49 Days of Definitions: Part II, 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 sixth definition, part II, number 1 of 6:

Nous is the invisible good; soul (is) a necessary movement adjusted to every (kind of) body.  A body is (made out) of the four qualities, (as) a well-tempered composition of warm, cold, dry and wet: of warm (i.e.) of fire, of cold (i.e.) of air, of dry (i.e.) of earth, of wet (i.e.) of water.  Breath is the body of soul or the column of soul.

While the first set of definitions focused on an introduction to the three worlds of Hermes Trismegistus, now we start to dig deeper into the actual meat of the worlds, and here we’re given an introduction to the world of the cosmos, that of ordered creation.  Recall that, while God is intelligible, the cosmos is sensible and intelligible where God exists and is evident.  Although the world is visible (a special kind of sensible), God is invisible, and since God is the Nous and is also the Good, so too is Nous the Good and invisible.  From the Nous is created the cosmos, within the Nous and not exceeding it, so all things that exist in the cosmos are part of the Nous.  Plus, the Nous has a special power over the cosmos: the cosmos is moved by the Nous, while the Nous itself is immovable.

The cosmos is formed from a multitude of bodies, some of which are the body of Man, a particular world that intersects with the material world of the cosmos and with the immaterial world of God, being both destructible, inasmuch as anything material can be “destroyed”, i.e. changed or reorganized into another material form.  Each body, being movable, must have some quality that allows it to be moved; this is the soul (see definition I.3), where “all of the visibile cannot possibly be constituted without the invisible”, where the invisible portion here is the soul without which “[the body] cannot possibly be constituted”.  The soul here is explained to be a “necessary movement” that allows it to function, the special quality derived from God that allows things made in the cosmos to still be a part of God while being so distinct from it.

Further, each soul is “adjusted to every kind of body”, so the animating principle of each body in the cosmos is unique depending on the type of body it is.  Note here that the definition says “kind of body” and not simply “body”; this indicates that there are uniform types of souls for different classes of bodies.  However, we also know that something made from another thing inherits the qualities of those things; thus, the cosmos as made by God inherits a certain divinity from God, though because the cosmos is not identical with God, it does not inherit those qualities identically.  So, while there may be a soul for the type of bodies known as “mammals”, there are also souls for those of “squirrels”, which is a type of mammal; likewise, there will be individual souls for individual squirrels, each suited for each individual body (which itself can be considered a class with only one member).  Essentially, this statement is the Hermetic equivalent of the Liskov substitution principle in software engineering.  However, to go with a more Hermetic route, we might also explain it with the Corpus Hermeticum (pretty much all of chapter XII, but especially parts 2 through 4):

But in irrational lives Mind is their nature. For where is Soul, there too is Mind; just as where Life, there is there also Soul.  But in irrational lives their soul is life devoid of mind; for Mind is the in-worker of the souls of men for good;—He works on them for their own good.  In lives irrational He doth co-operate with each one’s nature; but in the souls of men He counteracteth them.  For every soul, when it becomes embodied, is instantly depraved by pleasure and by pain.  For in a compound body, just like juices, pain and pleasure seethe, and into them the soul, on entering in, is plunged.

O’er whatsoever souls the Mind doth, then, preside, to these it showeth its own light, by acting counter to their prepossessions, just as a good physician doth upon the body prepossessed by sickness, pain inflict, burning or lancing it for sake of health.  In just the selfsame way the Mind inflicteth pain upon the soul, to rescue it from pleasure, whence comes its every ill.  The great ill of the soul is godlessness; then followeth fancy for all evil things and nothing good.  So, then, Mind counteracting it doth work good on the soul, as the physician health upon the body.

But whatsoever human souls have not the Mind as pilot, they share in the same fate as souls of lives irrational.  For [Mind] becomes co-worker with them, giving full play to the desires towards which [such souls] are borne,—[desires] that from the rush of lust strain after the irrational; [so that such human souls,] just like irrational animals, cease not irrationally to rage and lust, nor ever are they satiate of ills. For passions and irrational desires are ills exceeding great; and over these God hath set up the Mind to play the part of judge and executioner.

Now that we understand more about the soul, we can now go onto more about bodies.  And, finally, we get something concrete: “a body is made out of the four qualities, as a well-tempered composition of warm, cold, dry and wet: of warm i.e. fire, of cold i.e. air, of dry i.e. earth, of wet i.e. water”.  Here we have the four classical elements of Empedocles along with his four qualities: hot and cold, wet and dry.  However, unlike Empedoclean classical elements with two qualities, each element here is ascribed one quality: fire is hot, air is cold, water is wet, earth is dry.  Empedoclean elements have two qualities: fire is hot and dry, air is hot and wet, water is wet and cold, earth is dry and cold.  Aristotle ascribed each of the Empedoclean elements a primary and secondary quality: fire is primarily hot and secondarily dry, air is primarily moist and secondarily hot, water is primarily cold and secondarily moist, earth is primarily dry and secondarily cold.  The system in this definition, however, is the same as that of the Stoics, which focused more on the material basis of the cosmos than most other philosophies.

These four qualities of hot, cold, dry, and moist provide the foundation for all bodies that exist, and each body has certain amounts of each.  We can be simple about things, saying that a body of water has little air in it since it is full of water, or that a brick has little air in it since it is full of earth; likewise, that things like fire have no coldness, and that ice has no heat in it.  However, this can also be expanded as Cornelius Agrippa does in his First Book to more spiritual or immaterial distinctions (book I, chapter 3):

For some are heavy, as Earth and Water, and others are light, as Aire and Fire. Wherefore the Stoicks called the former passives, but the latter actives. And yet once again Plato distinguished them after another manner, and assigns to every one of them three qualities, viz. to the Fire brightness, thinness and motion, but to the Earth darkness, thickness and quietness. And according to these qualities the Elements of Fire and Earth are contrary. But the other Elements borrow their qualities from these, so that the Aire receives two qualities of the Fire, thinness and motion; and one of the Earth, viz. darkness. In like manner Water receives two qualities of the Earth, darkness and thickness, and one of Fire, viz. motion. But Fire is twice more thin then Aire, thrice more movable, and four times more bright: and the Aire is twice more bright, thrice more thin, and four times more moveable then Water. Wherefore Water is twice more bright then Earth, thrice more thin, and four times more movable. As therefore the Fire is to the Aire, so Aire is to the Water, and Water to the Earth; and again, as the Earth is to the Water, so is the Water to the Aire, and the Aire to the Fire. And this is the root and foundation of all bodies, natures, vertues, and wonderfull works; and he which shall know these qualities of the Elements, and their mixtions, shall easily bring to pass such things that are wonderfull, and astonishing, and shall be perfect in Magick.

So much for an introduction to the elements.  All bodies that exist, as said above, consist of these four elements and qualities, but there is one more physical phenomenon to explain still in this definition: that of breath.  Breath “is the body of soul or the column of soul”, and the text seems to offer both these descriptions equivalently or equally.  In the first, that the breath is the “body of soul”, we can go back to our earlier definitions and describe the breath as the physical evidence of the invisible part of the body that affords it motion; in other words, the breath (or spirit) is the mechanism that allows the soul to come in contact with the body and vice versa.  As such, just as all bodies are given a mind, and because all bodies require a soul in order to be moved, the spirit allows the mind to interface between the soul and the body.  In this sense, the spirit can be seen as the body of soul that allows the body of Man to live.

In the other view, however, the breath is the “column of soul”, which is a similar but new interpretation.  Columns indicate support or understanding, something that holds another thing up, and just as the soul “keeps up the figure while being within the body” (from I.3), the breath is similarly the support that keeps up the soul while being within the soul.  In this view, the spirit is within the soul, and animates the soul as much as the soul animates the body.  However, in the previous view where the spirit is the body of the soul, it’s the soul that exists within the spirit, which may indicate that the soul is within the spirit independently of the body or that the soul inhabits the body as well as the spirit and the spirit interacts with the body in a different manner than the soul does, or that the soul is within the spirit which is itself in the body.  In the former interpretation, it would seem that the Mind goes through two agents to work with the Body: both soul and spirit equally yet independently, with the soul acting on the spirit which acts on the body as well as with the soul acting on the body directly.  In the latter interpretation, it sould seem that the Mind goes through the soul to activate the spirit which itself activates the Body.  Both of these accounts, however, conflict with the notion that the breath is the “column of soul”, where it seems that the Mind goes through the spirit to activate the soul which itself activates the body.

Between the different interpretations here of the role of body, soul, spirit, and mind, it doesn’t seem clear which view is being presented here.  Then again, perhaps that’s the point; maybe different bodies simply require different arrangements of soul and spirit, having one but not the other or operating in different ways depending on the body and the type of soul.  After all, we know that all bodies have souls, and that all souls come from Nous.  However, we only have concrete evidence that man has breath (from I.4) without yet speaking of other types of bodies, and this makes sense, kinda.  Rocks don’t breathe, right?  Rocks, despite having souls, also don’t really move independently (yet, being movable, still have souls) but are utterly movable and mutable, being changed by other forces that are more animate than itself.  Perhaps the function of spirit is tailored to each body much as the soul is for each body, or that spirit really is independent of soul but relies on the nature of the body (bodies without lungs or means to breathe simply do not breathe).  In either case, where the breath is the body of soul (having the soul within the spirit to animate it) or the column of soul (having the spirit within the soul to animate it), it’s clear that both interpretations have different roles to play in the cosmos.

49 Days of Definitions: Part I, 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 fourth definition, part I, number 4 of 5:

Now man is a small world because of soul and breath, and a perfect world whose magnitude does not exceed the sensible god, (i.e.) the world.  The world (is) intelligible and God (is) Nous; (he is) the truly uncreated, the intelligible; by essence, the uncreated and the ineffable, the intelligible good.  In a word, God is the intelligible world, the immovable Monad, the invisible world, the intelligible, invisible and ineffable good.

When this definition says that Man is a “small world”, just as Heaven might better be rendered by the Greek word cosmos, we might be better off using the Greek word microcosmos.  In other words, Man is a small world, but the Hermetic sense of this means that the microcosm is a reflection and interconnected system related to the macrocosm (great world); in the words of the Emerald Tablet, “what is above is like what is below, and what is below is like that which is above”.  As such, Man reflects and is like the other worlds it is in, namely Heaven and God.  Man, however small it may be, is a distinct world from either; it is both less and more than Heaven, and certainly less than God but made in a similar image.

Instead of mere matter as the sensible world of the cosmos is, Man is a different microcosm “because of soul and breath”, the spiritual and physical evidence of God in the visible world.  Soul, after all, is that which animates the body, and breath is the physical evidence of soul; breath is spirit, which comes from Latin actually meaning “breath”, similar to Greek pneuma.  Related words here are “inspiration”, the breathing in of new life, and “expiration”, the last exhalation of life or usefulness; breath gives power to both physical life, reason, and rationality, especially as it pertains to speech and communication.  Soul, on the other hand, is the Latin anima and Greek psykhe, and is the power of motion within the body, that which commutes higher power from immovable God to moveable Heaven by means of the body.  The soul, sometimes called the emotional seat of Man, is that which produces motion in the body, animating the body physically and the enabler of physical breath to relay divine spirit.

Thus, Man is different from other parts of Heaven due to its soul and breath, forming its own microcosm within the greater cosmos.  However, Man is also “a perfect world whose magnitude does not exceed the sensible god, i.e. the world”.  In other words, though Man is distinct from though still perfect as God is (being made in the image of God), Man is still limited and is bound by the world he finds himself in.  The “sensible god” can be two different worlds: Heaven and Man.  In either case, Man is either still distinctly Man, or Man exists within and a part of Heaven; in neither case does Man become greater than sensible, i.e. purely intelligible as the world of God is.

The sensible world is a distinct and strict subset of the intelligible world, since there are things that are intelligible that are not sensible (God), while all things that are sensible are intelligible (Heaven and Man).  So, while Heaven as “the world is intelligible”, God is Nous, or Mind.  This is pure intelligibility, that which is intelligence and intelligible both.  This is clearly made the case in the Poimandres, the first chapter of the Corpus Hermeticum (chapter I, part 6):

That Light, [Poimandres] said, am I, thy God, Mind [(Nous)], prior to Moist Nature which appeared from Darkness; the Light-Word (Logos) [that appeared] from Mind is Son of God.

What then?—say I.

Know that what sees in thee and hears is the Lord’s Word (Logos); but Mind is Father-God. Not separate are they the one from other; just in their union [rather] is it Life consists.

Mind produces Word; as we said before, Word is empowered by Spirit, delivered by Soul, given by Man, and made evident in the World.  Mind comes before all; Mind was before the Moist Nature (water) and Darkness (e.g. the darkness upon the face of the deeps in Genesis); Mind is that which spoke “Fiat Lux”, the first words, to make Light, which is also Word.  Mind, though not the same as Word, is together with it, just as Man is with God, and since God is Mind, Man is also with the Word.

In addition to being Mind, God is also “the truly uncreated, the intelligible; by essence, the uncreated and the ineffable, the intelligible good”.  Since God is the Mind, and Mind made the Word which is the foundation of all other things, nothing has made God, hence “truly uncreated”.  Since God is Mind, and since Mind is the forerunner of intelligible Word, and since that which is intelligible creates intelligible or is created by intelligible, and since all things are part of or come from God, God is also intelligible.  Plus, although the Word comes from God, the Word is not God; thus, the Mind can never be truly spoken of, because this would then make God into Word, and as words are spoken and made sensible, this would attempt to try to make God sensible; this contradicts our earlier statements about God, so this cannot be the case.  As such, this makes God also “ineffable”.   Compare Hermes’ talk to Asclepius in the Corpus Hermeticum on what the Bodiless is, the “space in which everything is moved” but yet is itself unmoved (chapter II, parts 12 and 13):

Asc. What, then, is Bodiless?

Her. ’Tis Mind [(Nous)] and Reason (Logos), whole out of whole, all self-embracing, free from all body, from all error free, unsensible to body and untouchable, self stayed in self, containing all, preserving those that are, whose rays, to use a likeness, are Good, Truth, Light beyond light, the Archetype of soul.

Asc. What, then, is God?

Her. Not any one of these is He; for He it is that causeth them to be, both all and each and every thing of all that are. Nor hath He left a thing beside that is-not; but they are all from things-that-are and not from things-that-are-not. For that the things-that-are-not have naturally no power of being anything, but rather have the nature of the inability-to-be. And, conversely, the things-that-are have not the nature of some time not-being.

The last part of that statement, however, poses a new problem for us, since it introduces a new term.  Here, it says that God is “the intelligible good”, but we have not yet encountered the word “good”.  It’s difficult to say succinctly, but the Good here is the summum bonum of the philosophers, the object of highest knowledge and importance that is the forerunner and producer of all other objects.  One of the most well-developed (though still poorly understood) forms of this is Plato’s Form of the Good, which is similar and which influenced later Hermetic and Neo-Platonic thought on the matter.  The Good is not the same thing as goodness; in other words, God is the Good, not God is good.  The Good has no moral, ethical, or any substantiative meaning, since any such thing can be spoken of and therefore become sensible in addition to intelligible; this limits God, who is intelligible and therefore greater than all things, and since God cannot be limited, God is therefore without any such qualities, even though all qualities come from God (cf. the relationship between Word and Mind).  Compare with the Corpus Hermeticum (chapter VI, parts 4 and 5):

And I, for my own part, give thanks to God, that He hath cast it in my mind about the Gnosis of the Good, that it can never be It should be in the world. For that the world is “fullness” of the bad, but God of Good, and Good of God.  The excellencies of the Beautiful are round the very essence [of the Good]; nay, they do seem too pure, too unalloyed; perchance ’tis they that are themselves Its essences.  For one may dare to say, Asclepius,—if essence, sooth, He have—God’s essence is the Beautiful; the Beautiful is further also Good. There is no Good that can be got from objects in the world. For all the things that fall beneath the eye are image-things and pictures as it were; while those that do not meet [the eye are the realities], especially the [essence] of the Beautiful and Good. Just as the eye cannot see God, so can it not behold the Beautiful and Good. For that they are integral parts of God, wedded to Him alone, inseparate familiars, most beloved, with whom God is Himself in love, or they with God.

If thou canst God conceive, thou shalt conceive the Beautiful and Good, transcending Light, made lighter than the Light by God. That Beauty is beyond compare, inimitate that Good, e’en as God is Himself. As, then, thou dost conceive of God, conceive the Beautiful and Good. For they cannot be joined with aught of other things that live, since they can never be divorced from God. Seek’st thou for God, thou seekest for the Beautiful. One is the Path that leadeth unto It—Devotion joined with Gnosis.

The last part of this definition basically offers a set of correspondences of God, a list of attributes that help clarify the position of God with respect to the other worlds.  Continuing the list of correspondences of the three worlds from before:

  • God: intelligible, immovable, partially sensible, invisible, ineffable, Monad, Good
  • Heaven: sensible, moveable
  • Man: sensible, destructible, reasonable

Of the new correspondences for God, we now only have one thing left to discuss: the Monad.  The Monad is the Greek word for the “One Thing”, that which is alone in itself, made by itself endlessly (i.e. unmade), making all things, coming first, and so on.  Essentially, the Monad is another synonym for God; just as all things are present within God, God is only One Thing.  The talk above about the “bodiless space” in which all things are moved indicates something similar; if all things can be moved in a bodiless space (including the non-physical emotional movement provided by the soul from above), then the space itself is unmoved.  Again, the Corpus Hermeticum provides a fuller definition of the Monad and what relationships it has to the myriad of other things (chapter VI, parts 9 through 11):

Therefore to It Gnosis is no beginning; rather is it [that Gnosis doth afford] to us the first beginning of Its being known. Let us lay hold, therefore, of the beginning, and quickly speed through all [we have to pass]. ‘Tis very hard, to leave the things we have grown used to, which meet our gaze on every side, and turn ourselves back to the Old [Path]. Appearances delight us, whereas things which appear not make their believing hard. Now evils are the more apparent things, whereas the Good can never show Itself unto the eyes, for It hath neither form nor figure. Therefore the Good is like Itself alone, and unlike all things else; for ’tis impossible that That which hath no body should make Itself apparent to a body.

The “Like’s” superiority to the “Unlike “and the “Unlike’s” inferiority unto the “Like” consists in this:  The Oneness being Source and Root of all, is in all things as Root and Source. Without [this] Source is naught; whereas the Source [Itself] is from naught but Itself, since It is Source of all the rest. It is Itself Its Source, since It may have no other Source. The Oneness then being Source, containeth every number, but is contained by none; engendereth every number, but is engendered by no other one.

Now all that is engendered is imperfect, it is divisible, to increase subject and to decrease; but with the Perfect [One] none of these things doth hold. Now that which is increasable increases from the Oneness, but succumbs through its own feebleness when it no longer can contain the One.

Having said that, God is the Good, which is the One, which is Mind.  Mind is the source of all things, giving all qualities to all things while having no qualities of its own.  For once, the Kybalion comes in good use here, when describing the Mental Universe (chapter 5):

Let us see! On his own plane of being, how does Man create? Well, first, he may create by making something out of outside materials. But this will not do, for there are no materials outside of THE ALL with which it may create. Well, then, secondly, Man pro-creates or reproduces his kind by the process of begetting, which is self-multiplication accomplished by transferring a portion of his substance to his offspring. But this will not do, because THE ALL cannot transfer or subtract a portion of itself, nor can it reproduce or multiply itself–in the first place there would be a taking away, and in the second case a multiplication or addition to THE ALL, both thoughts being an absurdity. Is there no third way in which MAN creates? Yes, there is–he CREATES MENTALLY! And in so doing he uses no outside materials, nor does he reproduce himself, and yet his Spirit pervades the Mental Creation.

Following the Principle of Correspondence, we are justified in considering that THE ALL creates the Universe MENTALLY, in a manner akin to the process whereby Man creates Mental Images. And, here is where the report of Reason tallies precisely with the report of the Illumined, as shown by their teachings and writings. Such are the teachings of the Wise Men. Such was the Teaching of Hermes.

Just as when Man thinks of something, Man does not become his thoughts, nor does Man become his words when he speaks; however, thought and word come from him and help describe or fill him.  So too does Mind create and speak the Word as Monad.  Although the Monad is One, all things are one within the One.  Although the Monad is immoveable, it provides for motion and moving within itself.  Although the Monad is the source of Word, it is itself not Word nor can it be made into words.  Although the Monad is the Good, it is the source of all qualities without possessing those qualities itself, since this would indicate there is something else besides the Monad that has that not-quality.

49 Days of Definitions: Part I, 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 third definition, part I, number 3 of 5:

Just as soul keeps up the figure (while being) within the body, which cannot possibly be constituted without a soul, likewise all of that visible cannot possibly be constituted without the invisible.

A short definition, but perhaps perplexing.  It begins with an example to illustrate a later point (which is common for many of these aphorisms later on), but even the example is hard to understand without first clarifying some terms.  First, we have the body, which refers to our physical, corporeal bodies.  It’s understood in many schools of classical philosophy that Man is not merely a physical entity, but that we have some animating principle within us that itself or some link to it is kept within our bodies, something between the worlds of heaven and of God.  This animating principle may be seen as the soul, which moves the body and makes Man more than an animal or a peculiarly-arranged random mass of sinew and muscle.  However, the animating principle of the soul is itself hard to define; Agrippa basically says (book III, chapter 36) that the soul is the intermediary function that combines the intelligible mind (God) with the sensible body (heaven), binding the impressions and sensory data into a more-or-less unified whole (Man), especially as it pertains to occult virtues.  Further, Agrippa says nearly the same exact thing as the bits from the Corpus Hermeticum, the Asclepius, and the Definitions as above (emphasis in boldface mine):

The most abundant God (as Trismegisus saith) hath framed two Images like himself, viz. the world and man, that in one of these he might sport himself with certain wonderfull operations…he hath fabricated this externall world after the example of the Internall, viz. Ideall world, sending forth nothing of the essence of the Idea, but created of nothing that which he had from eternity by the Idea: God also created after his Image; for as the world is the Image of God, so man is the Image of the world. Hence some think that it is spoken, that man is not created simply the Image of God, but after the Image, or the Image of the Image; therefore he is called Microcosme, that is the lesser world; The world is a Rationall creature, Immortall; man in like manner is rationall but mortal, that is, dissolvable; for (as Hermes saith) seeing the world it self is immortall, it is Impossible that any part of it can perish. Therefore to dye [die], is a vain name, and even as Vacuum is no where, so also Death; Therefore we say a man dieth, when his Soul and body are separated, not that anything of them perisheth or is turned into nothing. Notwithstanding the true Image of God is his word. The wisdome, life, light and Truth existing by himself, of which Image mans soul is the Image, in regard of which we are said to be made after the Image of God, not after the Image of the world, or of the creatures; for as God cannot be touched, nor perceived by the ears, nor seen with the eyes; so the soul of man can neither bee seen, heard nor touched. And as God himself is infinite, and cannot be compelled by any, so also the minde of man is free, and cannot be enforced or bounded

Interesting parts with this text; we can see that the destruction of Man applies only to the body (world of Heaven), and not to the soul (world of Man), and that the body does not become void but becomes other material in the world (what happens in Heaven stays in Heaven).  Add to it, we can see that the soul of Man is not visible, nor is it sensible, similar to how God is, and that the soul of Man is made in the image of God, again confirming that the Idea or species of Man is the same as God itself.  Agrippa also gives us a little bonus here, saying that because God is immoveable, so too is the soul of Man immoveable, since both are intelligible, non-sensible, and of the same species; we’ll probably return to that later on, but it does indicate that there is a fundamental difference between the world of Man and the moveable world of Heaven.

So, we know that at least the body of Man must also be combined with the soul of Man in order for it to exist in the world of Man.  Thus, we know that the world of Man is also partly physical and partly nonphysical.  Similarly, so the definition goes, do all things that are visible require some invisible part as well, whether it be an animal, a stone, water, or a planet.  All things that exist in the worlds of Man or Heaven, therefore, must be at least partly visible and partly invisible.  After all, these are the sensible worlds, and the sensible worlds are within the intelligible God (as from definition I.1), who leaves some impression of his presence or effect or intelligence on all visible things, since he is “evident within the visible” (from definition I.2).  This evidence of God, then, is present in how all things function; it is not enough for Man to merely exist within God as Heaven does, but to function as a part of God, just as a body functions by being animated by the soul.

49 Days of Definitions: Part I, 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 first definition, part I, number 1 of 5:

God: an intelligible world; world, a sensible God; man, a destructible world; God: an immovable world; heaven; a moveable world; man, a reasonable world.  Then there are three worlds.  Now the immovable world (is) God, and the reasonable world is man: for both of (these) units (are) one: God and man after the species.

So short a statement, so dense the meaning!  This aphorism starts off the Definitions by discussing the different worlds that exist in the broader sense of the word, but we already have some confusion.  “There are then three worlds”, which are God, man, and heaven.  However, the only definition for “world” that we have is that it’s a “sensible God”, leading to a recursive definition between God and a world.  God is a world which is God, and a world is God which is a world.  So clear, right?

The distinction between what God is and what a world is, however, is present both verbally and spacially here.  God is called “intelligible”, while a world is called “sensible”, and this distinction is crucial to understanding the intertwined relationship between the two.  A little unpacking of these terms, however, is also in order.  Sensible refers to anything that can sense or be sensed by an outside observer.  Intelligible, however, refers to something higher and greater than mere capacity for logic and imagination; the philosophical sense of “intelligence” is closely associated with the Greek word nous, meaning “mind” but having connotations of the metaphysical soul or Oversoul and the most divine parts of creation.  Consider that Agrippa places intelligence as the highest power of the Soul under the element of Fire in his Table of Four (book II, chapter 7), where intelligence is greater than the other faculties of reason, fantasy, and sense, and you’ll begin to grasp the far-reaching implications of these words.

For our human selves, it may help to describe these things in terms of the bodily functions.  Sensible things are things that the human body can physically sense, observe, or interact with through the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, motion, pain, and so forth.  This sense data is picked up through the body’s nervous system and relayed to the brain, which collects and prepares sense data for the mind as well as relaying instructions and directives to the rest of the body from the mind.  The brain can be thought of as the physical component, antenna, or hardware for the mind, which itself is immaterial and nonphysical.  The mind is given sense data for it to understand and know; this capacity is called intelligence.  However, the mind is not limited to understanding just the things the body senses; it can also understand dreams, see hallucinations, and work with other data similar to sense data but not derived from it.  It’s like the difference between hearing something via clairaudience versus hearing it with the ears, or predicting with logic tables that a given event will happen though it has not yet happened to be sensed.  Mind, in this case, can work with both intelligence and sense, but the body only works with sense.

So we have things that can be sensed, and things that are known.  Things that are sensed are known, but not all the things that are known can be sensed.  Thus, things that are sensible form a strict subset of things that are intelligible; God, which is intelligible, is greater than any world, but includes it because it knows and can be known by it.  However, the world is only the part of God that can be sensed; God is in the world and yet still greater than it, which is a classic statement of panentheism.  Only things that are a world can be sensed, so while God is a world, not all of God is sensible.  This is further implied by the way the definition is phrased: God comes first, and world comes after God, which relies on God.  The two cannot be separated, but neither are they the same.  This is similarly said in the Asclepius (book VIII, part 1), where Hermes describes the distinction between the bigger and lower states of God that we might call God and the world:

The Lord and Maker of all things, whom we call rightly God, when from Himself He made the second [God], the Visible and Sensible,—I call him Sensible not that He hath sensation in Himself (for as to this, whether or no He have himself sensation, we will some other time declare), but that He is the object of the senses of those who see;—when, then, He made Him first, but second to Himself, and that He seemed to Him [most] fair, as one filled to the full with goodness of all things, He fell in love with Him as being part of His Divinity.

(Yeah, I know I’m pulling from another contemporaneous text.  I’ll do that from some well-known texts, such as Cornelius Agrippa later on, but bear with me.  This will only be needed rarely, primarily for the first few aphorisms, which do require heavy unpacking.)

Next, we have Man, which is another world, and since worlds are sensible and part of God, so too is Man sensible and part of God.  Further, just as worlds come after God, Man comes after the world, and just as the world is part of God, so too is Man part of the world.  However, Man and the world are not the same, because Man is further identified as “destructible” in addition to “sensible”, indicating that things that of the world may or may not be destructible but that Man certainly is; Man is part of the world now and again, and while the world always is, Man may not always be.  However, we need to clarify the meaning of “destructible”, since it can be difficult to say what exactly is destroyed.  According to the Corpus Hermeticum (book VIII, part 1):

Concerning Soul and Body, son, we now must speak; in what way Soul is deathless, and whence comes the activity 1in composing and dissolving Body.  For there’s no death for aught of things [that are]; the thought [this] word conveys, is either void of fact, or [simply] by the knocking off a syllable what is called “death,” doth stand for “deathless.” For death is of destruction, and nothing in the Cosmos is destroyed. For if Cosmos is second God, a life that cannot die, it cannot be that any part of this immortal life should die. All things in Cosmos are parts of Cosmos, and most of all is man, the rational animal.

Thus, Man is unique in that the part of him that is in the world can be destroyed, but as Man is part of God, Man cannot ever truly be annihilated out of existence entirely.  The sensible part of Man, or the body and the physical senses, may be destroyed, but not the intelligible part of Man.

The next two definitions come up for both God and heaven: God is an immoveable world, and heaven is a moveable world.  God is both intelligible and immoveable, while heaven (a new term) is a world that is moveable.  God, in this case, moves but is not moved; heaven is moved by others, which (if nothing else is immoveable) generally means God.  Thus, heaven is, like any world, less than and part of God, but God exerts a force on heaven that causes it to move, while the same force cannot be exerted on God.  However, since heaven is also a world, and a world is sensible while only the part of God that is in that world is sensible, we can also say that heaven is sensible.  The difference between that which is moveable and that which is immoveable is more clearly referenced in the Corpus Hermeticum (book II, parts 6 through 9):

Her. If space is, therefore, to be thought, [it should] not, [then, be thought as] God, but space. If God is also to be thought, [He should] not [be conceived] as space, but energy that can contain [all space].  Further, all that is moved is moved not in the moved but in the stable. And that which moves [another] is of course stationary, for ’tis impossible that it should move with it.

Asc. How is it, then, that things down here, Thrice-greatest one, are moved with those that are [already] moved? For thou hast said the errant spheres were moved by the inerrant one.

Her. This is not, O Asclepius, a moving with, but one against; they are not moved with one another, but one against the other. It is this contrariety which turneth the resistance of their motion into rest. For that resistance is the rest of motion.  Hence, too, the errant spheres, being moved contrarily to the inerrant one, are moved by one another by mutual contrariety, [and also] by the stable one through contrariety itself. And this can otherwise not be.  The Bears up there, which neither set nor rise, think’st thou they rest or move?

Asc. They move, Thrice-greatest one.

Her. And what their motion, my Asclepius?

Asc. Motion that turns for ever round the same.

Her. But revolution—motion round same—is fixed by rest. For “round-the-same” doth stop “beyond-same.” “Beyond-same” then, being stopped, if it be steadied in “round-same”—the contrary stands firm, being rendered ever stable by its contrariety.  Of this I’ll give thee here on earth an instance, which the eye can see. Regard the animals down here,—a man, for instance, swimming! The water moves, yet the resistance of his hands and feet give him stability, so that he is not borne along with it, nor sunk thereby.

Asc. Thou hast, Thrice-greatest one, adduced a most clear instance.

Her. All motion, then, is caused in station and by station.  The motion, therefore, of the cosmos (and of every other hylic animal) will not be caused by things exterior to the cosmos, but by things interior [outward] to the exterior—such [things] as soul, or spirit, or some such other thing incorporal.  ’Tis not its body that doth move the living thing in it; nay, not even the whole [body of the universe a lesser] body e’en though there be no life in it.

Asc. What meanest thou by this, Thrice-greatest one? Is it not bodies, then, that move the stock and stone and all the other things inanimate?

Her. By no means, O Asclepius. The something-in-the-body, the that-which-moves the thing inanimate, this surely’s not a body, for that it moves the two of them—both body of the lifter and the lifted? So that a thing that’s lifeless will not move a lifeless thing. That which doth move [another thing] is animate, in that it is the mover. Thou seest, then, how heavy laden is the soul, for it alone doth lift two bodies. That things, moreover, moved are moved in something as well as moved by something is clear.

Thus, we know that the heavens are a part of God that is inanimate, and can be moved, while God is animate yet cannot be moved by another, since God cannot technically move; God is intelligible, and that which is intelligible has no space in which to really move, since space is something sensible and the intelligible is not necessarily sensible.  In this sense, we might describe heaven as less as a spiritual place but more of a cosmic place, containing the spiritual and material realms that are within God.  This, then, also includes the world literally around us physically.  This makes more sense if we use the Greek word for heaven used here: cosmos, implying both “order” as well as “heaven”.

The last of the definitions here relates to Man again, where Man is described as “reasonable”.  Reason is not the same as intelligence; again, just as Intelligence and Reason are described as associated with the elements of Fire and Air or the Mind and the Spirit in Agrippa’s Table of Four, intelligence refers to that which is spiritually knowable by the divine mind while reason refers to that which can be predicted and calculated by taking in data from both above and below.  For instance, once can predict that, based on the physical sensation that fire is hot, they will burn themselves if they put their hand in a fire; this is reasoning using sensible data.  If one receives a vision or prophecy of a king losing in battle, one can reason based on intelligible knowledge that they will have a new king; this is reasoning using intelligible knowledge.  Reasoning is what separates Man out from the rest of the world, in addition to being destructible.

Thus, there are three worlds, in something that begins to look like a list of correspondences:

  • God: intelligible, immovable, partially sensible
  • Heaven: sensible, moveable
  • Man: sensible, destructible, reasonable

The definition goes on to say that that which is immoveable is God, and that which is reasonable is Man, but also that “both of these units are one”.  After all, both Man and God are worlds, and while God is intelligible and greater than and including every other world, Man is one particular world, and thus is part of God.  However, there are parts of Man that are also part of the world, and there are parts of Man that are destructible, and so do not necessarily belong to any one world except the world-containing-all-worlds that is God.  Plus, not only are God and Man one, but they are one since they are paired as “God and man after the species”.  “Species” here refers to the type of substance or essence or form that both God and Man take, or that Man takes after God.  In this sense, God and Man are one in substance, which is another way of saying that Man is of the same form (as in Platonic form) as God.  This recalls the Biblical statement in Genesis 1:27, “so God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them”.  However, while God may be the form of Man, Man is only an instance of this form; God is far more than just what Man might describe just as the concept of “tree” encapsulates every possible variation we know of between individual trees or species of trees, and even those that we have never yet seen or witnessed (sensible vs. intelligible).