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-fourth definition, part X, number 2 of 7:
Nature in man is omniform, and (it is) an energy endowed with all qualities (whose) force (is) invisible and effects (are) conspicuous. An energy is a movement. Matter is a wet essence; a body is a agglomeration of matter.
In the last definition, we talked about four terms: good, evil, female, and male. Of these, that which is Good is, basically, God; anything that is not God is within God, but not everything that is not God is evil. That which hides the Good, which is knowledge, is evil, which is ignorance, and evil resides in the material world, since this is the world of nature. Nature is a reflection of truth, but is not truth itself; nature generates within itself as God generates within itself, but that which is God stays God, while nature keeps to itself. Nature generates within itself according to two principles, the female or passive principle which allows things to be changed, and the male or active principle which allows change to happen. These are not elements, but forces present in all things; moreover, they are “fluidities”, implying constant change, motion, and mobility that constantly shifts every passing moment.
We know that everything that exists is within Man (IX.4), and that Man understands all of creation (VI.1), not least because Man is the sole creature capable of possessing Nous, but also because wherever Man is, so is God (IX.6). Since God is literally everything that exists and does not exist and all that stuff (IX.1), God is greater than Man, but because God is Nous and Nous is within Man (or at least some of Man), Man has the capability and the understanding of all things. How can this be, though? God knows all things because God is all things. If we follow that same logic, we can construct a parallel statement that also holds under what we’ve discussed so far: Man understands all nature because Man is all nature. Indeed, this definition says as much: “nature in man is omniform”. All natures and all of nature is within Man; after all, Man is a microcosm or “small world” (I.4). Within Man (properly, the essence of Man), there are all qualities, all quantities, all good, all evil, all female, all male, and all other states of nature, including light, darkness, honesty, lies, ugliness, beauty, and everything else. Every member of Man contains all natures, which allows every member of Man to be capable of experiencing and understanding all natures, much as how Man contains Nous and so is capable of receiving and understanding Nous.
Moreover, this omniform nature within Man is “an energy endowed with all qualities whose force is invisible and effects are conspicuous”. We can see nature, since “nature is the mirror of truth” (VIII.5) and since truth is invisible, but the forces of nature are not necessarily visible. We cannot see pure qualities or quantities; we cannot see maleness or femaleness, abstract number, or the like. We understand them, though they may be invisible; we can certainly see their effects in the world where truth and nature are realized and materialized. But note how these things are described: the force of nature is “invisible” and its effects are “conspicuous”. These are the same words used to describe good and evil, respectively, in the previous definition. Thus, the forces of nature can be likened to or are good and thus truths, while the effects of nature can be likened to or are evil. Again, this leads us to say that the material world, being conspicuous and able to be seen, is evil, as opposed to the invisible and intelligible truths that are God.
But there’s one term in that statement that’s confusing, since we haven’t encountered it before and which carries a fair amount of baggage in modern parlance: “energy”. Throw out all your notions of prana, qi/chi/ki, orgone, nuclear/quantum physics, or what have you; we’re not talking about those here. According to this definition, energy “is a movement”. Movement, as we know, is provided by soul (II.1), and which is seen by Nous and performed by breath (II.6). Any motion, any movement, any act of nature is energy. This is what allows plants, though they have no soul, to still yet move by breath/spirit (hypothesized from IV.2); movement is performed by breath, which plants have though they have no animating soul. Thus, they can still experience forces of nature in a way that rocks and stones cannot, but cannot move around or act as animals, humans, or heavenly beings can. Motions provided by nature are energies that work within nature, so long as there exists the forces of nature to provide them and matter to be moved by them.
Then again, what is matter? All this talk about nature and bodies and elements and forces, and yet we’re not quite clear on what matter is. This definition says that matter “is a wet essence”. Looking back, we see that water is one of the qualities which is wetness (II.1), and that water is a “fecund essence, the support of earth, as a nutritive essence” (II.4). Thus, matter is essentially watery, though no matter could exist materially without earth and vice versa. The heavens are fire (II.5), the low world is earth (II.3), and air is the medium between heaven and earth (II.2), but water is what supports earth. Water and earth are opposite qualities according to II.1, where water is wet and earth is dry; however, matter is primarily watery, which allows it to grow instead of just exist statically. Fire can inhibit or remove growth, air can link growths together, and earth is that which is grown, but water provides the growth. The world is essentially characterized by growth. Moreover, the world is essentially characterized by life; not immortality or mortality, but life, bios, living. All things that die provide life for other things, so life always continues in the world in some way. A body may die by cancer, but cancer is merely the growth of something else that takes over an existing body; a body may die by being slaughtered, but provides food for other bodies to grow; life is death, death is life. Both are wet. Thus, material reality is wet.
So what about bodies in terms of matter? A body is “an agglomeration of matter”, or matter piled on and stuck to matter. Different matters combined form a body. This is pretty straightfoward; every body is more than “a matter”, but which is why the phrase is so awkward to say when referring to physical objects. Instead, we say that every body is “matter”, using a collective noun instead of a singular. Even single atoms are compounds of smaller things, and a cloud of gas is a collection of, you guessed it, matter. And, because matter is primarily wet, all bodies are primarily wet, too, unless they have a huge imbalance of one element or the other. Dry sand, for instance, though it has some water in it, has an abundance of earth; pure water is mostly water with very little earth. While different bodies are composed of different elements (II.1), the basis for them is still matter, with the elements and fluidities of maleness and femaleness taking effect upon them.
And, because they’re material and worldly, they’re still evil. Apparently.