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 fourteenth definition, part III, number 3 of 4:
Heaven is larger than everything, and the sun than earth and sea, for it extends beyond both of them. However the earth is larger than the sea, because the sea (comes) from it. And in heaven are all (the beings), for it contains the superior ones and it (also) contains the inferior, enclosing them from every side.
This definition appears to continue the same idea that III.2 did: just as the world is greater than humanity, so too is heaven greater than the world. This definition just makes it explicit: “heaven is larger than everything [in the manifest world]”. This definition draws a comparison between the manifest world and the unmanifest heaven with something a little more concrete: things in the manifest world themselves. The relationship between heaven and the world is much like that between the sun with the Earth; just as “the sun [is larger] than earth and sea”, so too is “heaven larger than [the world]”. The sun is both distant and far off as well as much greater in size than the earth; in these ways does the sun extend beyond the Earth. In the same way does heaven become larger than the world; it is distant, far off, and greater in size. The comparison between the sun and the earth with heaven and the world is apt.
Another comparison is drawn, this time on a smaller scale: “the earth is larger than the sea, because the sea comes from it”. The earth here refers to the worldly earth, not the element; in this case, the waters of the sea “come from” the earth. This isnt’ to say that the earth somehow jutted forth masses of water, but recall from the Poemander that earth and water were mixed together once air and fire left the primordial mixture of the elements. Plus, given that earth is heavy and prone to settle, it can be said that the waters of the sea came from the mixture of earth and water after the earth settled into distinct places. Because “the earth” is the combination of water and earth elementally, “the earth” is something greater than both, being made from and the source of these things as they are found down here in the world. Similarly, heaven is greater than the world because the world comes from heaven; not only is the world located within heaven, and that no part of the world is not also heaven, but the world comes from and emanates from heaven.
This is a pretty interesting concept, but it logically follows from the other definitions we have, considering our emanationist panentheistic worldview that the Definisions develop. It also has an interesting consequence: all entities that exist in God exist in heaven. While God is transcendent of heaven, this definition states that all beings that are not God (whose being-ness is not completely clear) are in heaven. As such, because heaven is both in the world and greater than the world, there are some beings that are in the world (inferior beings) as well as not of the world (superior beings). Thus, consider an animal: this would be an inferior being, since it is in the inferior part of heaven, or the world. An angel, on the other hand, would be a superior being, since it is in the superior part of heaven, or “outside the world”. This isn’t to use the words inferior or superior as better or worse, but only in a notion of hierarchy according to the relationship between God, heaven, and the world.
That heaven is the world “enclosing [the beings] from every side” further strengthens the notion that all beings that exist that are not God exist within heaven, and that all beings are a part of heaven. Some beings are a part of the world, but they are still part of heaven all the same. Some beings may be heavenly without being worldly. This is a logical consequence of the fact that heaven is populated with entities, and that heaven is greater than the world. However, we know that not all beings are sensible; those would be in the world, while the beings not in the world but still in heaven are only intelligible. In either case, both are still intelligible, and since they are known by Nous, even inferior beings who can see with light (not just firelight, but the light that is a good, as in II.6) can come to know superior beings. After all, all beings are still part of one whole, the One, the All, even if they have separate forms.