Ritual meals are an ancient human tradition, dating back at least 12,000 years. When it comes to Hermetic tradition, such as it is, the Asclepius or Perfect Discourse has vague instructions and a prayer for a ritual meal in its final chapter.
At the end of the Asclepius, the four main characters — Hermes Trismegistus, Tat, Asclepius, and Hammon1 — have finished their discourse. They have left the temple and have decided to offer a prayer of thanksgiving before eating their meal. This ritual makes the perfect end to any sort of Hermetic discourse.
Designing a Ritual Meal
The ritual meal with which I’m most familiar is the Masonic table lodge. Table lodges can be pretty involved, though, and there is no reason for a Hermetic ritual meal to be so complicated. Instead, let’s take inspiration from the table lodge to build a ritual meal.
A Masonic table lodge takes the following rough form.
- The ritual space is secured (or tyled).
- An invocation is offered.
- The Ceremony of the Seven Toasts
- The meal is enjoyed.
- The ritual space is closed.
Two elements of the table lodge stand out as being key. First, there are strictly regulated roles that participants take — the officer positions in the lodge. Second, the star attraction of the table lodge is the Ceremony of the Seven Toasts, a very old Masonic tradition.
I feel like a Hermetic ritual meal should be more intimate and communal. In the Asclepius, the final prayer and meal take place after the characters have engaged in a divine discourse. Hermes has offered a lesson to his most trusted students and answered their questions. This means that such a ritual meal should be suitably small and intimate, perhaps with just a few participants who gather in a private space to share lessons, discuss the Hermetic texts, and then share a repast.
When laying out the ritual dinner, the Asclepius points out a few important rules to follow. First of all, there should be no incense or other burnt offering. As Hermes tells us, “It is like sacrilege to burn frankincense and other things when you pray to God.”2 Next, the meal should be “pure, and undefiled by the flesh of animals.”3 We now have a ritual plan that is simple: the group is small, there is no incense, and the meal is vegetarian.
My suggestion is that a Hermetic ritual meal follow an outline like this.
- An invocation is offered.
- The group participates in a discourse or discussion on the Hermetica.
- The Prayer of Thanksgiving is recited.
- The meal is enjoyed.
This simple pattern could be used for any gathering of students who study Hermetic works together.
The Prayer of Thanksgiving
I adapted this prayer from the Asclepius, based on the translation of G.R.S. Mead and the translation of Clement Salaman. If performing the prayer at sunrise, everybody should face East. During all other parts of the day, face South.
We give You thanks, highest and most excellent God! For by Your grace alone we have received the great Light of Your own Gnosis.
Holy, unique, and adored is Your name, by which the Only God is to be praised through the worship of our fathers. We thank You who grants to all a Father’s piety, and care, and love, and every virtue that is more precious than these. You endow us with sense, reason, and intelligence: with sense, that we may feel You; with reason, that we may recognize You in all things; and with intelligence, that we may have joy in knowing You.
We are saved by Your divine power. Let us rejoice that You have shown Yourself to us in all Your fullness. Let us rejoice that You have blessed us, though we are still entombed in bodies, for all Eternity.
For this is the sole praise of which You are worthy, to acknowledge Your majesty.
We have known You; yes, by the single sense of our intelligence, we have perceived Your supreme light. You are the true life of life, O bountiful womb that gives birth to every nature!
We have known You, who are completely filled with the conception from Yourself of universal nature!
We have known You, in Your eternal constancy!
For in the whole of this our prayer in worship of Your Good, we crave only the favor of Your Goodness; that You will keep us constant in our love of knowing You, and let us never be cut off from this kind of Life.
You might want to check out Sam Block’s rendition at the Digital Ambler or the version from the Nag Hammadi Library.
Finally, there is another Hermetic prayer from the first book of the Corpus Hermeticum. This makes a suitable opening invocation before the ritual meal. You can find that prayer in my article on The Festival of Thoth.
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The featured image for this article is “Prayer before the Meal” by Jan Steen (1626 – 1679).
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