Emanation in Qabbalah versus Mathesis

So, in the meantime of developing the Tetractys of Life and starting to use more Pythagorean and classical Neoplatonic ideas in my studies of the occult, I think I’ve finally found a word that accurately captures what I want to name this system.  The broader system in Hermeticism and Western occulture is qabbalah (or Jewish kabbalah or Christian cabala, to use different spellings to indicate different traditions).  All these words have the same root in Hebrew: קַבָּלָה‎, meaning “tradition” or “reception”.  I’ve been using a Greek transcription of this word, καμπαλα or “kampala”, to describe my Pythagorean-Neoplatonic system, but this is still basically the same word, and I’m developing it to a point where it doesn’t really fit into the qabbalistic scheme anymore.  After thinking about the thing I’m developing and going through some Greek dictionaries, I think I’ve found a word to name this new system of occult thought: μαθησις, or “mathēsis”, which means “the act of learning” or “obtaining knowledge”.  This word is related to our word “mathematic“, which itself comes from Greek meaning “scientific, disposed to learn”, itself from Greek μαθημα, or “that which is learnt”.  While this Tetractys of Life and everything are things to be learned, sure, they’re all tools to learn more.  Hence, the broader system I want to call is appropriately mathēsis, a term that’s been used before in the pre-modern and modern Western world by philosophers such as Descartes and Leibniz to describe a hypothetical universal science modeled on mathematics.  And, well, since Pythagoras established that everything is number and (in our modern sense) mathematical, this isn’t too bad a term.  To that end, I’ve gone through and labeled all the Towards a Greek Kabbalah posts (which are their own blog project in their own right) under the category of mathesis.

Alright, so, labels and terms are out of the way.  I want to talk about emanation in mathēsis and how it compares to qabbalah, because there’s a critical difference between the two that really should be understood.  While I originally set out to develop a qabbalah-like system based on Greek mathematical and grammatomantic principles that essentially shared the same ideas, I ended up with a much different beast of a cosmology than I had anticipated.  For instance, consider the idea of emanationism, where successively more complex forms of existence and reality develop or flow forth both within and from a higher and more primitive source.  This is distinct from creationism, where things are made as they are without successive steps by an external creator, and from materialism, where things come about from other things without a metaphysical origin.  The idea of emanationism is replete throughout many forms of the occult, not least in both Pythagorean, Neoplatonic, and mystic Jewish thought.  It can be seen in both the kabbalistic Tree of Life as well as in this new mathetic Tetractys of Life, but not in the same way.

For instance, consider the Tree of Life in qabbalah.  There are ten sephiroth, each assigned a particular number from 1 to 10 and descending from the top to the bottom.  Each sephirah represents a different attribute or aspect of the one God, or a different way God expresses his will.  There exists a particular set of paths, collectively termed the Lightning Bolt Path, that hits each sphere in sequence from Kether to Chokmah to Binah all the way down to Malkuth.  This describes the emanation of the cosmos from God in successive forms, ultimately culminating in our existence down here on Earth.  This also ties in (or perhaps founded?) the notion of an Idea of God descending through the many spheres of Heaven, hitting each planet in turn, building up more form and density until it hit our lowest Earth-plane, finally becoming a manifest Thing.  There is one Source and one Goal, clearly marked out with clearly defined stages in between.

The Tetractys of Life also describes emanation, but not in the same way.  Like the Tree of Life, there are ten spheres or units, each representing an aspect of creation in a different manner.  Like the Tree of Life, there is one Monad at the top, the undifferentiated and divinely simple source of all things.  Like the Tree of Life, the Tetractys of Life describes an emanatory or development of creation from the top down.  However, that’s where the similarities end.  Instead of having each sphere on the Tetractys represent a different emanation or stage in existence, the Tetractys shows emanation based on the rank of the Tetractys; instead of going One-Two-Three-…-Ten, it goes Monad-Dyad-Triad-Tetrad.  In other words, there are only four stages of emanation in the Tetractys compared to the ten in the Tree.  The emanatory dyadic principles of Light and Dark  occur simultaneously and as two parts of a whole, not in a sequence.  They are different, but they are in a kind of super-alchemical marriage as One, since they both come from One.  Likewise, the emanatory triadic reagents of Salt, Mercury, and Sulfur occur simultaneously as a result of the marriage between Light and Dark, as do the emanatory tetradic substances of the four elements from the harmony of the three reagents.  And, from these four substances, all of material creation is made.

Why is this significant?  Because we have different notions of a “starting point” when working with the Tree and with the Tetractys.  With the Tree, we can all safely agree that we’re down here in the tenth sephirah of Malkuth, and it’s our job to rise through the sephiroth in the reverse order compared to how we got here.  With the Tetractys, however, there is no single starting point; our starting point is below the Tetractys, in the unnumbered and implied pentad of all the things that exist, the symbol of which is the pentagram and which represents the Divine Proportion (φ).  In that sense, our starting point is below the Tetrad working within as a Pentad, itself not represented on the Tetractys.  The Tetractys is the source of life but is not itself life in the same sense that the Monad is the source of existence but is itself neither existence nor nonexistence.  We must first understand how the Pentad comes forth from the Tetrad, then the Tetrad from the Triad, then so forth back to the Monad.


So, rather than thinking of each of the ten spheres in the Tetractys as a separate stage of emanation, it’s more proper to understand mathetic emanation as occurring in four stages (divine simplicity, differentiation, system, embodiment) compared to the qabbalistic ten.  And, within each stage, there are different forces at work that represent how that emanation of the cosmos takes place.  While the Tetractys of Life illustrates the different types of forces within each rank of the Tetractys, this is only an ideal representation, much as the Bohr representation of atoms is convenient to understand ideal spatial relationships between an atom’s nucleus and electrons, but in reality the electrons move in indeterminate electron clouds where either the speed or location of a subatomic particle may be known but not both at the same time.  In other words, Light and Dark take place at the same time and interchangeably within the Dyad, as do the three reagents within the Triad, as do the four elements within the Tetrad.  We may find it easy to focus on one element, reagent, or principle at the same time, but this is a hyperfocused and ultimately false distinction that isn’t true on a fundamental level.  That said, on a fundamental level, everything is already part of One and is One, much as the distinction between the sephiroth in qabbalah is only apparent from the point of view of the Created and not of the Creator.

So why am I clarifying the notion of emanation when studying mathesis in using the Tetractys of Life?  Because it requires a different sort of understanding of the cosmos than what we’re used to thinking based on the Tree of Life in qabbalah, which is arguably the starting point for much of Western occultism today.  Why does this matter?  Because I ran into the practical problem of trying to assign numbers from 1 to 10 to each of the spheres in the Tetractys.  I wanted to link the spheres on the Tetractys to the sephiroth in some way, or find some sort of numerical sequence for the forces in the Tetractys, so I could link these spheres to other types of magical technology and techniques.  For instance, consider magic squares, the qameas of the planets.  If the planet Saturn is corresponded to the sephirah of Binah, and Binah’s number in the order of emanation is three, then three is the qabbalistic number of Saturn.  Thus, the magic square or qamea of Saturn is a 3 × 3 grid of numbers from 1 to 9 (or 3²), upon which we can plot qabbalistic names and sigils of various spirits and concepts related to the sphere of Saturn.  I personally like the use of magic squares in magic, and I wanted to find a particular way to develop a set of magic squares to each of the forces in the Tetractys of Life.  However, after a good amount of reflection and late-night thinking, I couldn’t find a way to suitably number the spheres on the Tetractys outside their non-sequential lambdoma numbering.  Because I can’t (yet?) think of a way to sequentially number the spheres in the Tetractys, this makes it cut off from systems such as qabbalah and much of qabbalah-influenced magical tech; at the same time, trying to force on a numbering system like this seems ill-advised, like trying to square the circle when the two cannot be done except at a higher level.

In this case, if we have a collection of points that themselves are unordered, are we up Styx creek without a paddle?  Not at all.  The use of algebra and arithmetic weren’t the preferred means of mathematics back in Pythagorean thought, but rather geometry.  And, understanding the four ranks of the Tetractys to refer to geometric forms, we have a 0-dimensional figure as the Monad (a single point), a 1-dimensional figure as the Dyad (two points form a line), a 2-dimensional figure as the Triad (three points form a plane or a triangle), and a 3-dimensional figure as the Tetrad (four points form a solid or a tetrahedron).  Geometry, then, might be a better route to go to understand the various forces represented within each rank of the Tetractys than number squares or knocking on an altar a particular number of times.  The Tetractys is slowly but surely showing me a new way to understand the cosmos and how to apply myself within it and to it both theurgically and thaumaturgically; what new tech it’ll lead me to, I don’t yet know, but I’m excited to find out.

49 Days of Definitions: Part III, 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 twelfth definition, part III, number 1 of 4:

Nothing is uninhabited by God, for where heaven is, God (is) too, and where the world is, heaven (is) too.  I think that God is in heaven, and heaven in the world.

Now we start on the third set of definitions.  The first set of definitions described the fundamental philosophy that lays out the three worlds of God, cosmos, and Man for us; the second set briefly described the composition of bodies in the cosmos from the four elements, along with a bit on the nature of the soul and sensibility that light provides.  This first definition begins to describe the relationship between the cosmos (what we know of as creation) and God, and first states that “nothing is uninhabited by God”.  This statement makes clear that God is immanent in creation, and that there is nothing that is not with God.  Since God is the “invisible world” (I.4), and since “all of that visible cannot possibly be constituted without the invisible” (I.3), God must be present in at least all visible things.  Add to it, God is the intelligible world, and the cosmos is made in the likeness of God “after its fullness” (I.2); the cosmos is all made as and part of God, and God is similarly within all things.  Hermes Trismegistus waxes ecstatically on this and a bit more about the Divine in the Corpus Hermeticum (chapter V, parts 10 and 11):

He is the God beyond all name; He the unmanifest, He the most manifest; He whom the mind [alone] can contemplate, He visible unto the eyes [as well]; He is the one of no body, the one of many bodies, nay, rather He of every body.  Naught is there which He is not.  For all are He and He is all.  And for this cause hath He all names, in that they are one Father’s. And for this cause hath He Himself no name, in that He’s Father of [them] all.

Who, then, may sing Thee praise of Thee, or [praise] to Thee?  Whither, again, am I to turn my eyes to sing Thy praise; above, below, within, without?

There is no way, no place [is there] about Thee, nor any other thing of things that are.  All [are] in Thee; all [are] from Thee, O Thou who givest all and takest naught, for Thou hast all and naught is there Thou hast not.

And when, O Father, shall I hymn Thee? For none can seize Thy hour or time.

For what, again, shall I sing hymn? For things that Thou hast made, or things Thou hast not? For things Thou hast made manifest, or things Thou hast concealed?

How, further, shall I hymn Thee? As being of myself? As having something of mine own? As being other?  For that Thou art whatever I may be; Thou art whatever I may do; Thou art whatever I may speak.  For Thou art all, and there is nothing else which Thou art not. Thou art all that which doth exist, and Thou art what doth not exist,—Mind when Thou thinkest, and Father when Thou makest, and God when Thou dost energize, and Good and Maker of all things. 

Not only is God in all things, the definition continues to say that “where heaven is, God is too, and where the world is, heaven is too”.  Now we have a clear distinction between two parts of the cosmos: the heavens and the world, or the upper cosmos and the lower cosmos.  It may be that these two parts are those that are conjoined by air (II.2), but it’s still unclear at this point.  However, now that we’re starting to get into the more concrete description of the world in Hermetic philosophy, it is suitable that we start to draw concrete delineations of worlds in our aphorisms, too. 

So, where there is heaven, there is also God.  Where there is the world, there is also heaven; thus, there there is the world, there is also God.  This is like a set of nested spheres or a Russian matryoshka doll, and we’ve made similar descriptions of this before.  Imagine three nested circles: between the outermost circle and the middle circle, there is God; God encompasses all things.  Between the middle circle and the innermost circle, there is heaven; all of heaven is within God, but there may be parts of God that are not heaven (this is as yet unknown; it may be that heaven is God and God is heaven, in which case these two circles would simply overlap entirely).  In the innermost circle, there is the world; all of the world is within heaven, but there are parts of heaven that are not within the world (unless the world is identical with heaven, but this seems unlikely).  Because the world is within God, God is also in the world, but there are parts of God that are not in the world.

The last part of this definition is a little perplexing, and the footnotes suggest that the last sentence was a gloss of the compiler.  After all, we don’t commonly see the first person used in these definitions, so it’s unclear; besides, it’s unlike the Hermes of this text to offer a conjecture instead of an axiom.  Let’s assume, however, that Hermes said it.  “God is in heaven, and heaven in the world”; essentially, this says the same thing as before.  Wherever the world is, there is also heaven, since heaven is in the world; wherever heaven is, there is also God, since God is in heaven; thus, wherever the world is, there is also God, since God is in heaven and heaven is in the world. 

This definition affords a clearly panentheistic view of God: not only is God fully immanent in the world, but God also transcends the world.  Likewise, God is fully immanent in heaven, but God also transcends heaven (probably, since we have no identification of God with heaven).  However, the way this last sentence is phrased almost reads to me like a reversal of the nested-circles image from before.  From before, God is the outermost circle and the world the innermost.  Phrased this way, it can read that God is the innermost circle and that the world is the outermost circle.  This doesn’t lead to panentheism, since this indicates that there are places in the world that are only in the world and not part of heaven and not a part of God, and that there are parts of heaven that are also not part of God though all of heaven is within the world, and that all of God is within heaven though the reverse isn’t true. 

I don’t believe this last view is the case, since it contradicts a lot of other Hermetic writing, even in the Definitions; rather, I think that this particular statement indicates that God is the source of heaven (“God is in heaven”) and that heaven is the source of the world (“heaven in the world”), so that instead of containers and sets, we have an idea of emanation.  All things come from God, so God is the core of all things and is “in” all things; the further away from God or the more changes something undergoes doesn’t matter, since at its core there is always God.  With the world being the outermost circle in this latter image, this is simply another way to view all of creation as one whole with the materially real world we know and see being the most readily apparent; it’s like seeing creation in the Qabbalah from the point of view of Malkuth up to Kether, or from the viewpoint of Kether all the way down to Malkuth.  In either case, the same basic truth is evident: all has God, and all comes from God.