of this moment of the Ierà is based on the use of a bowl of consecrated water, poured from a pitcher in front of the icon and employed by the Hiereús to mirror himself and meditate for a few minutes. This meditation on himself is accompanied by the exclamation: «Magister, qui sicut speculum aquae in tuam infinitatem spectavisti et omnipotentiam tuam recognovisti [...].»
The use of the element of water, there fundamental to the representation of the theory of reflection is thus the first point of conjunction between the human and the divine: man, like God, is mirrored in himself, recognizes himself, manifests himself.
After reflection there is nothing but emanation. Thinking of himself, recognizing himself, God overflows of his own substance and creates his double, his finite manifestation, Epifaneia. This is the epitome of the celebration, where the entire community present takes turns in reciting mantras that accompany the lighting of the ten transverse candles placed on the altar. To the name of each Sphere (or pair of Spheres) pronounced by the celebrant, the audience responds with the corresponding mantra, so as to open the whole of Creation to human understanding. It is precisely at this moment that we witness a reversal of priorities between celebrant and audience: it is in fact the audience that performs the actual invocation through the recitation of the mantras, while the celebrant is a mere assistant, charged with lighting the corresponding candles and guiding the order of invocation through the calling of the names of the Spheres.
If with the emanatio Creation was accomplished, unctio represents man's entry into the equation of life. Through the anointing, manifested in the act of drawing a serpent on his forehead with the help of consecrated oil, the human being creates his unique relationship with the divine, declaring himself as a manifestation of the conscious Farmacon. Consciousness, shared between man and God, is indeed the protagonist of the moment of unctio in which anyone can take part. Unlike the eucharist, the unctio does not correspond to any change of substance, and anyone, Samaelite or non-Samaelite, can take part if they wish. The relationship between human and non-human has now been created.
The condition of the maintenance of this unique relationship is represented by the moment of devotio, that is, the emergence within humankind of religious sensibility. Just as in the case of emanatio, in devotio there is a reversal of the celebratory paradigm, with a greater importance of the auditorium than of the speaker. Indeed, it is the auditorium that performs the open questions addressed to the deity himself, such as: «Dum locas per meam semitam fervores qui servāre non possum?» or again «Dum cupis qui corpus meum gaudeat rerum cuius gaudere non possum?» The pain of existence, the loneliness of the human condition, the eternal questions that man has been asking himself for centuries are all summed up in this moment: but God does not answer, for God is silent.
After devotio, which, as we have seen, is the moment when man recognizes himself as such because of his connection with the non-human, Agàpe is certainly the topical moment of hieratic hymination. That is, man first recognizes the different (God) and then his fellow man (other men). The nature of the bond with other men is thus based on the idea of Agàpe, that is, the tolerance and selfless help that is, as amply demonstrated, the main social glue and, therefore, the best behavior of the man who wishes to self-preserve.
The Samaelite Agape is represented by the Ierà by a symbolic embrace that the celebrant gives to a present and the recitation of the Prex Pro Fratribus.
Ratio is, without any doubt, the most peculiar moment of the samaelite Ierà. This moment is a celebration of rationality and philosophy, science and critical thought. Despite every other religions, where the celebrant is qualitatively different from the audience, Samaelism does not accept this distinction and therefore puts all the participants on the same level. This means that the Hiereús is not entitled to preach or scold the audience, but that everyone can discuss on a topic proposed by the Hiereús themselves. Everyone can take part in the discussion: lays, novices, canonic members, devotees of other cults and religion, for the ratio represents the highest belief of a samaelite, the belief in reasoning, in truth in confrontation as a premise to knowledge.
Here we are, then, at the last moment of the Ierà, that of the cooptatio or aggregation, that is, the moment when man, having ended his life, rejoins Nothingness. There are no sounds of êchos to open this phase, but only an exclamation of almost heuristic value: «Sicut post universum creatum fuit, Farmacon in se ipsum retulit, sicut quoque homo, executa essentiam suam, Magistro reverterit debet. Tempus est vivendi, tempus moriendi. Nunc morimus ut resurgere in aeterno complexo Farmacon omnipotentis.»
Just as after the creation of the Universe the Farmacon returned to itself, so man, having finished his purpose, must return to Nothingness. There is a time to live and a time to die [...].
Death, far from being a threat to the Samaelite, is an element of one's existence not unlike any other, of which every man should have as high an awareness as possible. There should be no fear in one's relationship with death, for there is nothing that can condemn us to phantom eternal punishments: the only sin is not being oneself. But for the man who has been himself, who has unfolded his interiority in all its immense potential, death is a sister to be welcomed with open arms. We have had our time of life, now we have our time of death.
Cooptatio, the end of human life, the return to that state of nonbeing that preceded our existence is therefore also the end of the whole Samaelite celebration.