This post is the final recap of the series “49 Days of Definitions” that discussed and explained some of my thoughts 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. I sought to afford people some food for thought with my meditations on each aphorism in a series of blog posts, one aphorism per day, and while I know I didn’t plumb the entire depths of each one, I also didn’t try to do that. Still, it was a blast to write, and I hope it helps in explaining some of the philosophy involved when dealing with Hermetic work.
For convenience, here are links to the posts for each aphorism, along with a very brief summary of each section:
- Part I: one, two, three, four, five
The three worlds of creation: God, the world, and Man.
- Part II: one, two, three, four, five, six
The elements of the world and light which enables the world to be known.
- Part III: one, two, three, four
The ubiquity of God, the place of Man in the world, and of the world in God.
- Part IV: one, two
The different types of living beings and what they’re composed of.
- Part V: one, two, three
Nous and Logos, God and reasonable speech.
- Part VI: one, two, three
The development towards perfection of the soul of Man in the body of humans.
- Part VII: one, two, three, four, five
The immortality of Man afforded by God, and the mortality of humans mandated by the world.
- Part VIII: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven
Knowledge or ignorance of God/world/Man/self, and the power of Man as God.
- Part IX: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven
The place of Man in the cosmos, the nature of the soul in Man, what perfect knowledge is.
- Part X: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven
The natures and realization of good and evil, how the parts of the world work together.
So, what are some of the takeaways from the Definitions?
- God is both the end result of spiritual development and the ultimate source of all things that exist, don’t exist, might exist, etc. Everything else that exists does so within God as part of God. There is nothing that is not within God. God is greater than anything conceivable, and is exemplified by and is knowledge. God is intelligible, able to be known, by those who are able to understand the intelligible.
- The material world is a part of God, but also hides God from those within, since the world is sensible, able to be directly perceived according to material senses, but things that are intelligible are invisible and unsensable within the world. The material world is populated with bodies, composed of matter, and different bodies have different components of elements as well as of living essences: souls, spirits, and minds.
- We as humans are composed of different parts: a material body that dies, an immortal soul that moves the body, spirit that performs the movement within the body according to soul, and mind which is our connection to God. We contain the nature of all things of the sensible and intelligible worlds, and rule over the sensible world as God rules over the entirety of creation. No other creature has this distinction, since only human beings are given a special connection to God through our souls. We are both of the sensible world and of intelligible God, God made us in its image, and God loves us and we love God as spouses or children of each other.
- The way to salvation (immortality, freedom from death, freedom from evil) is knowledge. Knowledge of the self is the same as knowledge of creation which is the same as knowledge of God. Knowledge is possible due to the presence of Nous/divine Mind within our human souls and the ability to use Logos/reasonable speech. Perfection of the soul is knowledge obtained by attaining Nous itself, joining ourselves with God in the process, and in the process we obtain the power to help others free themselves from suffering, ignorance, and evil.
- The way to obtain knowledge is through silent contemplation, the use of pure Logos without need to further anything of this world. Logos is the servant of the Nous, pure Reason working for and under pure Mind, and through reasonable thoughts, meditation, speech, and action can we obtain knowledge. This must be aimed toward divinity, however, and all actions as well; the use of speech or action to further worldly, animal, or material goals does not fulfill this. Much as one should treat the body well so much as only to keep the soul on its way to perfection, so should all actions in this world be done with an eye on the goal of divinity.
Despite the area covered by these definitions, there are some questions leftover that I’m sure are ringing in the minds of my readers; there are some I have, as well. Some of the questions that are left unanswered wholly or in part by the Definitions that I came up with, details and minor things as they might be:
- The many gods that exist are not God, this much is clear; I never claimed to think otherwise, since God and gods operate and exist on two wholly different levels. That said, there are experiences of people who encounter gods made flesh, though the Definitions preclude such a thing, relegating the gods to the heavens and out of earthy existence. What of the many myths, stories, and experiences of those who experience gods made men, not God made Man? What about the underworld gods that are immortal?
- Is it possible to reconcile worship of God with that of other gods, even if we recognize the difference in nature between the two? What is the proper method of worship to God, when God is without attributes and is divinely simple and without comparison?
- The Gnostic/Neoplatonic aspects of the text make the material world we live in to be evil, with the immortal and eternal intelligible world beyond good. Why is this the case? It makes sense that denying the soul is bad for it, but why should all material actions done for material purposes and aims automatically neglect the soul? Is it impossible for a combination of Nous, soul, and immortality to exist from the outset?
- God made the world for Man; everything exists within and for Man. Without Man, the world may as well not exist, and likely wouldn’t. So why did God make Man? Why is Man desirable and loved by God, and vice versa? What’s the whole point, and why should we have to strive for Nous in the first place? Why does Man have to be mortal to strive for immortality?
- What exactly does it mean that we are made in the species of Man after God? I’ve been using the phrase “Man is made in the image of God” from the Bible, but what does that entail? Is it physical form? Is it our ability for Nous? What is the nature of an essence, idea, or species that makes us so different from other creatures?
- God is said to have conceived Logos in silence, and that we should do the same. But what is silence? Is it meditation and contemplation of reason, direct use of Logos without speech?
- Because of our connection to Nous and God, we have as much power as the gods. What is this power, exactly? Just the choice of choosing knowledge or ignorance according to our soul-based passions? What does it mean that we can become gods in our own right? Gods as in the Olympians, gods as in heroes, gods as in planets or stars, gods as in God? Or just immortal, pure Man?
- The text hints at but never directly states that the soul may require multiple iterations of lives in order to be perfected, i.e. the soul may undergo reincarnation or transmigration. What is the nature of death and birth, and how do souls go between one or the other? What happens to a soul that is not yet perfect when the body dies? What about humans who are born without soul-Nous/the Nous-based connection to God? What about humans who are unable to use Logos/reasonable speech?
- What about the spiritual lives, if any, of animals or the gods themselves? These beings have soul, but lack Nous. Is there a possibility for them to understand God and the cosmos as well? Does reincarnation have any role to play in this, or transmigration of the soul? What about plants or stones? Many magicians work with the spirits or genii of individual places or bodies that are said to lack souls and Nous or even spirit, so how are they taken into account?
Alright! That’s it for this blog project. I really thank you guys for sticking through with me through this phase of philosophy, and I hope you got as much out of it as I did. I had read the Definitions before, but I was honestly surprised at how much I got out of it this time by going through each with analysis and writing my thoughts down. The past seven weeks really helped me put myself on a more solid Hermetic footing in my work, and I hope all you guys who stuck around got something out of this as well. If you have any questions, feel free to post in the comments and help polish and refine some of my analyses further. While the Definitions lay out the basics of Hermetic philosophy, there’s a lot that was left unsaid or unclear. That’s kind of the point of any introductory text, of course, since it serves as an introduction, so I hope you’ll investigate more of this with me, with friends, or on your own and dig deeper into the philosophy and worldview of Hermes Trismegistus.
The past 49 days have been full of writing, and would you look at that, it’s suddenly the end of 2013! I hope you guys had a fantastic winter solstice, however you may have spent it, and I hope you have an even better New Year and start to 2014! Now let’s stop talking about spirits of God and soul and let’s start talking about the spirits we’ll be drinking and enjoying tonight. Happy New Year, my fellow amblers and dear readers! You guys made this a truly awesome year, and I look forward to what next year will bring to all of us.