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 forty-second definition, part IX, number 7 of 7:
Humans work the land, (and) stars adorn heaven. The gods have heaven; humans, heaven, earth, and sea; but the air is common to gods and humans.
Finally, a short definition to close out this penultimate section! It’s a little hard to pin down, given what we’ve mentioned in the other definitions of this section, ranging from what knowledge of God entails to that God loves us and is always with us to the special place Man has in the cosmos to the means by which we can join with God through the development of the soul. And then we have this almost wistful statement about the structure of the lower earthy world and higher heavenly world. For this, rereading the definitions in section II would be helpful, but also recall that of VII.2: “and the species of every living being is only in one part of the world, but the sole species of man is at once in heaven, on earth, in the water and in the air”.
“Humans work the land, and stars adorn heaven”. There are two parts to the world, the lower world of the land and the higher world of heaven. On land, humans (not Man, but humans!) work the land, plowing it, making everything work down here, and making the land beautiful. Down here, we express our own natures and live our own lives, subject to the fate and destiny and nature we’re surrounded by. On the other hand, high above, the “stars adorn heaven”; this is a comparatively lax statement, indicating that the natures of the stars (heavenly beings, and also gods) are less than active, and certainly less active than humans. Humans scurry about hither and thither, while stars rotate and glide on through the heavens. Humans come and go; the stars burn forever. But realize that this statement also indicates something of management: humans manage, work, and cultivate the world below, while the gods manage, adorn, and cultivate the world above.
Just as fish have the sea and salamanders the fire, “the gods have heaven” and “humans [have] heaven, earth, and sea”. Remember that “man’s possession is the world” (VI.1), without distinction as to what parts. Everything belongs to Man, is created for Man, and exists within Man. While the gods live in and have heaven, that’s all they have; they do not own what happens below. Man, however, rules over and is involved with all parts of the cosmos. This includes the air, which is “common to gods and humans”, since it’s the medium that joins heaven and earth and through which the gods above can come down and interact with us below, and through which Man can rise up and become gods on their own. Plus, if you throw in the influence of astrology, then that adds even more power to this statement, where the gods above (stars, planets, etc.) influence us down below by means of the air, and from whom we can interact and pull power from again by means of the air.
While the gods are to be respected, at the very least, we know that Man “is worthy of admiration” and God “is worthy of worship” from the last definition. God, after all, is bigger than all things and includes all things within itself (III.1), and Man is the only creature able to know God and within whom all things are represented within. We are the distillation of the entire cosmos, and within us we contain all things. Perhaps this is why God loves us, because God sees itself in us just as we see ourselves within God. And God made all this, all the gods and animals and elements and worlds for us. We have our place, and though it may not appear to be the grandest or the most luxurious, that wouldn’t suit us as gods subject to death or Man made into gods. To fully encapsulate all the things in the cosmos, we must know and be part of the entire cosmos, which includes all phenomena: life, increase, decrease, death, birth, rebirth, pain, pleasure, sadness, joy, desire, opinion, reason, unreason, good, evil, and all other qualities and quantities. In this, we have our place in the grand harmony of the spheres, the unity of the Whole, the Good. And just as the stars adorn heaven in their cyclic manner according to the will of God that directs their pure souls, so too do we carry out the will of God by becoming knowledgeable of God.