The Three Categories of Magick
Hermetics split magic up into three general categories: goeteia (goetia), mageia, and theourgia (theurgy).
Goeteia is what most people think of when you bring up historical and fantastic magic; in goeteia, the magician causes change by manipulating aspects of the outside universe. Pronouncing an incantation while performing a hand motion and inscribing words of power onto a strip of papyrus in order to heal the sickness of a friend, for instance, or breaking the bone of a rat while chanting a prayer to Hermes for the purpose of being liberated from a jail cell, are examples of goeteia. Thus, most of what wizards do in fantasy roleplaying games, and what evil cultists do in horror games, falls under the heading of goeteia. The word itself is thought to come from an archaic Greek root meaning ‘howling’.
Mageia can be thought of as what most magicians seek to master. Once a practitioner of magic has a firm foundation in words of power, sympathetic correspondences (see Sympathetic Mechanics) and other elements of spellcasting and magical ritual, he or she can begin to experiment with more rarefied techniques. The magician seeks to cause change through the efforts of his or her will alone; words of power are used to more tightly define the magical flow, but in mageia, the magician chooses not to call upon the aid of Daimons and other beings in favor of developing his or her own abilities. A fine example of this idea in a roleplaying game is that, in GURPS, as a wizard character gains a higher and higher skill level in a particular spell, he or she requires less ‘magical energy’ and fewer ritual gestures to cast that spell until, eventually, the spell requires no ritual gestures or spoken words at all! (See GURPS Fourth Edition Basic Set: Characters, pg 237, or GURPS Fourth Edition: Magic, pp 8 & 9.) The word ‘mageia’ comes from the name of the Iranian priesthood, who were practitioners of magic. It is thought to mean ‘wisdom’ or ‘knowledge’, while magos (the Greek source of our words ‘magician’ and ‘mage’) is said to mean ‘one who knows’ or ‘one who is wise’.
Theourgia is something of a synthesis of the above two. Goeteia takes advantage of communication with spirits of various sorts, the occult connections between material things, and symbols; Mageia takes advantage of the magician’s inner strength, understanding of fundamental principles and level of development. This being true, Theourgia takes advantage of the experience and knowledge gained through both practices, and uses them together in an attempt at becoming him- or herself a God or divine being. Generally, this includes making very strong alliances with Gods and Daimons in order to borrow of their power, though unlike in goeteia, this power is not begged or prayed for, but freely taken (and given in return) as a service to fellow evolving souls. This is where the idea of a pact with a demon or devil comes from, for it was thought of as a free exchange between two intelligent beings and, in the practice of magic, one’s soul truly is on the line whether Daimons become involved or not! If a magician fails in his or her quest for real understanding, severe damage can be done; if a magician succeeds, however, divine exaltation and eternal life are achieved. Such is the philosophy of Hermetic magic. The word ‘theourgia’ means ‘God-work’.
- Except taken from Hermetic Magic