Towards a Greek Kabbalah: Letters on the Paths of the Tetractys

Where do we stand on our system of kampala, or Greek kabbalah?  We have letters, we have spheres, we have paths.  We’ve combined the paths with the spheres, and now we need to combine the paths with the letters.  This is the last big thing we have yet to do in order to fully develop our use of Greek letter-number-stoicheia mysticism into a full-fledged theurgic framework, turning simple grammatomancy into grammatotheurgy.  Last we checked in on our Tetractys of Life, we have the following ten spheres linked together with a set of 24 paths: alchemical_planetary_tetractys_paths Each sphere is associated with a particular alchemical concept as well as a cosmic heaven, all coming down from the single, divinely simple, undifferentiated, all-generating Monad.  Seven of the ten spheres are moderate enough in their forces to be connected as completely as they can, while three are too extreme to be connected to any except their closest two forces.  So far, so good.  Now, let’s talk about the letters of the Greek alphabet.  It’s hard to assign the letters to these 24 paths based on their symbolic looks alone, and although the Greek letters are number, it’s also difficult to assign pure number to the paths by virtue of their cardinality, parity, or magnitude.  However, we have another route: using the stoicheia, or occult associations, of the Greek letters, which provide many more qualities and concepts on their own which can help us to figure out which path might best be represented on our Tetractys of Life.

Recall that the practice of stoicheia assigns one of the 12 signs of the Zodiac, one of the seven planets, or one of the five elements to each letter of the Greek alphabet.  After all, 12 + 7 + 5 = 24, so this can easily be done.  And, lo, it is!  Recall that there are three groups of letters in the Greek consonants: vowels, simple consonants, and complex consonants.  There are seven vowels (Α, Ε, Η, Ι, Ο, Υ, Ω), twelve simple consonants (Β, Γ, Δ, Ζ, Κ, Λ, Μ, Ν, Π, Ρ, Σ, Τ), and five complex consonants (Θ, Ξ, Φ, Χ, Ψ).  In that case, our division has already been made for us.  We give each of the vowels to one of the seven planets, starting with Alpha as the Moon and Ōmega as Saturn; we give each of the simple consonants to the twelve signs of the Zodiac, starting with Bēta as Aries and Tau as Pisces; we give each of the complex consonants to one of the five elements from most dense to least dense, from Thēta as Earth to Khi as Fire and Psi as Spirit.

The simplest way to assign these forces and their corresponding letters to the Tetractys of Life would be to base the selection on the geometry of the paths itself.  For instance, in the Jewish kabbalah’s Tree of Life which uses the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, there are three sets of paths: twelve diagonal paths, seven vertical paths, and three horizontal paths.  The diagonal paths are given to the zodiac signs; the vertical paths are given to the planets; the horizontal paths are given to the elements (Hebrew mysticism recognizes only Air, Fire, and Water as elements, with Earth and Spirit not being considered).  Kalagni over at Blue Flame Magick describes how he developed his own set of qabbalistic correspondences between the paths and the Hebrew letters based on their stoicheia, finding a closer resonance to the Jewish practice using the Hermetic Kircher Tree, which is different from the traditional Jewish kabbalah Tree of Life.  The Golden Dawn’s use of the Tree simply plots each path in a particular order from 11 at the top to 32 at the bottom, and gives each path a letter based on its order in the alphabet.  Kalagni and I agree in that this doesn’t suit the actual significance of the letters, so I should find some way to assign the Greek letters to the Tetractys of Life based on the geometry of the paths themselves.

Unfortunately, the 24 paths on the Tetractys don’t split up well into groups of 12, 7, and 5, so of course I’m going to have to think about this and figure out deeper connections that aren’t immediately apparent.  However, 24 is a nice number and can be easily and evenly divided into many smaller numbers: 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 12.  Is it possible to use any of these factors to devise a scheme to divide the zodiac signs, elements, and planets into even groups?  And, if so, is there a coherent way to assign these groups to different groups of the paths? Recall from our meditations on the Greek divine name ΙΑΩ that we were able to divide the paths up into four groups of six: horizontal, right-going, left-going, and hexagram:

The number four immediately brings to mind the lowest rank of the Tetractys, the realm of the four elements: Earth, Water, Air, and Fire.  It might be possible that each of the paths in each set given above shares something about one of the elements in common, but how might we discern what those connections and relationships might be?  Let’s take a closer look at what the paths are actually connecting, again going back to our meditations on ΙΑΩ.

  • The paths that go right increase in activity; they are an expression of the masculine or active principle between levels of manifestation.  The Monad, as it differentiates itself into a Dyad, becomes the active force of Light; as Light differentiates itself, it becomes the active force of Sulfur; as Sulfur differentiates itself, it becomes the active force of Fire.  Fire is the lower-rightmost sphere on the Tetractys, indicating that the active principle as represented by an element is Fire.  The paths that go right are thus best associated with the element of Fire.
  • The paths that go left increase in passivity; they are an expression of the feminine or passive principle between levels of manifestation.  Thus, as the Monad descends into the elemental world, it becomes first Darkness, then Salt, then Earth, which is the lower-leftmost sphere on the Tetractys.  The paths that go left are associated with Earth.
  • The paths that are horizontal change in activity or passivity depending on which direction you’re going, but do not change in a level of manifestation.  The Monad, being undifferentiated, cannot change from itself except into itself; Darkness becomes Light, and vice versa; Salt becomes Mercury, and Mercury becomes Sulfur, and vice versa; Earth becomes Water, Water becomes Air, and so forth.  These horizontal paths demonstrate fluidity in energy while maintaining manifestation, which I understand to be the primary quality of Water, which flows from place to place.  The horizontal paths are associated with Water.
  • The hexagram paths change in diverse ways, some only in manifestation level while preserving the active/passive balance, some in drastic active/passive ways while changing manifestation only slightly.  The ability to change in such dramatic ways that should normally take several paths speaks of the quality of Air to me, since Air allows communication over long distances as well as rising and setting among and filling the gaps between the many heavens.  The hexagram paths are associated with Air.

Okay, so now we have four sets of paths that each share an element.  Thus, there should likewise be a way to divide up the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet into four groups of six by respecting their elemental associations.  We know that there are four letters for the four elements of Earth, Water, Air, and Fire; we also know that there are 12 letters for the signs of the Zodiac, which can be divided up by triplicity (elemental quality) into four groups of three.  Thus, we already have four groups of four letters for a total of 16:

Earth Water Air Fire
Capricorn Cancer Libra Aries
Taurus Scorpio Aquarius Leo
Virgo Pisces Gemini Sagittarius

This leaves seven planets and the leftover element of Spirit for a total of eight more letters.  Spirit, for the purposes of this analysis, can be considered a planet, since Spirit is not truly an element, nor is it truly a planet or zodiac sign, but a type of meta-force that can fit anywhere and accomplish anything as a foundation for other forces to combine and work with it.  Since Spirit is kinda-sorta higher than an element and kinda-sorta lower than a planet, yet can fit amongst either, we can think of these as a group of eight forces, which can be divided up into four groups of two based on their element.  Happily, by our association of the planets with the elements in our alchemical Tetractys of Life, we already know that Saturn is of Earth, Venus of Water, Jupiter of Air, and Mars is of Fire.  This leaves the Moon, Sun, Mercury, and Spirit:

  • The Moon, being on the direct descent from the Monad along the Earth paths to Saturn is given to the element of Earth.
  • Similarly, the Sun is given to Fire, since it’s on the direct descent from the Monad along the Fire paths to Mars.
  • Mercury is present in the center of the Tetractys, able to change in many ways to many other forces but never in the same ways that the Air paths do, leaving Mercury assigned to Water.
  • Spirit, being leftover, is given to Air.  However, Spirit as a raw force can transform anything into drastically different forces, performing miracles and works that no other element can, so this attribution is also fitting.

So now we have four groups of six forces, zodiacal and planetary and elemental, divided up along elemental lines:

Earth Water Air Fire
Saturn Venus Jupiter Mars
Moon Mercury Spirit Sun
Capricorn Cancer Libra Aries
Taurus Scorpio Aquarius Leo
Virgo Pisces Gemini Sagittarius

Alright, so now we need to find a way to assign the forces to the paths.  Of the four groups of paths, the Air sign is the odd one out (since it doesn’t fit the pattern of the other three), so let’s leave that aside for now and focus on the Fire, Water, and Earth paths.  We know that we can divide up these groups of six paths into a kind of partial-tetractys of their own consisting of three ranks (a trictys?): the first row has one path, the second row has two, and the third row has three.  We know that, among each division of our forces, we have one element, two planets, and three signs:

Element Earth Water Air Fire
Planet Saturn Venus Jupiter Mars
Moon Mercury Spirit Sun
Sign Capricorn Cancer Libra Aries
Taurus Scorpio Aquarius Leo
Virgo Pisces Gemini Sagittarius

So, based on this 1/2/3 division of both paths and forces, we can assign the single element to the single path of each group, the two planets to the row of two paths in each group, and the signs to the row of three paths in each group.  Assigning the element to the single path is trivial: give Water to the topmost horizontal path, Fire to the leftmost right-descending path, and Earth to the rightmost left-descending path: Tetractys_paths_elements_AWE We know that we have three sets of two planets, and one set is attributed to the elemental spheres directly on the lowest rank of the Tetractys of Life.  The other three appear higher up, indicating a more unmanifest or rarefied nature.  The Fire and Earth planetary paths have an upper path that link the Dyad and Triad and a lower component that link the Triad and Tetrad.  The lower path is given to the “lower” planet, lower as in the sense of manifestation according to the Tetractys, while the upper path is given to the “higher” planet in the same sense.  Thus, the upper path of Fire is given to the Sun, and the lower path to Mars, and the upper path of Earth is given to the Moon and the lower path to Saturn.  The Water path only has two horizontal components within the same rank, though one connects to a passive reagent and the other to an active reagent.  The path that connects to the passive reagent is considered “lower” in the same sense as above, as the path that connects to the active reagent is considered “higher”; thus, the leftward path of Water is given to Venus, and the rightward one to Mercury.

So far, so good.  This only leaves the three paths of each set to be given to the three signs of the Zodiac for each element.  Each of the three Zodiac sign belonging to the same triplicity (element) is assigned a different quadruplicity, also known as a modality: cardinal, fixed, and mutable.  Cardinal signs initiate and begin; fixed signs maintain and hold; mutable signs degrade and prepare for transformation.

Element Earth Water Air Fire
Planet Saturn Venus Jupiter Mars
Moon Mercury Spirit Sun
Sign Cardinal Capricorn Cancer Libra Aries
Fixed Taurus Scorpio Aquarius Leo
Mutable Virgo Pisces Gemini Sagittarius

It’s a staple of astrology that the fixed signs best represent their element, and we know from our meditations before on the name ΙΑΩ that the central path in the row of three paths “maintains” or holds the same essence as the single path on the far side of the tetractys.  Thus, since that single path represents an element, the middle path on the other side of the tetractys should be the Zodiac sign that best represents that element, i.e. the fixed sign.  Thus, the middle path on each side of the Tetractys should be given to Taurus for the Earth paths, Scorpio for the Water paths, and Leo for the Fire paths: Tetractys_paths_elements_FWE_fixed From this, it remains to assign the cardinal and mutable signs.  Much as how we assigned the “active” planet to the upper or leftward-horizontal path and “passive” planets to the lower or rightward-horizontal paths based on whether they were more manifest or unmanifest in the Tetractys, we can apply a similar method here based on whether a zodiac sign is cardinal (more active) or mutable (more passive).  Thus, as we read the Earth zodiac sign paths from the Monad down to the bottom, we read Capricorn, Taurus, Virgo; as we read the Fire zodiac sign paths from the Monad down to the bottom, we read Aries, Leo, Sagittarius.  The Water paths are more active on the right and more passive on the left, so if we read the Water zodiac sign paths from left to right, we read Pisces, Scorpio, Cancer: Tetractys_paths_signs_FWE Alright!  That covers it for the Fire, Water, and Earth paths of the Tetractys.  That only leaves the confusing hexagram paths of Air, where we can’t use the above system as cleanly anymore.  For one, instead of having three groups of 1, 2, and 3 paths, we have two cyclical sets of 3 paths each.  Both of these cycles have one vertical path, one right-going path, and one left-going path, so neither of them have an imbalance of passivity or activity.  We know that there are three signs of the Zodiac, though, so we can say that the Zodiac signs should all belong on one triangle and the element and two planets (really, the one planet Jupiter and the one meta-element of Spirit) go on the other.  So which should be which?  And, moreover, how do we figure out which line of the zodiac triangle paths is cardinal, fixed, or mutable?

Remember that, in our meditations on the name ΙΑΩ, we linked the long hexagram paths to the different sides of the Tetractys based on how the middle path of the side of the Tetractys linked to the single apex path on the far side.  These long paths then shared the same letter of ΙΑΩ as their shorter rectangular-end paths.  We can apply something similar here, too.  Also remember that 24 is divisible by many numbers, and we’ve so far been thinking about it as 4 × 6.  However, if we link the long paths of the hexagram with the Fire, Water, and Earth sets of lines as we did before with the name ΙΑΩ, we end up with 3 × 8, or three groups of eight paths:

Now, instead of thinking about the groups of paths in terms of four elements, let’s think about them in terms of the three modalities: cardinal, fixed, and mutable.  Cardinal signs are the most active; fixed signs are between active and passive; mutable signs are the most passive.  Thus, if we link these notions of activity and passivity to the three non-Air elements, we get cardinal signs associated with Fire (since they increase in activity), fixed signs with Water (since they hold the level of activity or passivity just as Water maintains manifestation across a rank of the Tetractys), and mutable signs with Earth (since they increase passivity).  Thus, on the triangle that gets the zodiac signs of Air, the paths linked to (at right angles with) the paths of a particular element receive that element’s modality.  So which triangle is the zodiac triangle, and which is the element/planet triangle?

Looking at the triangles, we notice that the one that “points” to the left has a “base” (connecting Light and Air) on the right side of the Tetractys, giving it a foundation of activity tending towards passivity.  Similarly, the triangle that points to the right has a base (connecting Darkness and Water) on the left side, giving it a foundation of passivity tending towards activity.  The type of forces that we’re looking at is the key here: the fixed stars do little on their own besides radiate power, while the planets and elements actively manifest and create far down below.  The fixed stars, then, emit power but do not control it, letting their power and presence be used rather than actively using themselves; the planets and elements emit and radiate their power in the ways they find best for them, acting more than being acted upon.  Thus, the zodiac signs are best given to the triangle pointing to the right, since they’re mostly passive with tendencies towards action, while the planets/elements are best given to the triangle pointing to the left, since they’re mostly active with tendencies towards being acted upon.

So, if the Air signs of the Zodiac are given to the right-pointing triangle, and we know that the vertical line is fixed, the right-going line is mutable, and the left-going line is cardinal, we end up with this arrangement: Tetractys_center_triangle_right_signs Therefore, the left-pointing triangle is given to the forces of Air, Jupiter, and Spirit.  These don’t really fall into the scheme of cardinal/fixed/mutable, but we do know that for the Fire, Water, and Earth sets of paths, the path for the element is always on a “higher register” directly above the fixed sign on the far side of the Tetractys.  If we apply that same logic here, we see that the fixed Air sign Aquarius is on the vertical path of the right-pointing triangle, so the element of Air itself should go on the vertical path of the left-pointing triangle.  Between the planet Jupiter and the quasi-element Spirit, we can argue that Spirit is the more malleable, pervasive, and changeable than the firm and lofty power of Jupiter, which would make Jupiter more active than Spirit.  Since the only two choices we have left here are for a cardinal-active path and mutable-passive path, that would set Jupiter on the path opposite Libra and Spirit on the path opposite Gemini, with the result like this: Tetractys_center_triangle_left_forces And that’s it!  All told, now we have all 24 paths assigned to the 12 signs of the Zodiac, the seven planets, the metaelement Spirit, and the four classical elements in a logical and coherent manner.  This means that we can finally associate each path of the Tetractys of Life with a letter, and with it a number and stoicheic force, in a manner like the following:

 

alchemical_planetary_tetractys_paths

You’ll note that there’s some criss-cross of the paths in the center where the hexagram paths overlap with the others.  In cases like this, the path on top is going to have its associated letter’s numerical value odd (if the one on the bottom is even) or greater than the one on the bottom (if they’re both odd or both even).  To determine an odd number or even number, I ignore the magnitude of the number and reduce it to a number 1 through 9; thus, Kappa, given the value of 20, is reduced to 2, so Kappa is even.  Likewise, Tau, given the value of 300, is reduced to 3, which makes Tau odd.

For the more tabularly inclined, here’s a helpful table plotting out each of the 10 spheres and the 24 paths of the Tetractys of Life, along with a bit about the Pythagorean virtues associated with each sphere on the Tetractys:

Sphere Lambdoma Alchemy Cosmological Virtue
1 1 Monad Infinite Light Henosis
2 2 Darkness Mundus Intuition
3 3 Light Fixed Stars Love
4 4 Salt Moon Satiety
5 6 Mercury Mercury Detachment
6 9 Sulfur Sun Submission
7 8 Earth Saturn Fortitude
8 12 Water Venus Prudence
9 18 Air Jupiter Temperance
10 27 Fire Mars Justice
Path Letter Number Stoicheia Spheres
1 Α 1 Moon 3 5
2 Β 2 Aries 1 3
3 Γ 3 Taurus 2 4
4 Δ 4 Gemini 2 6
5 Ε 5 Mercury 5 6
6 Ζ 7 Cancer 9 10
7 Η 8 Venus 4 5
8 Θ 9 Earth 6 9
9 Ι 10 Sun 2 5
10 Κ 20 Leo 3 6
11 Λ 30 Virgo 4 7
12 Μ 40 Libra 6 8
13 Ν 50 Scorpio 8 9
14 Ξ 60 Water 2 3
15 Ο 70 Mars 5 9
16 Π 80 Sagittarius 6 10
17 Ρ 100 Capricorn 1 2
18 Σ 200 Aquarius 2 8
19 Τ 300 Pisces 7 8
20 Υ 400 Jupiter 3 4
21 Φ 500 Air 3 9
22 Χ 600 Fire 4 8
23 Ψ 700 Spirit 4 9
24 Ω 800 Saturn 5 8

As it turns out (and this was entirely unplanned), this is the tenth post in the series on developing a Greek kabbalah, kampala, Pythagorean framework, tetractean theurgy, or whatever.  In Pythagorean mysticism, the number ten itself is holy, being the number of completion and the number of points in the tetractys, as well as being a unity of a higher order (tens instead of ones).  This post then completes the first cycle of this study, where we now have the basic framework, tools, and understanding needed to progress further in working this system and seeing where it can take us.  At the beginning of this project, I wanted a kabbalah-like system of theurgy and mysticism that would replace the use of Jewish kabbalah or Hermetic qabbalah in place of something that felt closer to what I actually study and practice, and outlined a series of goals to that end:

  1. Provide a cosmological framework that allows for the ten spheres of the cosmos (Earth, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Fixed Stars, Divinity)
  2. Provide a cosmological map that allows for traversing the spheres of the cosmos with paths that connect them together
  3. Provide a mapping between the paths of the map with the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet
  4. Provide a means of starting from awareness on the Earth sphere (where the majority of us live and operate on a day-to-day basis) and reaching any other sphere by means of the paths, especially that of Divinity
  5. Provide a description of the creation of the cosmos by means of the cosmological framework and mapping
  6. Provide a means of correspondence to link other forces, concepts, objects, etc. to the paths and spheres on the framework and map
  7. Be rooted primarily in Neoplatonic and Pythagorean thought, referencing Hermeticism as necessary without relying on explicitly Jewish principles that are not also present in Hermeticism

How did we do?  For the most part, we hit nearly all of these targets, and most of them dead center in our targets.  The only things that really need to be explored now are, well, the Tetractys itself.  Sure, we’ve analyzed it and meditated on it and written a lot about it, but all this has been an intellectual exercise.  Now that we have a map of the cosmos, we need to start exploring the cosmos with the help of our map.  All this is theoretical, based on relationships between alchemical and astrological principles, and now we need to put the theory to the test.  How is it that we can use the Tetractys of Life to rise through the spheres, both of the heavens as well as of reality itself, and refine ourselves to reach the One?  For that, we now get to apply our meditations and go deeper into new worlds.  In the future, as I discover more about this system and apply any necessary tweaks or refinements, or perhaps come up with a better name than kampala or Greek kabbalah (though I like the ring of “tetractyeon” more and more) I’ll discuss more about it, but I’m going to bring this series to a close for now.  As one of my favorite games has said, perhaps the ending has not yet been written.

Also, I want to give a shoutout to my good friends Rev. Michael Strojan and Kalagni for helping me out with this.  Without them, I’d still be fighting over some of the petty details and quibbling about path arrangement and such, but their vast knowledge and sharp ingenuity really guided me along the way.  Guys, thank you.

New Divination Reading Offers Available!

My little side-business in selling my crafts and ebooks has gotten off to a modest start since opening up my Etsy shop earlier this year, which is awesome.  Still, what I really want to focus more on is divination, and people haven’t sprung for that nearly as much as I’d like.

Yes, if you didn’t know, I provide divination services and have for some time now.  Surprise!  I also offer other ritual services and planning, too, but divination is something I want to focus on today.  I’ve been offering two services up until this point:

  • A full geomancy reading.  This reading focuses only on one question at a time, but fully explores all the relevant symbols in the chart, as well as offering advice on how to proceed in a particular matter and what actions one can take to induce a particular resolution.  Was US$30, but is now at a lower price of US$20!
  • A horary-geomancy reading, combining horary astrology overlaid with a geomancy chart.  This is preferred for natal queries, long-term situations, or similar deep and complex matters.  This provides more detail than a geomancy reading, as it incorporates Renaissance astrological techniques woven into the standard geomantic interpretations offered.  US$60.

That said, I’m now offering several new selections outside geomancy:

  • A minireading for US$10, combining a pared-down 2-figure geomancy reading and a single-letter grammatomancy reading to indicate a general progression of events as well as advice on what to expect and how to maintain yourself in your affairs.  This is best for general questions to get a good feel for a situation at a high level, and you can go more in-depth with a follow-up reading if desired after this.PayPal Button: Minireading
  • Skype sessions (voice or webcam) for US$50 for half an hour.  We’ll go over as many questions as you have and how to resolve them.  I’ll use a mixture of geomancy, shell divination, grammatomancy, and other methods as I see fit for the queries asked.PayPal Button: Half-Hour Skype Divination Session

Some of you might be wondering, “o polyphanes, why don’t you just offer simple grammatomantic readings?”  Well, back in the day, grammatomancy (drawing a random Greek letter) was a free service that you could do in any forum that had a post with oracles inscribed on it and a bowl with pebbles marked with the Greek letters.  As far as I can ascertain, there was no fee nor charge for this, and it’s such a simple system that I don’t see the need to do what you can easily do for yourself.  There are free resources online to study the art, but I also suggest buying my own ebook on grammatomancy for US$10 which covers all the basics and a number of advanced interpretive techniques.

If you select a Skype reading, please be aware that my most available times tend to be:

  • Wednesday afternoons
  • Friday afternoons
  • Saturday evenings
  • Sunday afternoons and evenings

I go by US Eastern time (observing daylight saving as is custom).  Once I receive notification of payment, we’ll schedule a time slot and I’ll give you a call at the appointed time.  I’ll also record the session (once I can figure that out) and send it to you for your records.

Also, let’s get something fancy going here.  If you refer someone to my site for any divination service, have them let me know your email address.  You’ll be entitled to one free minireading for every person you refer!  Just make sure they tell me that so-and-so@blah.com referred them to me for a divination, and I’ll send you an email afterwards letting you know that you’re eligible for a free minireading.  Of course, you’re under no obligation to refer me to anyone if you don’t want to, but if you like what you read here and what I write or make, consider nudging some business my way or consider donating.  Any little bit helps, and after all, divination is why I’m a magician in the first place.

So what are you waiting for?  Want to get a reading?  Check out my Services page today, or send me an email!

More about Geomantic Perfection

The idea of perfection comes from horary astrology, considered to be the primary and foremost divination system of the antique, classical, and premodern periods; you can find good descriptions of astrological perfection here and here, among elsewhere.  In horary astrology, where the planets move through the 360° of the Zodiac at different rates, the planets make certain aspects to each other at different times; noting how these aspects take place, where they take place, and what other planets make aspects at the same time can indicate different types of perfection or different ways that perfection cannot be obtained.  Geomancy, however, uses sixteen figures that can appear at 12 discrete places in the House Chart instead of smoothly moving through 360°

So, with all that in mind, let me get out the basics first starting from first principles.

What is perfection?  Perfection is a technique used in geomantic divination where a House Chart and not the Shield Chart is used.  This technique helps indicate different types of connection, or the lack thereof, between different actors, events, or goals in a situation.  While the figures themselves describe what a given actor, event, or goal may be like, perfection indicates how these things relate to and work with or against other things.  The things that play a role in a situation are represented by figures called significators, and these figures are found by inspecting a particular house of the House Chart that best represents the thing.  For instance, the querent (person asking the query, or question of divination) is represented by house I, so the figure that appears in house I represents the state, quality, and person of the querent.  If the querent is asking about something in specific, such as a marriage, job, health problem, or debt, we would look to other houses to see what those things are represented by in the chart, which are houses VII, X, VI, and XII, respectively; the thing being asked about is the quesited.

Because any given figure can appear in multiple places in the House Chart, it is possible that one of the significating figures can appear in multiple places, as well.  Different houses that share the same figure indicate a strong connection between the two areas of life, actors, events, or goals.  For instance, if the significator of the querent appears in houses I and VI, we might say that the querent is heavily involved with matters of health, service, or working for others in addition to those things having qualities similar to the querent since they share the same figure.  A figure can appear in more than two houses; in one rare case, the same figure can even appear in all 12 houses, but it’s more common that a figure appears in one to three houses at a time, depending on the chart.

All this puts geomancy in an unusual place in divination systems generally; unlike Tarot, runes, astrology, or other forms of divination, where any given symbol can appear at most once in a reading, a geomantic figure can appear multiple times in a reading.  This allows us to make use of this repetition of figures to indicate relationships between significators based on how they repeat, or pass, around in the chart in relationship to each other.  This is where geomantic perfection is superficially similar to astrological perfect, where the latter relies on aspects being made between planets to form contacts between significators, the former relies on repetition of figures to do the same.  Say the querent wishes to know about marriage, or marrying a particular person; in this case, the significator of the querent is in house I, and the significator of the quesited is in house VII.  If the querent’s significator passes from house I to house VI, then we note that house VI and house VII are neighboring each other; the querent’s significator comes into direct physical contact with that of the quesited.  This is a type of contact made that illustrates perfection.

There are four types of perfection used in geomancy, and I went over those in an earlier post, which you should read up at this point.  To review, there is occupation (the same figure appears in both the house of the querent and the house of the quesited), conjunction (either significator appears in one of the two houses neighboring the other), mutation (when both significators neighbor each other at some other location away from their own houses), and translation (when the same figure which is neither significator appears next to both).  If no method of perfection applies, then we say that the chart is in denial, or lacking perfection.  Where the figures pass to, such as before or after the significator, or whether a figure passes to both before and after, or a mutation-conjunction combination, can all offer variants of these four methods of perfection, but the same basic rules apply.  If a chart has perfection between the significators, then we say that the chart perfects for those signficators; otherwise, we say that the chart denies perfection.

What does perfection answer?  To speak floridly, perfection indicates the connection between different realities, the experienced reality of the querent (represented by the significator of the querent) and the hypothetical reality of the query (represented by the significator of the quesited).  If the chart perfects, then the hypothetical reality will come to pass; if the chart denies perfection, the hypothetical reality will not come to pass.  In more direct terms, perfection in a chart indicates a simple “yes” to the query, and denial of perfection indicates “no”.  So, if Jane Doe asks “will I get married to John Smith?” and the chart perfects between houses I and VII in any way, then the answer is yes, Jane will marry John; if the chart denies perfection, the answer is no, Jane will not marry John.  It’s important to be clear on phrasing the query, because perfection answers about the situation inquired; if Jane asks “will I not marry John?” and the chart perfects, then the answer is yes, she will not marry John.  In other words, perfection affirms or denies the query put to divination.  Learning how to phrase the query clearly and concretely is an important aspect of divination generally, but especially so when perfection is used.

Being able to phrase a query clearly and directly is important especially if one phrases a query in a negative light.  Perfection will affirm whatever is asked, and denial of perfection will deny whatever is asked.  So, if one asks a question negatively, like “will X not happen?” or “should I not do X?”, then the query will be answered as it is.  Thus, if one asks “will X not happen?” perfection says “yes, X will not happen”, and denial says “no, X will not not happen” (or, more directly, “X will happen”).  Thus, the more directly one can phrase the query, reducing all ambiguity and complexity to its barest, the more clear and easily accessible the answer will be.

Now that you understand (hopefully) what perfection is, let’s talk about the limits of this technique.  For one, perfection does not answer whether something is good or bad; it only indicates whether something will or won’t happen.  It indicates a connection between different realities, but it does not indicate whether it’ll be good or bad, pleasing or displeasing, or any other qualities besides whether there exists a connection and how that connection is forged.  For understanding the qualities of the situation, you’d need to look at the figures themselves and whether they’re good or bad, how those figures relate to the rest of the chart, the Court figures, and so forth.  You can envision a kind of 2×2 table that shows this:

Good figures Bad figures
Chart perfects Will happen,
situation will turn out well
Will happen,
situation will turn out badly
Chart denies Will not happen,
situation will turn out well
Will not happen,
situation will turn out badly

There are lots of techniques in geomancy, and perfection is only one of them.  Perfection really comes in help when a query is phrased in a way that “yes” or “no” will answer it, i.e. if the query expects a binary answer.  Anything that is asked in a way like “Will X happen”, “Should I do X”, “Can I do X”, and the like are all things that can be answered directly and easily with perfection.  Other queries, such as “When will X happen”, “What will X be”, “Where is X”, and the like are not answered by perfection; in this case, the use of perfection simply doesn’t apply to these queries and will produce nonsense answers.  For instance, if Jane Doe lost something, she might ask “will I find my lost object?” and use perfection for that reading; if she wants to know the answer to “where can I find X?”, she should use another technique entirely, since this isn’t a yes or no question.  Perfection is only one tool in the toolkit of the geomancer; just as one wouldn’t use a screwdriver to hammer in a nail, perfection isn’t the best tool for the job when the query is best answered in a non-binary way.

Many binary queries put to divination are straightforward: whether I can get such-and-such a job, whether I’ll find my true love in the next five years, whether I’ll flunk out of college even if I study hard, and so forth.  In many instances, it suffices to use only two significators in the reading, one for the querent and one for the quesited.  However, some queries are more nuanced and complicated, and to fully answer it require a nuanced and complicated reply from the reading.  This is most easily done by considering multiple significators, where one figures out how different actors (plural) relate amongst themselves as well as with the querent in a situation.  Consider a situation where a querent wants to know how a new medical treatment prescribed by their doctor will help a health issue they’ve had for some time now.  We know of several factors here: the querent (house I), the doctor (house VII), the medical treatment (house X), and the health issue itself (house VI).  Any of these significators can perfect with any other, and since there are six different ways perfection can be forged between the significators (I and X, I and VII, I and VI, X and VII, X and VI, VII and VI), the answer could get quite complicated, indeed!  In this case:

  • Perfection between I and X indicates that the querent will carry out the medical treatment prescribed to them.  Denial indicates that they won’t or it simply won’t be available to them.
  • Perfection between I and VII indicates that the querent will be in contact with their doctor to work with them.  Denial indicates that their relationship may be blocked, broken off, or obstructed.
  • Perfection between I and VI indicates that the health issue will be resolved or will be helpfully controlled.  Denial indicates that the health condition will continue unmitigated.
  • Perfection between X and VII indicates that the doctor is the one prescribing the treatment and understands it.  Denial indicates that the doctor isn’t in control of the treatment or has no clue what he’s doing.
  • Perfection between X and VI indicates that the health issue will respond to and be helped by the treatment prescribed.  Denial indicates that the issue will not be changed or helped by the treatment.
  • Perfection between VII and VI indicates that the doctor understands the health issue and is actively working to help it.  Denial indicates that the doctor has no idea what’s going on and doesn’t really care.

These types of readings with multiple significators can be deeply involved, and there’s no simple yes or no to be had with these.  Instead, one has to develop a nuanced, qualified answer that might be yes in some ways and no in others, and build a complete message from that.  For instance, say that in this hypothetical health reading, say that perfection exists between I and VII (querent and doctor), I and X (querent and treatment), I and VI (treatment and health issue), and VII and X (doctor and treatment); the chart denies perfection between X and VI (treatment and health issue) and VII and VI (doctor and health issue).  In this case, the querent is getting along fine with the doctor and will take the steps prescribed by the doctor to change the situation.  However, the treatment prescribed by the doctor will not have any effect on the condition since the doctor doesn’t really understand it well enough to prescribe something useful; even then, however, the treatment will still be cleared up on its own or due to the personal actions of the querent.  So, in some ways, the query of “will the treatment prescribed by my doctor help this health issue?” is answered by “no”, and in some other ways “yes”, but it’s hard to answer that query fully in a single word if the whole story needs to be communicated.

Perfection is a useful tool, don’t get me wrong, but it’s also one of the most difficult to understand for many beginners due to its complexity.  I ascribe this to the mechanics of geomancy itself, since this isn’t your standard oracle deck-fare divination; there’s math and analysis involved that go far beyond intuitive readings of the figures themselves as you might normally do in other divination methods.  Many people don’t pick up geomancy as their first divination system, so they’re used to systems that are simpler, more rudimentary, and less mechanical in their own ways; this is not a bad thing, but it ill-prepares them to study geomancy in a proper way.  It’s important to know the limits of perfection here, as well as when to use it and when not to use it, to fully understand how the technique works and what it represents in a chart.

Search Term Shoot Back, December 2013

I get a lot of hits on my blog from across the realm of the Internet, many of which are from links on Facebook, Twitter, or RSS readers.  To you guys who follow me: thank you!  You give me many happies.  However, I also get a huge number of new visitors daily to my blog from people who search around the Internet for various search terms.  As part of a monthly project, here are some short replies to some of the search terms people have used to arrive here at the Digital Ambler.  This focuses on some search terms that caught my eye during the month of December 2013.  As most of you know, the 49 Days of Definitions project continued through and finished up in this month, forming the bulk of the posts, but there was time for other people to get to my blog through other terms.

“how does 2nd decan libra embrace their charm?” — Seeing as how I’m one of these myself, it’s hard to tell others how I can truly embrace my own devilishly awesome charm.  It has to do a lot with drinking diet cola and not giving a shit, generally.  Also being a magician.  Also being humble.

“fill me with your anointing lord” — Oh baby, I’ll fill you with my holy spirit, alright.  Get down on your knees and pray for it.  Jesus is coming; grab a towel.  (Sorry I’m not sorry.)

“favorable geomantic figures” — Personally, I dislike simply saying that a particular figure is always favorable or always unfavorable, but rather see how individual figures agree or disagree with a particular query or situation.  For instance, if one wants a quick escape out of a situation, the figure Fortuna Maior (which, although greatly useful) is terrible for this since it indicates having to overcome something and conquer it instead of simply sidestepping it.  That said, there are two systems I know of for determining favorable figures generally.  In Robert Fludd’s system, there are three types of figures: good, which are Fortuna Maior, Laetitia, Caput Draconis, Albus, Puella, and Acquisitio; moderate, which are Populus, Via, and Coniunctio; and bad, which are Fortuna MInor, Tristitia, Caput Draconis, Rubeus, Puer, Amissio, and Carcer.  An older Arabic system has good figures as Populus, Albus, and Laetitia; better figures as Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, and Laetitia; the best figures as Acquisitio and Fortuna Maior; bad figures as Puer, Coniunctio, and Via; worse figures as Cauda Draconis and Amissio; and the worst figures as Carcer, Tristitia, and Rubeus.  Generally speaking, I find Fortuna Maior, Acquisitio, Caput Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Puella, Laetitia, Albus, and Coniunctio to be favorable figures, from the most favorable to least favorable.

“mancy vs kinesis” — I can tell that some of the people who get to my blog are interested in comic book or RPG magic, that’s for sure.  Since both of these roots come from Greek, they’re used in some words to make “schools of magic” or whatnot seem that much more fantastical.  Briefly put, anything that ends in “mancy” means a divination system, and anything that ends in “kinesis” means a control or movement of something.  Thus, “pyromancy” is divination with fire, such as scrying or looking at burnt patterns in wood, while “pyrokinesis” is the supernatural harnessing of flames, fire, and heat according to one’s will.  In some arts, the line between divination and magic is blurred, such as in necromancy; though it ends in “mancy” and was originally and ultimately intended to gain information from the dead or by means of spirits of the dead, a lot of necromantic technique involves methods to raise the dead and commune with them in nonspecific ways, so a good deal of death magic was confused with the gaining of knowledge from the dead.  In video games and RPGs, however, a lot of “mancies” are actually “kineses”; anyone who moves earth with their mind is more properly a “geokineticist” and not a geomancer.

“meditation to obtain a kinesis” — Lots of meditation, sure.  I’m sure you’d eventually develop some awesome powers if you become a master of meditation in the meanwhile, but that shouldn’t be the point of meditation, in my opinion.

“orbs around my altar” — You might want to banish your shit or, like, use some disinfectant.  That, or stop taking crappy photos of your altars and dust your bedroom more.

“what spirit should I summon” — That’s like asking “what prayer should I pray” or “what food should I eat”.  It’s really up to you and what you feel appropriate and safe with.  I mean, I could just suggest Bael or Asmodeus or Yahweh, but I don’t feel like being that mean at the moment.

“beings that require bones for.conjuring summoning evocation -game” — I don’t know of any in the Western tradition that require bones, exactly, though they’re not exactly frowned upon, either.  Bones are a part of the body ruled by Saturn, being the densest part of the body as well as giving it structure.  Spirits of the dead as well as certain animals appreciate bones, especially if they’re the bones of the body of the spirit when it was still alive.  Bones are generally good for communing with gods of the dead, too, but they’re not required in terms of offerings or sacrifices, either.  Other traditions place a large importance on bones and their spiritual uses, but I’m not as familiar with them.  As far as summoning goes, very few spirits require bones to get their attention.  Candles, incense, and orations get you much farther and for a cheaper, cleaner cost.

“geomancy ifa” — Ah, the two great divinatory arts of Europe and Africa.  Geomancy, as I’m sure you’re well-aware, is a pretty old and well-developed form of European divination that has its roots in the Saharan Desert, going back about a thousand years.  It spread from there both to the east through the Middle East and Greece as well as to the west through Spain into the rest of Europe, where it was practiced virtually nonstop from then onward.  It went underground for a while in the past few centuries, but it’s starting to become more popular again.  However, the roots of geomancy also went south from the Sahara into the rest of Africa, where it was practiced in Madagascar as sikidy and by the Yoruban peoples as ifá and diloggun.  This was brought over with the slave trade into the Americas, where it’s practiced closely with the Santería religion and some other ATRs.  While geomancy and ifá share the same origin, they developed quite independently of each other, so it’s hard for me to claim any knowledge on ifá save that it’s pretty deep.  Only a select few people are meant to learn ifá (babalawos, generally), so unless you’re part of Santería communites, you’re better off sticking with geomancy.

“what is an aquarius/libra decanate land aries/leo decanate together like?” — Another decan/decanate question, woo!  I’m honestly going to ignore the part about romantic pairings because, really, it’s just about pointless to answer a question like that based on Sun signs alone.  Considering the importance of the other planets, the rising sign, house placements, and the like, Sun signs (though important) are only a fraction of the information a proper horoscope can give you.  As for the decans themselves, this query indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of them.  The decans of the signs are ruled by planets, not other signs!  There are different methods to assign the planets to the decans, however, with the Chaldaean ordering being traditional in Western astrology but the Vedic system (which is associated more closely with the signs than the planets alone) has been popular of late.

“where to buy consecrated chalk” — Regrettably, I haven’t found a supplier for this, and none of the local stores around me sell common items that have already been blessed.  To that end, I wrote up a short ritual for blessing your own chalk, which you’re free to use on whatever chalk you might get for yourself.  Alternatively, you could probably just buy a pack of chalk and ask a Catholic priest to bless it for you.  If you live near a botanica (Hispanic Santería/ATR magic store), I suggest getting a cake of cascarilla, or eggshell chalk, which is pretty good in its own right.

“how to make a real snowflake using magic without even chanting.anything” — I’m amused that this query assumes that all of magic requires chanting, but surprise, it doesn’t!  Just close your eyes, go to the kitchen, open the freezer, and knock off some of the ice from those leftovers you put in two months ago.  There you go, a real snowflake!  And yes, the magic of refrigeration is truly a miracle and allows otherwise inhospitable places to become endurable (e.g. the entire southern US).

“is anyone transalting munich manuel of demonic magic” — I have a few sections of the Munich Manual translated, though translating any more is currently on hold for the time being.  The Latin from Kieckhefer’s critical edition of the Munich Manual is pretty clear and well-organized, so anyone with even rudimentary skill in Latin and a good dictionary can get good progress on their own.  I have some other projects to translate in the meanwhile, but if there’s a particular section that you’re just absolutely dying to have translated ASAP, let me know and I’ll see what I can do about getting it put into English in the near future.

Also, Happy New Year!  Go get drunk, call on the stars and your ancestors, and bring in 2014 right!

49 Days of Definitions: Part X, Definition 6

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-eighth definition, part X, number 6 of 7:

Providence and Necessity (are), in the mortal, birth and death, and in God, unbegotten (essence).  The immortal (beings) agree with one another and the mortal envy one another with jealousy, because evil envy arises due to knowing death in advance.  The immortal does what he always does, but the mortal does what he has never done.  Death, if understood, is immortality; if not understood (it is) death.  They assume that the mortal (beings) of this (world) have fallen under (the dominion) of the immortal, but (in reality) the immortal are servants of the mortal of this (world).

The relationships between different material bodies in the world is complicated, ranging from different types of living beings, some immortal and some not, some with Nous and some not, to the motions provided by the immortal heavenly beings that influence the lower mortal ones, and so forth.  Between figuring out what’s really us when we move and what’s an influence we’re being moved by can be difficult, and this is starting to raise some cosmological questions that this text is probably unsuited to answer adequately.  This definition, however, affords some more reason and rules to how everything down here works.

First, we’re introduced to Providence and Necessity.  We’ve already met necessity once before, in VIII.1: “there is a destiny which has come into being according to a just necessity; there is a law which has come into being according to the necessity of humans”.  Necessity is, then, an ordering principle of the cosmos, which structures things just so according to what we need so that everything can work together.  No matter what else happens in the world, it must fulfill necessity, else it cannot happen at all.  For all intents and purposes, we can consider necessity, providence, fate, and destiny to all be the same thing here; the two terms are not seen apart from each other, even in a similar passage in the Corpus Hermeticum (chapter XII, part 14):

Necessity and Providence and Nature are instruments of Cosmos and of Matter’s ordering; while of intelligible things each is Essence, and Sameness is their Essence.

In the world, each thing that exists must fulfill a particular fate.  For the mortal, these things are “birth and death”; these things are mandated for every mortal being that lives.  For every birth, there is a death; for every death, there is a birth.  Nothing mortal can live without being born, and all mortal things, by virtue of their being mortal, must die.  On the other hand, for Man who is both mortal and immortal in his own godly way, the corresponding fate of God is being “unbegotten”.  God is unbegotten, as we’ve mentioned before in the last definition, and God can neither die nor be born, nor can God grow or increase or decrease.  Simply put, God is, was, always will be, and can only ever be.

So, mortal beings are born, live for a short while, and die, and immortal beings live forever.  Cool.  But there’s more to it than that, especially when you put two of the same kind of beings with each other.  With immortal beings, they “agree with one another”; they do not fight, they do not bicker, they do not argue, but they agree and exist in more-or-less harmony with each other.  They have their roles and their parts to play, they always have, and they always will.  Consider the planets of the sky; though they may enter into harmful or violent aspects with each other, they do not fight or try to take from another what they have.  Mortal beings, on the other hand, “envy one another with jealousy, because evil envy arises due to knowing death in advance”.  So us mortal beings, including animals and plants, fight and bicker and harm each other because we always want things that others have.  We envy others for what they have, and we’re jealous over what we already possess.  This is because we’re afraid of losing it when we die, so we want to hold onto it as much as we can before our bodies expire.

But this is stupid, isn’t it?  I mean, look at the planets: “the immortal does what he has always done”.  They don’t care what other things are doing; they’ve got their own job to do, and they’re in no rush nor lax state to get it done.  They just keep doing it forever; that’s their job.  A mortal being, on the other hand, “does what he has never done”.  Although any immortal part within us may have done it at some point before, these bodies are constantly changing (cf. panta rhei), not to mention that every body has not existed forever before.  There is always something new that we’re doing that we have not yet done, and may never get the chance to do it again.  We are only born once, we only take our first breath once, we only eat a particular plate of food once (different food is on it the next time!), and so forth.  Nothing is ever the same for us mortals, and with death approaching as is due for all mortals, we want to try to get everything we can done, and to obtain everything we can.  Being material creatures, we often find solace in material ends, which leads us to “envy one another with jealousy”.

Still, it’s stupid.  I mean, what is death?  It’s just the ending of the body’s use for the soul.  Man may have a body, but Man is so much more than that.  The essential Man is more than the sum of its parts; the essential Man is immortal and cannot die, no matter what kind of death the body may undergo.  The body simply doesn’t affect the soul in that way; while the body’s premature death may leave the soul stunted in development, it doesn’t kill the soul or the essential Man.  “Death, if understood, is immortality”, which is obtained through knowledge, and knowledge is perfection of the soul.  If we properly understand death, just as we can understand anything else, we will not fear it (IX.3), which then removes death from jealousy and envy and fighting over things.  That said, if we do not understand death, “it is death”.  By being ignorant of the nature of life and death, mortality and immortality of Man, we who are Man condemn ourselves to death and forsaking our chances at immortality and knowledge.

And, trust me, there are plenty of people who fit that bill.  How many people do you know are focused only on the material world?  How many who fight over money or possessions or Black Friday deals or what-have-you?  How many who conceive of nuclear wars to get rid of some pesky people from the face of the planet so we can get more oil?  There’s a lot of these people, and they find death to be fascinating without understanding it.  These type of people “assume that the mortal beings of this world have fallen under the dominion of the immortal”.  In other words, these people are violent or are ignorant because they think that’s just the way things are.  They don’t stop to think how they can change it, they don’t think they’re capable of changing it, and they don’t care about what the world might be if they changed it.  They think that the underlying reality of everything that happens is out of their control, so they may as well play along and “do their part” in being ignorant, however wise and reasonable it may seem to them.

But, as you who’re reading these Definitions know, that’s not the case.  Those who understand the nature of beings, who know reality and God and truth, understand that Man has as much power as the gods in determining our own actions (VIII.7).  We don’t have to be led around by the nose according to the whims and influences and passions of other beings.  We have the power to choose good or evil, knowledge or ignorance.  Those who realize these things have knowledge, and they understand that “in reality the immortal are the servants of the mortal of this world”.  The immortal don’t serve to rule or own the world; that’s for Man.  Man rules and owns the world, and we’re to understand and properly live our lives with the immortal beings so as to know them, by which we know ourselves, by which we know God, by which we obtain Nous, by which we perfect the soul, by which we obtain true immortality.

So what do we have to gain from the immortal gods?  Let’s restrict ourselves to the topic of the astrological planets and stars, then, when we talk about these heavenly beings.  Just as the four elements constitute four essences or qualities of created bodies down here, the stars and planets constitute essences or qualities of motion and action that are performed by bodies down here.  Mars, for instance, cuts off and burns up and produces a heat strong enough to lead people to fight.  Venus, on the other hand, embraces and nourishes and produces a cold mild enough to nurture and join people together.  All the planets, stars, gods, and heavenly beings produce other effects, and they take place down here in the world.  If we understand these influences, we understand what we do when we’re exposed to them, how we internalize and realize them, how we effect them, what they make use of in different situations, and how we can make the best use of them.  We use the immortal beings as a means to knowledge, which is why they exist in the first place.  The immortal beings, just as everything else, are a means by which we can know ourselves.

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 VII, Definition 5

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 twenty-eighth definition, part VII, number 5 of 5:

God is within himself, the world is in God, and man in the world.  His (i.e. man’s) deficiency is ignorance, his plenitude in the knowledge of God.  ※ He says that evil (consists) in ignorance and good in knowledge ⍜.

A short definition to finish up this section!  The first part of this definition sounds awfully like the first definition from the third set, which said that “where heaven is, God is too, and where the world is, heaven is too”, and also that “God is in heaven, and heaven in the world”.  Here, we have some more relationships between God and the world: namely, that God is within himself, that the world is in God, and that Man is in the world.

That God is within himself should come as no surprise.  We already know that “nothing is uninhabited by God” (III.1), and that God is “the father of the intelligible” (III.4) while being intelligible himself (I.1).  In other words, God is God, all things are within God, and God is in all things; everything is a complete Whole, and that Whole is the All, the One, or God.  If you want to translate this into set theory of mathematics, we can say that God is a set that includes all things including itself.  From this, it logically follows that the world, which is a thing that exists, exists within God.  Man exists in the world, or at least the physical bodies of Man and the idea of Man; since these things exist in the world, and since they exist, and since the world exists within God, Man also exists within God.  This basically rephrases III.1 using some more terms about Man now that we’ve been talking about Man for some time.

As for Man, however, we have some more talking to do.  The last definition brought up the terms “good” and “evil”, and we said this about the two terms:

Turning towards God and rejoining with him, coming into the perfect “knowledge of the beings” and light of Nous, is therefore good; turning away from God and ignoring the impetus of Nous and the directions that would lead us to God is therefore evil.

The current definition talks about the deficiency and the plentitude of Man, or rather, wherein he is evil and wherein he is good.  “His plentitude is the knowledge of God”; this accords with what we said before.  We can tie this back further with the perfection of the soul, which is “the knowledge of beings” (VI.3), and this is effectively the knowledge of God.  After all, to know God is to know all the things within God, all the gods, all the worlds, and ourselves, and “know thyself” is among the most holy maxims ever uttered or written.  This is what is good for us to do.

If knowledge of God is good, and evil is the opposite of good, then the opposite of knowledge of God must be evil.  The opposite of knowledge is ignorance, and that is indeed what this definition says: “[Man’s] deficiency is ignorance”.  To not know God is evil, then, yet this is the state of us as we are; to know God, we must have Nous, and not all beings are accorded Nous consciously.  Does that mean we were born evil?  Not really, but kinda?  This is where the Gnostic and Neoplatonic strains of thought shows itself within Hermeticism: because we have a material body, we are at least in some way cut off from God.  Indeed, the past few definitions have talked about this, and it’s hard to come in contact with God while being in body.  Moreover, because we have a body, we have the capacity for good and evil, which simply don’t exist outside the physical, material realm of bodies and matter.  We can choose evil and thus choose to be ignorant; we can likewise choose good and thus choose to be knowledgeable of God.

But what about as we are in the world, as we were born?  When we were born, we didn’t know how to walk or control our poop, much less high philosophy and God.  But that’s okay, because we were still in possession of souls made in the idea of Man, and those souls we have provide us with the actions and movement to move us towards knowledge of God, so long as we listen and act accordingly.  Soul is movement, and even more than that, a “necessary movement” (II.1); we cannot help but act.  The soul can often be considered like water, which is always in motion; it will take the path of least resistance, one way or another.  If water is dammed up or blocked off, it will find a new path or simply overflow it.  There is no way to completely stop water without turning it into something else.  Likewise, with the soul, we are always compelled to act, though how we act is determined by our own conscious choices and may not always be what the soul would ideally prefer.

The last part of this definition basically says the same thing as the second sentence here, but makes it explicit that ignorance is evil, not just the deficiency of Man, and that knowledge is good, not just the plentitude of Man.  However, this is made awkward by the inclusion of two symbols, which I cannot replicate well on a computer.  I tried to find similar Unicode characters to represent them, and they indicate common concepts or abbreviations in medieval Armenian manuscripts: ※ means “star”, while ⍜ means “sinner”.  The footnotes provided by Jean-Pierre Mahé to the Definitions say that these are glosses provided by the scribe, and suggest some sort of connection between sin and stars.  The Corpus Hermeticum talks about such connections, and suggests that sins and evil come from the stars high up in the heavenly part of the world (chapter XVI, parts 13 through 16), though I won’t get into it here.  Suffice it to say that, because we have material bodies, we are at the whim of various influences that affect our bodies and, therefore, our souls.  Many of these influences come from the stars, the “living beings in heaven”, and cause us or lead us to act in certain ways.  Not all of these influences agree with what the Nous within our souls desires, and so may lead us into ignorant and evil actions.  This complicates our role and job down here, but it’s also part and parcel of living within a large and complex system.

By acting in a good manner and striving to know God, ourselves, and all other things, we can attain our “plenitude”, our fullness and grace, that allows us to achieve perfection.  Perfection is this very thing, and is moreover marked by the awareness of and reception of Nous into our bodies and souls, enabling us to be made closer to God as well as to the ideal humanity we should be anyway.  This is what we’re supposed to do, and it’s difficult, but it’s worth it; moreover, it’s what we’re driven to do when left to our own devices and free from detrimental influences that would cause us to act otherwise.  However, to attain our fullness of knowledge, we also have to use the full range of human experience and power; although different living creatures can only experience one type of world, humanity can explore all worlds, including those which are immaterial.  To know all things, we must know all the worlds, and transcend them to become more and better than we are in any one world.