Pagan Hymns

Pagan Hymns

By Proclus and others

Some of the most prominent philosophers of the late pagan era of ancient history were also the composers of beautiful hymns, devotional poetry to the old Greek and Roman gods. This tradition of pagan hymn-writing goes back to the earliest times, and we even have a collection of hymns supposedly written by the poet Homer himself. Other hymns were said to have been composed by the legendary Orpheus, but were probably actually written for use by the Orphic religious sect.

 

The later hymns by the philosophers include examples by Julian the Apostate (the last pagan emperor), Sallust, and the Neoplatonist Proclus. Because Proclus was an advocate of theurgy (the use of ritual magic to enter mystical states and achieve enlightenment), some scholars believe that the Proclean hymns may even have been used in magical rituals. It is possible that the recitation of the Proclean hymns was supposed to function something like a mantra, focusing the mind of the worshipper and making it easier for him or her to enter an altered state and contact the gods.

 

Whether or not the Proclean hymns were ever used this way in ancient times, it should certainly be possible for modern pagans to use them for meditative or theurgic purposes. Translations of these hymns are not widely available, but they can be found. Sometimes the translations are accompanied by scholarly commentary, which can be both interesting and useful for the worshiper who really wants to understand them in depth. They could also be used as liturgy by Hellenic pagans.