A Hermetic Musing on Fate, Necessity, and Providence

This post was originally a short tweet thread I shared last September, but I don’t think I ever shared it outside Twitter, and I think I phrased some things in it that even I hadn’t realized were as big as I do now.  I’ve reformatted it and embiggened it slightly for a proper blog post, but the gist is the same.

So, a few definitions first, largely based on SH 12—14:

  1. Providence is the will of God.
  2. Necessity is what comes up with what needs to happen in order for Providence to be fulfilled.
  3. Fate is what arranges things in order for that which Necessity declares to come about.

In software engineering terms, Providence is the requirement that specifies what is to be done, Necessity is the design that specifies how it’s to be done, and Fate is the code that does what the requirement says in the manner the design says. The execution of the code—the carrying-out of Fate—is the actual activity that happens in the cosmos, right down to our own lives.

And what are the agents of Fate, you might ask?  What are the entities that facilitate and serve Fate to bring it about?  It’s the planets and stars themselves, which are not just indicators of Fate but the things that provide all things that exist down here with the energy (in the philosophical sense of activity or being-at-work-ness) to do what they need to do to be born, to grow, to die, and decay—and, in the process, fulfill whatever purpose it was meant to achieve.

That the planets are the agents of Fate is why astrology is the first (and most important) Hermetic art, because the study of the planets and stars allows us to learn about Fate, and thus about Necessity and Providence, and thus God and our relation to it. Our external and bodily lives are commanded by Fate, and Fate is not up to us to change in the Hermetic worldview, no more than we can make Mercury not go retrograde when we find it inconvenient. Fate is going to happen one way or another; we must learn to live with it.  (This is where a good understanding of Stoicism comes into play when studying Hermeticism.)

But, the thing is, your soul—that which you really are—is not your body; rather, our souls come from a place beyond the cosmos, and thus a place beyond Fate.  As such, our souls are not compelled by Fate the way our bodies and external lives are.  Our bodies are creations of the cosmos, and the cosmos is ruled by Fate, and so our bodies are naturally controlled by Fate as well as a production of it (and, by extension, the seven planets).  The soul, which only wears the body like how the body wears a shirt, is only impelled, not compelled, by Fate, in the same way that while the quality of a shirt can make a body comfortable or uncomfortable, the body is not fundamentally bound to the same fate as the shirt.  That saying that we’re spiritual entities having a physical experience, or that we should only be in the world and not of the world?  That notion is critically Hermetic, and we need to take that to heart.  We can’t be in control of everything (or even anything) external on the level of the body, but internally on the level of the soul, we can overcome it all.

It is in rising above the powers of Fate that we conquer it, by learning what it does and how it plays out that we learn the exceptions in the code and the behavior unspecified by the design and the loopholes in the requirements. Only once we rise above Fate can we make it our plaything., but in order to do so, we need to understand how Fate actually plays out on the low level once we see what Fate is trying to accomplish at a high level.  This is why alchemy is the second Hermetic art: alchemy is the study and science of learning how the activities and energies of the cosmos play out specifically at the level of material creation and manifestation, in the world we live in. Astrology looks above to see “why”, alchemy looks below to see “how”. And, well, as the Emerald Tablet (and so many others who love to quote it) says, “as above, so below”.

Learning Fate’s activity/energeia by alchemy and Fate’s power/dynamis by astrology, that’s where the third Hermetic art comes in: theurgy. Theurgy doesn’t change Fate to fight against Necessity or change Providence. Rather, it works by Fate to do what is best—what is Necessary—in accordance with highest Providence.  In working by Fate, we rise up to Fate’s own level and surpass it, able to at last be consciously and intentionally free of Fate.  Theurgy relies on knowing that which is above, that which is below, and the relationship between the two to not just go up or down, but to go beyond both entirely.  (After all, when you’re talking about a sphere, any direction away from the center is technically “up”.)

To borrow a bit of Christianity for a moment: angels are said to have no free will, but consider instead that they have will, just that their will is to fulfill God’s will. In this, the will of an angel is the will of God to be expressed through that angel.  The same goes for us, too. Theurgy is what allows us to make our will God’s will, which also makes God’s will our will. And if God is for you, sharing the one and same will, who can be against you?

When your own will is Providence, what need would you have to fight with Fate, when Fate itself could not fight with you?

Hermeticism FAQ: Part IV, Practice

Continuing our Hermeticism FAQ series (see part I, part II, and part III here), let’s continue today with (the final) Part IV, on the various practices of Hermeticism!

What practices are part of Hermeticism?

Although the “philosophical Hermetica” are great for teaching doctrine, they offer very little in the way of actual practice, whether day-to-day routine practice or things for non-routine ritual.  However, we do know that prayer to God is something Hermēs Trismegistos encourages, especially at sunrise (preferably outdoors facing east) and at sunset (again preferably outdoors facing south), along with at nighttime immediately before going to bed.  Practices of purity and asceticism are also encouraged, both for their training of the body as well for the work of engaging divinity without being polluted by the passions of base matter.  In tandem with study of the discourses and other arts, frequent meditation should be engaged with, both for the purposes of delving deeper into the meanings of the teachings as well as to gain insight regarding one’s own nature and the nature of the cosmos generally.  For those who are building shrines for the gods, calling the gods down into statues for more immediate contact and worship of them is recommended, by the means of filling the statues with sacred substances, burning incense before them, bathing them in sacred liquids, and the singing of hymns to seat them in their terrestrial bodies; rather than just statues or other images, bodily possession by the gods may also be attempted.  When ready, works of spiritual elevation and divine ascent should be undertaken, which can be considered among the crowning acts (though far from a one-time effort) a Hermeticist should endeavor towards.  Besides these, many other practices as described in the “technical Hermetica” or which are borrowed from any number of other magical and spiritual traditions may also be incorporated.

Are there any particular gods I should worship?

The only divinity one is strictly required to worship and venerate in Hermeticism is God, and that in a way that is often distinct from other gods; rather than burning incense or making material sacrifices, the true worship of God consists of a sacrifice of speech and the singing of hymns in sacred silence, adoring the Creator by means of their Creation.  Beyond that, whatever other gods one worships (if one worships other gods at all) is entirely up to the student.  For those who are willing, Hermēs Trismegistos himself is an excellent candidate to receive worship for those who follow the Way of Hermēs, whether as a divinity in his own right or as a deified hero-prophet; the same goes for the students of Hermēs Trismegistos, like Asklēpios (the Egyptian Imhotep), Tat (another instance of Thōth), and Ammōn (the Egyptian Amun).  While Greek and Egyptian religion offers many such deities to worship, to say nothing of the many syncretic religious entities present in texts like the Greek Magical Papyri, there is no limit nor rule as to which gods one should worship, so long as one (also) worships God.

Did the classical Hermeticists practice magic, and should we continue to practice magic today?

Although the “philosophical Hermetica” is silent on the subject, and although Zosimus of Panopolis suggests that Hermēs Trismegistos disavowed magic, it is a fact that Hermeticism has long been associated with magical works of many types, and indeed, ancient Egyptian religion saw little distinction between religious works and magical works, to the point where the very concept of magic itself (Heka) in Egypt was venerated as a deity in its own right in addition to the view that the gods had such supernatural power at their disposal to accomplish all manner of works.  Magic is simply the operational use of subtle forces or spiritual entities in addition to or instead of physical or bodily ones to achieve particular ends, and as such, the study of such forces and entities is part and parcel of the study of the cosmos as much as the study of any material or physical force or entity.  This being the case, classical Hermeticists (along with Egyptian priests themselves, and in company with many other wandering magicians of the day) certainly practiced magic, as this was a valid way to engage with the various powers of the cosmos, and thus we are both enabled and encouraged to today.  Of course, such works should be held to a high moral and ethical standard—but so should any other work, whether or not it can be considered “magical”.

What about astrology or alchemy?

These two arts have long been held to be Hermetic, and there’s good reason for saying so; even in the core classical Hermetic texts themselves, there is much astrological symbolism and even directives to engage in the study and practice of astrology to better understand the nature of the cosmos and of divinity.  Alchemy is somewhat more complicated of a subject, becoming more popular and well-studied in the late classical and post-classical periods, but is also tied to Hermetic practices of the creation of medicine, ink, oils, and talismans.  Different texts from different time periods will focus on these arts to various degrees, but they are certainly important for the practical side of Hermeticism, and those who are interested in Hermeticism are encouraged to study and engage with them.  Remember that the study of astrology is what helps us understand more about the processes of Fate; if astrology is the “as above”, then alchemy provides the “so below”, since it helps us understand the processes of change in the cosmos, learning how the activities and energies of the cosmos play out at a low level.  The power and potentiality of Fate can be learned through astrology, and the activity and actuality of Fate can be learned through alchemy.  Even if neither are strictly required, by learning both, one has a strong footing to engage in the work of theurgy.

What about theurgy?

Theurgy (from Greek theourgia, “divine work” or “god-work”) is the ritual mystical practice of participating in the presence of the divine, whether individual gods or God itself.  On the one hand, this can be considered the work of lifting oneself up to the level of the gods through spiritual elevation and divine ascent; on the other, it can also be considered the work of bringing the gods down to our level, either by having them inhabit sacred statues or other idols or by possessing their devotees for the gods to perform work down in our world.  In either case, the ultimate goal of theurgy is to unite ourselves with the divine, fulfilled through rites of purification of the body and soul along with communion with the gods.  It should be noted that this is not a kind of “coercion of the gods” where the gods are “forced” down (as if such a thing were possible in Hermetic terms), nor is it the case that we “trap” the gods in statues for our own bidding.  This is an act of communion, such as inviting someone to live in your home and share your table, and similar acts can be seen in the tradition of “living statues” of Hinduism and in many other pagan traditions across the world.  In a smaller sense, although not always done with theurgical goals in mind, the work of ensoulment and enlivening images can also be seen in the consecration of talismans, where one “brings to life” a particular object for it to confer some benefit, either by having a “shard” of the power of some force (like a planet) empower an object or by having a spirit come to inhabit the object.

What about thaumaturgy, and how is it different from theurgy?

Thaumaturgy (from Greek thaumatourgia “wonder-working”) is a way to describe magic in general, especially magic that is intended to create change or other paranormal phenomena in our world.  In other words, thaumaturgy is another word for most magic most people do and have done the whole world over since time immemorial.  Although some people consider theurgy to be “high magic” and thaumaturgy to be “low magic”, it should be noted that the difference between theurgy and thaumaturgy consists primarily in ends or goals, not in the means or methods; the same method one might use to raise a shade of the dead to learn where buried treasure lies may well be the same method one calls upon the presence of a god to bask in their glory in unity with them.

Are initiations involved or required in practicing Hermeticism?

“Initiation” in its literal sense indicates the beginning of something new, but in a religious context, it refers to the formal induction into a mystery, something secret that bestows some sacred or mystical power, license, experience, or knowledge, generally one protected as secret by a group dedicated to that mystery.  Importantly, an initiation is conferred upon an initiate by someone who is already initiated; it is something given, not merely taken.  In that light, although individual groups that profess Hermeticism may have their own mysteries may require initiations to access such mysteries, Hermeticism as a whole does not require them, and the very notion seems to be unknown according to the Hermetic texts.  That beings said, there are mysteries in Hermeticism, and are described as such in terms of being acts of spiritual elevation or divine ascent in order to behold divine visions.  Engaging in this work may be considered an initiation of sorts, whether or not there is one there to guide a student in such an endeavor.  It is perhaps better to consider this an initiation only when one who has already undertaken such a feat guides another in undertaking that same feat; beyond that, when one undertakes it on their own without such guidance, it might better be said to not be an initiation in the technical sense, even if it does acquaint one with a mystery of the Divine apart and away from any such group.  It’s a complicated topic to discuss, but suffice it here to say that there are often initiatory experiences involved in the higher works one undertakes in Hermeticism, whether or not one is initiated into a group by other human beings.

Is divination okay in Hermeticism?

Absolutely!  Divination is more than just “telling the future”, although it also does that, too; it is the act of approaching the gods to come to know them and what they have to say.  Not only does this fall in line with ancient practices that span the entire world, upholding old traditions of the oracles of the many gods, but it also is explicitly justified in the Hermetic texts as something legitimate we can do, so that we can know what has been, what is, and what will be.  Plus, so many forms of divination have been assigned to Hermēs Trismegistos, or even just Hermēs in the purely Greek sense, not least of which is astrology, that it’s hard to not separate out the work and study of divination from Hermeticism.

Do I need to be a vegetarian or vegan to be a Hermeticist?

At the end of the Perfect Sermon, there is a direction given by Hermēs Trismegistos to his students where they are to eat a “meal that includes no living thing” or “holy food which has no blood in it” following a prayer of thanksgiving to God.  Some interpet that this is an injunction for students of Hermēs Trismegistos to be vegetarian (or even vegan) in general, while others hold to a more limited opinion that only certain ritual meals need to be vegetarian.  It’s a good question, but there’s no one right answer.  It is known that those initiated into the Orphic and Pythagorean mystery cults were famously vegetarian as a constant ascetic practice (and also excluded certain kinds of beans due to their textural similarity to flesh), and it is also known that Egyptian priestly purity practices involved many abstinences from any number of animal products, both the eating of meat and otherwise (like the wearing of wool).  For our purposes today, while maintaining a vegetarian (or vegan, if one so chooses) diet is an excellent ascetic choice one can make, it can be agreed upon as important to abstain from consuming animal products prior to engaging in ritual and to only consume vegetarian (or vegan) food as part of ritual where ritual meals are called for, regardless whether sacrifices to the gods or spirits require meat or other animal products.

What about qabbala/kabbalah/cabala?

This term (all really the same word, just different transliterations from the Hebrew) refers to the overall mystical tradition of Judaism, which builds upon earlier Jewish traditions of hekaloth literature and merkaba mysticism along with Bablyonian and Hellenistic influence.  Although its origins ultimately lie in much earlier Jewish practices, qabbala as its own discipline only arose in the medieval period around 1200 CE.  Due to the complicated and messy history of Judaism in Europe, qabbala became integrated with non-Jewish systems of magic and mysticism, and earned central importance to magical systems like those of the Golden Dawn and Thelema.  While the study of qabbala, in its various forms and approaches, may be useful to some modern Hermeticists of various styles, it is not in and of itself Hermetic in the same sense that the Corpus Hermeticum is Hermetic, though due to the Neoplatonic and broadly Hellenistic influences upon the development of qabbala, it may be integrated with Hermetic practices.

Can I incorporate modern or non-Hermetic practices into Hermeticism?

By all means, feel free!  Considering the difficulty we have in reconstructing the practices of classical Hermeticists, to say nothing of the variety between their practices as well as the practices of various Hermeticists throughout the past 2000 years, there is plenty that can be done by us today in service to the Way of Hermēs. Just bear in mind that just because you might use a practice within a Hermetic context does not automatically make it “Hermetic”, and it is also worthy to remember the context in which such a practice arose and what its design and purpose is for.  Some things can be adapted or adopted for Hermetic ends quite neatly and nicely, other things less so, and some practices are best kept separate from Hermeticism entirely depending on their nature and purpose.

Will Hermeticism make me powerful, give me spells to get laid, etc.?

Sigh.  Technically yes, and I won’t deny that a fundamental drive for magic is the drive to get laid and get paid, but we’re also here to recognize that there’s more to life than just power, sex, money, and the like.  There’s magic, and then there’s magic for Hermetic ends, and while the same spell can be used for a Hermetic end as well as a non-Hermetic end, there’s a reason greed and lust are outlined as “irrational torments of matter” that we’re meant to purge ourselves from.  Let’s try to be a little more mature in the future, yes?

A New Model of Elemental Assignments to the Geomantic Figures

We all know the basic four elements of Western occult cosmology, don’t we?  Of course we do!  We know that there’s Fire, Air, Water, and Earth, in order from least dense to most dense, or from most subtle to least subtle, whichever you prefer.  They’re even described in the Divine Poemander, the opening chapter of the Corpus Hermeticum as being fundamental (even in this same order!) to the creation of the cosmos:

And I saw an infinite sight, all things were become light, both sweet and exceeding pleasant; and I was wonderfully delighted in the beholding it. But after a little while, there was a darkness made in part, coming down obliquely, fearful and hideous, which seemed unto me to be changed into a certain moist nature, unspeakably troubled, which yielded a smoke as from Fire; and from whence proceeded a voice unutterable, and very mournful, but inarticulate, inasmuch as it seemed to have come from the Light.  Then from that Light, a certain holy Word joined itself unto Nature, and outflew the pure and unmixed Fire from the moist nature upwards on high; it was exceeding Light, and sharp, and operative withal. And the Air, which was also light, followed the Spirit and mourned up to Fire from the Earth and the Water, insomuch that it seemed to hang and depend upon it.  And the Earth and the Water stayed by themselves so mingled together, that the Earth could not be seen for the Water, but they were moved because of the Spiritual word that was carried upon them.

According to long-standing doctrine, going back to the time of Aristotle and before him even unto Empedocles, the four elements are considered to be arranged according to the two qualities each element has.  One pair of qualities exists on a spectrum from Hot to Cold, and the other from Dry to Moist.  If you take both Hot and Dry, you end up with Fire; Hot and Moist, Air; Cold and Moist, Water; Cold and Dry, Earth.  In this way, each element pertains to two qualities:

Hot Cold
Dry Fire Earth
Moist Air Water

This sort of arrangement has classically been described graphically with a kind of diamond-square diagram, showing how the four elements arise from combinations of these two qualities.  In the below diagram, Fire is represented by the upwards-pointing triangle in the upper left positioned between Hot and Dry, Air by the upwards-pointing triangle with a horizontal bar in the upper right between Hot and Wet, and so forth.

The thing about the four elements is that, while they are combinations of two qualities, they’re not necessarily static combinations thereof.  Some philosophers have specified that the elements are primarily of one quality and secondarily of the other that allows them to change into each other or react with each other in a more fluid way.  Fire, for instance, is both hot and dry, but in this fluid system, is specifically considered to be primarily hot and secondarily dry.  In the diagram above, we can see this in that, going clockwise around the diagram, the primary quality of an element is clockwise from that element’s corner, and the secondary quality is counterclockwise; in this sense, the primary quality is what that element is headed into, and the secondary quality is what that element is leaving behind.  Thus:

  • Fire is primarily hot and secondarily dry.
  • Air is primarily wet and secondarily hot.
  • Water is primarily cold and secondarily wet.
  • Earth is primarily dry and secondarily cold.

From this, let’s say that the four qualities themselves—even if they’re proto-elemental—can be ascribed to the four elements themselves, such that Heat is basically the main characteristic of Fire, Moisture of Air, Cold of Water, and Dryness of Earth.  (This offshoot of the Empedoclean-Aristotelian system is in opposition to the Stoic system, which gives Heat and Coldness to Fire and Air, and Moisture and Dryness to Water and Earth, but that doesn’t matter for the purposes of this system which is effectively unrelated.)  So, although Heat is part of both Fire and Air, Heat is more aligned towards Fire than Air.

We also know that certain elements—more properly, certain qualities of the elements—cannot be together lest they cancel each other out because of their inherent opposition.  Heat and Cold cancel each other out, as do Moisture and Dryness.  Thus, when we say that Fire and Water cancel each other out, it’s really their elemental qualities that cancel each other out, leaving behind a mess.  What remains when different elements cancel each other out, or some combination of elements reinforcing each other in some ways or reducing each other in other ways, can be instructive in how to alchemically understand these elemental reactions from a basic principle.

Now consider the 16 geomantic figures.  Each figure, as we all know by now, is represented by four rows, each row having one or two dots.  Each row represents one of the four elements: from top to bottom, they’re Fire, Air, Water, and Earth.  A single dot in a row signifies the presence or activity of that element in the figure, while two dots in a row signifies its absence or passivity.  Thus, Laetitia (with only one dot in the topmost Fire row and two dots in the other rows) has only Fire active, and so forth.  We know that there are many different ways to assign the elements to the figures, some being more recent than others, and the way I like to assign them has the benefit of being one of the oldest used in Western geomancy…mostly, with the figures Laetitia and Rubeus swapped around so that Laetitia is ruled by Fire and Rubeus by Air.  Moreover, my way of assigning the elements also has a benefit of giving each figure both a primary and a secondary elemental ruler, which has come in use in various techniques more often than I had originally anticipated.

Still, what would happen if we used a different method beyond overall signification to assign the figures to the elements?  What would happen if we took the structure of the figures themselves as the sole key to understand their elemental affinities based on what’s present, what’s absent, what cancels out, and what reinforces each other?  Knowing that certain elemental qualities do just that when put together, what would happen if we took that structural approach to the elements active within a geomantic figure?  For instance, Puer has Fire, Air, and Earth active; we know that because of their opposing qualities, Air (Hot and Wet) and Earth (Cold and Dry) cancel each other out, leaving only Fire behind, giving Puer a basically fiery nature.  What if we took this approach to all the figures, seeing what came out of such elemental interactions amongst the elements present within a geomantic figure?

Fire First
Row
Second
Row
Third
Row
Fourth
Row
Remainder Result
Laetitia Hot
Dry
Hot
Dry
Fire
Fortuna
Minor
Hot
Dry
Hot
Wet
Hot ×2 Hot
Amissio Hot
Dry
Cold
Wet
Ø Null
Cauda
Draconis
Hot
Dry
Hot
Wet
Cold
Wet
Hot
Wet
Air
Puer Hot
Dry
Hot
Wet
Cold
Dry
Hot
Dry
Fire
Rubeus Hot
Wet
Hot
Wet
Air
Coniunctio Hot
Wet
Cold
Wet
Wet ×2 Wet
Acquisitio Hot
Wet
Cold
Dry
Ø Null
Puella Hot
Dry
Cold
Wet
Cold
Dry
Cold
Dry
Earth
Via Hot
Dry
Hot
Wet
Cold
Wet
Cold
Dry
Ø Null
Albus Cold
Wet
Cold
Wet
Water
Populus Ø Null
Carcer Hot
Dry
Cold

Dry

Dry ×2 Dry
Caput
Draconis
Hot
Wet
Cold

Wet

Cold

Dry

Cold
Wet
Water
Fortuna
Maior
Cold
Wet
Cold
Dry
Cold ×2 Cold
Tristitia Cold
Dry
Cold
Dry
Earth

Note the overall results we get:

  • Eight figures end up with an actual element that represents them, four being a result of that element being the only active one in that figure (e.g. Laetitia, being Fire, because only Fire is active), and four being a result of that element being active, its opposing element being inactive, and the other two elements that cancel out being active (e.g. Puer, being Fire, because Fire is active but so is Air and Earth, which cancel each other out).
  • Four figures end up with being not an actual element, but a single quality, because it contains the two elements active in that figure that have that quality, with the other qualities of those elements canceling out (e.g. Fortuna Minor is pure Heat, because Fire and Air are active within it, both elements of Heat, though the dryness of Fire and moisture of Air cancel each other out).
  • Four figures end up with being null and void of any element or quality.  One is trivial, Populus, because it just has nothing active in it to begin with, but the other three (Via, Amissio, and Acquisitio) are combinations of only opposing elements that all cancel each other out somehow.

If we separate out those eight figures that end up with an element into a “pure element” group (where the figure consists of only that single element itself) and a “muddled element” group (where the figure consists of that element plus two other elements that oppose each other and cancel out), we end up with a neat grouping of four groups of four figures.  Even nicer is that the Pure Element, Muddled Element, and Single Quality groups all have each figure representing one of the four elements (the Single Quality representing elements by means of their most closely associated quality, e.g. Fire by Heat, Water by Cold).  That leaves us with a convenient scheme for assigning the figures to the elements in a new way…

Fire Air Water Earth
Pure
Element
Laetitia Rubeus Albus Tristitia
Muddled
Element
Puer Cauda
Draconis
Caput
Draconis
Puella
Single
Quality
Fortuna
Minor
Coniunctio Fortuna
Maior
Carcer
Null
Quality
…?

…mostly.  The Null Quality group of figures (Via, Populus, Amissio, and Acquisitio) don’t fall into the same patterns as the rest because…well, they’re all null and void and empty of any single element or quality.  We’ll get to those later.

First, note that the Pure Element, Muddled Element, and Single Quality groups, we see a process of descension from one element to the next.  Descension is the process by which the elemental rows of a geomantic figure are “shifted” downwards such that the Fire line gets shifted down to the Air line, Air down to Water, Water down to Earth, and Earth cycles back up again to Air; I discussed this and the corresponding reverse technique, ascension, in an earlier post of mine from 2014.  Moreover, note that all these groups descend into the proper elements ruling that figure in lockstep, so that if we take the Fire figure from one group and descend it into the Air figure of that same group, the other Fire figures from the other groups also descend into the Air figures of those groups.  That’s actually a pretty neat reinforcing of this new system of assigning elements to the figures, and in a conveniently regular, structural way.

It’s with the Null Quality figures (Via, Populus, Amissio, and Acquisitio) that that pattern breaks down.  We know that Amissio and Acquisitio descend into each other in a two-stage cycle of descension, while Via and Albus descend into themselves without a change.  We can’t use the process of descension like we did before to make a cycle of elements within a quality group of figures, and because of their null quality, we can’t just look at the elements present in the figures themselves to determine what element they might be aligned with as a whole in this system.  So…what next?

Take a close look at the figures we already have charted, and follow along with my next bit of logic.  For one, we know that all the odd figures are either in the Pure Element or Muddled Element group, which means all the even figures must be in the Single Quality or Null Quality group.  On top of that, if we look at the figures that are already charted to the elements, we can note that Fire and Air figures are all mobile, and Water and Earth figures are all stable.  This suggests that Via and Amissio (the mobile Null Quality figures) should be given to Fire and Air somehow, and Populus and Acquisitio (the stable Null Quality figures) to Water and Earth somehow.  We’re getting somewhere!

The Null Quality figures share more similarities with the Single Quality figures because they’re both sets of even figures.  Even though the Single Quality figures follow a process of descension between one element and the next, we also see that figures that belong to opposing elements (Fire and Water, Air and Earth) are also inverses of each other (inversion being one of the structural transformations of geomantic figures, this one specifically replacing odd points with even points and vice versa).  This can be used as a pattern for the Null Quality figures, too, such that inverse Null Quality figures are given to opposing elements. This means that we have two possible solutions:

  1. Via to Fire, Amissio to Air, Populus to Water, Acquisitio to Earth
  2. Amissio to Fire, Via to Air, Acquisitio to Water, Populus to Earth

At this point, I don’t think there’s any structural argument that could be made for one choice over the other, so I shift to a symbolic one.  In many Hermetic and Platonic systems of thought, when it comes to pure activity or pure passivity (though there are many other alternatives to such terms!), Fire and Water are often thought of as perfect examplars, so much so that the Hexagram is literally interpreted as a divine union of masculine/ejective/active Fire (represented by the upwards-pointing triangle) and feminine/receptive/passive Water (represented by the downwards-pointing triangle).  Taking it a step further, in some interpretations of this mystical formation of the hexagram, this combination of Fire and Water produces the element of Air.  If we translate this into geomantic figures, we can consider “pure activity” (Fire) to best be represented by the figure Via (which could, I suppose, be taken as the simplest possible representation of the phallus, being a single erect line, or as the number 1 which is also historically considered to be masculine or active), and “pure passivity” (Water) as Populus (which, likewise, could be seen as the walls of the birth canal or vulva, as well as the number 2 which is considered feminine or passive).  If we give Via to Fire and Populus to Water, this means that we’d give Amissio to Air and Acquisitio to Earth.  Note how this actually works nicely for us, because the Null Quality figure we give to Air is itself composed of Fire and Water, matching with that mystical elemental interpretation of the Hexagram from before.

Now we can complete our table from before:

Fire Air Water Earth
Pure
Element
Laetitia Rubeus Albus Tristitia
Muddled
Element
Puer Cauda
Draconis
Caput
Draconis
Puella
Single
Quality
Fortuna
Minor
Coniunctio Fortuna
Maior
Carcer
Null
Quality
Via Amissio Populus Acquisitio

Next, can we impose an ordering onto the figures given these elemental assignments and quality groups?  Probably!  Not that orders matter much in Western geomancy as opposed to Arabic geomancy, but it could be something useful as well, inasmuch as any of this might be useful.  The order I would naturally think would be useful would be to have all sixteen figures grouped primarily by element—so all four Fire figures first, then the four Air figures, and so on—and then, within that group, the most representative of that element down to the least representative, which would suggest we start with the Pure Element figure and end with the Null Quality figure.  So, which comes second, the Muddled Element or the Single Quality?  I would suggest that the Single Quality figure is more like the element than the Muddled Element figure, because the Single Quality is representative of the…well, single quality that is representative of that element and, though it has some things canceling out within the figure, those things that cancel out based on their corresponding elements active within the figure are still harmonious and agreeable to the overall element itself.  Meanwhile, the Muddled Element is more removed due to the presence of other opposing elements that fight within itself, dragging it down further away from a pure expression of its overall element.  These rules would get us an order like the following:

  1. Laetitia
  2. Fortuna Minor
  3. Puer
  4. Via
  5. Rubeus
  6. Coniunctio
  7. Cauda Draconis
  8. Amissio
  9. Albus
  10. Fortuna Maior
  11. Caput Draconis
  12. Populus
  13. Tristitia
  14. Carcer
  15. Puella
  16. Acquisitio

So, what does this leave us with, and where does this leave us?  We have here a new way to associate the geomantic figures to the traditional elements in a way that’s substantially different from either the usual structural method that I prefer or a more zodiacal method that’s also in common use by authors like John Michael Greer and those immersed in Golden Dawn-like systems, though there is still a good amount of overlap between this kind of elemental assignment and the structural method with eight of the figures retaining their same element (all four Pure Element figures plus Fortuna Minor, Coniunctio, Carcer, and Populus).  This is not a method I’ve encountered before in any geomantic text I’m familiar with, and I’m inclined to say it’s pretty much a novel approach to assigning the elements to the figures, though considering how straightforward the process was, or at least how simple the idea behind it was, I’d be honestly surprised that such a thing hasn’t been thought of before now.

I don’t mean to supplant the major two existing systems of elemental assignments of the geomantic figures (the planetary-zodiacal method or the structural method) or their variations as found throughout the literature; personally, I’m still inclined to keep to my structural method of elemental assignments instead of this combinatoric method, as it’s what I’ve most closely worked with for years, and I’ve gotten exceedingly good mileage out of it.  To me, all the above is something like a curiosity, a “what if” experiment of potential.  Still, even as an experiment, this combinatoric method could have more interesting applications outside pure divination, and I’m thinking more along the lines of alchemy, magic, or other such applications where it’s truly the action, nonaction, interaction, and reaction of the elements themselves among the figures is what matters.  We can alchemically-geomantically view the cosmos as arising from:

  • 4 base substances
  • 16 base entities (the 16 = 4 × 4 different combinations of the elements to form the figures)
  • 256 base interactions (the 256 = 16 × 16 = 4 × 4 × 4 × 4 different addition-pairs of the figures)

So, consider: if you add pure Fire and pure Water, that’d be Laetitia + Albus = Amissio, which gets you a Null figure of balance that leads to an overall condition of Air.  (Fitting, given our explanation of why Amissio should be given to Air at all.)  If you add simple Heat to pure Air, that’d be Fortuna Minor + Rubeus = Laetitia, which also makes sense because, as a figure of Air, Rubeus is primarily wet and secondarily hot; if we reinforce the heat, it becomes primarily hot, and the wet condition gets dried out by the overabundance of heat, transforming Air into Fire.  If we add simple Cold and simple Heat, which would be weird to think about even in alchemical terms except unless we’d isolate those qualities from simpler bases (which we do in geomantic terms), that’d be Fortuna Maior + Fortuna Minor, which would become Via, a technically Null figure given to balanced, ideal, spiritual Fire; how odd!  But we wet the same result when we add any of the opposing Single Qualities, which to me would be like a geomantic division by zero.

I think that this combinatoric model of elemental assignments, what I’m going to call the “alchemical model” as opposed to my usual “structural model” or the Golden Dawn-style “zodiacal model”, could be useful for more mystical, philosophical, or magical meditations on the figures.  It’s not one I’ve completely fleshed out or can immediately agree with given how different it can be from the models I’m used to working with, but I think it does hold some promise and is worthy of exploration and testing, especially in a more magical and less divinatory context.

Tetractys and Magic

Alright, alright, I can hear some of my readers mutter in the distance.  “Yes, polyphanes, we know you like the Tetractys.  We get it.  You’re on a huge Pythagorean kick lately.  You’ve been on this kick for over a month and a half now.  Yes, it’s awesome.  But what about magic?  What about conjurations and talismans and shit?  When are you going to talk about those things again?”  Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten.  Yes, I admit I’ve been taken with the Tetractys and this new field of occult mathesis as of late, but to be fair, it’s a huge new thing for me that I didn’t expect to develop.  I honestly feel like I should be spending more time on it, more meditation, more scrying, since it’s all so new and, thus, unexplored.  And, to make proper use of it, I feel like more exploration is definitely needed.  Otherwise I’d just be stumbling around with a wand in the dark, and I like to do my research before jumping into anything.

Though, I also have to wonder: what substantially changes if I use the Tetractys of Life instead of the Tree of Life as my core magical framework?  The best answer I have for that is, well, not terribly much.  I mean, the only real kabbalistic thing I use in my work is the use of particular godnames to conjure the planetary and elemental angels under; maybe I rap several times on the altar to open up a ritual, the number corresponding to the spirit’s sephirah; I might occasionally use a number square to charge something upon.  But, really, that’s about it.  The planets, stars, and elements would exist regardless whether I used the Tree, the Tetractys, or neither, as they have for countless other cultures and magicians before me.

celestial_spheres

The heavens still remain in their usual order, which is probably one thing that neither the Tetractys nor the Tree of Life really affect.  I mean, Saturn is still the next heaven in line under that of the stars, and Jupiter is the next one under Saturn.  In this scheme, there are still ten heavens, with the first one being that of God (Monad) and the last one being that of the Earth (Decad).  Thus, the sphere of the fixed stars is still recognized as the Dyad (2), that of Saturn as the Triad (3), that of Jupiter as the Tetrad (4), and so forth until that of the Moon as the Ennead (9).  The sephiroth are not the planets, and the planets are not the sephiroth; the Tree of Life assimilated the planets into its structure as a later development of the Tree itself, corresponding to the planets without identifying with them.  The planets are still a representation of number, and numeric representations of the planets are still important tools independent of whether they’re placed on the Tetractys or the Tree.  In that light, the magic number squares of the planets can still be used as important tools, and the use of numbers to associate with the planets as well.

In this view, perhaps my idea-in-passing from a ways ago about using a Greek version of the magic number squares could still be used.  After all, the planets are a different realization of number and are associated with the sephiroth, but are not themselves the sephiroth; the number squares are also representations of number in the same way as the planets are.  The magic squares are not kabbalistic in and of themselves in the same way we’d reckon kabbalah; they’re a tool used to understand the kabbalah, but they are not themselves kabbalah.  The only real change to be made here would be to create a set of Greek number squares and find a new set of spirit names to make sigils with; that idea is one I’ll have to pursue for sure.  The hangup I had with that, to be honest, was the fact that I couldn’t easily assign a simple 1-to-10 numbering to each of the dots in the Tetractys.  It’s easier to see the planets or other forces as distinct groups working in tandem with each other on different levels in a conceptual way apart from the nested-spheres view.  The planets are number, too, and with a bit of clever rearrangement can be put into a tetractys of their own.  While I like my arrangement of the planets onto the Tetractys, it’s surely not the only way to do so, though I have good reasons for going with the model I have.

Say some reader says “well, I think the number squares should stick to kabbalah, so we should use another model of numerical mediation”.  Okay, good!  I like making new models and tools.  However, what could be used in their stead?  The regular polygons of a particular number, say?  Well, if you exclude the Monad (which is a simple point) and the Dyad (which is an infinite line or a circle, neither of which are polygons), we run into an issue.  The “true” Greek way of developing a polygon is to use a compass and straightedge, neither of which are marked for degree or length.  While the triangle, square, pentagon, hexagon, octagon, and decagon can be constructed by a compass and straightedge, the heptagon and enneagon cannot.  They can be approximated, sure, but these numbers cannot be made into regular polygons by compass and straightedge alone, similar to the ancient Greek geometrical problems of squaring the circle or doubling the cube.  It’d be like trying to make a magic number square of rank 2, which cannot be done.  While their ideal forms might be good for meditation, it’d be hard to apply those forms in reality or construction of forms.  This itself can be considered a mystery worthy of meditation, but in terms of applying or constructing numbers, I’d prefer number squares myself if the rank of the square is going to be the same as the number of sides of the polygon.

Beyond numbers, what else might have to change?  Colors?  I’ve gotten good enough results with the colors as used in the Golden Dawn Queen and King scales, so I may as well stick to those (though seeing what else the spheres themselves can show me is useful).  Names of spirits?  Obviously, since Greek names and spelling follow radically different rules than Hebrew, but again, those would just have to be obtained through scrying and numerological research.  The associations of other tools, symbols, and the like with the planets is pretty firmly established and I see no reason to change all those.  So, if by and large the major tools of my work aren’t going to change by switching over to the Tetractys from the Tree, what really changes?

alchemical_planetary_tetractys_paths

The set of paths I have on the Tetractys really don’t work for the Tree of Life; if you try to take the standard ten sephiroth and apply the same paths I have on here, you end up with something resembling metaphysical spaghetti.  While the paths on the Tetractys make sense to me, they cannot be separated from the Tetractys.  The Tetractys offers a radically new meditation and theurgic model of manifestation and understanding how the Divine interacts with all that exists.  That’s the big thing that the mathetic Tetractys provides: a modern Neoplatonic/Neopythagorean model of emanation and divine flow from high to low and back up again.  Unlike the Tree of Life with its neatly-defined start and end points that are so diametrically opposed to each other (due to the Jewish conception of the mortal world being so far removed from the divine), the Tetractys shows how everything is involved in a balanced way in the evolution of everything.  The Monad exists as much as it does down here as it does up there, after all; there’s no need of a God to “recede” from itself to allow for creation within-yet-apart from the rest of its own infinity.  There’s no clean start point for us to use the Tetractys, because not only are we composed of all the forces in the Tetractys, but all of the Tetractys is within us equally and directly.  It might make good sense for us to start with the four elements that compose our bodies and senses of self, but we could easily start with ourselves as a unified whole, or a Monad unto ourselves, and see how we quickly devolve/evolve into a Dyad between ourselves and the rest of the cosmos.

What does the Tetractys really represent?  If the Tetractys is fully present within each of ourselves, then that means we can start anywhere and go anywhere on our personal Tetractyes; we can start at Earth and work our way up through the elements, then the reagents, then the principles, all the way up to the Monad and back down to Earth; we can start at Fire and sublimate ourselves to Nothingness and back down to pure matter once more.  The Tetractys of Life is less about state than it is about process, less about what we are and more about how we come to be in every passing moment.  It’s the connections that we should study, I claim, since that’s where the real beauty and action happens.  Once we understand how we work internally, then we can start expanding outwards and relating ourselves to the rest of the cosmos.  I mean, if each of us is an individual Tetractys in the world, then we’re each our own monads, each taking part in an even larger Tetractys that connects and binds us all together.  Once we can understand the grander connections, we can scale back down and back up in a neverending Tetractys fractal, understanding how the cosmos as a whole is based on the same principles we are, and how we can use the same processes with different materia at different levels.  After all, ten monads does not a decad make; it’s the connections and processes between them that link them together into an ordering, a kosmos of its own.

While the Tree of Life in Jewish kabbalah was originally intended to be used as a mediation model to indicate the interaction of the Creator with Creation, and eventually picked up associations and correspondences to further those meditations, Hermeticists and occultists generally took qabbalah into their own hands as a model of magic and system of correspondences as a cosmological framework.  I don’t consider this an abuse of kabbalah, but I do consider it (at worst) a misuse of the system generally, especially when many people don’t have the required background to fully explore kabbalah as it’s meant to be studied and used.  In the same way, I don’t intend for this Tetractys of Life to be used as a system of correspondences but, again, as a meditative and theurgic blueprint for understanding how things come to be.  Tables of correspondence exist aplenty; good meditative models are harder to come by.

Magically, the use of the letters on the Tetractys’ paths deserves exploration.  For instance, the path between Venus/Water and Jupiter/Air is connected by Nu/Scorpio.  And, while the exact correspondences between the signs of the Zodiac and alchemy differ from tradition to tradition, the most common association I’ve seen with Scorpio is the process of Separation, where a mixture of two or more substances into distinct groups, usually with one of the components of the original mixture enriched in one of its resulting groups.  Air and Water are closely related, both being moist and easily blended with other substances, but it’s by their separation that we can see warm air rising and cool water falling, as in the Poemander’s description of the creation of the world.  Alchemically, we can understand separation in this sense of refining a particular lump of mass within a mixture, but we can also see it in other occult ways, too, such as whittling down extraneous forces to get to the heart of a particular matter or spirit.  We know that the path of Nu is a “lower register” in the Tetrad as the single path is directly above it in the Dyad is, or the path of Nu compared with the path of Xi, which we know is associated with Water, that which permits change and flow.  While Air connects and diffuses itself, Water flows and changes things, cutting certain areas off from others or whisking things away from one place to another.  Water is a form of separation, as separation is a representation of Water.

So now that I’ve thought about the place of the Tetractys of Life in magic a bit more, it doesn’t really have as big an effect on my magical practice as I thought it might have (or worried it might have).  Kabbalah was famous for crossing religions and traditions and incorporating more and more tools into its own toolbox; why not let mathesis do the same a bit, especially from those parts that themselves came from Neoplatonism or Pythagoreanism?  My day to day magical practice and religious offerings are going to be maintained, and the colors and materials of my talismans won’t change much if at all.  I will need to make versions of the magic squares using Greek letters and go through the planets and start getting new spirit names (as well as to figure out why there’s a “spirit of spirits” and “intelligence of intelligences” for the Moon and the like from the spirits themselves), but that’s something that we could all make do with, after all.

Oh, and names of God?  I haven’t forgotten about those, either.  Making use of my names of God from my first foray into making a Greek kabbalah, let’s see what we have.  First, recall that the Tetractys is composed of four ranks: a Monad, Dyad, Triad, and Tetrad.  I temporarily propose these names of God for these ranks, all based on Revelation 1:8, which contains all these names of God (attributes, really, but eh):

  1. ho Kyrios, “the Lord”
  2. hē Arkhē kai to Telos, “the First and the Last”
  3. ho Ēn kai ho Ōn kai ho Erkhomenos, “He who Was and Is and Is to Come”.
  4. ho Pantokratōr, “the All-Ruler”

All are God, of course, and the overall monadic name could easily be God (ho Theos), the Aeon (ho Aiōn), the Whole (to Holon), and so forth.  Personally, I’m getting into the habit of using Aiōn or Iaō as my primary go-to names of God, though my old Stoic inclinations always keeps the Whole nearby in my mind.  So, in conjurations, I’ll test how the use of these specific names work, though I’ll also shoot for other names to see whether other appellations or descriptors of God work better, or whether there are more secret names of God to be used.  Who knows?  As this Tetractys model of magic develops, maybe these names’ll be obsoleted in favor of others, or another method can be used entirely.