The Physical and Subtle Human Body According to Geomancy

Every year, towards the end of summer leading through the middle of autumn, is my Hell Season.  Not that it’s a particularly chthonic or calamitous time of year or anything, but it’s just super busy.  Between my and my husband’s birthdays and our wedding anniversary, thirteen saint feast days, eight religious anniversaries, and a few other events and tasks every year take place during this time, and it always gets almost overwhelming at times.  We got a big start on that this year by taking a road trip to Maine this past weekend…all of fourteen hours up and fourteen hours down, with my husband and my sister and I in my tiny two-door coupe.  Plus, there’s a few more things happening later this week that will keep me out of contact for a few more days, so this year’s Hell Season is really getting to a strong start.  (If I’m slow with getting to your messages or requests, I gratefully appreciate your patience!)

Over this past weekend, I was apparently summoned in a Facebook thread; someone was contemplating the elemental arrangement of the geomantic figures, such that the topmost line is given to Fire, the next one down to Air, the next one after that to Water, and the bottommost line to Earth.  Given such an arrangement, they were interested in seeing how the elements given in such an order could overlap with the elements given to particular energy centers in the body (the resource they were using was some neopagan/Wiccan-derivative text that involves another rehash of the seven Vedic-system chakras with a novel Western elemental approach).  There are obvious issues in straightforwardly trying to map the elemental rows of the geomantic figures to a system of chakrasa, not least because they’re different systems with different bases of logic, but also because Western occult systems haven’t historically had a notion of “chakras” or bodily energy systems before the advent of Theosophy and the influx of “Oriental” traditions.  This isn’t to say that there are no energy practices in Western occulture historically, but nothing like what we’d commonly think of as having discrete energy centers or “chakras” in the body connected by meridians.

Still, it was an interesting idea; conceiving of a subtle energy body that uses the structure of the geomantic figures as a basis could be useful.  After all, I find the notion of energy centers in the body to be a useful one in many contexts, so why not conceive of the human body itself as structured geomantically?  From the reply I made on that Facebook thread:

…the system of how the elements are arranged as rows within a geomantic figure is based on their elemental density as well as their natural motion: Fire is the most subtle and burns outwards and upwards, Air is slightly more dense than Fire and moves sideways, Water is even more dense than Air and moves downward, and Earth is densest of all and compresses and condenses unto itself into a stable, unmoving form. This order (Fire, Air, Water, Earth) is different than that used in the Zodiac (Fire, Earth, Air, Water) due to a different logic, however, due to a different logic of how these two systems are built (I don’t have my notes on the latter zodiacal order at the moment and forget that system’s particular logic here).

Historically, the lines of the geomantic figures were already given to parts of the body:

Fire line: head
Air line: throat or arms
Water line: belly
Earth line: feet or legs

In this sense, we can see a sort of match between the metaphorical “geomantic” body parts and the elements of the rows they correspond to: the head with Fire due to the intelligent Divine Spark given to us as well as with sight and perceiving light or Light, the throat or arms with Air as means of communication and breathing, the belly with Water due to it being the seat of health and the humours of the body, and the legs or feet with Earth because they are what support us on the Earth. Such a system doesn’t match with one based on chakras, however, because there wasn’t historically a “chakra system” of the West, though there are other types and notions of energetic or subtle bodies (though not necessarily in those terms). Using Agrippa’s Scale of Four, for instance, we can consider a multipart “human” composed of Mind, Spirit, Soul, and Body, which are given to the elements of Fire, Air, Water, and Earth, respectively, each with the faculties of Knowing, Thinking, Emotion, and Physicality, but these are more like interconnecting “layers” (think of the Egyptian notion of the multipart soul, with the physical body, spiritual body, identity, personality, shadow, heart, double, intelligence, power, and so forth).

Perhaps, if you were to shoehorn a variant of chakra systems onto the geomantic “body”, you could reinterpret it so that the third eye or crown chakra was given to Fire (giving it Will or Divinity) and the throat to Air. Such a “geomantic energy center” system could work, and might be useful to experiment with: the Fire center in the head, the Air center in the hollow of the throat, the Water center in the belly, and the Earth center either in the feet or at the perineum (where the legs meet the rest of the body). Could be interesting to experiment with!

The idea of using a geomantic template of thinking about energy centers in the body does seem interesting to me, but before we go onto that, how are the geomantic figures associated with the body in the extant literature we have available to us?  Given that the planets and signs of the Zodiac are associated with different parts of the body as well as the different organs and systems of the body, it also makes sense that the geomantic figures themselves would also be associated with them, too.  So, let’s start simple, shall we?  John Case in book III, chapter 9 of his 1697 work The Angelical Guide gives the following list of figures associated with parts of the body:

Figure Body Part
Puer Head or face
Coniunctio Belly
Puella Spine and lower back
Rubeus Arms
Carcer Feet
Via Breast or stomach
Albus Belly
Fortuna Maior Legs
Populus Knees
Cauda Draconis Thighs
Caput Draconis Belly
Acquisitio Head
Laetitia Throat
Amissio Navel
Tristitia Genitals and groin
Fortuna Minor Face and cheeks

However, it’s important to note that these associations may be limited in scope.  Case brings this list up in a discussion of queries related to house I, which is also the house that should be inspected to make sure the chart is authenticated: not necessarily valid, but useful and accurate as well as valid.  Specifically, Case says that “the Figure [chart] is verified also by certain moles, marks, or scars”, with the figure in house I indicating the part of the body where the mark may be found.  It’s important to note that the parts of the body are associated with the figures by means of their zodiacal correspondences, though it’s not made explicit in the list above; thus, because Case gives Populus to Capricorn (using the traditional associations of the figures to the Zodiac that I also use), and because Populus rules over the knees (and also bones, skin, etc.), Populus gets all the body associations that Capricorn has.

So much for Case’s simple scheme.  Then there’s the extraordinarily complex method of John Heydon in the Theomagia, where he gives a table of how the figures relate to the parts of the body based on what sign they fall in (book I, chapter 26).  (I understand the table is probably gonna be too wide for the usual width on my website, but just bear with me and accept that Heydon did not like to be concise.)

Sign Saturn Jupiter Mars Sun Venus Mercury Moon
Aries Breast
Arms
Shoulders
Heart
Stomach
Head
Belly
Head
Thighs
Feet
Lower back
Legs
Genitals
Head
Knees
Taurus Heart
Breast
Shoulders
Arms
Upper spine
Belly
Neck
Throat
Lower back
Knees Head
Genitals
Thighs
Feet
Throat
Legs
Gemini Stomach
Heart
Navel
Breast
Lights
Lower back
Loins
Arms
Shoulders
Genitals
Legs
Ankles
Neck
Throat
Thighs
Head
Knees
Arms
Shoulders
Feet
Cancer Lower back
Belly
Genitals
Stomach
Heart
Genitals
Bladder
Breast
Lights
Thighs
Feet Arms
Shoulders
Knees
Neck
Throat
Legs
Head
Breast
Stomach
Lights
Leo Genitals
Lower back
Belly
Hips
Thighs
Heart
Back
Knees
Head
Eyes
Breast
Heart
Legs
Arms
Shoulders
Feet
Neck
Throat
Heart
Back
Virgo Thighs
Genitals
Feet
Lower back
Loins
Knees
Belly
Legs
Neck
Throat
Stomach
Liver
Heart
Feet
Head
Breast
Lights
Shoulders
Arms
Belly
Libra Thighs
Knees
Legs
Genitals
Lower back
Genitals
Feet
Shoulders
Arms
Head
Belly
Hips
Neck
Throat
Heart
Stomach
Breast
Lights
Lower back
Loins
Scorpio Knees
Legs
Thighs
Feet
Head
Eyes
Genitals
Bladder
Breast
Stomach
Heart
Neck
Throat
Lower back
Loins
Shoulders
Arms
Belly
Stomach
Heart
Liver
Genitals
Sagittarius Legs
Feet
Head
Eyes
Knees
Neck
Throat
Thighs
Heart
Belly
Back
Shoulders
Arms
Genitals
Breast
Lower back
Loins
Lights
Bowels
Thighs
Capricorn Head
Feet
Neck
Throat
Legs
Arms
Shoulders
Knees
Belly
Hips
Breast
Lights
Thighs
Stomach
Liver
Heart
Genitals
Reins
Loins
Knees
Aquarius Head
Neck
Arms
Shoulders
Feet
Breast
Lights
Heart
Legs
Lower back
Loins
Thighs
Stomach
Liver
Heart
Back
Knees
Belly
Thighs
Genitals
Legs
Hips
Pisces Neck
Arms
Shoulders
Head
Eyes
Breast
Heart
Heart
Stomach
Liver
Feet
Genitals Hips
Belly
Legs
Lower back
Loins
Knees
Thighs
Feet

It’s important to note that, in this case, Heydon uses the usual planetary association of the figures, but only gives Cauda Draconis to Saturn and Caput Draconis to Jupiter.  Later on, in book III, chapter 7, Heydon talks about moles, marks, and scars as well:

Having projected your Figure, consider the Figure in the first House and the Idea and Ruler that governs it, and what part of member in mans body they govern: for the Querent hath a Mole, Mark or Scar in that part of his body.  Example: if Puer be in the first House, it is a cut in the head or face, or burn, or red Mole: If Coniunctio, it is on the belly, viz. a Mole, Mark or Scar: if Puella be in the first, it is on the Reins, viz. a Mark, &c. If Rubeus, the Secrets.

Consider if the first Figure go into any other House out of the first, the Querent hath a Mole in that part also: Consider Populus, and wheresoever she is, that House and Figure tells you in what part the Querent hath another.

What Figure is in the sixth House, notes usually a Mark, Mole, or Scar in the Member it signifieth, as you may read in the 26 Chapter of the first book: if Carcer or Tristitia signifie the Mar, &c. it is generally an excrescence of a dark obscure or black colour.

If Acquisitio or Lætitia, it is usually a purple or blewish Mole: If Puer or Rubeus, it is commonly some Scar, Slash or Cut, chiefly in a House governed by a fiery Idea [i.e. ruled over by a fire sign]; and sometimes a reddish Mole or spots of Gunpowder: If Fortuna Major, or Fortuna Minor, generally of an olive or chestnut colour: if Amissio or Puella, of a hony-color.

If Albus or Conjunctio, whitish or lead-color: if Populus or Via, white, and of the color the Figures signifie that behold them: Caput Draconis, white; Cauda Draconis, black or read: If the figure be Masculine that represents the Mole, Mark, &c. it is on the right side of the Body; if Feminine, judge the contrary.

If the Significator of the Mole, &c. be in the first, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth of any question; it is then visible to the eye, and other forepart of the Body: but the other Houses signifie the Mole is to to be seen, but it is on the back-part of the Body.

If ill Figures be in the first, the Querent is usually blemished: for the Face is signified by the first, let what figure soever be in it.

Note that, in general, the table Heydon gives above is related mostly to specific inquiries about house VI, while the figures themselves as described here typically are simply given the usual zodiacal correspondence to the body.  Heydon, I should note, uses the planetary-zodiacal associations common to later geomancers and which is in use by the Golden Dawn and John Michael Greer and not the older system that I and other geomancers historically used.  Heydon’s information above, however, is useful in determining not just the specific location of marks on the body, but also their type and coloration, too, which is information not otherwise commonly seen in the geomantic literature available to us.

So much for the scant Western resources we have on associating the geomantic figures with the parts of the body: the rule appears to be to link the figures to the parts of the body by means of their shared zodiacal correspondences. I can’t recall there being other sets of explicit associations of the figures with the body in Fludd, Pietro d’Abano, or other European authors, though I don’t doubt they exist; however, I do doubt that they’d do much more than retranslate existing sets of correspondences that exist for parts of the body using their shared zodiacal or planetary associations.

However, that’s not the only such correspondence available; there are others that directly link the figures to the body without a zodiacal or other correspondence go-between.  One Arabic treatise on geomancy, MS Arabe 2631 from the Bibliothèque nationale de France, gives the following diagram on folio 64v detailing a correspondence between the sixteen geomantic figures and the different parts of the body:

 

In this system, the parts of the body are given to the following figures:

Figure Body Part
Laetitia Head
Rubeus Throat and neck
Puella Left shoulder
Puer Right shoulder
Carcer Chest and breast
Amissio Left hand and arm
Acquisitio Right hand and arm
Albus Upper belly, stomach, solar plexus
Coniunctio Left torso and ribcage  Ribcage
Populus Right torso and ribcage (?)  Back
Via Navel, lower belly, and intestines
Tristitia Crotch and genitals
Fortuna Maior Left hip, thigh, and upper leg
Fortuna Minor Right hip, thigh and upper leg
Cauda Draconis Left foot and lower leg
Caput Draconis Right foot and lower leg

Stephen Skinner in his Geomancy in Theory and Practice gives a translation of these, but some of them are incorrect; he says that “the figure…faces outwards from the page, so left and right have been designated from the point of view of the figure rather than the manuscript page”, so he gives e.g. Puer to the left shoulder, although Puer in the diagram is clearly designated as “al-kutuf al-ayman”, or right shoulder.  I retranslated from the diagram in the manuscript as best I could.  The only figure in the list that was truly mysterious was Via, which was not given a label; Albus is designated as “belly”, so I interpreted that as the upper belly and stomach, and Via as the lower belly and intestines, though it could also refer to the back and spine (which, physically speaking, would resemble the shape of Via).  Similarly, I couldn’t make out what word is given to Populus, but given the symmetry here, I’m assuming it’s referring to the right side of the torso in general, though there is a chance that it refers to the inner viscera of the upper torso and Coniunctio refers to the outer flesh and the ribcage on both sides of the torso in general.  However, I can’t be certain as yet; those who can read this kind of older, book-script Arabic are welcome to comment.

EDIT: Thanks to a few people from the Geomantic Study-Group on Facebook, I’ve amended some of the translations further.  Populus is given to the back and Coniunctio to the ribs.  Via, though unlabeled, can be interpreted as the navel, which still ties into the lower belly and intestines.  There still is some ambiguity in the diagram, but this is still far better off than we were before.  My thanks go out to Masood and B.A.!

Personally, I like the layout of the “Geomantic Adam” design above and how the figures are clearly arranged on the body, though I also like the use of planetary and zodiacal associations.  I suppose a blended approach could work: use the geomantic arrangement for general body areas, and the organs and physical systems associated with the planets and elements to fill in the gaps.  So, for instance, since Laetitia rules the head in the Arabic design, one could say that Laetitia would also rule over the brain; however, since Mercury rules over the nervous system as a whole, this could be given to Albus or Coniunctio, and given Albus’ location closer to the solar plexus, I’d wager that Albus could rule both the belly as a general physical area as well as the nervous system.  Further clarification on expanding the Arabic system would be good, I’d think, in one sense or another.

Anyway, back to the diagram.  Even with the parts of the body that are clearly labeled, we can see something fascinating: the figures with only one element active are associated clearly with the parts of the body that we’d call those corresponding elemental rows: Laetitia, with only the Fire/Head line active, is given to the head; Rubeus, with only the Air/Throat line active, is given to the throat; Albus, with only the Water/Belly line active, is given to the belly; and Tristitia, with only the Earth/Feet line active, is given to the privates and groin, which is the lowest part of the torso to which the feet and legs are connected.  Though the manuscript dates only to the 18th century, it’s likely that it has much earlier origins or carries on an older Arabic tradition of geomancy from whence the body-names of the rows of the figures comes.  This, along with a clear use of geomantic relationships between parts of the body that match each other (right hand and left hand, right shoulder and left shoulder, etc.) is greatly indicative that the body-correspondences given in MS Arabe 2631 are strictly geomantic in nature rather than using planetary or zodiacal go-betweens.

This reinforces the idea behind the notion of naming the four rows of a geomantic figure after their corresponding body parts (head, throat, belly, feet) and can be a key to coming up with a geomantic system of energy centers in the body:

  • The Fire Center would be found in the head, likely just under the crown of the skull directly above the top of the spinal column.
  • The Air Center would be found in the throat, in the middle of the neck though perhaps slightly closer to the spine than the front.
  • The Water Center would be found in the belly, closer to the stomach just under the ribcage near the solar plexus.
  • The Earth Center would be found in the groin, near the perineum at the base of the spine.

To offer a conjectural way to work with these energy centers, I’d feel that an intonation of some sort would be appropriate.  My usual power words for the four elements are based in Greek stoicheia, where each of the Greek letters has an occult signification, so I’d normally use ΧΙΑΩΧ for Fire (Khi is the Greek letter associated with this element combined with the divine name ΙΑΩ), ΦΙΑΩΦ for Air, ΞΙΑΩΞ for Water, and ΘΙΑΩΘ for Earth.  However, we can do better than that, especially given even what little we know about Arabic geomantic practices and how they tie into the elements.  One interesting technique comes to mind that crops up in some early European sources with a clearly Arabic origin: the use of the word BZDA.  From my translation of the 15th century work Lectura Geomantiae:

By the Greek word “b z d a” we can find the house of the figures, which is to say in which house the figures are strongest, wherefore when the first point starting from the upper part of the beginning figure is odd, the second house is strong; when the second point is odd, the seventh house is strong; when the third point is odd, the fourth house is strong; when the fourth and last point is odd, the eighth house is strong. Thus we will find by this number the proper houses of the figures; by “b” we understand 2, by “z” 7, by “d” 4, by “a” 8, as in this example: “b z d a”.

This may not make a lot of sense on its own, but compare what Felix Klein-Franke says in his article “The Geomancy of Aḥmad b. `Alī Zunbul: A Study of the Arabic Corpus Hermeticum” (AMBIX, March 1973, vol. XX):

The best taskīn is that of az-Zanātī; it bears the key-word bzdḥ: according to the principle of Gematria, the transposition of letters of a word into numbers, in place of bzdḥ there result the numbers 2748. Thus the Mansions of the taskīn are indicated; each spot denotes one of the four elements; in the 2nd Mansion there is only the element Fire (Laetitia, ḥayyān), in the 7th Mansion only Air (Rubeus, ḥumra), in the 4th Mansion only Water (Albus, bayāḍ), and in the 8th Mansion only Earth (Cauda Draconis, rakīza ẖāriǧa).

Stephen Skinner clarifies this even further in his works on geomancy.  From his 1980 book “Terrestrial Astrology: Divination by Geomancy”:

Further specialized configurations or taskins are outlined together with mnemonics for remembering their order. Gematria, or the art of interpreting words in terms of the total of’ the numerical equivalents of each of their letters, is introduced at this point. Using the mnemonic of a particular taskin such as Bzdh, Zunbul explains that the letters represent the four Elements, in descending order of grossness. Each letter also represents a number in Arabic, thus:

b – 2 – Fire
z – 7 – Air
d – 4 – Water
h – 8 – Earth

This mnemonic therefore indicates House number 2 for Fire, House number 7 (Air), House number 4 (Water), and House number 8 (Earth). For each of the Houses indicated in this taskin, we see that the second is most compatible with Fire, the seventh with Air, and so on. Therefore, if the geomantic figure Laetitia (or in Arabic Hayyan), which is solely Fire, occurs in the second House, this would be. an extremely favourable omen. Likewise, the occurrence of Rubeus (or Humra), which is solely Air, in the seventh House would also be extremely auspicious. Further chapters are devoted to even more complicated combinations of the basic figures, and to labyrinthine rules for everything from marriage to medicine. Diagnosis by raml even became a lay rival of the latter, and tables were educed of the relationship between specific parts of the body and the geomantic figures.

In other words, based on these letters, we could intone a particular sound that starts with the letter “b” for Fire, “z” for Air, “d” for Earth, and “ḥ” (think of the guttural “ch” of German, but further back in the throat).  To vocalize them, since the Arabic alphabet doesn’t have vowels, I’d probably borrow Greek vowels which I know have similar-enough elemental qualities to what I’m looking for.  Thus:

  • Fire: bi
  • Air: zu
  • Water: de
  • Earth: ḥa

Those who might want to use a more Greek or Western approach could use the Greek letters and the natural vowels associated with them, which is simple given that they all have the same vowel Ēta:

  • Fire: 
  • Air: 
  • Water: 
  • Earth: 

Instead of using these, one might also use the Arabic terms for the elements instead for intonation purposes.  These are just the standard terms for the four elements, but Skinner gives them according to Aḥmad b. `Alī Zunbul as:

  • Fire: nar (pronounced “nahr”)
  • Air: hawa’ (pronounced “HAH-wa” with a sharp stop in the throat)
  • Water: ma’ (pronounced “ma” with a sharp stop in the throat)
  • Earth: turab (pronounced “tuh-RAHB”)

Of course, this is all highly hypothetical and experimental stuff we’re getting into, but then, that’s never stopped me before.  I would venture to say that this sort of geomantic energy center work could easily and happily be paired with my system of geomantic gestures or “mudras”, such that when working with the Fire Center in the head, one would make the gesture for Laetitia while intoning bi or  or nar.  With enough experimentation, I suppose a full (or at least fuller) system of energy work with a geomantic subtle body could be developed for other magical work, or used instead of Vedic- or Chinese-based systems that are commonly found in later Hermetic or Western magical systems.  This is definitely something I want to (slowly) explore, but if you’re interested and willing to give it a shot, why not try experimenting with this system as a base for your own work?  If you do, I’d love to hear what you’d think of such a practice!

Plato’s Timaeus and the Tetractys of Life

At this point, it’s becoming plain to see that the occult system of mathesis, including the Tree of Life, goes beyond Neoplatonism right into the teachings of Pythagoreanism.  While I’m not annoyed at this per se, I am annoyed because Pythagoreanism is one of those things I haven’t studied too well before.  There’s plenty on Neoplatonism, sure, and plenty more on Hermeticism, but on Pythagoreanism itself, all I know is that it had a huge effect on later philosophical and mystery traditions and that’s about it.  That said, that’s basically the thrust of the academic and historical record of what we know; when we get into pinpointing exactly what in those later traditions had their roots in Pythagoreanism, it’s hard to say, since we have so little original source material on Pythagorean practices and beliefs.  So, all this Tetractys of Life stuff is half read from summaries of Pythagorean thought and half made up based on my own experiences and knowledge.  I have no idea if any such Tetractys of Life has been developed before, but then, I don’t suppose it matters at this point if it did.

One of the texts I’ve read before, obtuse as it was, is the Timaeus of Plato.  Plato, that awesome student of Socrates and teacher of Aristotle, wrote a number of books using Socrates himself and many other Greeks of his day as his mouthpieces, exploring various aspects of philosophy.  Of course, philosophy back in classical Greece had a much wider scope than modern philosophy; back then, it was focused on understanding how to live well, with questions of existence and ontology coming in second (or so I see it).  Plato is known for many of his works, especially his Republic, wherein he talks about the ideal city-state ruled by a philosopher-king.  Other works of his focus on things of arguably smaller scope, but the Timaeus is an exception to this.  This text talks about nothing less than the creation of the cosmos itself and how the structure of the cosmos is perfect in every way, and how everything that happens is directly attributable to the harmonies and ordering of the cosmos.  It’s a fascinating read, though the famous Roman writer Cicero himself claimed that he never was able to understand it.

While Plato is known for founding the philosophical school of Platonism, plenty of Pythagorean thought can be found in his texts because of course.  The Timaeus itself is the prime example for this, when the character of Timaeus explains the creation of the cosmos by the Demiurge, the World Creator.  Timaeus opens up his discourse with an important question distinguishing…something:

First then, in my judgment, we must make a distinction and ask, What is that which always is and has no becoming; and what is that which is always becoming and never is? That which is apprehended by intelligence and reason is always in the same state; but that which is conceived by opinion with the help of sensation and without reason, is always in a process of becoming and perishing and never really is.

Timaeus is setting the argument up for distinguishing the eternal, uncreated, and absolute from the temporal, created, and ephemeral.  Things that are, in other words, are unchanging and immutable, never becoming anything different from what they already are.  Things that become, however, are made to become and do not become on their own, since that would imply a power over their own selves.  Things that become can be perceived by sense and opinion, the lower faculties of the human entity, while things that are cannot be perceived yet they can be known by intelligence and reason, the higher faculties of the human entity.  (If this is sounding an awful lot like the stuff from the 49 Days of Definitions, it should!)  In other word, there is a dualism between that which is the Creator and that which is the Created, where the Creator is eternal and absolutely true and can never be directly perceived and where the Created is temporal and can be perceived without an underlying basis in reality.  Why can’t that which is become anything else?  Because that would imply that there is more than one absolute.  The creator, here, is the Good, the One, the Whole, or God, a single entity who created all other things.  Because everything else was created, it cannot be the creator, yet it comes from the creator.  The creator itself, however, was alone in this, since there is only one Good.  (Why?  It’s in other works of Plato, but if everything that becomes is due to a creator, the creator itself is uncreated, so there logically follows that there is only one creator, since there’s nothing to create the creator.  I guess.  Kinda.)

A little later on, Timaeus explains the nature of the things that become, that which is created, in terms of their physical bodies:

Now that which is created is of necessity corporeal, and also visible and tangible. And nothing is visible where there is no fire, or tangible which has no solidity, and nothing is solid without earth. Wherefore also God in the beginning of creation made the body of the universe to consist of fire and earth. But two things cannot be rightly put together without a third; there must be some bond of union between them. And the fairest bond is that which makes the most complete fusion of itself and the things which it combines; and proportion is best adapted to effect such a union. For whenever in any three numbers, whether cube or square, there is a mean, which is to the last term what the first term is to it; and again, when the mean is to the first term as the last term is to the mean-then the mean becoming first and last, and the first and last both becoming means, they will all of them of necessity come to be the same, and having become the same with one another will be all one. If the universal frame had been created a surface only and having no depth, a single mean would have sufficed to bind together itself and the other terms; but now, as the world must be solid, and solid bodies are always compacted not by one mean but by two, God placed water and air in the mean between fire and earth, and made them to have the same proportion so far as was possible (as fire is to air so is air to water, and as air is to water so is water to earth); and thus he bound and put together a visible and tangible heaven. And for these reasons, and out of such elements which are in number four, the body of the world was created, and it was harmonised by proportion, and therefore has the spirit of friendship; and having been reconciled to itself, it was indissoluble by the hand of any other than the framer.

Timaeus explains that the two major aspects of a physical body is that it is visible (able to be seen) that it is tangible (able to be touched).  These are provided by the elements of fire and earth, respectively, but here we come into a problem.  Any two properties can only ever be joined together by a third intermediate quality, so that the three become a harmony.  That would suggest there to be three elements, but interweaving mathematics into this proto-alchemical description of physical bodies, there need to be four in order for bodies to be a solid.  Remember that, in geometry, a single point is only ever a single point; two points define a line; three points define a form (a triangle); four points define a solid (a tetrahedron).  If each element is like a point, then if we only had three elements, we would all be living in Flatland, but since we’re three-dimensional beings, we need four elements.  Thus, we need two medians between fire and earth, which become air and water.  Fire is linked to water by the mean of air; air is linked to earth by the mean of water.  Thus, every individual body consists of these four elements which provide it with earthy tangibility and fiery visibility, linked together by the qualities bestowed upon them by air and water.  While Timaeus does not give what these qualities are, we can see in Agrippa (book II, chapter 7) that air gives bodies the ability to be heard and water the ability to be tasted or smelled (the two are similar in nature).  We can treat each of these qualities as an interplay between the soul and the body: fire allows other bodies to be perceived in a soulful way by the soul (only indirect contact), air to be perceived in a bodily way by the soul (indirect contact over a distance), water to be perceived in a soulful way by the body (indirect contact in close proximity), and earth to be perceived in a bodily way by the body (direct contact).

As for the soul, Timaeus backtracks a bit and goes on to explain that bodies were given souls, but that souls were made before the body.  After all, the body moves because of soul, so soul must rule over the body:

Whereas he made the soul in origin and excellence prior to and older than the body, to be the ruler and mistress, of whom the body was to be the subject. And he made her out of the following elements and on this wise: Out of the indivisible and unchangeable, and also out of that which is divisible and has to do with material bodies, he compounded a third and intermediate kind of essence, partaking of the nature of the same and of the other, and this compound he placed accordingly in a mean between the indivisible, and the divisible and material. He took the three elements of the same, the other, and the essence, and mingled them into one form, compressing by force the reluctant and unsociable nature of the other into the same. When he had mingled them with the essence and out of three made one, he again divided this whole into as many portions as was fitting, each portion being a compound of the same, the other, and the essence.

So we know that the soul is made in a different way than the body and with different materials.  Instead of using the four elements, Timaeus claims that the soul is made from two parts, the indivisible and the divisible, or “the nature of the same and of the other”.  Sameness and Difference, then, are the two qualities of the soul, but as we saw above, any two properties can only be joined by means of a third, and Timaeus gives us that as “the essence”, or Existence.  Sameness, Difference, and Existence are the qualities of the soul, which can be described as the quality that makes an object A the same as object B, that makes A different than B, and that makes A come to be at all.  Because the soul is not a body, the soul does not require a fourth substance, and is satisfied with only three properties, much as a triangle defined by three points forms the foundation for the tetrahedron with four.

From this, Timaeus describes the actual creation of the world in a weird and numerical way:

And he proceeded to divide [the creation] after this manner: First of all, he took away one part of the whole [1], and then he separated a second part which was double the first [2], and then he took away a third part which was half as much again as the second and three times as much as the first [3], and then he took a fourth part which was twice as much as the second [4], and a fifth part which was three times the third [9], and a sixth part which was eight times the first [8], and a seventh part which was twenty-seven times the first [27]. After this he filled up the double intervals [i.e. between 1, 2, 4, 8] and the triple [i.e. between 1, 3, 9, 27] cutting off yet other portions from the mixture and placing them in the intervals, so that in each interval there were two kinds of means, the one exceeding and exceeded by equal parts of its extremes [as for example 1, 4/3, 2, in which the mean 4/3 is one-third of 1 more than 1, and one-third of 2 less than 2], the other being that kind of mean which exceeds and is exceeded by an equal number. Where there were intervals of 3/2 and of 4/3 and of 9/8, made by the connecting terms in the former intervals, he filled up all the intervals of 4/3 with the interval of 9/8, leaving a fraction over; and the interval which this fraction expressed was in the ratio of 256 to 243. And thus the whole mixture out of which he cut these portions was all exhausted by him.

Lambdoma

This entire compound he divided lengthways into two parts, which he joined to one another at the centre like the letter X, and bent them into a circular form, connecting them with themselves and each other at the point opposite to their original meeting-point; and, comprehending them in a uniform revolution upon the same axis, he made the one the outer and the other the inner circle. Now the motion of the outer circle he called the motion of the same, and the motion of the inner circle the motion of the other or diverse. The motion of the same he carried round by the side to the right, and the motion of the diverse diagonally to the left. And he gave dominion to the motion of the same and like, for that he left single and undivided; but the inner motion he divided in six places and made seven unequal circles having their intervals in ratios of two-and three, three of each, and bade the orbits proceed in a direction opposite to one another; and three [Sun, Mercury, Venus] he made to move with equal swiftness, and the remaining four [Moon, Saturn, Mars, Jupiter] to move with unequal swiftness to the three and to one another, but in due proportion.

Timaeus explains, using what is now famously known as Plato’s Lambda, how the universe itself was created according to a system of musical harmonies.  Suffice to say that the Demiurge took two “strips” of reality, one made from the even numbers in Plato’s Lambda and the other made from the odd numbers, and joined them together in the form of a giant Khi (Χ), bending them around into circles to form a sphere.  The outer circle is given the property of Sameness, while the inner one the property of Difference.  The inner circle of Difference, moreover, was divided into seven segments, each associated with the spheres of the seven planets who move at different rates.  The outer circle of Sameness, however, all move at the same rate; this then becomes the sphere of the fixed stars.  Linking the two heavens together is a connection at their nexus, which we can assume to be the nodes between the ecliptic (where the planets, Sun, and Moon move in the skies) and the celestial equator (where the stars all move along around the Earth).  The circle of the Same (the sphere of the fixed stars) is kept as one indivisible unit, much as the One itself is; the circle of the Different (the spheres of the planets) are divided, emphasizing their created nature and focus on manifestation and embodiment.

So why all the Platonic and Pythagorean claptrap?  Because, as fate would have it, all this from Timaeus reinforces the structure I have on the Tetractys of Life relating the elements and reagents:

Alchemical Tetractys

At the top, we have the Monad, the One, the Good, the uncreated creator of all things.  At the bottom, we find the four elements of Earth, Water, Air, and Fire.  Water, as we said before, is the mean between Earth and Air, and Air itself is the mean between Water and Fire.  These four elements create a physical body with the capacity to be seen, heard, smelled/tasted, and touched.  The body, moreover, is built upon the soul, which itself is composed of three qualities: Sameness, Difference, and Existence, which allow the soul to distinguish these things in the cosmos.  We see three reagents: Salt, Mercury, and Sulfur.  We can link these three reagents with the three properties of Difference, Existence, and Sameness, respectively, based on Plato’s Timaeus.  After all, in using Plato’s Lambda, we’ve already established that we’re using the same notions of “left” and “right” in terms of directions down and from the Monad, and the Demiurge (saith Timaeus) “he carried round [the motion of Sameness] by the side to the right, and the motion of the diverse diagonally to the left”.  This assigns Salt the property of Difference, and Sulfur the property of Sameness.  This gives Mercury the property of Existence, which links Sameness and Difference.

Admittedly, it’s at this point that I started freaking out, thinking back on other definitions of Salt and Mercury.  After all, isn’t Mercury traditionally assigned to be the cold and moist counterpart to hot and dry Sulfur?  Yes, but these two reagents alone require a basis to work upon, which is Salt, the materia upon which other forces can act.  Salt, much as Plato describes elsewhere in terms of the element Earth, can only ever be Salt; it can be acted upon, compounded, and transformed, but anything that exists will always be Salt, though in a different form than before.  Timaeus describes, further, that when the Demiurge made the soul, he “mingled [the three properties] into one form, compressing by force the reluctant and unsociable nature of [Difference] into [Sameness]”.  Difference is hard to mix in with anything, and in order to do it the Demiurge required something to blend it in with Sameness.  So, while Mercury and Sulfur might be opposite, they’re not opposite in the same way that Sulfur and Salt are.  The alchemical perspective here is a bit unclear, and the planetary associations of the Moon, Mercury, and the Sun seem to work better.  However, Salt is literally an “other”, unable to work in the same way as Sulfur or Mercury, but which can be worked with Sulfur by means of Mercury.

Confused?  I am, too, a little.  But basically, the Timaeus tells us that Mercury is what allows Sameness and Difference to co-exist since Mercury is what allows for Existence.  If everything were Sulfur/Sameness, everything would follow the active principle and would have no body; everything could only be visible and joined together in an infinite oneness.  If everything were Salt/Difference, everything would follow the passive principle and could not be seen; everything could only be touched and distinguished through spatial location.  In order for the soul to bridge the gap between space and awareness, it must relate to both in a manner that Sulfur can work and Salt can be acted upon.  Said another way, the three principles of Existence, Sameness, and Difference allow the soul to determine what actually exists, what is the same as itself, and what is different from itself.  The soul, not being a body, recognizes the body as the most different from itself, while the soul itself is made in the image of the Monad, and so is natively inclined towards making.  Thus, the Salt which is used in producing bodies is Difference, and Sulfur which produces bodies is Sameness.  This is how the principles of Salt, Mercury, and Sulfur work together to form the foundation of elemental substance.  This logic reassured me, since I had the momentary worry of freaking out that I had mis-constructed my Tetractys of Life by putting Salt and Mercury in the wrong spheres on the Tetractys.  Rereading Timaeus, however, and a few other alchemical texts, leads me to believe that this is alright and ties in alchemical theory with Pythagorean cosmology (which, admittedly, isn’t something that should probably not be done as whimsically as I’m doing here).

So Timaeus describes the Monad, the Tetrad of elements, and the Triad of reagents (albeit in an abstract manner).  What about the Dyad?  Timaeus talks a lot about the One, the Three, and the Four, but not much about a Two, at least not explicitly.  Implicitly, however, the whole discourse is about the relationship between the Creator and the Created, that which Is and that which Becomes, the Original and the Copy.  Continuing the very first quote up above, where Timaeus explains the difference between that which Is and that which Becomes:

And in speaking of the copy and the original we may assume that words are akin to the matter which they describe; when they relate to the lasting and permanent and intelligible, they ought to be lasting and unalterable, and, as far as their nature allows, irrefutable and immovable-nothing less. But when they express only the copy or likeness and not the eternal things themselves, they need only be likely and analogous to the real words. As being is to becoming, so is truth to belief.

In the beginning, there is only the Monad; we cannot yet call it the Creator because there is nothing Created.  We cannot truly call the Monad as existing, because there is nothing that is not existing; we obviously cannot call the Monad becoming, not just because it cannot become as created things become, but because nothing is becoming.  Before the Monad creates, there is only ever the Monad, and all dichotomies and distinctions and differences are moot.  Once the Monad creates, however, there is suddenly Creator and Created; as the Monad creates, it creates in its own likeness, providing Sameness; as it provides Sameness, it provides Light to see that which is the Same.  Thus, we have Monad producing Creating force producing Sameness producing Visibility, or Monad producing Light producing Sulfur producing Fire.  At the same time, however, the Monad has also produced the Created, which is different from the Monad; this Difference then provides Tangibility.  Thus, the Monad also gives forth the force of being Created or Darkness, which produces Difference or Salt, which produces Tangibility or Earth.  Sameness and Difference require the mean of Existence to facilitate further creation between the two, which is to say that Sulfur and Salt require the intermediary of Mercury.  Visibility and Tangibility require two intermediaries of Audibility and Taste to create a body, which is to say that Fire and Earth require the intermediaries of Air and Water.

In all this, we finally have a completion: Monad, Dyad, Triad, and Tetrad.  We can see that the Tetrad relates to bodies, and the Triad to souls.  The Monad, being the source, can be called God, pure Intellect, or Mind.  So where does that place the Dyad?  I claim that the Dyad relates to the spirit.  Just as the soul dwells within the body to animate it, the spirit dwells within the soul to…what?  Timaeus tells us:

The soul, interfused everywhere from the centre to the circumference of heaven, of which also she is the external envelopment, herself turning in herself, began a divine beginning of never ceasing and rational life enduring throughout all time. The body of heaven is visible, but the soul is invisible, and partakes of reason and harmony, and being made by the best of intellectual and everlasting natures, is the best of things created. And because she is composed of the same and of the other and of the essence, these three, and is divided and united in due proportion, and in her revolutions returns upon herself, the soul, when touching anything which has essence, whether dispersed in parts or undivided, is stirred through all her powers, to declare the sameness or difference of that thing and some other; and to what individuals are related, and by what affected, and in what way and how and when, both in the world of generation and in the world of immutable being.

And when reason, which works with equal truth, whether she be in the circle of the diverse or of the same—in voiceless silence holding her onward course in the sphere of the self-moved—when reason, I say, is hovering around the sensible world and when the circle of the diverse also moving truly imparts the intimations of sense to the whole soul, then arise opinions and beliefs sure and certain. But when reason is concerned with the rational, and the circle of the same moving smoothly declares it, then intelligence and knowledge are necessarily perfected. And if any one affirms that in which these two are found to be other than the soul, he will say the very opposite of the truth.

The body is moved by soul; the soul is moved by reason.  Reason deals with Sameness and Difference, but soul consists of these as well as Existence.  Reason exists on a higher level than soul does, which allows to reconcile directly the forces of Creating with Created without need for a mediator.  Reason is not Existence; reason is the relationship that reconciles Creator and Created, the intermediary between the Monad and the Triad.  Reason works outside the circles of Sameness and Difference, closer to God than the fixed stars themselves are.  Thus, the Dyad is reason, or spirit, that which moves the triadic soul as the soul moves the tetradic body.  These concepts are replete throughout nearly all later philosophical and occult works, even being repeated in Cornelius Agrippa’s Scale of Four almost verbatim.

While I had a few inklings about the concepts I wanted to explore on the Tetractys based on where I’ve already been and what I’ve already done, I admit that my reading list has not been exhausted like it should have been before I proposed to embark on making a new occult system.  Rereading the Timaeus should have been one of the first things I did, and here I am finally going over it and finding more ways to explain the system I’m developing in a way that I should have explored beforehand.  While the Tetractys of Life is, indeed, likely a thing that’s been made before, it probably was only done in florid 2500-year-old language without the help of Adobe Illustrator, so at least I can innovate in some way.  At this point, I’m finding more and more data and knowledge to back up my structures and plans for exploration, and I can’t say I’m displeased about that.  Fine-tuning and tweaking, especially to the paths, will still be needed, but I can rest certain that the overall structure is good to go.

Strength of Voice

One of the most difficult problems I had in starting my career as a magician was speaking.  I mean, I’ve always had a way with words; writing has always been my forte, and was one of the things that saved my ass in college when other projects didn’t go so well.  Speaking, however, was another story; I often speak too quickly for many people to follow, and according to my parents (though I have no memories of this) I had a speech therapist help me when I was really young.  Public speaking has always given me a minor case of stage fright, and I used some herbs now and then to calm the shaking of my knees and slow me down when presenting a topic to a class.  It’s gotten better over time, but the written word was always better than my spoken word for years.

In magic, of course, one can’t always get by with writing things out, despite the inherent magic in the written word (a la Thoth-Hermes).  Prayer, for instance, nearly mandates speaking things out loud, especially in a Hellenistic or pagan context, and making my prayers “feel” powerful wasn’t a matter of my word choice.  It was a matter of speaking things willfully, intentfully, and powerfully on their own using the here-and-now voice rather than preserving and enduring ink.  Saying a consecration of fire over my altar candles never really “felt” like it took effect, and though the angels came when I conjured them, it still felt like my words were empty though I was using the proper channels and ritual to back them up.  Speaking out loud is something that has been a weak point in my magical practice, though it’s gotten better with practice.  This practice is more than just focusing on the words.  This rings too close to contemplation and meditation, and that’s not always the proper thing to do in a conjuration or a quick blessing of something, especially if you’re pressed for time, and ultimately isn’t helpful if you’re already in a meditative or focused state.  Focusing on the words is important, of course; any ritual action can benefit from increased or single-minded focus, since having the mouth talk in one direction while the mind is running in the other never helps to complete a ritual successfully.  Still, focus wasn’t really the issue.

Recent studies of mine have pointed out where this practice really took off for me, though I’m thinking about it in a new way than I did before.  In my style of aikido, there are five disciplines, one of which is called sokushin no gyō, or bell purification.  You sit down and clear the breath, then ring a bell in tune while performing a simple but loud chant.  This is usually done for a substantial amount of time, often forty minutes or more, and chanting anything loudly for forty minutes can wreak havoc on the vocal chords.  That is, unless you chant in the proper way.  Aikido teachers call it “speaking from the one-point”, or the center of the body, which is energetically the same as speaking from the navel/svadisthana chakra or the lower dantian in Chinese medicine.  Although we speak using our vocal chords, if we merely chant “from” there, we end up stressing them and causing damage; if we speak “from” our center, the vocal chords are more relaxed and aren’t stressed out from the chanting.

This is an important part of aikido in any of its disciplines; one moves or pushes the individual parts of the body to change things, but always moves with the one point and letting the rest of the body follow with it.  Walking, for instance, involves moving the one point forward and letting the legs carry it in that direction, rather than just moving the legs one in front of the other.  It’s weird to think about, but it’s an important point in aikido.  By acting from the center, we end up acting with our whole body as well as our whole mind, since the center is both the energetic center of the body as well as its physical center of mass.  If we chant or speak from the center, then, we speak with our whole body and mind unified as one, which can be done for much longer and with less strain than if we spoke or moved from any other part of the body.  The kiai, or force shout that martial artists often use, is done in the same way; instead of shouting it from the vocal chords or lungs, one shouts it from the center which helps to coordinate the body better when executing a particular technique.  Moving and acting from the center projects energy and strength in a way that uses our entire being more than if we used an individual part of the body, which uses just the strength of that part alone.

This aikido-centric way of thinking about speaking from the center is what’s really being meant when other magicians talk about vibrating or intoning words or sounds.  Some magicians talk about this from a physical standpoint, where you feel your body reverberate or feel the words reverberate in your head.  What’s really being meant here is that you’re using your entire being to speak the word, not just the body with the lungs nor the thought with the mind.  By all means, of course, vibrate your godnames until the Sun sets for the last time; it helps, and producing these sounds in the world is enough to cause changes in it and in yourself!  It’s just like me speaking the prayers of conjuration without really saying them, as it were, since the prayers still worked when I merely spoke them.  But it’s the unification of the mind and body that really puts these prayers and names and sounds and chants on a whole different level than just saying them mentally or just saying them physically with no such unification.

Unifying the mind and body feels different, too, when speaking in this way.  Physically, it doesn’t feel like much, save for something much stronger than a simple reverberation in the head; it feels like everything goes comfortably fuzzy and fizzy, or like you’re entering a trance state.  Mentally, however, it’s a lot more noticeable.  You’ll probably be aware that the thoughts in your head “feel” different depending on who’s saying them and how; for instance, your own thoughts about something you’re actively thinking about “feel” different from the chatter going on in the back of your head about monkey-mind concerns, just as the thoughts that you think “feel” different from those that spirits speak in conjuration or communion.  Likewise, thoughts that are spoken with a unified and directed mind “feel” different from thoughts with a non-unified mind.  To me, it feels like these unified-mind thoughts are “higher up”, or clearer in some way that’s hard to put into words.  It’s really similar to how the Hymns of Silence feel, now that I have experience with those.  Speaking in this way, in a sense, is applying the Hymns of Silence to back up any prayer or speech you have, which can cause far more change in the world than merely spoken words, since you have the force of the cosmos backing up your own vocal chords at that point.

When you get this feeling even once, it’s easy to keep going with it, and soon it becomes second nature to speak with this.  Spirits come to your call more often and with less delay; blessings feel more assured and secure; people snap to attention and hear you out for longer.  It still requires practice, of course, and a lack of focus can easily take away from this style of speaking, but this is a strength of voice that rivals even what Dune’s Bene Gesserit can muster.  Channeling the sacred words and names, the sounds of the vowels, and prayers takes getting used to, and it’s important to build up a familiarity with the words themselves first so the mind can easily recognize them just as so the body can easily pronounce them.  Again, it’s like aikido: it’s important to learn what the name and ideas are of the technique as well as the proper hand, arm, foot, and body motions are before one can properly apply them from the center rather than from individual body parts.  In order to unify the actions of the body and the thoughts of the mind, it’s important to have the actions and thoughts known ahead of time; you can’t unify things without anything to unify together.

If you’re not in such a martial art that puts a focus like this on its motions, never fear!  I got the hang of speaking with unified mind and body without taking aikido, too, though aikido has certainly already helped me in that regard, as well.  When you pray, don’t just rattle the words out from a book; study the prayer, feel how each word feels in the mouth, understand what feelings are triggered in the heart and what thoughts come from the mind, and then put them all together praying, essentially, from the heart.  When you vibrate the vowels of the planets, don’t just sing them loftily; feel the energies of the planets within you being directed outwards in all directions from you just as your voice can be heard in all directions, unifying you with the planetary energies already around you and strengthening yourself as well as your environment.  When you intone sacred names in the LBRP or similar rituals, don’t just shout them out; connect, commune, and open yourself up to the beings and forces behind and within those words and bring themselves to you just as you bring yourself to them.  It takes practice, but then, no strength can be developed without a good and repeated workout.

49 Days of Definitions: Part X, Definition 3

This post is part of a series, “49 Days of Definitions”, discussing and explaining my thoughts and meditations on a set of aphorisms explaining crucial parts of Hermetic philosophy. These aphorisms, collectively titled the “Definitions from Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius”, lay out the basics of Hermetic philosophy, the place of Man in the Cosmos, and all that stuff. It’s one of the first texts I studied as a Hermetic magician, and definitely what I would consider to be a foundational text. The Definitions consist of 49 short aphorisms broken down into ten sets, each of which is packed with knowledge both subtle and obvious, and each of which can be explained or expounded upon. While I don’t propose to offer the be-all end-all word on these Words, these might afford some people interested in the Definitions some food for thought, one aphorism per day.

Today, let’s discuss the forty-fifth definition, part X, number 3 of 7:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

49 Days of Definitions: Part X, Definition 2

This post is part of a series, “49 Days of Definitions”, discussing and explaining my thoughts and meditations on a set of aphorisms explaining crucial parts of Hermetic philosophy. These aphorisms, collectively titled the “Definitions from Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius”, lay out the basics of Hermetic philosophy, the place of Man in the Cosmos, and all that stuff. It’s one of the first texts I studied as a Hermetic magician, and definitely what I would consider to be a foundational text. The Definitions consist of 49 short aphorisms broken down into ten sets, each of which is packed with knowledge both subtle and obvious, and each of which can be explained or expounded upon. While I don’t propose to offer the be-all end-all word on these Words, these might afford some people interested in the Definitions some food for thought, one aphorism per day.

Today, let’s discuss the forty-fourth definition, part X, number 2 of 7:

Nature in man is omniform, and (it is) an energy endowed with all qualities (whose) force (is) invisible and effects (are) conspicuous.  An energy is a movement.  Matter is a wet essence; a body is a agglomeration of matter.

In the last definition, we talked about four terms: good, evil, female, and male.  Of these, that which is Good is, basically, God; anything that is not God is within God, but not everything that is not God is evil.  That which hides the Good, which is knowledge, is evil, which is ignorance, and evil resides in the material world, since this is the world of nature.  Nature is a reflection of truth, but is not truth itself; nature generates within itself as God generates within itself, but that which is God stays God, while nature keeps to itself.  Nature generates within itself according to two principles, the female or passive principle which allows things to be changed, and the male or active principle which allows change to happen.  These are not elements, but forces present in all things; moreover, they are “fluidities”, implying constant change, motion, and mobility that constantly shifts every passing moment.

We know that everything that exists is within Man (IX.4), and that Man understands all of creation (VI.1), not least because Man is the sole creature capable of possessing Nous, but also because wherever Man is, so is God (IX.6).  Since God is literally everything that exists and does not exist and all that stuff (IX.1), God is greater than Man, but because God is Nous and Nous is within Man (or at least some of Man), Man has the capability and the understanding of all things.  How can this be, though?  God knows all things because God is all things.  If we follow that same logic, we can construct a parallel statement that also holds under what we’ve discussed so far: Man understands all nature because Man is all nature.  Indeed, this definition says as much: “nature in man is omniform”.  All natures and all of nature is within Man; after all, Man is a microcosm or “small world” (I.4).  Within Man (properly, the essence of Man), there are all qualities, all quantities, all good, all evil, all female, all male, and all other states of nature, including light, darkness, honesty, lies, ugliness, beauty, and everything else.  Every member of Man contains all natures, which allows every member of Man to be capable of experiencing and understanding all natures, much as how Man contains Nous and so is capable of receiving and understanding Nous.

Moreover, this omniform nature within Man is “an energy endowed with all qualities whose force is invisible and effects are conspicuous”.  We can see nature, since “nature is the mirror of truth” (VIII.5) and since truth is invisible, but the forces of nature are not necessarily visible.  We cannot see pure qualities or quantities; we cannot see maleness or femaleness, abstract number, or the like.  We understand them, though they may be invisible; we can certainly see their effects in the world where truth and nature are realized and materialized.  But note how these things are described: the force of nature is “invisible” and its effects are “conspicuous”.  These are the same words used to describe good and evil, respectively, in the previous definition.  Thus, the forces of nature can be likened to or are good and thus truths, while the effects of nature can be likened to or are evil.  Again, this leads us to say that the material world, being conspicuous and able to be seen, is evil, as opposed to the invisible and intelligible truths that are God.

But there’s one term in that statement that’s confusing, since we haven’t encountered it before and which carries a fair amount of baggage in modern parlance: “energy”.  Throw out all your notions of prana, qi/chi/ki, orgone, nuclear/quantum physics, or what have you; we’re not talking about those here.  According to this definition, energy “is a movement”.  Movement, as we know, is provided by soul (II.1), and which is seen by Nous and performed by breath (II.6).  Any motion, any movement, any act of nature is energy.  This is what allows plants, though they have no soul, to still yet move by breath/spirit (hypothesized from IV.2); movement is performed by breath, which plants have though they have no animating soul.  Thus, they can still experience forces of nature in a way that rocks and stones cannot, but cannot move around or act as animals, humans, or heavenly beings can.  Motions provided by nature are energies that work within nature, so long as there exists the forces of nature to provide them and matter to be moved by them.

Then again, what is matter?  All this talk about nature and bodies and elements and forces, and yet we’re not quite clear on what matter is.  This definition says that matter “is a wet essence”.  Looking back, we see that water is one of the qualities which is wetness (II.1), and that water is a “fecund essence, the support of earth, as a nutritive essence” (II.4).  Thus, matter is essentially watery, though no matter could exist materially without earth and vice versa.  The heavens are fire (II.5), the low world is earth (II.3), and air is the medium between heaven and earth (II.2), but water is what supports earth.  Water and earth are opposite qualities according to II.1, where water is wet and earth is dry; however, matter is primarily watery, which allows it to grow instead of just exist statically.  Fire can inhibit or remove growth, air can link growths together, and earth is that which is grown, but water provides the growth.  The world is essentially characterized by growth.  Moreover, the world is essentially characterized by life; not immortality or mortality, but life, bios, living.  All things that die provide life for other things, so life always continues in the world in some way.  A body may die by cancer, but cancer is merely the growth of something else that takes over an existing body; a body may die by being slaughtered, but provides food for other bodies to grow; life is death, death is life.  Both are wet.  Thus, material reality is wet.

So what about bodies in terms of matter?  A body is “an agglomeration of matter”, or matter piled on and stuck to matter.  Different matters combined form a body.  This is pretty straightfoward; every body is more than “a matter”, but which is why the phrase is so awkward to say when referring to physical objects.  Instead, we say that every body is “matter”, using a collective noun instead of a singular.  Even single atoms are compounds of smaller things, and a cloud of gas is a collection of, you guessed it, matter.  And, because matter is primarily wet, all bodies are primarily wet, too, unless they have a huge imbalance of one element or the other.  Dry sand, for instance, though it has some water in it, has an abundance of earth; pure water is mostly water with very little earth. While different bodies are composed of different elements (II.1), the basis for them is still matter, with the elements and fluidities of maleness and femaleness taking effect upon them.

And, because they’re material and worldly, they’re still evil.  Apparently.

49 Days of Definitions: Part IX, 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 fortieth definition, part IX, number 5 of 7:

Who(ever) behaves well towards his body, behaves badly towards himself.  Just as the body, without a soul, is a corpse, likewise soul, without Nous, is inert.  Once a soul has entered the body, it (soul) will acquire Nous.  That which does not require (it), goes out such as it had entered.  For every soul, before entering the body, is deprived of Nous; then Nous joins it from the body, so that eventually the soul becomes endowed with Nous.  That (soul) which has gone out of the human body has (got) an ill memory: for soul, (even) covered with the body, is forced to remember its (soul’s) unforgetfulness.  One change is unforgetful and (another) change brings about forgetfulness.

We know that humans are constituted out of many things, and what makes us essentially human is really just that: the essence of being human.  This is an idea, a form that we realize through our bodies, souls, spirits, and minds.  Our bodies are born, live, increase, decrease, and die in the material world and the material world alone; our souls are sent into our bodies so they can be perfected through the life of the body; spirit is the medium between the soul and the body; the mind is what is able to use reason and the ability to know God.  This idea has been developed over the course of the Definitions, and this ninth set of definitions helps us understand how we can perfect the body by saying something a little more descriptive than “know yourself” or “know God”.

Although the soul lives within the body, what happens to the body is not always good for soul; the last definition talked about the illnesses and passions of the soul, which can prevent the soul from properly acting and developing or can sway it into acting in a manner that is unhelpful to its development.  We also know that actions, opinions, and speech that is unreasonable, i.e. it does not serve the goals of Nous/the Good, basically limits itself to the material world we live in (V.1, V.2), and to limit ourselves to this world causes ignorance and is thus evil (VII.5, VIII.6).  Thus, if we place the body over the soul, we do our souls damage, which then does ourselves damage (VI.3).  Thus, “whoever behaves well towards the body, behaves badly toward himself”.  If we treat our bodies as first and foremost, lavishing it in luxury and simply “treating it well”, then we neglect our souls, which should deserve that same or better treatment.  This isn’t to say that we should totally neglect the body, of course; if the body isn’t well maintained, then the soul doesn’t have a chance to perfect within it.  Rather, we should strive to perfect the soul and maintaining our bodies as necessary along the way.  It’s similar to how happiness and sadness happen to us when we interact with the world; we don’t strive to be happy for the sake of being happy, but we should strive for something good which makes us happy as a result.  Likewise, we shouldn’t treat the body well for the sake of treating it well, but we should strive for Nous which makes our body well as a result.

After all, “the body, without a soul, is a corpse, likewise soul, without Nous, is inert”.  The two rely on each other in order to live, and so they need to support each other.  If we neglect the soul, the body dies; if we neglect the body, the soul remains imperfect.  Neither of these are good, though it’s worse for the soul to remain imperfect than the body dying.  Again, though death is generally a bad thing, that only affects our bodies, which is not the entirety of us.  We are more than dying bodies; we are both mortal and immortal (I.5), and we have the power of choosing immortality and making ourselves the gods we ought to be (VIII.7).  All told, while we should neglect neither the body nor the soul in our lives, we should focus on the development of the soul as our primary task and the development of the body as a secondary (but still as necessary) task, or as a co-equal task in the process of perfecting the soul.

Going back a bit, “soul, without Nous, is inert”, meaning it has no motion, no impetus, no drive.  After all, just as God has no means to sense since there is nothing outside God to sense (VIII.2), the soul without body has no means to move since there is nothing to move.  Thus, it is motionless, incapable of doing anything.  “Once a soul has entered [a human] body, [the soul] will acquire Nous”; once the soul gains a body, it gains the ability to move and a source from which motion is derived.  This is the soul-Nous that comes with soul, not the divine Nous that we have to strive for with Logos (VIII.4).  So, before a soul ever gets to a body, it has no Nous, though it still exists within Nous; then, once it joins with a body, it is given Nous.  But if a soul already has Nous before entering the body, then it has already acquired it and does not get an “extra portion” of Nous: “[the soul] which does not require [Nous], goes out such as it had entered”.  This means that the soul has already been joined to a body before, and has already been given Nous, yet the soul is going to another body; thus, the soul has left one body and goes to another.  This statement implies reincarnation or transmigration of souls, which fits with hints from before about souls perfecting themselves through bodies.

To begin with, however, “every soul, before entering the body, is deprived of Nous”.  Then, “Nous joins it from the body”; note that soul-Nous is not simply given to the soul from Nous, but from the body.  The body is crucial to the soul’s development, and is the basis for soul-Nous to even be present.  Just as the world is in God and Man is in the world (VII.5), so too is God in the world, since “everything is within man” (IX.4).  God is in itself, too, but the soul is only intelligible and not sensible, though still lacking God in itself.  The soul must be mixed with the body in the essence of Man in order to be given soul-Nous; only then can it “eventually [become] endowed with Nous”.  There doesn’t appear to be any difference between different disembodied or unembodied souls, though once a soul has been mixed with the essence of Man, it gains the capacity for Nous in a way that other souls do not; the soul undergoes a fundamental difference.  To use alchemical terms, this makes the material world and the body the crucible within which the actions and reactions of spiritual “materials” interact with each other to refine themselves, using the body as the base stratum of material.  Through refinement and perfection, incorporating true knowledge of the world, ourselves, and God, the prima materia of the alchemists is transformed into the purest gold and leaves the Caput Mortum behind, the end result and Great Work of the alchemists, the Magnum Opus of the magician.

Still, this process isn’t easy, and can be easily set back. “That soul which has gone out of the human body has got an ill memory”; we know from before that the soul “will not know the beings outside the body” (VI.2), but now we see that there’s more at stake here.  “Soul, even covered with the body, is forced to remember its unforgetfulness”.  This is a little unclear, but keep in mind that memory is the retaining of knowledge and the ability to access it later on in time.  Knowledge is God; by remaining in knowledge, we remain in God.  By forgetting knowledge, we leave God.  Thus, by remembering our unforgetfulness, we remember our tendency to always be in knowledge/God, and so remember who and what we truly are as Man.  While we may not yet be unforgetful, we still have unforgetfulness.  This is what our immortality (at least in part) consists of.

Of course, that’s not all we are.  As Man, we have two natures, the immortal and mortal, and also the unforgetful and the forgetful.  Our eternal knowledge and union with God is our immortality and also our unforgetfulness; thus, our mortality and forgetfulness is our live and death as a living bodily creature.  Neither of these things is either the body’s or the soul’s pristine form, however: “one change is unforgetful and another change brings about forgetfulness”.  The bestowing of Nous upon the soul gives it unforgetfulness; the death of the body around the soul brings about forgetfulness.  We must choose immortality and Nous to never forget who we are; to choose mortality and the body, “to treat the body well [over the soul”, brings about forgetfulness, a lack of knowledge, and the “perdition” of V.2.

49 Days of Definitions: Part VIII, 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 thirty-second definition, part VIII, number 4 of 7:

The body increases and reaches perfection due to nature; and soul fills up with Nous.  Every man has a body and a soul, but not every soul has Nous.  Consequently there are two (types of) Nous: the one (is) divine and the other (belongs to) soul.  Nevertheless there are certain men who do not even have that of soul.  Who(ever) understands the body, also understands soul; who(ever) understands soul, also (understands) Nous, because the admirable is (a) natural (object) of contemplation: each of the two is seen by means of the other.

From the last several definitions, we know that Man is meant to become God by means of knowledge of God.  This is accomplished through our natural gifts of voice and speech, along with Logos or reason, to attain Nous or Mind.  With this, we can come to know all of creation, which is God, and by this attain perfection of the soul.  However, although we’re meant to do this, this is not always an assured thing; by means of voice and speech without Logos, we end up talking for the sake of talking, or talking for the sake of mankind.  This applies to worship and our knowledge and opinions of divinity, too; with true knowledge of God, we endeavor to worship God by becoming God.  However, with only our human and incomplete ideas and opinions of gods, we may worship them instead, preventing us from reaching our full goals and true gnosis of God.  No one god is God, no matter how great, since God is always greater than everything else.  The choice of attaining God or not attaining God is entirely up to us.

Of course, the definitions suggest that we already know what’s proper for us: “the body increases and reaches perfection due to nature; and soul fills up with Nous”.  Our nature, as discussed in VIII.1, is basically what we’re meant to do and what we’re meant to accomplish; our nature is our design and core operating procedures.  We’re meant to live, and in the process attain fullness and perfection of the body.  (While “increase” is used here, according to J.-P. Mahé’s footnotes, the Armenian has “decrease”; in either case, it’s implied here that the body is meant to live and all that comes along with living).  Further, in the course of the body attaining perfection, the soul also attains perfection by “fill[ing] up with Nous”.  This, too, is our nature; every human being alive can be perfect and made holy by being anointed with Nous and coming to know God.  This is our nature.

That said, we humans have the choice of going against our nature.  We can purposefully or unreasonably ignore God and our souls, preventing our souls from filling up with Nous.  Thus, while our bodies may be perfect, our souls may not be; perfection of the one does not mandate perfection of the other.  Thus, “every man has a body and soul, but not every soul has Nous”.  Even though Man generally and by design should have Nous, not all humans actually do; this is based on the humans’ own development and progress towards that goal.  Just as it’s the goal of the fetus to be born whole in body, so too is it the human’s goal to be made whole in body and soul.  Many things can prevent this, of course, which in turn prevents Nous being bestowed upon every human.  This is no fault of God’s; after all, “whatever God does, he does it for man” (VIII.2), so the blame must then be laid on the shoulders of Man (or in astral demons, cf. VII.5, but even then, Man still deserves some of the blame).

We’ve mentioned the idea of there being two kinds of Nous before in set VII, but here we find it made explicit: “consequently there are two types of Nous: the one is divine and the other belongs to soul”.  The former refers to Nous as a whole, which is identical with God; the divine Nous is God, and thus is the Whole and the All and the One.  The other Nous is that which is in the soul itself and guides it to lead the body (cf. VIII.3).  It’s that divine-Nous that we are meant to obtain, that saving perfection-grace, that the soul-Nous which comes from the divine-Nous leads us toward.  Thus, it’s both true and untrue that all humans have Nous; we each have a tiny sliver of Nous (soul-Nous) within us that guides us, but not all of us are filled with divine-Nous.  It’s the soul-Nous that leads us to divine-Nous once we’re spiritually mature enough to accept it from God.  God/Divine-Nous wants us to have this at all points, but we’re not able to accept this until a certain point.

Even though all souls are designed by nature to be perfected with divine-Nous, not all souls have it; worse, there are even some humans who lack even soul-Nous, and are entirely unguided by Nous: “there are certain men who do not have even that [Nous] of soul”.  This isn’t fully explained, and seems somewhat contradictory to our previous statements; in these cases, these particular Nous-less humans are made no better than animals, who only have soul without Nous.  We might consider this severe mental disease or simply growing up feral, but these are essentially humans whose development was so stunted that they are unable to listen to or possess soul-Nous.  This might be the result of not developing the soul enough to possess soul-Nous, which gives yet another darker and urgent shade to the development of the soul in the body (cf. VI.3).  We must constantly strive to not only protect our shard of soul-Nous, but enjoin it with divine-Nous through perfection of the soul.

Of course, there’s more to perfecting the soul than the soul itself.  If we were just focused on the soul and going right to Nous, there would be no need for our bodies; we’d be like the heavenly beings made of fire and soul.  But no; that would relegate us to only the heavenly world, and we need to learn about all the parts of the world (VII.2), since it is our possession (VI.1), after all.  Thus, because we need to experience the material world, we need to have material bodies.  By fully using the body we have, we can come to understand it, and by understanding and perfecting the body, we can come to understand and perfect the soul (VI.3): “whoever understands the body also understands the soul”.  Once we understand the soul, we can progress onto using the body and soul together with Logos to perfect the soul and attain Nous: “whoever understands soul, also understands Nous”.

That said, why is it that working with the soul leads to the Nous?  Or that contemplating the Nous leads to perfection of the soul?  That’s just part of the design and nature of humanity: our souls are designed to partake in Nous and soul-Nous to inhabit our souls.  That is, after all, part of the nature of Man, made distinct from other living creatures in our capacity for Nous.  The connection isn’t made absolutely clear yet about the manner in which this is done, though, but this definition teases us with a hint: “the admirable is a natural object of contemplation: each of [soul and Nous] is seen by means of the other”.  Soul leads to Nous, and Nous leads to soul.  Listening to the soul leads to Nous, since Nous is the sight of the soul just as “the sight of the body is the eye”, and listening to Nous leads to soul, since “whatever Nous in soul will crave for, so will man desire the same” (VII.3).  The Nous looks out for soul and the soul is the means by which Nous is obtained.  Working with one works with the other; it’s just that the soul-Nous is what connects us to divine-Nous, which we have yet to obtain.  Yet.