49 Days of Definitions: Part VIII, 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 thirty-fourth definition, part VIII, number 6 of 7:

You have the power of getting free since you have been given everything.  Nobody envies you.  Everything came into being for you, so that by means of either one (being) or of the whole, you may understand the craftsman.  For you have the power of not understanding with your (own) will; you have the power of lacking faith and being misled, so that you will understand the contrary of the (real) beings.  Man has as much power as the gods.  Only man (is) a free living (being), only he has the power of good and evil.

At last, Hermes takes on the role of Captain Planet and tells us definitively that the power is ours!  What power is that?  That of “getting [ourselves] free”.  But free from what?  That’s something that’s only been hinted at before: lack of divine-Nous (VIII.4, V.2), which is that which we seek in order to perfect ourselves by means of perfecting our souls (VI.3).  After all, our deficiency or evil is ignorance of God, since our grace and good is in knowledge (VII.5) of the world (VI.3, VIII.4).  We free ourselves from being deprived of and separated consciously from God to rejoin God as God, while those who are not (yet) free are those who “have gone astray” and worship human opinion (VIII.1, VIII.3) instead of worshiping truth and God reasonably (V.2, V.3, VIII.3).  By being in our current body-soul state, we end up with good and evil (VII.4), and having to choose between them.  While this choice is apparent down here, it’s only a reflection of true existence of God (VIII.5), and it’s ultimately a false choice, since such things only exist down here in this material realm.  By freeing ourselves of this false choice, we return to the original grace and plenitude of real knowledge, of harmony with the divine.

But how can this be accomplished? We must strive to become godly by emulating and becoming close to God because we “have been given everything”; after all, our possession “is the world” (VI.1), and it’s our duty to fully explore and understand the world to complete ourselves (VII.2), by means of which we understand our body, thence our soul, thence God (VIII.4).  Literally everything that exists, especially within the world but also beyond it, exists for our own sake (VIII.5), because Nous dwells within us and wants us to rejoin fully with Nous.  See how all these definitions are to building upon itself into a cohesive philosophy and guide to salvation?  It’s been taking some time, but now we start to see how we’re able and meant to do the Work we’re called to do.

Does that make us, as humans and part of Man, special?  After all, we’re the only beings capable of being endowed with Nous.  In a sense, yes, but not in the sense that we have to jealously guard our specialness.  “Nobody envies [us]”, but what does that mean, really?  People often confuse jealousy and envy, but the two are subtly different: jealousy is desire to keep others from possessing something of our own, while envy is desire to obtain something that someone else has that we lack.  Thus, if someone were to envy us, they’d envy us for either our capability of having Nous or our actual obtaining of Nous, but Hermes tells us that nobody envies us for that.  Why?  Well, other beings without the capability of Nous don’t know any better.  Of the animate creatures, animals only concern themselves with themselves and don’t process death or birth like we do, and the heavenly beings are already immortal and detached from the material realm; while they are part of God, they are without the reason that enables them to realize it or perform acts that only humans can.  Of the inanimate creatures, plants and stones…well, they’re plants and stones.  They don’t do much of anything in terms of motion, since they have no animating soul.

But what about other humans?  Well, other humans are similarly capable of possessing Nous and themselves have soul-Nous to link them back to the divine Nous/God, so they can’t envy anyone else for something they already have.  (The humans who lack soul-Nous, like those mentioned in VIII.4, are basically relegated to the realm of animals, which sounds cruel, but that’s just a result of the maldevelopment of body and soul.)  We’re all given the starting chance, capability, and resources to apply ourselves to our goal and to our Work, so we’re all on the same starting line, more or less.  The only thing that some of us might envy others is the possession of divine-Nous within ourselves, those who have been bestowed Nous through their use of reason.  But then, they worked for it.  They used the chances and resources they had that everyone has.  They earned what they did and completed their objective.

Why should other people who strive for obtaining divine-Nous envy those who have already obtained it?  They shouldn’t; to do so is unreasonable, and inhibits their progress towards obtaining divine-Nous through reasonable work.  Thus, if they do, they’re not really striving for divine-Nous as they ought, and end up going astray and ending up content in their own world of human opinion and unreasonable speech.  What about those who don’t bother striving for divine-Nous?  These people (and I have materialist atheists who call all religion and spirituality hokum in mind) don’t see the point in any such endeavor, and thus mock those who strive and have striven for divine-Nous; they find that the Nous-strivers and their worldview are mockeries, and they “will be mocked at” in turn (VIII.5).  These, too, end up in a world of human opinion and unreasonable speech (as far as Hermes is concerned), and they will have their own rewards in time; they don’t care nor work towards Nous, so they don’t envy the Nous-strivers anyway.  Thus, nobody can really envy those who strive for Nous, either for their starting point or their destination.

Again, we humans have the power to free ourselves from mortality and lack of God.  Everything that exists exists, in effect, for us: “everything came into being for you, so that by means of either one being or of the whole, you may understand the craftsman”.  Nothing in this cosmos or Creation was created in vain or for uselessness, because “whatever God does, he does it for man” (VIII.2).  Further, by inspecting the nature of the world, we come to know truth, and truth is the existence and body of the intelligible without body.  Truth is God, and truth was made by God; God is the “craftsman” (VIII.5), and by understanding God’s work, we understand God.  This, again, is both “knowledge of the beings” (VI.3) and knowledge of God (VII.5), and this is the perfection of the soul, our aim and directive.  We can either inspect just one thing that exists, such as ourselves or the nature of a particular function of the world, or we inspect all things that operate as a whole, but either way it leads to God.  Inspecting any nature leads to truth (VIII.5), and since truth is intelligible, truth has no body, no quantity nor quality as bodies do.  Truth is, in effect, divinely simple: there are no parts to Truth, but there is only Truth.  It’s like understanding the entirety of the human body to understand how it develops, or a single cell and its DNA which represents all of it in a compressed manner; both represent human nature in their own ways at different levels.  All of the things that exist are not really distinguished from each other except in appearance, since all things are part of and within God, and also God itself.  So long as we actually do the work of understanding, we’ll get to our goal.

Of course, we have the choice to do the opposite, as well: “for you have the power of not understanding with your own will”.  Remember that as a soul descends into the body, it gains good and evil as well as quantity and quality (VII.4), and we can be good and choose knowledge or we can be evil and choose ignorance (VII.5).  Further, we have the “faculty of killing”, which is to say that we have the ability to continue death and mortality for ourselves or we can shed it by returning to our immortal natures.  It’s all up to us, really, and goes hand-in-hand with what we understand and what we choose to understand: “you have the power of lacking faith and being mislead, so that you understand the contrary of the real beings”.  If the perfection of the soul is knowledge of the beings, then the imperfection of the soul is the lack of knowledge of beings, or believing other things that aren’t real or true.  In either case, we unreasonably distance ourselves from knowledge, and therefore lengthen our path to perfection or shut it down entirely into perdition (V.2).

We can choose salvation and knowledge or perdition and ignorance; we can choose Heaven or Hell for ourselves; we can choose Life or Death.  This is no trivial thing; these are things that were only ascribed to major powers before Hermeticism, and indeed, Hermes says that “man has as much power as the gods”.  We are powerful in similar, though not the same, ways as the gods are; we own and use and work with and live in the world because it is our possession, just as we and the gods are God’s possession.  The world is the lot of Man, and we essentially rule it and manage it.  Our powers are vast, and incredibly potent, though they should not be confused with that of the other gods or heavenly beings.  For instance, Venus is the goddess of love, lust, beauty, and luxury; she bestows these things, because she is these things.  She does what she is, and thus acts according to her nature.  We have our own natures and our own powers, and we use them in similar ways on our own targets.

However, unlike gods, Man is different in that we don’t always act for the Good like other living creatures do: “only man is a free living being, only he has the power of good and evil”.  Venus does what she does because that’s what she is; she can do no other, and she can choose no other thing to do.  She has her own mode of operation, her own directive, and nothing that inhibits her from doing it.  Man, however, doesn’t have to follow his nature and soul-Nous; we can choose good and evil, knowledge or ignorance, life or death.  In that sense, Man is given free will in a manner utterly unlike other living creatures.  Plants can only grow and synthesize energy; animals can only act according to instinct; gods can only act according to their divine natures.  Man, however, can act according to or against his nature, for better or for worse.  And it’s pretty clear at this point what those choices are and manifest as, and which of those choices we should be picking.

49 Days of Definitions: Part VII, 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 twenty-eighth definition, part VII, number 5 of 5:

God is within himself, the world is in God, and man in the world.  His (i.e. man’s) deficiency is ignorance, his plenitude in the knowledge of God.  ※ He says that evil (consists) in ignorance and good in knowledge ⍜.

A short definition to finish up this section!  The first part of this definition sounds awfully like the first definition from the third set, which said that “where heaven is, God is too, and where the world is, heaven is too”, and also that “God is in heaven, and heaven in the world”.  Here, we have some more relationships between God and the world: namely, that God is within himself, that the world is in God, and that Man is in the world.

That God is within himself should come as no surprise.  We already know that “nothing is uninhabited by God” (III.1), and that God is “the father of the intelligible” (III.4) while being intelligible himself (I.1).  In other words, God is God, all things are within God, and God is in all things; everything is a complete Whole, and that Whole is the All, the One, or God.  If you want to translate this into set theory of mathematics, we can say that God is a set that includes all things including itself.  From this, it logically follows that the world, which is a thing that exists, exists within God.  Man exists in the world, or at least the physical bodies of Man and the idea of Man; since these things exist in the world, and since they exist, and since the world exists within God, Man also exists within God.  This basically rephrases III.1 using some more terms about Man now that we’ve been talking about Man for some time.

As for Man, however, we have some more talking to do.  The last definition brought up the terms “good” and “evil”, and we said this about the two terms:

Turning towards God and rejoining with him, coming into the perfect “knowledge of the beings” and light of Nous, is therefore good; turning away from God and ignoring the impetus of Nous and the directions that would lead us to God is therefore evil.

The current definition talks about the deficiency and the plentitude of Man, or rather, wherein he is evil and wherein he is good.  “His plentitude is the knowledge of God”; this accords with what we said before.  We can tie this back further with the perfection of the soul, which is “the knowledge of beings” (VI.3), and this is effectively the knowledge of God.  After all, to know God is to know all the things within God, all the gods, all the worlds, and ourselves, and “know thyself” is among the most holy maxims ever uttered or written.  This is what is good for us to do.

If knowledge of God is good, and evil is the opposite of good, then the opposite of knowledge of God must be evil.  The opposite of knowledge is ignorance, and that is indeed what this definition says: “[Man’s] deficiency is ignorance”.  To not know God is evil, then, yet this is the state of us as we are; to know God, we must have Nous, and not all beings are accorded Nous consciously.  Does that mean we were born evil?  Not really, but kinda?  This is where the Gnostic and Neoplatonic strains of thought shows itself within Hermeticism: because we have a material body, we are at least in some way cut off from God.  Indeed, the past few definitions have talked about this, and it’s hard to come in contact with God while being in body.  Moreover, because we have a body, we have the capacity for good and evil, which simply don’t exist outside the physical, material realm of bodies and matter.  We can choose evil and thus choose to be ignorant; we can likewise choose good and thus choose to be knowledgeable of God.

But what about as we are in the world, as we were born?  When we were born, we didn’t know how to walk or control our poop, much less high philosophy and God.  But that’s okay, because we were still in possession of souls made in the idea of Man, and those souls we have provide us with the actions and movement to move us towards knowledge of God, so long as we listen and act accordingly.  Soul is movement, and even more than that, a “necessary movement” (II.1); we cannot help but act.  The soul can often be considered like water, which is always in motion; it will take the path of least resistance, one way or another.  If water is dammed up or blocked off, it will find a new path or simply overflow it.  There is no way to completely stop water without turning it into something else.  Likewise, with the soul, we are always compelled to act, though how we act is determined by our own conscious choices and may not always be what the soul would ideally prefer.

The last part of this definition basically says the same thing as the second sentence here, but makes it explicit that ignorance is evil, not just the deficiency of Man, and that knowledge is good, not just the plentitude of Man.  However, this is made awkward by the inclusion of two symbols, which I cannot replicate well on a computer.  I tried to find similar Unicode characters to represent them, and they indicate common concepts or abbreviations in medieval Armenian manuscripts: ※ means “star”, while ⍜ means “sinner”.  The footnotes provided by Jean-Pierre Mahé to the Definitions say that these are glosses provided by the scribe, and suggest some sort of connection between sin and stars.  The Corpus Hermeticum talks about such connections, and suggests that sins and evil come from the stars high up in the heavenly part of the world (chapter XVI, parts 13 through 16), though I won’t get into it here.  Suffice it to say that, because we have material bodies, we are at the whim of various influences that affect our bodies and, therefore, our souls.  Many of these influences come from the stars, the “living beings in heaven”, and cause us or lead us to act in certain ways.  Not all of these influences agree with what the Nous within our souls desires, and so may lead us into ignorant and evil actions.  This complicates our role and job down here, but it’s also part and parcel of living within a large and complex system.

By acting in a good manner and striving to know God, ourselves, and all other things, we can attain our “plenitude”, our fullness and grace, that allows us to achieve perfection.  Perfection is this very thing, and is moreover marked by the awareness of and reception of Nous into our bodies and souls, enabling us to be made closer to God as well as to the ideal humanity we should be anyway.  This is what we’re supposed to do, and it’s difficult, but it’s worth it; moreover, it’s what we’re driven to do when left to our own devices and free from detrimental influences that would cause us to act otherwise.  However, to attain our fullness of knowledge, we also have to use the full range of human experience and power; although different living creatures can only experience one type of world, humanity can explore all worlds, including those which are immaterial.  To know all things, we must know all the worlds, and transcend them to become more and better than we are in any one world.

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.

Personal Piety

What is piety?

  • According to etymology, piety comes from Latin pietas, the noun from of pius, meaning “good” or “devout”.
  • According to the dictionary, piety means “reverence for God or devout fulfillment of religious obligations”.

Simple enough.  Time to end this post, let’s all get drunk.  Not.

Back in ancient Greece, Plato once wrote a dialogue wherein his then-dead teacher, Socrates, was talking to someone outside the courts.  Socrates was on his fated and fatal trial charging him with impiety and the introduction of new gods to Athens, and he encounters Euthyphro, a prosecutor for another case (against his father for murder) which also involves piety and doing what is just in the eyes of the gods.  Chatting idly before the courts, they engage in a bit of discussion about their upcoming trials, which eventually settles on the nature of piety.  After all, if piety weren’t an issue, Socrates couldn’t be charged with corrupting the youth of Athens because of his impiety, and if piety weren’t demanded of Euthyphro, he wouldn’t be testifying and placing a charge against his own father.

The problem is that neither of them can give an explanation for what piety actually is.  Through their dialogue, Socrates gets the following answers out of Euthyrphro for what piety is, but notices a problem with each of them.

  1. Piety is what Euthyphro is doing right then, viz. prosecuting someone of a crime, just as Zeus restrained and punished his father, who restrained and punished his father before him, which were acts of justice.  Socrates points out that, while this act may be pious indeed, there are other acts which are considered pious; this is an example of piety, not an explanation or definition of it.  Rejected.
  2. Piety is what is dear to the gods, and impiety is what is not dear to the gods.  Socrates points out that the gods disgree amongst themselves, and that some disagreements may be on points where there is no factual or objective measure to agree by, such as what is just and what is unjust.  So, though the gods may hold what is dear to them to be what is pious, what is dear to one god may be repulsive to another, so the same action may be both pious and impious at once, which is a contradiction.  Rejected.
  3. Piety is what is dear to all the gods, and impiety is what is all the gods hold not dear.  This is something they both agree on, but then Socrates asks a crucial question: is what is pious pious because the gods love it, or do the gods love it because it’s pious?  In other words, is it pious because the gods say so, or is it pious because of something intrinsic to itself?  It can’t be both, because then that would lead to a vicious circle, and further, just the fact that the gods love something doesn’t mean that it is intrinsically pious because of that fact.  Their loving it is a recognition of it being pious is thus an attribute of piety, but is not a definition for piety.  Rejected.
  4. Piety is a type of justice.  In other words, Socrates supposes that, since all things that are pious are just, piety is based on what is just.  However, because there are things that are just that are not necessarily pious, we can’t just assign the qualities of justice to piety and be finished there.  It’s a superclass/subclass or genus/species issue of definition; we may have some qualities of piety, but not all of them, without which we can’t yet have a definition of piety.  If piety is only a part of justice, which part is it?  Neither Socrates nor Euthyphro can answer.  Rejected.
  5. Piety is an action that is just that attends to the gods.  In this instance, attendance to something is done to improve, benefit, and guide them.  However, Socrates then states that pious acts are done to improve the gods, which they both quickly agree is a dangerous statement of hubris.  Instead, Euthyphro restates the definition of attendance to be something more like ministration or service to a god to deliver things that please them.  This then defines piety as giving the gods what pleases them, which then devolves into the definition of what is dear to the gods.  Rejected.
  6. Piety is the art of sacrifice and prayerto the gods, learning how to please the gods in word and deed.  Sacrifice is defined as the act of giving to the gods, and prayer as asking or receiving from the gods; piety, then, is an art and science of giving and asking, which is a kind of business or transaction.  However, the gods want from us things that please them, which is essentially gives piety the same definition as above.  Rejected.

After this point, Euthyphro has to leave to get to his trial on time, leaving Socrates just as confused as ever as he prepares to combat a charge about a quality he hasn’t found any explanation or definition for.  Kinda sucks, really, but we end up with the notion that piety is intricately bound up with what divinity approves of.  So we have a bit of a dilemma on our hands: is something pious because it has an innate nature called “piety” that is only recognized and approved of by an outside source, or is it pious because it is explicitly liked by divinity for no other reason than it pleases them?

  • If what is pious is instrinsically pious, then that implies that there is a rule or order of things outside of divine order.  If so, then divinity has no power over it to change it, divinity is itself holy based on things that are pious and so aren’t worthy of worship in and of themselves but only to the degree that they support piety, and piety would still exist even if there were no gods to approve of them.
  • If what is pious is just what is pious to the gods because they like it, then that implies that pious things amount to no more than “because I said so”.  If so, then anything could be possible, allowed, legal, or demanded just because divinity wants it: if he said it pleased him to kill unborn babies, or for triangles to have more than three angles.  Morality could not exist without divinity already existing, morality could not be eternal laws due to the potential for divinity to change its mind about a command, and removes any reason to praise God.

In Hebrew thought, the similar quality of tzedeq (same triliteral root that gives Jupiter and its angel their names) doesn’t have the same dilemma, since it’s considered an action or event that can be seen and recognized.  The only way to describe the totality of things that are tzedeq is a list of all things that fall under that category.  In other words, it can only be enumerated specifically, not formulated generally.

From the point of view of a Hermetic philosopher, this is where a slightly different notion of divinity come into play.  In my case, good is not separate from divinity; divinity is not separate from what is good, or anything else for that matter.  Being good is being godly, and the only thing that is purely and only good is God (or, rather, the Divine Source).  Being good in a godly way (not in the common, mundane, or humane way) is, then, what piety could very well be.  This permits bad things to happen, in the sense that bad is what is not good, but only from a humane or mundane perspective.  This agrees with the earlier definition Euthyphro kept getting stuck on, because God likes and constantly contemplates Itself Mindfully, at one point speaking the Word to act and interact with itself; thus, being Good (capital-g “good in a godly way”) is being what God likes, i.e. pious and piety.

How do we know what being Good is?  By being Godly.  In being Godly, we learn the mind of the Nous, the word of the Logos, and the wisdom of Sophia, which help us collectively in knowing ourselves.  By knowing ourselves, we learn what we really want to do and what we really need to do; from a teleological or Godly point of view, the two are ultimately the same.  This is knowing our True Will, knowing the true course of our lives and how to act in accordance with our nature and Nature/God itself.  “Do what thou wilt” isn’t just a license to fuck around and fuck up as fancy would drive one to do, but is really an injunction to do what you need, are suited, and are destined to do.  In doing this, we do what is Good, and in doing what is Good we become pious.

However, this type of Good defies definition beyond “what is Godly”.  It’s entirely above and beyond mechanical, natural, logical, or spiritual revelation, coming from the superclass and source of all these things.  The only way to learn what one should do is to…well, you tell me.