This post is part of a series, “49 Days of Definitions”, discussing and explaining my thoughts and meditations on a set of aphorisms explaining crucial parts of Hermetic philosophy. These aphorisms, collectively titled the “Definitions from Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius”, lay out the basics of Hermetic philosophy, the place of Man in the Cosmos, and all that stuff. It’s one of the first texts I studied as a Hermetic magician, and definitely what I would consider to be a foundational text. The Definitions consist of 49 short aphorisms broken down into ten sets, each of which is packed with knowledge both subtle and obvious, and each of which can be explained or expounded upon. While I don’t propose to offer the be-all end-all word on these Words, these might afford some people interested in the Definitions some food for thought, one aphorism per day.
Today, let’s discuss the fourth definition, part I, number 4 of 5:
Now man is a small world because of soul and breath, and a perfect world whose magnitude does not exceed the sensible god, (i.e.) the world. The world (is) intelligible and God (is) Nous; (he is) the truly uncreated, the intelligible; by essence, the uncreated and the ineffable, the intelligible good. In a word, God is the intelligible world, the immovable Monad, the invisible world, the intelligible, invisible and ineffable good.
When this definition says that Man is a “small world”, just as Heaven might better be rendered by the Greek word cosmos, we might be better off using the Greek word microcosmos. In other words, Man is a small world, but the Hermetic sense of this means that the microcosm is a reflection and interconnected system related to the macrocosm (great world); in the words of the Emerald Tablet, “what is above is like what is below, and what is below is like that which is above”. As such, Man reflects and is like the other worlds it is in, namely Heaven and God. Man, however small it may be, is a distinct world from either; it is both less and more than Heaven, and certainly less than God but made in a similar image.
Instead of mere matter as the sensible world of the cosmos is, Man is a different microcosm “because of soul and breath”, the spiritual and physical evidence of God in the visible world. Soul, after all, is that which animates the body, and breath is the physical evidence of soul; breath is spirit, which comes from Latin actually meaning “breath”, similar to Greek pneuma. Related words here are “inspiration”, the breathing in of new life, and “expiration”, the last exhalation of life or usefulness; breath gives power to both physical life, reason, and rationality, especially as it pertains to speech and communication. Soul, on the other hand, is the Latin anima and Greek psykhe, and is the power of motion within the body, that which commutes higher power from immovable God to moveable Heaven by means of the body. The soul, sometimes called the emotional seat of Man, is that which produces motion in the body, animating the body physically and the enabler of physical breath to relay divine spirit.
Thus, Man is different from other parts of Heaven due to its soul and breath, forming its own microcosm within the greater cosmos. However, Man is also “a perfect world whose magnitude does not exceed the sensible god, i.e. the world”. In other words, though Man is distinct from though still perfect as God is (being made in the image of God), Man is still limited and is bound by the world he finds himself in. The “sensible god” can be two different worlds: Heaven and Man. In either case, Man is either still distinctly Man, or Man exists within and a part of Heaven; in neither case does Man become greater than sensible, i.e. purely intelligible as the world of God is.
The sensible world is a distinct and strict subset of the intelligible world, since there are things that are intelligible that are not sensible (God), while all things that are sensible are intelligible (Heaven and Man). So, while Heaven as “the world is intelligible”, God is Nous, or Mind. This is pure intelligibility, that which is intelligence and intelligible both. This is clearly made the case in the Poimandres, the first chapter of the Corpus Hermeticum (chapter I, part 6):
That Light, [Poimandres] said, am I, thy God, Mind [(Nous)], prior to Moist Nature which appeared from Darkness; the Light-Word (Logos) [that appeared] from Mind is Son of God.
What then?—say I.
Know that what sees in thee and hears is the Lord’s Word (Logos); but Mind is Father-God. Not separate are they the one from other; just in their union [rather] is it Life consists.
Mind produces Word; as we said before, Word is empowered by Spirit, delivered by Soul, given by Man, and made evident in the World. Mind comes before all; Mind was before the Moist Nature (water) and Darkness (e.g. the darkness upon the face of the deeps in Genesis); Mind is that which spoke “Fiat Lux”, the first words, to make Light, which is also Word. Mind, though not the same as Word, is together with it, just as Man is with God, and since God is Mind, Man is also with the Word.
In addition to being Mind, God is also “the truly uncreated, the intelligible; by essence, the uncreated and the ineffable, the intelligible good”. Since God is the Mind, and Mind made the Word which is the foundation of all other things, nothing has made God, hence “truly uncreated”. Since God is Mind, and since Mind is the forerunner of intelligible Word, and since that which is intelligible creates intelligible or is created by intelligible, and since all things are part of or come from God, God is also intelligible. Plus, although the Word comes from God, the Word is not God; thus, the Mind can never be truly spoken of, because this would then make God into Word, and as words are spoken and made sensible, this would attempt to try to make God sensible; this contradicts our earlier statements about God, so this cannot be the case. As such, this makes God also “ineffable”. Compare Hermes’ talk to Asclepius in the Corpus Hermeticum on what the Bodiless is, the “space in which everything is moved” but yet is itself unmoved (chapter II, parts 12 and 13):
Asc. What, then, is Bodiless?
Her. ’Tis Mind [(Nous)] and Reason (Logos), whole out of whole, all self-embracing, free from all body, from all error free, unsensible to body and untouchable, self stayed in self, containing all, preserving those that are, whose rays, to use a likeness, are Good, Truth, Light beyond light, the Archetype of soul.
Asc. What, then, is God?
Her. Not any one of these is He; for He it is that causeth them to be, both all and each and every thing of all that are. Nor hath He left a thing beside that is-not; but they are all from things-that-are and not from things-that-are-not. For that the things-that-are-not have naturally no power of being anything, but rather have the nature of the inability-to-be. And, conversely, the things-that-are have not the nature of some time not-being.
The last part of that statement, however, poses a new problem for us, since it introduces a new term. Here, it says that God is “the intelligible good”, but we have not yet encountered the word “good”. It’s difficult to say succinctly, but the Good here is the summum bonum of the philosophers, the object of highest knowledge and importance that is the forerunner and producer of all other objects. One of the most well-developed (though still poorly understood) forms of this is Plato’s Form of the Good, which is similar and which influenced later Hermetic and Neo-Platonic thought on the matter. The Good is not the same thing as goodness; in other words, God is the Good, not God is good. The Good has no moral, ethical, or any substantiative meaning, since any such thing can be spoken of and therefore become sensible in addition to intelligible; this limits God, who is intelligible and therefore greater than all things, and since God cannot be limited, God is therefore without any such qualities, even though all qualities come from God (cf. the relationship between Word and Mind). Compare with the Corpus Hermeticum (chapter VI, parts 4 and 5):
And I, for my own part, give thanks to God, that He hath cast it in my mind about the Gnosis of the Good, that it can never be It should be in the world. For that the world is “fullness” of the bad, but God of Good, and Good of God. The excellencies of the Beautiful are round the very essence [of the Good]; nay, they do seem too pure, too unalloyed; perchance ’tis they that are themselves Its essences. For one may dare to say, Asclepius,—if essence, sooth, He have—God’s essence is the Beautiful; the Beautiful is further also Good. There is no Good that can be got from objects in the world. For all the things that fall beneath the eye are image-things and pictures as it were; while those that do not meet [the eye are the realities], especially the [essence] of the Beautiful and Good. Just as the eye cannot see God, so can it not behold the Beautiful and Good. For that they are integral parts of God, wedded to Him alone, inseparate familiars, most beloved, with whom God is Himself in love, or they with God.
If thou canst God conceive, thou shalt conceive the Beautiful and Good, transcending Light, made lighter than the Light by God. That Beauty is beyond compare, inimitate that Good, e’en as God is Himself. As, then, thou dost conceive of God, conceive the Beautiful and Good. For they cannot be joined with aught of other things that live, since they can never be divorced from God. Seek’st thou for God, thou seekest for the Beautiful. One is the Path that leadeth unto It—Devotion joined with Gnosis.
The last part of this definition basically offers a set of correspondences of God, a list of attributes that help clarify the position of God with respect to the other worlds. Continuing the list of correspondences of the three worlds from before:
- God: intelligible, immovable, partially sensible, invisible, ineffable, Monad, Good
- Heaven: sensible, moveable
- Man: sensible, destructible, reasonable
Of the new correspondences for God, we now only have one thing left to discuss: the Monad. The Monad is the Greek word for the “One Thing”, that which is alone in itself, made by itself endlessly (i.e. unmade), making all things, coming first, and so on. Essentially, the Monad is another synonym for God; just as all things are present within God, God is only One Thing. The talk above about the “bodiless space” in which all things are moved indicates something similar; if all things can be moved in a bodiless space (including the non-physical emotional movement provided by the soul from above), then the space itself is unmoved. Again, the Corpus Hermeticum provides a fuller definition of the Monad and what relationships it has to the myriad of other things (chapter VI, parts 9 through 11):
Therefore to It Gnosis is no beginning; rather is it [that Gnosis doth afford] to us the first beginning of Its being known. Let us lay hold, therefore, of the beginning, and quickly speed through all [we have to pass]. ‘Tis very hard, to leave the things we have grown used to, which meet our gaze on every side, and turn ourselves back to the Old [Path]. Appearances delight us, whereas things which appear not make their believing hard. Now evils are the more apparent things, whereas the Good can never show Itself unto the eyes, for It hath neither form nor figure. Therefore the Good is like Itself alone, and unlike all things else; for ’tis impossible that That which hath no body should make Itself apparent to a body.
The “Like’s” superiority to the “Unlike “and the “Unlike’s” inferiority unto the “Like” consists in this: The Oneness being Source and Root of all, is in all things as Root and Source. Without [this] Source is naught; whereas the Source [Itself] is from naught but Itself, since It is Source of all the rest. It is Itself Its Source, since It may have no other Source. The Oneness then being Source, containeth every number, but is contained by none; engendereth every number, but is engendered by no other one.
Now all that is engendered is imperfect, it is divisible, to increase subject and to decrease; but with the Perfect [One] none of these things doth hold. Now that which is increasable increases from the Oneness, but succumbs through its own feebleness when it no longer can contain the One.
Having said that, God is the Good, which is the One, which is Mind. Mind is the source of all things, giving all qualities to all things while having no qualities of its own. For once, the Kybalion comes in good use here, when describing the Mental Universe (chapter 5):
Let us see! On his own plane of being, how does Man create? Well, first, he may create by making something out of outside materials. But this will not do, for there are no materials outside of THE ALL with which it may create. Well, then, secondly, Man pro-creates or reproduces his kind by the process of begetting, which is self-multiplication accomplished by transferring a portion of his substance to his offspring. But this will not do, because THE ALL cannot transfer or subtract a portion of itself, nor can it reproduce or multiply itself–in the first place there would be a taking away, and in the second case a multiplication or addition to THE ALL, both thoughts being an absurdity. Is there no third way in which MAN creates? Yes, there is–he CREATES MENTALLY! And in so doing he uses no outside materials, nor does he reproduce himself, and yet his Spirit pervades the Mental Creation.
Following the Principle of Correspondence, we are justified in considering that THE ALL creates the Universe MENTALLY, in a manner akin to the process whereby Man creates Mental Images. And, here is where the report of Reason tallies precisely with the report of the Illumined, as shown by their teachings and writings. Such are the teachings of the Wise Men. Such was the Teaching of Hermes.
Just as when Man thinks of something, Man does not become his thoughts, nor does Man become his words when he speaks; however, thought and word come from him and help describe or fill him. So too does Mind create and speak the Word as Monad. Although the Monad is One, all things are one within the One. Although the Monad is immoveable, it provides for motion and moving within itself. Although the Monad is the source of Word, it is itself not Word nor can it be made into words. Although the Monad is the Good, it is the source of all qualities without possessing those qualities itself, since this would indicate there is something else besides the Monad that has that not-quality.