Last time we discussed how we might traverse the Tetractys of Life in pathworking through two sets of paths, collectively termed schemata:
- The Gnosis Schema consists of 12 paths that link every sphaira on the Tetractys in a pattern not unlike the Mitsubishi logo, looping around through three systems of four spheres each, passing through Mercury multiple times.
- The Agnosis Schema consists of 12 paths that link all but the Mercury, Monad, Fire, and Earth sphaira together in two cycles, the hexagon and hexagram paths around the Mercury sphaira.
The big difference between these schemata is that the Gnosis Schema allows one to see into the deepest and highest reaches of the cosmos, as well as the Source of the cosmos itself, for theurgical and henosistic purposes, allowing us the choice of reincarnation as we desire until we reach our final henosis with the Monad. The Agnosis Schema, however, keeps us trapped in a Hermetic samsara of sorts, always flitting around like bats in a cave around real Life and yet just out of reach of real Truth. In other words, as long as we’re trapped in the Agnosis Schema, we’re not making progress to the real ends of the cosmos where the real treasure lies. We need to make that schematic leap from Agnosis to Gnosis, and as we discussed before, it all starts with Mercury.
The question is, though, how do we make that leap? Mercury is at the center of the Tetractys of Life and is connected to all the sphairai but the most extreme ones, that of the Monad, Fire, and Earth. However, it’s only in the Gnosis Schema that we can get from any of these “middling” sphairai (Darkness, Salt, Water, Air, Sulfur, and Light) to Mercury. The Agnosis Schema has these middling sphairai all connected to each other but not to Mercury, Monad, Fire, or Earth. As long as we’re on the Agnosis Schema, we’re barred from attaining access to those spheres, and if we can’t even get to Mercury which is the closest and most easily accessible of them all, how can we even consider being able to get to the Monad?
Thus comes in an idea that’s also present in the Tree of Life, though I’ve seen it far more in Hermetic qabbalah than Jewish kabbalah. That idea is that of the Veils, though there are two sets in qabbalah, one of two and one of three. The former set is the one I’m talking about: the Veils of Paroketh and of the Abyss. In the Tree of Life, the Veil of Paroketh separate the sephiroth from Tiphareth and up from Netzach and below. The Veil of the Abyss (or, more commonly, the Abyss) separates the sephiroth of Binah and above from Chesed and below, often with the Abyss itself represented by the “false” sephirah (se-faux-rah?) of Da`ath. The former veil of Paroketh is illusory; there is no real separation between the personal world (represented by the lower four sephiroth) and the interpersonal world (represented by the higher sephiroth), except that of our own making. By tearing down the veil of our own making, or at least by temporarily parting it, we gain access to higher spiritual truths. As long as we continue thinking that the world must follow the rules we conceive to be law, and as long as we refuse to accept the universe and the cosmos on its own terms, the veil remains firmly in place. Leave all that behind, and the veil is easily parted. The comic series Promethea by Alan Moore gives this scene in bloody detail: on the Kircher Tree, the path that links Tiphareth with Netzach (transcending the Veil) is associated with the letter Nun, given to Scorpio and Tarot trump XIII, Death. In order to attain new life in the Sun, the protagonists must die, literally rent apart and completely dissected. It was all an illusion, however, but a painful one all the same to dismember. By dismembering our preconceptions, we remember the truth of the world.
The Abyss, on the other hand, is much more of a problem on the Tree of Life. To keep it very simple and brief, almost to the point of a lie, the Abyss is the division of the mundane and the spiritual; it’s the gulf between what the world should be and the world that is damned to be, the mirror between what is and what Is that cannot normally be transcended. It’s the purpose of the magician or theurgist to transcend this gulf and attain divine understanding, wisdom, and finally the crown of all that exists and not-exists. It’s a dangerous thing, especially since the Lightning Bolt Path on the Kircher Tree doesn’t actually have a path where it should between Chesed and Binah. All the same, the Abyss must be transcended and crossed over, and it’s no easy thing. Some people never do and get lost in it, while others spend a long time in dark places only to come out a completely different person (which is quite the goal of the whole thing). Going back to Promethea, as opposed to a few pages where Promethea and Barbara crossed the veil of Paroketh, a whole issue was devoted to their crossing the Abyss, and it wasn’t a pleasant or rational part of their journey.
A similar case exists with making the jump from the Agnosis to the Gnosis Schemas. While we’re stuck in our cycle of mindless and uncontrolled rebirth, we lack the ability to achieve true life, power, and knowledge. At any stage on the Agnosis Schema, we have the option of going to the sphaira of Mercury or to the nearest extreme sphaira (the one of the same system which belongs to the one one is already in, e.g. if one is in the sphaira of Salt, the nearest extreme sphaira is that of Earth). However, making the jump from the Agnosis Schema to Mercury on the Gnosis Schema is most important, even though one could feasibly start their path at any point on the Tetractys. Mercury is the most preferable starting point, because Mercury is a figure of balance and allows one to start with equal footing and a clean spiritual slate; further, given the road-opening, guiding, and quickening abilities of this sphaira, starting with Mercury is arguably the best choice and continuing along the Gnosis Schema paths as normal.
Still, the process of getting from any of the middling sphairai to Mercury is, itself, crossing an abyss of sorts. It’s not because there’s no path that exists (because Mercury is connected to all the middling spheres), but because the types of path are so divergent from the normal roles of Mercury. The Agnosis Schema seeks to circumvent Mercury however it can, while the Gnosis Schema leads right to Mercury time and again. The first abyss we must cross in order to get to Mercury from any of the middling sphairai is that of desire: we must first seek out Mercury, we must first seek the path to take before we even take it. Once there, we have suddenly jumped to the Gnosis Schema. As one of the prayers in my gnostic work goes, “in order for us to understand the gnosis, we must first seek a firm foundation”; Mercury provides us with that foundation. We must first seek our guide, our protector, our initiator to assist us in our real work. Finding that guide and opening the door is just the beginning to it all; it might be that your guide is Hermes, your Holy Guardian Angel, a yidam, or some other tutelary spirit, but something that guides you along the Gnosis Schema as it applies to you is just about crucial to starting the Work.
But, once we get to Mercury, what then? If we stay where we are, we’ve crossed the abyss only to be stranded on an island. If we forget that, hey, we have a cosmos to explore (and then some), reveling in our initiation and fact that we can go anywhere without actually doing so, we end up back on the Agnosis Schema. But wait! There are no paths connecting the sphaira of Mercury to anything on the Agnosis Schema, so we end up trapped there. We end up in a one-node loop; rather than running around in circles, we end up twisting in the wind. Being trapped in Mercury is always dangerous, not just after our first initiation into the Gnosis Schema, but because we risk this every time we return to Mercury on the Gnosis Schema.
- We go through the Hot System and we return to Mercury, thrilled that we’ve overcome our obstacles on that part of the cosmos, yet end up burning up too much with joy and think we’ve accomplished and are in charge of everything. Only by recognizing our inability to act fully within the cosmos and our ultimate nature as finite, non-omniscient, and manipulatable creatures and allowing ourselves to be acted upon can we free ourselves from the Agnostic sphaira of Mercury.
- We go through the Cold System and we return to Mercury, feeling confident that we understand how things are affected by others in the cosmos, and end up passively waiting for true action to happen to ourselves when we need to accomplish it ourselves. Only by realizing that we still need to play an active role in the cosmos do we free ourselves from the Agnostic sphaira of Mercury.
- We go through the Cosmic System and we return to Mercury, catching a glimpse of the Source and really grokking important truths about creation as a whole. After this, we end up with what Fr. Rufus Opus elegantly calls “insufferableprickitis”, or “Moses Off The Mount Syndrome”. After all, when Moses came down from the Mount and jamming with the Lord, his face was so radiant and glowing from the divine interaction that he wore a veil to mask himself. Without wearing the veil (and this isn’t like the veils we discussed above), we come across as a holier-than-thou (even if it’s true) douchebag who thinks they know everything because they had one brush with God. In this state of pride, we think we’ve done everything there is to do and are confident that we’ve attained the Great Work, when all we’ve done is made a loop around the cosmos once. We end up stuck at the Agnostic sphaira of Mercury until we realize that there’s still so much more, that no finite amount of practice can truly equate infinite gnosis.
All that being said, while getting to Mercury can be a bitch of an abyss in and of itself, and while visiting Mercury has its own dangers that turn it into a deserted island isolated from the rest of the cosmos, when approached properly and respectfully, Mercury becomes a bridge from something into its complement. That’s Mercury’s role, after all; to balance things out between opposites. Mercury is placed between Sulfur and Salt, Light and Water, and Darkness and Air. We continue on our path of the Gnostic Schema by traversing Mercury and transforming ourselves from one thing into its opposite. Mercury is not only our beginning but our constant transformation; it is only in the extreme sphairai of the Monad, Earth, and Fire do we have no choice but to continue along our path of Gnosis and keep going in one direction or another without immediate recourse to Mercury. Mercury, in a sense, is our “home away from home”, our place of respite between systems as well as our nexus of transformation between systems.
We can fall into the Agnosis Schema at any stage of the Gnosis Schema if we linger too long or if we lose our way; with Mercury as our guide leading us away from and towards our cyclical destination, that shouldn’t ideally pose a problem, but we humans (and, for that matter, all entities) are constantly fighting against what we should do, even if it’s a subtle and instinctual reaction. If we stray from our path even a little bit, we lose our way; if this happens at the Monad or the sphairai of Fire, Earth, or Mercury, then we end up stranded until we loosen ourselves up and make ourselves capable of further progress, or until we strengthen our resolve and continue along the path of transformation.
It’s not that we fall by fate from Gnosis into Agnosis or vice versa, but it’s a choice we make, even if we’re unaware we’re consciously making it and the repercussions of doing so. Tying the sphaira of Mercury back to its mythological counterpart, Hermes is the god of guides and guide of gods, men, spirits, souls, and heroes. If we choose to progress along the Gnosis Schema to accomplish the divine imperative given to us, then ouranic (heavenly) Hermes will lead us on; if we choose to linger or abandon that quest, then chthonic (underworld) Hermes will lead us to Styx and leave us there until we dig ourselves out again. It’s dangerous falling back into Agnosis, especially if we’re at one of the extreme spheres, since we may not be able to find our way back. Of course, the rules change a bit once we achieve henosis and union with the Monad, where we can freely choose to leave the Tetractys completely and enjoin what becomes of us with the Infinite and Simple, at which point we’ve completed our path and ended up exactly where we need, and no longer need a guide to continue our path. That said, that’s the endgame, and chances are we’re nowhere near that stage of spiritual evolution yet. If you were, then I hope your divine prerogative includes something more than reading one magician’s ramblings on the Internet.