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 thirteenth definition, part III, number 2 of 4:
Many (places) are uninhabited by humans; for where the world is, the earth (is) too, but man is not on every earth. The sea is large as well as the earth, but heaven by itself (is as much as) both the sea and the earth. [And he wanted to say that, by its magnitude, heaven is (as much as) both the earth and the sea, so large as the two of them may be, since by taking everything into (itself), it encompassed it and it contains it enclosed within (itself).]
Now that we know that all things are within God and that God is in all things and beyond them, we have a more-or-less panentheistic notion of creation: God is both immanent (within creation) and transcendent (beyond creation). Just to make this clear, this is distinct from pantheism, where God is in creation and creation is God; the two are synonymous in pantheism. However, we have good evidence from earlier definitions that Hermetic philosophy is panentheistic, not pantheistic. Panentheism is common in much of tribal, primal, or primitive religions, though it tends to be relegated to fringe or mystic movements in some of the more common religions known nowadays. However, this definition helps build the case for a Hermetic panentheistic worldview.
We can kinda continue the definition from before by including mankind: wherever there is heaven, there is God; wherever there is the world, there is heaven, thus there is God; wherever there are humans, there is world, thus there is heaven, thus there is God. However, this definition makes it clear that there are places that are in the world where no human lives: “many places are uninhabited by humans”. Yes, it is true that humans live in the world, but there are places where there are no humans: either places too far out of reach for us, or places inhospitable to us. After all, “where the world is, the earth is too, but man is not on every [all] earth”. In other words, although there is the potential for human inhabitation in any given place where there is a foundation for it, such potential is not always realized for one reason or another.
Thus, the world is strictly greater than the inhabited world; phrased another way, the world is greater than humanity. Not only that, but heaven is greater than the world: “the sea is large as well as the earth, but heaven by itself is as much as both the sea and the earth”. Thus, there are places where humanity (such as it is physically) cannot even possibly go that aren’t even of this world. Thus, we now know that heaven is definitely greater than the world, and the world greater than humanity. This is evidence for there being multiple levels of reality, multiple worlds that are nested in some way with some worlds inside other, bigger worlds. However, this isn’t something necessarily strict, however; though we know that humanity is less than the world, we don’t have anything quite equating humanity with Man yet. In other words, there may be more to Man than just what we know of as human beings, but that’s as yet undecided.
The next part is another probable gloss of the compiler, much as the “I think that…” sentence in III.1 was; in other words, somewhere at some point added a bit more commentary to the Definitions. Here, the commentor seems to rephrase the rest of this definition: “by its magnitude, heaven is as much as both the earth and the sea, so large as the two of them may be, since by taking everything into itself, it encompassed it and it contains it enclosed within itself”. In other words, this seems to be a conjecture that because “heaven by itself is as much as both the sea and the earth”, heaven is the same magnitude as the world in terms of size and location. What this means in terms of magnitude for something without a body and cannot be measured in the same way, however, is unknown to me; trying to measure a body against something without a physical basis isn’t very helpful. However, by comparing them in essence, we might say that the heavens are as varied, as multiformed, as complex as the world, while still being one whole as much as the world is one whole and is full of things. Still knowing so little about the world and heaven yet, it’s hard to draw many comparisons between the two, much less equivalences while knowing they cannot be identical.
However, the addendum goes on a little further to say that “by taking everything into itself, [heaven] encompassed [the world] and [heaven] contains [the world] enclosed within itself”. This is more evidence for the notion that the world is contained within heaven, not partially but entirely; there are no places in the world that are not also part of heaven, but there are places in heaven that are not part of the world. The world is fully contained within heaven, since the world was “taken into” heaven. This phrasing makes it sound like the heavens kinda absorbed another realm within God but not within heaven, as an amoeba might eat something else; I’m unsure. I don’t think the verb “take” indicates quite this, but that heaven absorbed the influences given to it to form something inside itself; this is somewhat corroborated by the account of Hermes as given in the Corpus Hermeticum by Poemandres (chapter 1, part 8):
And I say: Whence then have Nature’s elements their being?
To this He answer gives: From Will of God. [Nature] received the Word (Logos), and gazing on the Cosmos Beautiful did copy it, making herself into a cosmos, by means of her own elements and by the births of souls.