Mathetic Exercise: Light-bringing Breath

Today, while making an offering to Apollo, he (if you’ll forgive the pun) shed some light on a bit of mathetic practice.  I’m still dusting off some of the tools and prayers I was working on, but he’s given me some ideas to work with.  While he’s still pretty stoic and detached in his approach to me, he’s generously helped me begin the process of refining and applying some of the things in mathesis I’ve been wanting to develop.  Of this, in addition to the usual daily mathetic stuff I would be doing, he’s given me a breathing exercise to do.  I don’t know if you’ve seen this one particular GIF around the Internet recently, but it suddenly popped in my mind when I asked him what should be done.

8d06cda5f63ac5e3b8e004587547fb72

So, I took that idea, hashed it out a bit with Apollo, and applied it.  It fills a need I wasn’t aware I needed, but it makes complete sense in retrospect, especially with some ideas I’ve gotten from the late Neoplatonic philosopher and theurgist Iamblichus as of late.

Before we get into the exercise, though, let’s go over a bit of geometry.  We all know the Tetractys, right?  We all know the Tetractys.

Tetractys

One of the many mathematical interpretations of the Tetractys is that it can represent the first four dimensions of geometry, starting with with the zeroth dimension:

  1. A single point, with neither length nor breadth nor depth.  No measure, only location.
  2. Two points, forming a straight line segment with length.  With a line segment, we can identify an infinite line extending in two directions: forward and backward.
  3. Three points, defining a triangle with length and breadth, together known as area.  With a triangle, we can identify an infinite area (a plane) extending in four directions: forward and backward, left and right.
  4. Four points, defining a tetrahedron with length and breadth and depth, together known as volume.  With a tetrahedron, we can identify an infinite volume (a space) extending in six directions: forward and backward, left and right, up and down.

Dion Fortune in her Mystical Qabalah (chap. 28, para. 25) says as much, in more sephirotic terms:

The point is assigned to Kether;
the line to Chokmah;
the two-dimensional plane to Binah;
consequently the three-dimensional solid naturally falls to Chesed.

We can see this using the ten sephiroth of the Tree of Life by dividing it up into four groups of points: one (Kether), two (Chokmah and Binah), three (Chesed, Geburah, Tiphareth), and four (Netzach, Hod, Yesod, Malkuth).  Such a diagram illustrates this idea of emanation in both a geometric way as well as a qabbalistic way.

A11p12fig10.1

In a Hermetic, Neoplatonic, Iamblichian, Pythagorean, or whatever sense, the Monad (a.k.a. Kether, the Source, whatever) is the fundamental principle that defines and underlies everything that exists.  (Whether it’s a distinct entity/non-entity/process is something of a debate in the blogosphere and I don’t presume to get into it here.)  Looking at the Tetractys, the Monad is the first step in the process of manifestation: from the Monad comes the Dyad, from the Dyad the Triad, and from the Triad the Tetrad.  The Tetrad is what gives us body and form, but it comes from a higher principle, and that principle comes from a higher one, and so forth.  If we really want to bring change from above down to here, we have to give it form in some sense, or we have to align some part of our being with the process of bringing power from the Source to us.

However, although four points identifies the minimal solid there can exist, we are far more than just four points.  Yes, we are a combination of fire and air and water and earth, but not in equal measures, nor in a regular fashion.  Our bodies are animal, but our spirit partakes in something of the Divine; in order to better make our lives and bodies more appropriate to interacting with the divine, we should try to induce a slightly different body in ourselves that makes ourselves more divine.  For the Neoplatonic Iamblichus, this is the form of the sphere, the most ideal solid there can be, and the body of the heavenly entities.  A sphere is not a tetrahedron, but they are both bodies.  We don’t want to be content with a tetrahedron, as we’re already far too complex to abide in it, but we want to get to a sphere.  In one sense, going from a tetrahedron to a sphere is nothing, after having gone and passed through the point, line, and shape in order to get a form; in another, going from a tetrahedron to a sphere is the most daunting thing of all, as we go from one point to two to three to four is one thing, but to go from four to an infinite number of points is daunting, to say the least.

In addition to all this, it’s known that part of the theurgic practices of Iamblichus involved a process of “light” and filling oneself up with it, which we can also see in other theurgic rituals, like that of the Mithras Liturgy from PGM IV.475-834.  In that, we find the following:

Draw in breath from the rays [of the Sun], drawing up 3 times as much as you can, and you will see yourself being lifted up and ascending to the height, so that you seem to be in midair.  You will hear nothing either of man or of any other living thing, nor in that hour will you see anything of mortal affairs on earth, but rather you will see all immortal things.  For in that day and hour you will see the divine order of the skies…

…So stand still and at once draw breath from the divine into yourself, while you look intently…

The whole Mithras Liturgy is a spiritual astral travel-type of initiation, where one ascends into the heavens and deals directly with the gods and guards of heaven.  However, important to this ritual is an act of ritualized breathing, where one breathes in rays of light or the breath of the divine, and in doing so changes or alters one’s nature or consciousness.  This is also similar to the Howl of Orpheus rite I found a bit ago, with its own special type of breathing and bellowing.  Breathing in divine light is not just the light of a particular planet or a star or fire, but to breathe in the light of the Divine itself, that of the Monad, the fundamental essence that undergirds all things that exist.

So, let’s put this all together into a coherent ritual, shall we?

  1. While sitting or standing, breathe out completely, from the head to the toes, completely exhaling all breath from the lungs.  Make a popping sound to expel all breath once the normal exhale is done.
  2. Breathe in deeply from the toes to the head, picturing a point of Light in your heart.  Hold the breath for four counts, then exhale completely, this time with a hissing sound towards the end.  Maintain the point of Light in your heart as you keep your lungs empty for a few counts.
  3. Breathe in deeply, picturing the point of Light in your heart splitting into two points, one at the crown of your head and one at the soles of your feet, connected by a line of Light rising from the feet, through the spine, to the head.  Hold the breath for four counts, then exhale completely with a hissing sound.  Maintain the line of Light in your body as you keep your lungs empty for a few counts.
  4. Breathe in deeply, picturing the line of Light extending by another point from its middle into a triangle that envelops your body, aligned side-to-side through your body, with its base at your feet and its apex at your head.  Hold the breath for four counts, then exhale completely with a hissing sound.  Maintain the triangle of Light through your body as you keep your lungs empty for a few counts.
  5. Breathe in deeply, picturing the triangle of Light extending by another point from its center into a tetrahedron, with its base at your feet and its apex at your head, completely enveloping you inside.  Hold the breath for four counts, then exhale completely with a hissing sound.  Maintain the tetrahedron of Light through your body as you keep your lungs empty for a few counts.
  6. Breathe in deeply, maintaining the pyramid of Light around you, as you hold the breath, exhale completely, and hold your lungs empty several times.  Silently call out to the Divine Source until you can form some sort of connection, until you can sense the Source of the Light that has been forming within and around you this whole time.  Repeat this step until you have sensed it and formed a connection with it, then continue.
  7. With the lungs completely empty, breathe in deeply, but this time, breathe in the Light from the Source.  As you do so, picture the pyramid around you swelling up slowly, bulging at its sides, until it becomes the shape of a perfect sphere that completely surrounds you.  Repeat this step until you can form a stable, perfect sphere of Light.
  8. Once you’ve formed a stable sphere of Light that surrounds you completely, let your image of yourself dissolve and merge into the sphere, becoming one with it, letting the sphere become your entire body.  Maintain this mental state as a form of meditation as long as desired.
  9. When finished with the meditative sphere of Light, let the image of your body form from the Light within the sphere, maintaining the boundary of the sphere around you as a shield or shell.  Exhale slowly with another popping sound to finish.

Meditation Exercise on the Tetractys

I’m sure most of us have heard, at least at one point when we were growing up, that when we’re angry and about to fly off the handle, that we should calm down before we act rashly.  One common way to cool off when we’re emotionally heated is to count to ten: take a deep breath, count from 1 to 2 to 3 all the way up to 10, then breathe deeply again, and by that point we should have calmed down enough to act at least a little more rationally and reasonably instead of like the geomantic figure Puer on caffeine.  Turns out that this little counting trick is good for other things, too, and I’ve adopted it as a basis for a short but powerful mathetic meditation exercise.  We’ve already described at least one method of mathetic meditation before by meditating on the letters by means of sound and by means of symbol, and we’ve alluded to meditating on the structure of the Tetractys, but now I’d like to make that latter part more specific.

First, let’s talk about breathing.  Breathing is the ultimate means of meditation for the vast majority of us: by simple awareness of breathing, we calm the mind, we cool the body down, and we take control of our spirit for deeper contemplation.  It’s hard to overestimate the full power of the breath, since with the breath we control our bodies and selves in a deep way; Jason Miller even says that a magician who can’t control their breath is no magician at all.  What I like to use as the basis for breathing in meditation is something that’s called the fourfold breath.  While sitting with the back straight but relaxed, such as in a chair, lotus position, or seiza position, close or relax the eyes and proceed with the following:

  1. Exhale completely, breathing out from your center.  This is the preliminary emptying breath; it might help to make a soft popping noise with the mouth (“peh peh peh peh peh”) to completely empty the lungs.
  2. Inhale into the center deeply, filling your lungs from the bottom up.  Count to four at a slow and natural rhythm.
  3. Hold the breath without closing the throat.  Count to four.
  4. Exhale completely, emptying your lungs from the top down from your center.  Count to four.
  5. Hold the lungs empty without closing the throat.  Count to four.
  6. Repeat from #1 as necessary.

This is the basis of the fourfold breath that other authors, such as John Michael Greer and Jason Miller, have used in their meditative and contemplative work, and I’ve used it before in my meditations on the geomantic figures as well as for devotional meditations using the Trisagion prayer.  It’s a great way to start off any meditation session, and a great meditative tool in its own right which can lead to deep insights, if not complete enlightenment a la the vipassana tradition in Buddhism.  Before proceeding with the actual mathetic meditation below, give this a try for a few sessions lasting at least five minutes each.

Once you’ve got the hang of this simple breathing meditation, let’s proceed with the actual meditation exercise.  When you’re relaxed and rested, recite an old Pythagorean prayer called the Invocation of the Tetractys.  I plan to use this prayer before any mathetic exercise, so it’s a good and short prayer to memorize and keep handy for all such meditations.  I’ve adapted the prayer from an older form, and the one I use is this:

Bless us, divine Number, you who enform gods and men!  O holy, holy Tetractys, you who contain the root and the source of all eternal and eternally flowing creation! For the divine Number begins with the profound, pure Monad until it comes to the holy Tetrad, then it begets the mother of all, the all-comprising, all-bounding, first-born, never-swerving, never-tiring, holy Decad, the keyholder of all!

Perform ten fourfold breaths as above to calm the mind and settle the body and spirit.  Next, perform another ten fourfold breaths, but this time we’re going to do something different on the exhale:

  1. On the first breath, intone the number “One” in your native language, breathing out from your center (or vibrate it, if you’re into that).  Visualize a single point in your mind and hold the image.
  2. On the second breath, intone the number “Two”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a second point beneath and to the left of the first with a single path linking the two.  Hold the image.
  3. On the third breath, intone the number “Three”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a third point to the right of the second, with two new paths linking this third point to the prior two.  Hold the image.
  4. On the fourth breath, intone the number “Four”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a fourth point beneath and to the left of the second, with two new paths linking this fourth point to the second and third points.  Hold the image.
  5. On the fifth breath, intone the number “Five”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a fifth point to the right of the fourth, with two new paths linking this fifth point to the fourth, second, and third points.  Hold the image.
  6. On the sixth breath, intone the number “Six”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a sixth point to the right of the fifth, with three new paths linking this sixth point to the fifth, second, and third.  Hold the image.
  7. On the seventh breath, intone the number “Seven”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a seventh point beneath and to the left of the fourth, with one new path linking this seventh point to the fifth point.  Hold the image.
  8. On the eighth breath, intone the number “Eight”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a eighth point to the right of the seventh, with five new paths linking this third point to the seventh, fourth, second, fifth, and sixth points.  Hold the image.
  9. On the ninth breath, intone the number “Nine”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a ninth point to the right of the eighth, with five new paths linking this third point to the eighth, fourth, fifth, third, and sixth points.  Hold the image.
  10. On the tenth breath, intone the number “Ten”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a tenth point to the right of the ninth, with two new paths linking this third point to the ninth and sixth points.  Hold the image.

So, each breath is associated with a particular stage of construction of the Tetractys of Life, proceeding in the order of the images below:

In your mind, you’ll’ve constructed the structure of the Tetractys of Life, all ten sphairai with all 24 paths between them.  After the ten constructing breaths, perform another ten fourfold breaths intoning nothing, just holding the image of the Tetractys in your mind, letting yourself become absorbed in its structure.  Once the tenth breath is complete, perform one last fourfold breath.  On this last breath, let the image dissolve into your breath on the inhale, disseminating throughout your body on the exhale, and exhaling a clean, pure breath at the end.  The meditation is complete.

I like the idea of using one’s own native language to count; it’s a linguistic curiosity that thinking of numbers and using them in speech takes place in a different part of the brain than other types of prose or poesy, and it’s a mark of innate fluency when you can instinctively count in a different language other than your native one.  In using your native language’s words for the numbers, the meditation becomes a little easier on the mind and makes the whole experience more natural and intuitive.  However, if you want to be a little more mystical, you could also use “Monad”, “Dyad”, “Triad”, “Tetrad”, and so on up to “Decad”, so it’s up to you.  I prefer the use of the simple native counting numbers, personally.

Now, the above meditation process is fairly straightforward, and I find it good for people who haven’t yet gone through the ritual of initiation into mathesis, a kind of “outsider” meditation that anyone can use who may want to begin work with the Tetractys.  It’s simple and clean, and it works.  However, I don’t particularly care for the order of how we visualize the sphairai above, since it feels a little awkward, especially in light of how we traverse the paths on the Gnosis Schema of the Tetractys, so more advanced mathetists may want to try a slightly different visualization.  The process is overall the same and starts off with the Invocation of the Tetractys and the initial ten breaths, but there are a few changes once we get to the construction breaths, where we use twelve breaths instead of ten:

  1. On the first breath, intone the number “One”, breathing out from your center.  Visualize a single point in your mind and hold the image.
  2. On the second breath, intone nothing.  Hold the image.
  3. On the third breath, intone the number “Two”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a second point beneath and to the right of the first with a single path linking the two.  Hold the image.
  4. On the fourth breath, intone the number “Three”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a third point to the right of the second with a single path linking this to the second point.  Hold the image.
  5. On the fifth breath, intone the number “Four”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a fourth point to the right of the first with three paths connecting this to the first, second, and third points. Hold the image.
  6. On the sixth breath, intone nothing.  Hold the image.
  7. On the seventh breath, intone the number “Five”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a fifth point to the left of the first with two paths connecting this to the first and second points. Hold the image.
  8. On the eighth breath, intone the number “Six”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a sixth point beneath and to the left of the fifth with a single path connecting this to the fifth. Hold the image.
  9. On the ninth breath, intone the number “Seven”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a seventh point between the sixth and second points with five paths connecting this to the sixth, fifth, first, fourth, and second points. Hold the image.
  10. On the tenth breath, intone nothing.  Hold the image.
  11. On the eleventh breath, intone the number “Eight”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a eighth point above and to the right of the first with four paths connecting this to the fifth, first, second, and fourth points. Hold the image.
  12. On the twelfth breath, intone the number “Nine”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a ninth point above and to the left of the eighth with a single path connecting this to the eighth point. Hold the image.
  13. On the thirteenth breath, intone the number “Ten”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a tenth point to the left of the eighth point with six paths connecting this to the ninth, eighth, fourth, fifth, seventh, and fifth points. Hold the image.
  14. On the fourteenth breath, intone nothing.  Hold the image.

Although we have ten points to construct as before, there are twelve stages total in the Gnosis Schema, where we cross over the central sphaira of Mercury multiple times.  Once we complete a system of three points on the Tetractys around the sphaira of Mercury, we return to the central sphaira and prepare ourselves for the next system.  Thus, once we complete a system and return to the first central sphaira of Mercury, we spend an extra breath just focusing on what we’ve constructed so far.  After this, we do another ten fourfold breaths to hold the whole completed Tetractys of Life in mind, dissolving the image on a final, eleventh breath.

I think this meditation exercise, the latter Gnostic Schema form of which I used during the ten days of my ritual of self-initiation, helps in developing an intuitive and innate understanding of the Tetractys, or at least plants a seed for the further growth of which as one develops in the study and practice of mathesis.  With the Gnosis Schema variant of the meditation, it’s interesting to see how the paths develop along with the sphairai, which itself can help one with seeing how the Gnosis Schema develops a full understanding based on earlier foundations of practice as one traverses the Tetractys in this manner.  It can help to use this meditation before any work in mathesis as a preliminary preparation, perhaps starting not with the sphaira of Mercury but the sphaira one is currently “at”, such as if one has progressed to the sphaira of Salt, one begins with constructing the Tetractys there and proceeding to the “second” sphaira of Earth, then the “third” sphaira of Water, and so forth, again pausing whenever one reaches the sphaira of Mercury.  One can further enhance this meditation by adding on the letters, numbers, and stoicheia of the paths into the meditation, perhaps spending another breath per each path that develops as one constructs a new sphaira in the visualization.

49 Days of Definitions: Part IV, 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 seventeenth definition, part IV, number 2 of 2:

And among the living (beings), some are immortal and animated, some have Nous, soul and spirit, some (have) only spirit, some (have) soul and spirit, and others only life.  For life can aquire consistency without spirit, Nous, soul and immortality, but all of the others without life cannot possibly exist.

The previous definition described the beginnings of the importance and place of Man in the cosmos, as well as drawing some distinctions between Man and other living entities.  We know that all living beings have bodies made from at least fire and air; heavenly beings have only these, while earthly beings have also water and earth.  All living beings have breath and soul, but Man is special in that Man also has Nous, which links him to and raises him up to the level of God, though mixed with a mortal, earthly body.

This definition now brings up the qualities of different kinds of living beings, classifying them by the traits they have.  To start with, all living beings have bodies; this is a necessary aspect of living (IV.1).  First, there are the “immortal and animated” living beings; these would be the ones in the heavens, made of fire and air but no earth; “animated” here means “ensouled” or “made to move by soul”, since soul is the essence that allows any body to move (II.1).  The beings that “have Nous, soul, and spirit” in addition to an (earthy) body are Man, as noted from before.  However, the distinctions don’t stop there; there are also living bodies that have “only spirit”, those with “soul and spirit”, and those with neither soul nor spirit.  Now this gets interesting.

First, let’s list the different categories of living beings offered in this definition:

  • Immortality, soul, body
  • Mortality, Nous, soul, spirit, body
  • Mortality, soul, spirit, body
  • Mortality, spirit, body
  • Mortality, body

Note that we have five categories.  Only one is immortal, and that’s because it has a non-earthy body; these are the heavenly living beings, who are able to move due to the presence of soul (“animated”) but, without a need for an earthy body, also have no breath or spirit, since spirit is what allows the soul to enact other changes and motion in an earthy body (II.6).  All the rest of the living creatures, however, are worldly and thus mortal, because they all have earthly bodies.  Thus, anything living not of the world we live on is immortal due to its lack of an earthy body; anything with an earthy body is mortal.

Next, we have mortal living beings with an earthy body with Nous, soul, and spirit.  This is Man, as known from the last definition.  This is pretty straightforward: Man can think (Nous), move (soul), breathe (spirit), and exist in the world (earthy body).  The other categories, however, all have something missing, and the definitions so far don’t clarify what each of these categories might be.  However, we can venture a guess or two.  Note that only heavenly beings are known as immortal, so by omission of this quality we know that all other beings are mortal.

  • Living beings that die, with soul, spirit, and bodies are animals.  The last definition, we know that “all of the other living beings which are endowed with voice have breath [spirit] and soul”.  These are bodies that breathe and move and can die.  Plus, these living bodies have “voice”; the howls, cries, chirps, squeaks, chittering, and roars of animals are not unlike the voice of Man, though without Nous, their voices aren’t necessarily reasonable (at least to human ears).
  • Living beings that die, with spirit and bodies are plants.  It’s odd to consider living bodies without soul and that this definition should omit soul, since we know that “soul is a necessary movement adjusted to every kind of body” (II.1).  However, plants don’t move; they may be moved and they may grow, but it’s not an intentional or directed motion of its own volition; plants have no such notion.  Thus, though they breathe (respiration, photosynthesis, diffusion), they do not move.  Spirit, though it’s the “column of soul”, does not require a soul itself; soul, however, does require spirit if the body has earth involved in it, which is why heavenly beings have soul without spirit, and not the other way around.
  • Living beings that die with only bodies are stones or elements.  This is “life” at its bare minimum, able to exist but without any other quality.  It’s true: stones are technically considered living beings according to Hermetic doctrine, even according to the other definitions.  Stones can increase or decrease over time, or can be made into dust and scattered and then remade into new bodies.  They do not respire or breathe, so there is no spirit; they do not move on their own, so there is no soul, and thus no need of spirit.  However, this only covers the notion when earthy bodies are considered; non-earthy bodies must therefore be pure elements, such as pure fire, pure air, pure water, or even pure light.  Something that’s purely earth would, as it so happens, be a stone.  I hesitate to use the word “force”, but that’s kinda the idea I’m reaching for with this.  It’s odd to think that forces or elements might be mortal, but this is actually seen in other sources; Plato’s Timaeus notes that fire, air, and water can become each other, while earth is always going to remain earthy; when one element becomes another, we can consider that element to “die”.

Things with only life in the Hermetic sense are things that are only bodies, inanimate and which do not increase or decrease on their own but are still increasable and decreasable.  Without a body, it would not have life, and “all of the others without life cannot possibly exist”.  Thus, in order for something to be considered living, it must possess a body, which enables it to increase and decrease either on its own or because of other things.  Without a body, there can be no notion of immortality or mortality; there can be nothing to move or be moved since there is no soul to animate a body; there can be no growth since there is no spirit or breath to respire and provide it; there can be no speaking or reasoning since there is no Nous to reason in the body.  The body is the foundation of life and living, in the Hermetic sense of the word of “living”.

What does this mean for things that are bodiless?  That things without bodies are not living, neither mortal nor immortal, and that they are uncreated and, without a body, inable to be destroyed.  The only bodiless thing we know of are things outside heaven, and the only word for that for that which we know of is God.  This also explains why, although we know of God to be “uncreated”, “intelligible”, “ineffable”, “immovable”, “invisible”, “eternal”, etc. (I.4, I.5), we have never seen God described as “immortal”.  The notion simply doesn’t apply to something that can neither live and die nor live forever, because God doesn’t work on that level.

49 Days of Definitions: Part IV, Definition 1

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

Today, let’s discuss the sixteenth definition, part IV, number 1 of 2:

The living (beings) in heaven are constituted of fire and air, and those (which are) on earth of the four elements.  Man (is) a reasonable living (being), for he has Nous; but all of the other living (beings) which are endowed with voice have breath and soul, since all that decreases and increases is a living being.

At this point in the Definitions, we know that there are multiple parts of the world, from the meta-world of God to the pale blue dot of Earth where Man resides, at least for a part of it.  All things within God are intelligible, indicating that they can be known.  Within the meta-world of God, we know that there’s a place referred to as heaven, within which there are the four elements which constitute all of the bodies.  Things with bodies are not only intelligible, but they are sensible, which is a necessary quality of existing within heaven.  However, all things both intelligible and sensible and non-sensibile are all part of the One, the All, the Whole that is God; everything is interconnected, even if some parts of the worlds are outside and seemingly unconnected to other parts of the worlds.

Although the definitions have mentioned living beings before, now we finally get to what those beings are composed of and what they’re all about.  First, just as we know that there’s a distinction between heaven and earth (II.2), we also know that there are “superior beings” and “inferior beings” (III.3), or entities that are of heaven but not of Earth and entities that are of Earth within heaven, respectively.  According to this definition, the superior beings or “living beings in heaven” are made of “fire and air”, while the inferior beings “which are on earth” are made of the “four elements”.  So, while superior beings are made of fire and air, inferior beings are made from fire, air, water, and earth.  This makes sense: we know that air is the glue that binds the earth and heaven together but is of neither heaven nor earth (II.2), and we know that fire is sterile and the “perpetuation of immortal beings” (II.5).  Earth and water, however, support each other (II.3, II.4) but are much denser than air or fire.

Knowing that the superior beings are made of only air and fire, we also know that they cannot die nor can they reproduce by growing; these are qualities that fire prohibits.  Fiery beings without earth must be immortal, since earth exists to be changed as well as to hold both life and death, while fire is the life itself of immortal beings.  In addition, without earth to be changed, heavenly beings inherently are incapable of change, since there’s nothing to change within their bodies; this is not the same thing as increase and decrease, however, which fire and air both permit them to do.  Air, however, allows the heavenly beings to move around both in the heavens and between heaven and earth.  By including water and earth into fire and air, we obtain inferior beings, who have the capacity to be born, grow, increase, decrease, and die.  However, inferior beings also have air and fire, which give them some of the qualities of the superior beings, but not all of them; indeed, the fire itself within an inferior being may be the seed of its downfall and death, since fire is the “destruction of the mortal [bodies]”; fire will, over time without proper maintenance, burn out the rest of the body and kill it.

However, even though heavenly bodies can travel between the upper heavens and lower earth, the same is not true of earthly bodies.  This is due to the earth within the bodies themselves; we know that, from the Poemander, earth and water were left behind when the Nous separated the elements.  Fire rose up first and highest, and air followed the fire underneath it, but water and earth remained below, being heavy and dense.  Due to this, without removing all the earth and water from an earthly body, it will be too dense to rise higher than the earth itself from which it was made and grown.

Of all the living beings, there also exists Man, the reasonable, sensible, and destructible world (I.1).  Man is reasonable because “he has Nous”, meaning that Man has Mind.  More importantly, the definition doesn’t say that Man has “a mind”, but that he has “Nous”, being God.  Thus, Man possesses or carries with him “the invisible good” of Mind with him, allowing him to reason as Nous or God itself reasons.  However, “all of the other living beings which are endowed with voice have breath and soul”.  This shouldn’t be taken to mean that Man only has Nous and no soul nor breath, since we know that all bodies must possess a soul of some kind (I.3), and that Man has both soul and breath (I.4), and now that Man has soul, breath, and Nous.  Other living beings, though, have only soul and breath, though they have “voice”, which is something we can expect that Man also has, but what this function is relative to the other attributions is as yet unknown.  After all, without Nous, something can still be a living being if it has soul and breath and is composed of at least some of the elements, since “all that decreases and increases is a living being”, and all things down here under heaven perform that function by means of the interactions of the elements.

Because Man alone among the living beings possesses Nous, Man is the only reasonable living being, or the only living being capable of understanding God and the cosmos as God does.  This is huge in anthropocentric ideas, and begins to clarify some of the meanings from before.  We know that Man was made after the “species of” God (I.1); this is because we were made with the same reasoning, mental capabilities that God has.  We know that Man, although mortal due to his body, is “ever-living” (I.5), because the Nous is immortal, eternal, and immovable; we owe at least the immortal part of ourselves that cannot be touched by death to God through the Nous we have.  Thus, Hermes’ speech to Tat in the Corpus Hermeticum becomes a little clearer (chapter 13, part 13):

Tat. Tell me, O father: This Body which is made up of the Powers, is it at any time dissolved?

Her. Hush, [son]! Speak not of things impossible, else wilt thou sin and thy Mind’s eye be quenched.  The natural body which our sense perceives is far removed from this essential birth.  The first must be dissolved, the last can never be; the first must die, the last death cannot touch.  Dost thou not know thou hast been born a God, Son of the One, even as I myself?

Because of our godly creator and who gave us a godly component, we too are not only part of God but we are, in a sense, many made in the image of God or the likeness of God.  And it’s all because of our reasoning, mental, thinkable capability; it’s not due to our physical form, though that may also be true through a highly indirect path via the heavens, Earth, and elements.  Thus, though we are a living being capable of death, we are unlike the other such mortal living beings because of Nous, which makes us, in a sense, immortal-but-not-in-the-normal-sense.