On Candles and Their Uses

(Update 1/10/2018: Interested in more about this ritual?  Check out my more polished, fleshed-out writeup over on this page!)

I think we can all agree that fire is a really cool thing.  I mean, who doesn’t like fire, or burning things, or setting things on fire?  I’m not just talking about the romanticism of bonfires on a summer or autumn night, but even simple candles that can give light to a dark room.  Fire is kinda important to us, not just as magicians, but as humans.  With fire, we bright light into the dark, enabling us to see what we could not previously; we can cook food, nourishing us and allowing us to eat better and safer; we can warm ourselves, staving off cold and death when there is no heat.  From a spiritual standpoint, these are all really important things, and more; fire is considered holy in many traditions, not least Zoroastrianism, which actually venerates fire.  After all, it always burns upward, toward heaven and God.  Notions of light, illumination, and enlightenment are kinda big in Hermeticism, too, and the element of Fire is associated with the Mind, the Intellect that allows us to know the Intelligible according to Cornelius Agrippa (book II, chapter 7).  Fire, among all the elements, is one that in a lot of ways is “alive”, and its special spiritual properties make it more than suitable but almost a mandatory requirement for much spiritual work.  Of course, the most I usually do with fire is light candles, but it’s not all the same depending on why I’m burning candles.  When it comes to burning candles for ritual work, I tend to classify candles into three groups: offering candles, work candles, and consecrated candles.  I treat each group differently in their preparation, purpose, and burning.

Offering candles are those I use as sacrifices for spirits and gods; unlike incense or wine, I will always have at least one candle burning when I make an offering to a spirit.  Everything else is optional, but not some sort of burnt offering.  I typically use unscented white tealights, with the exception of my ancestor altar, which I use a 7-day white candle; if a particular spirit prefers or asks for a specific color or a scented candle, I’ll give that to them instead, but unscented white tealights are the norm.  When making an offering, I light the candle, formally dedicate it to the spirit I’m making an offering to, and leave it to burn out completely on its own; you can find an example of such a dedication in this offering ritual I posted a while back.  While I won’t formally prepare the candles ahead of time as I would consecrated candles (more on that below), I may wipe them down with a bit of Florida water or holy water to clean them and make them pure and fit for offerings, assuming the spirit being offered it would like that.

Work candles are those that I use in a non-conjuration ritual to boost the power of the working; these are your general magic candles.  These will typically be colored candles, dressed with an oil, and engraved with names or symbols.  Candles used in most forms of magic nowadays (like for money or love spells), and especially most 7-day fixed candles you’d find in a hoodoo store or botanica, fall into this category.  The type of candle used, including color and oil and inscription, is heavily dependent on the ritual at hand.  I’ll usually leave work candles to burn on their own unless a particular working determines otherwise.

Consecrated candles are those I burn as part of a ritual to bring the light of God/Ain Soph Aur/Source into a formal ritual or as protection in a room or home.  These are always unscented white candles, either candlesticks or jarred 7-day candles.  I always keep one burning on my devotional altar (where I make most of my daily prayers, especially to God), and I light one on my Table of Manifestation (magic altar where I do non-conjuration work) as well as in conjuration rituals (which acts as the primary source of light and Light in the ritual).  With the exception of the candle on my devotional altar, I’ll put out consecrated candles either with a candle snuffer or a soft puff of breath at the end of a ritual.  I haven’t found any difference between putting them out with a candle snuffer or blowing them out, so this minor detail is up to you and what you think is proper.

I prepare my consecrated candles more-or-less according to the Key of Solomon (book II, chapter 12).  The way I prepare my consecrated candles requires suitable candles (obviously), holy water, holy oil (I use Lucky Mojo’s 7-11 Holy Oil, but high-quality olive oil works fine), and incense (frankincense at minimum, though I prefer a blend of sandalwood, myrrh, frankincense, and cinnamon), as well as having an already-consecrated candle lit and present (if possible).  In a day and hour of Mercury during the waxing Moon, I engrave or write on the candles the following symbols:

Characters for Consecrating Candles from the Key of Solomon

If it’s a candlestick, I engrave these symbols directly onto the candle (downwards from the top) using a stylus; if it’s a jarred 7-day candle, I write this in marker on the UPC of the candle (may as well put that sticker to good use, especially since they’re difficult to remove in my experience).  After this, I set a censer with the incense and light the incense, and set the candles around the censer in a circle.  Then, I say Psalms 150, 103, and 117, then say the following prayer over the candles:

O Lord God, Who governest all things by Thine Almighty Power, give unto me, a poor sinner, understanding and knowledge to do only that which is agreeable unto Thee; grant unto me to fear, adore, love, praise and give thanks unto Thee with true and sincere faith and perfect charity. Grant, O Lord, before I die, and descend into the realms beneath, and before the fiery flame shall devour me, that Thy Grace may not leave me, O Lord of my Soul. Amen.

I exorcise thee. O Creature of wax, by Him Who alone hath created all things by His Word, and by the virtue of Him Who is pure truth, that thou cast out from thee every Phantasm, Perversion, and Deceit of the Enemy, and may the Virtue and Power of God enter into thee, so that thou mayest give us light, and chase far from us all fear or terror.

After this, I rub the candles with holy water (the whole candle if it’s a candlestick, or the top part with the wick and around the glass if it’s a 7-day), praying that the candle might be cleansed and purified; I rub the candle with holy oil (the whole candle if a candlestick, or the top part with the wick and inside the glass if it’s a 7-day), praying that it might shine with the light of God; and I suffumigate the candles in the burning incense, praying that it might be filled with the spirit of God to aid me in all my works.  Then I let the incense burn out, let the holy water dry on the candles, and set them aside until I need them.

When I light a consecrated candle, I use the following prayer to sanctify the light:

I conjure thee, thou creature of fire, by him who created all things both in heaven and earth, and in the sea, and in every other place whatever, that thou cast away every phantasm from thee, that no hurt whatsoever shall be done in any thing.  Bless, oh Lord, this creature of fire +, and sanctify it that it may be blessed +, and that it may burn for your honor and glory +, so neither the enemy nor any false imagination may enter into it, through the Most High and Holy Creator of All.  Amen.

Versions of this are found in the Heptameron as well as the Key of Solomon and even Trithemius’ Art of Drawing Spirits into Crystals.  I use the one from Trithemius, with a few modifications to bring it more in line with the Heptameron.  At the + signs, I make a cross over the flame.

I’ve found that, in pretty much every working I do, I like to have at least one consecrated candle burning throughout the ritual, whether it’s a consecration of a talisman, conjuration of an angel, or the blessing of a home.  In that latter case, I’ll light a consecrated candle and use that flame to light a whole bunch of other tealights; I set the consecrated candle by the hearth (or kitchen, if there’s no fireplace), and each of the other candles in each room of the house.  Not only does this bring Light into the house, but it also helps to weaken any darkness or defilement that may have taken up residence.  In this function, consecrated candles act as a kind of protection-by-holiness, which can be helpful in many cases.  In conjuration, this has the effect of keeping bad stuff out of the conjuration circle, and forces whatever’s in the conjuration to be truthful and to stay away if they’re trying to deceive or lie to me.  In other workings, it simply acts as a connection and representation of God, from which all power derives.

What are your thoughts on burning candles in magic?  Do you have other uses of candles besides the above (and besides burning them for how pretty or warm they are)?  Do you have a different candle consecration ritual, if any at all?  Do you have a favorite type of candle-based spell?  Let me know in the comments!

49 Days of Definitions: Part II, Definition 6

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

Today, let’s discuss the eleventh definition, part II, number 6 of 6:

Light is a good, a clear vision, (which makes) appear all of the visible (things).  The essence of fire is burning.  However, fire is one (thing) and light is another one.  For what fire has reached shall be destroyed, but light appears just as it is by itself.  Every move of soul is perceived by Nous; since it is some (kind of) energy, breath performs (it).

This last definition of part II may come as a surprise, seeing how the second through fifth definitions focused on the four elements; where the hell was light mentioned?  It doesn’t appear to be an element, and it wasn’t really spoken of in II.1.  However, read II.1 closely again, and you’ll read two parts that link this definition cohesively into this section:

  • “Nous is the invisible good; soul is a necessary movement adjusted to every kind of body.”
  • “Breath is the body of soul or the column of soul.”

Bearing in mind that we now know about the four elements that constitute “every kind of body”, this definition then goes on to describe the nature of the thing behind the body.  If this is starting to make this sound like a fifth element or quintessence (literally, “the fifth essence”) like spirit or akasha of modern occultism, you’re catching on, but there’s some more unpacking to do first.

First, let’s talk about light.  Light is “a good”, not “the good” of the Nous, but it is “a good”.  While this type of phrase hasn’t yet been encountered in the Definitions, we can assume that this means that light is a quality of the Nous, or that light is something from of and part of the Nous.  In either way, light is something divine, something mental.  Light is also “a clear vision, which makes appear all of the visible things”.  When modern people think of light, they think of some sort of electromagnetic waves that bounce off and reflect from objects, and these waves are then registered by the eyes to produce neural signals to be interpreted as a vision.  Classically, however, light was seen to emanate from the eyes or objects themselves and catch alight of other things (and is one of the reasons gazing magic and the “evil eye” are still around).  Light is vision itself; more importatly, light is a clear vision, that which illumines and enlightens, that which presents things clearly and truly in its true form. However, light can only work to make things appear that are already visible, or able to be seen.  Things that are bodiless or only intelligible without being sensible cannot be seen, and so light is independent of these things; light, then, is probably a component of the Nous in the cosmos, since being visible is a special kind of being sensible, and only the cosmos is the part of God that is sensible.

However, this is an ideal kind of light, a mental or spiritual light that is independent of physical processes.  The definition then goes on to compare fire and light, where “the essence of fire is burning” and that “fire is one thing and light is another one”.  Many people, especially classically, equated fire and light as the same, since fire and other extraordinarily hot things are what gives off light.  Fire does indeed give off light, but this is not the light that is a good; “what fire has reached shall be destroyed, but light appears just as it is by itself”.  In other words, fire burns up and burns away, and anything exposed to firelight has this effect made upon itself.  True light, however, acts differently: it presents what is visible and sensible, and nothing more.  Compare Tat’s exclamation from the Corpus Hermeticum (chapter X, part 4):

Her. For It doth will to be, and It is both Itself and most of all by reason of Itself. Indeed all other things beside are just because of It; for the distinctive feature of the Good is “that it should be known.” Such is the Good, O Tat.

Tat. Thou hast, O father, filled us so full of this so good and fairest Sight, that thereby my mind’s eye hath now become for me almost a thing to worship.  For that the Vision of the Good doth not, like the sun’s beam, fire-like blaze on the eyes and make them close; nay, on the contrary, it shineth forth and maketh to increase the seeing of the eye, as far as e’er a man hath the capacity to hold the inflow of the radiance that the mind alone can see.  Not only does it come more swiftly down to us, but it does us no harm, and is instinct with all immortal life.

Things like firelight are temporary and easily consumed; once the matter on fire is consumed by fire, the fire dies out.  When firelight dies out, darkness remains.  However, light is something independent of sources of fire, and anything that can be seen can be illumined by light.  Light, then, is something different, and anything that can be perceived or sensed is done so with light.  In a sense, light is wherever the mind is, and if the mind of Man is made more fully like the Nous in whose image it is made, and if Nous is God, and if God is the All and the One, then light is everywhere, since light is in all things, not just in the sensible cosmos.  Compare the Corpus Hermeticum (chapter XI, part 7):

Behold, again, the seven subject Worlds; ordered by Æon’s order, and with their varied course full-filling Æon!  [See how] all things [are] full of light, and nowhere [is there] fire; for ’tis the love and blending of the contraries and the dissimilars that doth give birth to light down shining by the energy of God, the Father of all good, the Leader of all order, and Ruler of the seven world-orderings! …

Thus, while bodies are sensible, light may be the actual function of sense itself, where anything sensed is done so by means of light, which illumines the mind.  And since all bodies in the cosmos have a soul made just for it, since each body cannot exist without one, soul itself is what makes itself known by means of the body.  After all, the soul is “a necessary movement adjusted to every kind of body”, though itself is invisible, much how the Nous is the “invisible good”.  The soul is what enables a body to move and function in the cosmos, and since the body is sensible, the soul is evident through the body.  Because of light, we can sense the motion of bodies and therefore of souls, either physically through our eyes or mentally through the sight of the mind, but in either case this perception is done with light.  And, further, because the Nous perceives all things, especially through and because of the minds of Man, “every move of soul is perceived by Nous”, and this perception is made possible through light.

The last part of this definition is a little complex, but it relates to the connection between soul and spirit.  “Since [every move of soul] is some kind of energy, breath performs it.”  In other words, the soul provides a force that is enacted through the body into the cosmos, but the relationship between the soul and the breath (or spirit, since these terms are interchangeable so far) has not yet really been fully explored.  We know that Man exists as a microcosm due to “soul and breath” (I.4), and that breath is the “body of soul or the column of soul”.  Because the body is moved by the soul, the body is moved by means of the breath because of the soul.  The breath is what keeps the physical body able to receive the soul’s motions, so the breath is the facilitator of the soul into the physical body.  In other words, breath performs the motions in the body that the soul desires to give it.  We can think of the breath as something akin to air.  Air is the element that binds the upper heavens with the lower earth.  Similarly, the breath is something that combines the soul with the body.  Just as the influences of the higher heavens can be felt down here by means of the air and the forces that travel through it, the influences of the soul can be felt and enacted by the body by means of the breath and the motions that pass through it.

So much for the last definition of part II.  From this set, we know there are four elements that constitute the body: earth that provides the material basis for action, water which nourishes and moistens, air which conjoins and permits influence between different locations, and fire which desiccates and destroys.  All bodies are made out of some composition from these elements, and all bodies are given motion and movement from the soul.  The soul, which is necessary but not sufficient to animate the body, is given expression through the breath or spirit, which like the air that conjoins the upper heavens and lower Earth conjoins the soul and body together.  All bodies, being sensible, are known by means of light, which provides pure and clear vision.  Light, however, is not just a property of cosmos, but also of Nous, and by means of light the minds of Man as well as the Mind of God can know all things.

49 Days of Definitions: Part II, Definition 5

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

Today, let’s discuss the tenth definition, part II, number 5 of 6:

Fire is a sterile essence, the duration of the immortal bodies and the destruction of the mortal: an infertile substance, in as much (it belongs to) the destructive fire which makes (things) disappear; and the perpetuation of the immortal (beings), since what cannot be consumed by fire is immortal and indestructible, but the mortal can be destroyed by fire.

While definition II.2 described air, II.3 earth, and II.4 water, definition II.5 describes fire, the last but certainly not the least element to be discussed.  Air is the conjoining element that binds other things together; earth is the foundation of matter for other elements to act upon it; water nurtures and nourishes and allows for growth.  Air and earth can be seen as opposites in a way: while earth allows for distinct bodies to be formed, air helps bind them together again.  Thus, water and fire can also be seen as a pair of opposites; if water helps to nourish, fire then must help to destroy.

Fire is the “sterile essence”; fire prohibits things from growing or producing things, unlike water which helps things to grow or produce.  Sterility is something that we might attribute to bare earth, as well, earth unmixed with water.  However, as seen from earlier definitions, water and earth are both the support of the cosmos, and are inextricably linked together; they are going to be combined together in all cosmic things (at least down here on the Earth).  Fire, however, is something different; fire is hot, it is heat, it is burning, it is active.  And these things are not conducive to life for mortals.

Fire is also the “duration of the immortal bodies and the destruction of the mortal”.  This is a pair of opposites that contrasts that which is immortal (like gods or planets) and that which is mortal (like human bodies or animals).  In the first part of this statement, fire is the “duration of the immortal”, or that fire is that which maintains, empowers, and sustains immortal bodies.  In a way, immortal bodies are primarily fire, and fire is what enables them to “live”.  I use quotes around “live” here because fire is inherently antithetical to life, or at least life as we know it: mortal life.  Immortal beings live in a way that is distinct from mortal beings, and based on what we know about fire, I think one of the qualities of immortal beings is that they cannot give birth.  After all, if fire is the “duration of the immortal”, and if fire is also a “sterile essence”, then beings who are primarily fire cannot give birth due to their sterility.

That said, anyone who’s lit a fire before can attest to how quickly it can spread from tinder to tinder, twig to twig, log to log.  Fire expands and catches other things on fire, so it doesn’t just burn out immediately; in a way, fire “lives” on its own, but in a way distinct from other bodies that are composed of water and earth (e.g. human bodies).  Because of how fire catches, immortal beings can definitely reproduce or spread their influence by means of their fire, but this is simply an effect of fire on the earth of a body.  And, because fire is sterile and hot, fire also desiccates and burns up; fire destroys any body that is not immortal.  Thus, fire is “the destruction of the mortal”; fire corrupts, decreases, and burns up anything that is not also fire.  The ability to be destroyed and undergo decrease back into basic components is a characteristic of mortal beings, and now we know that these actions are caused (at least in part) by fire.

Fire, as well as being sterile (inhibiting life), is also an “infertile substance”, meaning that it cannot be the growth of anything, nor can it help to produce anything.  Then again, the text continues this to qualify that fire is infertile insofar as “it belongs to the destructive fire which makes things disappear”.  This suggests that there are multiple types of fire: a destructive fire is that which decreases, desiccates, and the like on bodies that are capable of undergoing that function (mortal bodies).  When we get to immortal bodies, however, not only is fire their primary life-giving substance, but fire is “the perpetuation of the immortal beings”.  Just as fire spreads and catches onto other things, so too do immortal beings “catch onto” and spread their influence across other bodies.

Immortal beings don’t simply catch on fire; they themselves already are fire, and they are not harmed by it or by the fire of other immortals.  After all, immortal beings cannot undergo destruction or desiccation, and so are an ever-living fire on their own; their fires may combine to form a bigger fire, or their fire may ignite elsewhere to “perpetuate” themselves.  In any case, because they cannot be consumed by fire, they are “immortal and indestructible”.  However, mortal beings “can be destroyed by fire”.  So now we know that fire is something that acts fundamentally different for mortal beings and immortal beings: immortal beings are perpetuated by the use and spread of fire, while mortal beings are destroyed and consumed by fire.

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.