49 Days of Definitions: Part X, Definition 4

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-sixth definition, part X, number 4 of 7:

The immortal nature (is) the movement of the mortal nature, (as to) mortality, earth is its grave; (and) heaven (is) the place of the immortal.  The immortal came into being because of the mortal, but the mortal comes into being by means of the immortal.  Evil is a deficiency of the good, good (is) fullness of itself.

So, now that we know that all of nature exists within the body of Man, what can we say about what nature actually is?  We know that there are four elements: earth which forms the basis for material existence, water which helps to grow, fire which inhibits growth, and air which joins together (II.2,3,4,5).  We know that there are different groups of living creatures: heavenly beings with only soul and immortal bodies, stones with only mortal bodies, plants with mortal bodies and breath, animals with mortal bodies and breath and soul, and Man with mortal bodies, breath, soul, and Nous (IV.2), and each of those bodies is composed of some mixture of the elements (IV.1).  There are two fluidities, the female which receives things and the male which emits things, which are always at work in the world to cause increase and decrease (X.1).  So far, that’s all we know.

Now we start to read about the interaction of different natures and what those natures are.  For one, “the immortal nature is the movement of the mortal nature”.  Natures with immortality refer to heavenly beings, which we can say are gods, or more Hermetically, the planets and stars of the sky.  These are the beings that “have” and “adorn heaven” (IX.7), and as we might infer from the place of astrology in many occult sciences and philosophies, these are the things that influence anything and everything down below.  Indeed, the planets and stars are the movement of the life and natures on the world, giving them impetus to act in certain ways just as the soul moves the body.

Further, note how this definition makes a clear demarcation between things high up and things down below: “as to mortality, earth is its grave; and heaven is the place of the immortal”.  Human beings and all mortal life down here is relegated to the earth, since earth is “the receptacle of the dead” as well as “nurse of the living” (II.3).  On the other hand, the immortal creatures reside in heaven, forever there and never down here, just as humans do not ascend into heaven to be immortal; after all, “you do not have the power of becoming immortal; neither does, indeed, the mortal have the power of dying” (VIII.7).  The only means by which we can interact is the air, since “heavens and earth are united with each other by the air” (II.2).

So, what gives with the fact that the immortal beings move us mortal ones around?  After all, isn’t Man the one to own and manage the world (VI.1)?  Don’t we ourselves have the power of the gods and the heavenly beings (VIII.6)?  Well, yes, we do.  We have the power of leading ourselves around in a way that nothing else does; the immortal beings move the mortal things, and most mortal things would, as I read this, be influenced by and obey the immortal ones.  However, we who are Man don’t have to follow suit; we can be led around by the immortal beings, or we can move ourselves.  In either case, movement is still accomplished, but if we let other things push us around, we basically relinquish our control to them, and those other things may not have our best interests at heart.  If our soul wants us to do one thing, but our bodies are pushed around to do the opposite, that hurts us and we’re driven further from perfection, not closer to it.  Thus, we can resist the power of the immortal beings and choose our own path, though it may not be easy (and it’s often not in the face of actual danger or adversity provided by them).

So why have immortal beings at all?  To help us learn more about ourselves, the world, and God.  After all, “the immortal came into being because of the mortal”.  The immortal beings, with their nature, have their own things and experiences and worlds that we as Man need to learn from.  From them we learn immortality, rulership, power of motion over others, and the like; they came into being as the entire world came into being for us (VIII.6).  However, they still have influence over us, and it is by them (not the soul, or not just the soul, as we hypothesized in the last definition!) that move bodies around down here to create more bodies.  Thus, “the mortal comes into being by means of the immortal”.  While the soul is the maker of the body, the body is made by the soul by means of the immortal beings in heaven.  (This should sound familiar if you know emanationism in Qabbalah, where an Idea comes down from God through the sephiroth of the planets and stars down to manifestation here on Earth.)

Recall, though, that this isn’t the first mention of stars and astral influences in the Definitions.  Way back in VII.5, I mentioned these two little symbols that I couldn’t type, common symbols in Armenian manuscripts for glosses, but one meant “star” and the other meant “sinner”.  While the propensity and judgment of individual humans according to their soul’s “illness” and “passion” (IX.4) can lead them to choose certain actions, the motion of the stars and planets above can also lead us to do the same.  We can be moved by the stars, just as anything mortal down here can, if we let it.  Certain influences, thoughts, accidents, opportunities, and the like can all be presented to us to lead or move us in certain ways that our souls may agree with or cry out against.

After all, keep in mind that these heavenly beings may not have our best influences at heart; they are still in the world and thus of matter, and moreover, have no Nous (IV.2).  They are entirely worldly, and as such, they are evil just as anything material is (according to X.1).  Evil, as we’re aware, is “conspicuous” (X.1), and we know that not only is evil the opposite of good, but that evil “is a deficiency of good”.  Evil is a lack, that which is missing something.  A dark room is dark because it has no light; one is ignorant because they do not know something.  Evil is defined by what it lacks; this is why it’s so conspicuous.  Good, on the other hand, is “fullness of itself”; it is complete in itself, just as light shows things to be just as they are without changing or modifying them (II.6).  Good “bears no comparison”, and knowledge of something cannot be compared to knowledge of anything else; ignorance is simply lacking knowledge, while knowledge is knowledge.  It cannot be substituted with knowledge of anything else, nor can it be enlarged or decreased in any way.

So, about those planets, stars, gods, and heavenly beings?  While they may not be outright ignorance, they don’t have all knowledge, either.  They are without Nous, and so while they may exist as part of and within God, they are without knowledge of God and therefore without knowledge of the world or themselves.  This makes them ignorant, and thus possessing the quality of evil.  They lead us to potentially ignorant ends, unaware of the intelligible or non-worldly aspects of their actions, and can so lead us to stay trapped down here when we let them.  (This should now sound like the function of the archons in Gnosticism.)  With knowledge, we understand the entire world and all the influences and natures within; without, we get trapped and are moved to know only a select few things in a select few ways.

49 Days of Definitions: Part X, Definition 3

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-fifth definition, part X, number 3 of 7:

Nous (is) in soul, and nature (is) in the body.  Nous (is) the maker of soul, and soul, (the maker) of the body.  Nous (is) not in all soul, but nature (is) in all body.

This section is starting to shape up to refer to how the world is.  The rest of the Definitions relate to soul, or Man’s relationship to God, and so forth, but until this tenth section of definitions, we haven’t spoken much about the relationship of things in the world to each other.  Now that we’re talking about matter, natures, good and evil, generation, and the like, we’re starting to understand what this hitherto missing corner of the puzzle is starting to look like.  After all, the final definition of part IX referenced humanity’s place in the world as part of the overall order of the cosmos, so it is fitting we start talking about the world and our place within it beyond simply to be Man.

From before, we know that all natures that exist do so within Man: “nature in man is omniform” (X.2) and “everything is within man” (IX.4).  Our bodies contain a reflection of the world, just as the sensible world is a reflection of the intelligible world and as all natures reflect truth (VIII.5).  However, within our bodies, we also have soul, and within the bodies of Man, there exists Nous.  Thus, this definition repeats once more that “Nous is in soul, and nature is in the body”.  Based on the parallel structure here, we can infer that just as nature in the body of Man is omniform, Nous in the soul of Man is omnipresent.  So not only can we understand the sensible world through and through, we can also understand the intelligible world through and through.  With a grasp of the highest Nous and lowest nature, Man is able to understand everything; the breadth of knowledge available to him is rivaled only by its depth, and both of these are fairly infinite.

Further, not only is Nous within the soul, but “Nous is the maker of soul”.  I mean, duh; all of creation, both the intelligible and sensible, were made and created by God.  But this makes it explicit: Nous creates soul, but since soul is intelligible, Nous creates soul from itself.  The soul is, therefore, something unseen, incorporeal, and invisible.  This, if you recall the terms from VIII.5, is what truth is.  God is truth as much as God is light and Nous and the Good, but this also means that soul itself is part of God and is also a truth, an immortal but not uncreated thing.  Thus, if the soul is a truth, then there must be some nature that reflects it, yes?  Yup!  “Soul [is] the maker of the body”.  Now this is interesting, since we haven’t come across this idea before, in that the soul not only inhabits the body but that the soul creates the body.

But this does logically follow.  If all soul is is just a “necessary movement adjusted to every kind of body” (II.1), then what happens when there is no body yet for a soul that still needs to inhabit one?  The soul moves part of the whole of the world, using the female and male fluidities and the four elements, and creates a body to live and grow.  The soul made by God determines the body made by soul according to its needs, perfection or lack thereof, and so forth.  Thus, whatever form, quirks, instabilities, infirmities, conditions, or oddities the body may have all come from soul, so it likewise comes from God.  Thus, no natural, gendered, hereditary, inborn, genetic, or similar condition, including the circumstances of one’s birth, can be called “wrong” or “sinful” or “evil”; skin color, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, predisposition to diabetes or obesity, or anything else should never be used against someone, since that’s literally how they were made.  It exists in the world and was made from the world; this is the definition of “natural” that we’ve been building up.  If you needed to be born that way, you would yourself, since you possess the capacity for experiencing those same things; don’t maltreat others when you don’t want to be maltreated.

So, since Man can be born with any nature in any body, Man inherently possesses the capacity for nature in every body.  Thus, “nature is in all body”.  Considering how much we’re changing, we can change natures at almost the drop of a hat, or a needle, or a weight, or a car; our entire bodies are constantly changing, increasing and decreasing, emitting and receiving.  The soul, however, is a little different.  Unlike nature, which is all present in all body, “Nous is not in all soul”.  Some souls do not have the full grasp of Nous, as we’ve said before (VIII.8), because they have not yet obtained perfection of soul yet.  But, assuming they begin to act and speak reasonably with Logos, they will.  As for those who lack even the innate Nous within the soul, that’s a little unclear; perhaps the soul needed to inhabit a body regardless for some early work before it begins its true path to perfection, but it’s unclear to me what happens to those people.

Understand that everything is created by something, and if not God directly, then something else that was ultimately made by God.  The Nous creates all things within itself, by itself, and from itself, and since Nous is everywhere, Nous dwells within all things.  However, the only means by which something can contact or understand Nous is through Logos; something with Nous but without Logos cannot effectively understand or know Nous.  Man, since he has the means of Logos, can do just this, since he is blessed with a deliberate share of Nous more than other creatures.  However, the body, being made of all the natures, also allows him to use Logos for unreasonable ends, clouding or muddling his connection to Nous.  Until that connection is made perfect and perfectly clear, we will not be able to fully dwell within Nous nor can Nous fully dwell within us.

49 Days of Definitions: Part X, Definition 2

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.

49 Days of Definitions: Part X, Definition 1

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-third definition, part X, number 1 of 7:

What is good? What bears no comparison.  Good is invisible, (but) evil is conspicuous.  What is a female? A receptive fluidity.  What is a male?  A seminal fluidity.

Alright, guys, here we go!  We’re in the home stretch now, with seven definitions ahead of us.  This is the final set of aphorisms given in the Definitions of Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius, though Jean-Pierre Mahé notes that there was a spurious eleventh set which was copied from other Hermetic texts, and so are not given as part of these aphorisms.  Mahé notes that lists of aphorisms have historically tended to be subject to additions, interpolations, subtractions, and other modifications, and we’ve seen some of these things before in sections III and VII.  On the whole, however, the Definitions have been providing us with a more-or-less coherent foundation for Hermetic philosophy, and this last section should prove to be interesting.  The last section emphasized the role and place of Man in the cosmos, after building up the case for the actions of knowledge and ignorance leading to immortality or mortality for man, his unique connection to God that allows knowledge of the entire cosmos, and what the cosmos is structured like.  With that, let’s begin this final part of the Definitions.This definition actually acts as a definition, affording meanings for four words, two of which we’ve already seen: good, evil, female, and male.

That which is good “bears no comparison”; there is nothing that can be compared to the good.  We know that good is knowledge, especially knowledge of God and the beings (VII.5), that Nous/God/light is good, or more properly the Good (II.1, II.6, IX.2), and that Man can choose to do good when he carries out the will of Nous and works toward God and perfection of the soul, a power of the gods (VIII.7).  By using the associations of God with the Good from I.4, we also know that the Good is uncreated, ineffable, intelligible, immovable, and invisible, and is also eternal (I.5); further, it is also honest and beautiful (IX.4)  God is, effectively, “knowledge of the beings” (VI.3), all at once, all together.  God which is the Good is the Whole, the All, the One, the greatest and greater than greatest.  In this light, there is nothing that can compare to the Good, hence it “bears no comparison”.  Even Man, made in the image of God, is nothing like God in some ways.  There is nothing that can be compared to the Good, because the Good will always dwarf everything, no matter what it may be.

Further, “good is invisible”; after all, that is what God is, being everywhere and beyond all at once.  God dwells within all things, and, being light as well, “appears just as it is by itself” without itself being visible.  We cannot see or sense the Good, no more than we can see or sense truth or knowledge directly, but it is there all the same.  This is contrasted with evil, which is “conspicuous”.  Evil is everything we can see or sense that we know for a fact is not Good.  Of course, since everything is within God, everything is (as it is) good and nothing is to truly be feared (IX.3), but anything we see is only a reflection of truth, since it has nature and quality and quantity (VIII.5, VII.7).  Evil is anything that hides the truth; it is ignorance (VII.7), darkness (implied in II.6 and VIII.5), and lies and ugliness (IX.4).  Evil is what keeps us from attaining knowledge of God, and what prevents us from knowing the Good.

Does this mean that the material world is evil?  Basically, yeah.  Evil is that which hides the good, ignorance that hides knowledge.  This material world we live in with bodies, increase and decrease, birth and death is all natural, sure, but it is a reflection of the truth, which is invisible and immaterial.  Truth is God, God is good; nature is not truth, therefore nature is neither God nor good.  (This shows the Platonic/Neoplatonic/Gnostic influence on Hermeticism, which holds that material things are evil and not really made by God, but that a greater and more perfect world exists beyond this imperfect, fatal one and whoever made the mistake of making this world fucked shit up.)  But if you follow this through, it accords with the rest of what we’ve said before.  Remember the warning about “whoever behaves well towards his body, behaves badly towards himself” (IX.5), “just as you will behave towards the soul when it is in this body, likewise it will behave towards you when it has gone out of the body” (VI.3), and “speech which comes from speech is only perdition” (V.2)?  Whatever comes from this world is nothing more than nature arising from nature.  Without Nous/God or Logos/Reason to guide or create things, there is no good in them.  Speech that comes from speech, or that comes from the world about the world for the world, is essentially unreasonable; treating the body before the soul or instead of the soul neglects the Good within ourselves.

So what exactly brings about nature that generates nature?  This definition introduces to us two new terms: female and male.  They are both “fluidities”, which indicates flow, transformation, change, and mobility.  Female fluidity is receptive; it is changed.  Male fluidity is seminal; it changes other things.  We might use the terms “passive” and “active” instead, if you wanted to go with a less gendered way to say it, but the concepts are the same.  Anything that is shaped, molded, formed, built, and the like has female qualities.  Anything that shapes, molds, forms, builds, and the like has male qualities.  The interaction between these two fluidities is what generates things down here.  Note that, while it may be tempting, we can’t really associate these with the elements as we know them.  Earth, as we might guess, has strong female qualities (consider how many things we make out of solid objects!); likewise, water is the height of fluidity, and its flow is contained or shaped by other things.  But then, water can also be male when it chips away and molds earth, and earth can be male when it contains or redirects the flow of water.  Remember that female and male are fluidities, forces of change independent of form.  They’re even less material than the elements themselves; they’re modes of operation, action, and change.

But, however, because they are forms of change, they are not immovable and uncreated as God is (I.4).  God is immovable and cannot be moved, while things that are female are moved and are created and things that are male move and create.  We might say that God takes on some male qualities, but this wouldn’t be completely honest to say at this point, I think.  Female and male are qualities, which are properties of matter (VII.4), and as such are still not Good, and therefore not God, and therefore “evil”, since we can see these things or at least these forces at work in the world.  This isn’t saying that female humans are receptive or that male humans are active, either; it’s important to draw the line with these definitions here in that these are forces of change and no more.