49 Days of Definitions: Part X, 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 forty-sixth definition, part X, number 4 of 7:

The immortal nature (is) the movement of the mortal nature, (as to) mortality, earth is its grave; (and) heaven (is) the place of the immortal.  The immortal came into being because of the mortal, but the mortal comes into being by means of the immortal.  Evil is a deficiency of the good, good (is) fullness of itself.

So, now that we know that all of nature exists within the body of Man, what can we say about what nature actually is?  We know that there are four elements: earth which forms the basis for material existence, water which helps to grow, fire which inhibits growth, and air which joins together (II.2,3,4,5).  We know that there are different groups of living creatures: heavenly beings with only soul and immortal bodies, stones with only mortal bodies, plants with mortal bodies and breath, animals with mortal bodies and breath and soul, and Man with mortal bodies, breath, soul, and Nous (IV.2), and each of those bodies is composed of some mixture of the elements (IV.1).  There are two fluidities, the female which receives things and the male which emits things, which are always at work in the world to cause increase and decrease (X.1).  So far, that’s all we know.

Now we start to read about the interaction of different natures and what those natures are.  For one, “the immortal nature is the movement of the mortal nature”.  Natures with immortality refer to heavenly beings, which we can say are gods, or more Hermetically, the planets and stars of the sky.  These are the beings that “have” and “adorn heaven” (IX.7), and as we might infer from the place of astrology in many occult sciences and philosophies, these are the things that influence anything and everything down below.  Indeed, the planets and stars are the movement of the life and natures on the world, giving them impetus to act in certain ways just as the soul moves the body.

Further, note how this definition makes a clear demarcation between things high up and things down below: “as to mortality, earth is its grave; and heaven is the place of the immortal”.  Human beings and all mortal life down here is relegated to the earth, since earth is “the receptacle of the dead” as well as “nurse of the living” (II.3).  On the other hand, the immortal creatures reside in heaven, forever there and never down here, just as humans do not ascend into heaven to be immortal; after all, “you do not have the power of becoming immortal; neither does, indeed, the mortal have the power of dying” (VIII.7).  The only means by which we can interact is the air, since “heavens and earth are united with each other by the air” (II.2).

So, what gives with the fact that the immortal beings move us mortal ones around?  After all, isn’t Man the one to own and manage the world (VI.1)?  Don’t we ourselves have the power of the gods and the heavenly beings (VIII.6)?  Well, yes, we do.  We have the power of leading ourselves around in a way that nothing else does; the immortal beings move the mortal things, and most mortal things would, as I read this, be influenced by and obey the immortal ones.  However, we who are Man don’t have to follow suit; we can be led around by the immortal beings, or we can move ourselves.  In either case, movement is still accomplished, but if we let other things push us around, we basically relinquish our control to them, and those other things may not have our best interests at heart.  If our soul wants us to do one thing, but our bodies are pushed around to do the opposite, that hurts us and we’re driven further from perfection, not closer to it.  Thus, we can resist the power of the immortal beings and choose our own path, though it may not be easy (and it’s often not in the face of actual danger or adversity provided by them).

So why have immortal beings at all?  To help us learn more about ourselves, the world, and God.  After all, “the immortal came into being because of the mortal”.  The immortal beings, with their nature, have their own things and experiences and worlds that we as Man need to learn from.  From them we learn immortality, rulership, power of motion over others, and the like; they came into being as the entire world came into being for us (VIII.6).  However, they still have influence over us, and it is by them (not the soul, or not just the soul, as we hypothesized in the last definition!) that move bodies around down here to create more bodies.  Thus, “the mortal comes into being by means of the immortal”.  While the soul is the maker of the body, the body is made by the soul by means of the immortal beings in heaven.  (This should sound familiar if you know emanationism in Qabbalah, where an Idea comes down from God through the sephiroth of the planets and stars down to manifestation here on Earth.)

Recall, though, that this isn’t the first mention of stars and astral influences in the Definitions.  Way back in VII.5, I mentioned these two little symbols that I couldn’t type, common symbols in Armenian manuscripts for glosses, but one meant “star” and the other meant “sinner”.  While the propensity and judgment of individual humans according to their soul’s “illness” and “passion” (IX.4) can lead them to choose certain actions, the motion of the stars and planets above can also lead us to do the same.  We can be moved by the stars, just as anything mortal down here can, if we let it.  Certain influences, thoughts, accidents, opportunities, and the like can all be presented to us to lead or move us in certain ways that our souls may agree with or cry out against.

After all, keep in mind that these heavenly beings may not have our best influences at heart; they are still in the world and thus of matter, and moreover, have no Nous (IV.2).  They are entirely worldly, and as such, they are evil just as anything material is (according to X.1).  Evil, as we’re aware, is “conspicuous” (X.1), and we know that not only is evil the opposite of good, but that evil “is a deficiency of good”.  Evil is a lack, that which is missing something.  A dark room is dark because it has no light; one is ignorant because they do not know something.  Evil is defined by what it lacks; this is why it’s so conspicuous.  Good, on the other hand, is “fullness of itself”; it is complete in itself, just as light shows things to be just as they are without changing or modifying them (II.6).  Good “bears no comparison”, and knowledge of something cannot be compared to knowledge of anything else; ignorance is simply lacking knowledge, while knowledge is knowledge.  It cannot be substituted with knowledge of anything else, nor can it be enlarged or decreased in any way.

So, about those planets, stars, gods, and heavenly beings?  While they may not be outright ignorance, they don’t have all knowledge, either.  They are without Nous, and so while they may exist as part of and within God, they are without knowledge of God and therefore without knowledge of the world or themselves.  This makes them ignorant, and thus possessing the quality of evil.  They lead us to potentially ignorant ends, unaware of the intelligible or non-worldly aspects of their actions, and can so lead us to stay trapped down here when we let them.  (This should now sound like the function of the archons in Gnosticism.)  With knowledge, we understand the entire world and all the influences and natures within; without, we get trapped and are moved to know only a select few things in a select few ways.

49 Days of Definitions: Part IX, Definition 7

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 forty-second definition, part IX, number 7 of 7:

Humans work the land, (and) stars adorn heaven.  The gods have heaven; humans, heaven, earth, and sea; but the air is common to gods and humans.

Finally, a short definition to close out this penultimate section!  It’s a little hard to pin down, given what we’ve mentioned in the other definitions of this section, ranging from what knowledge of God entails to that God loves us and is always with us to the special place Man has in the cosmos to the means by which we can join with God through the development of the soul.  And then we have this almost wistful statement about the structure of the lower earthy world and higher heavenly world.  For this, rereading the definitions in section II would be helpful, but also recall that of VII.2: “and the species of every living being is only in one part of the world, but the sole species of man is at once in heaven, on earth, in the water and in the air”.

“Humans work the land, and stars adorn heaven”.  There are two parts to the world, the lower world of the land and the higher world of heaven.  On land, humans (not Man, but humans!) work the land, plowing it, making everything work down here, and making the land beautiful.  Down here, we express our own natures and live our own lives, subject to the fate and destiny and nature we’re surrounded by.  On the other hand, high above, the “stars adorn heaven”; this is a comparatively lax statement, indicating that the natures of the stars (heavenly beings, and also gods) are less than active, and certainly less active than humans.  Humans scurry about hither and thither, while stars rotate and glide on through the heavens.  Humans come and go; the stars burn forever.  But realize that this statement also indicates something of management: humans manage, work, and cultivate the world below, while the gods manage, adorn, and cultivate the world above.

Just as fish have the sea and salamanders the fire, “the gods have heaven” and “humans [have] heaven, earth, and sea”.  Remember that “man’s possession is the world” (VI.1), without distinction as to what parts.  Everything belongs to Man, is created for Man, and exists within Man.  While the gods live in and have heaven, that’s all they have; they do not own what happens below.  Man, however, rules over and is involved with all parts of the cosmos.  This includes the air, which is “common to gods and humans”, since it’s the medium that joins heaven and earth and through which the gods above can come down and interact with us below, and through which Man can rise up and become gods on their own.  Plus, if you throw in the influence of astrology, then that adds even more power to this statement, where the gods above (stars, planets, etc.) influence us down below by means of the air, and from whom we can interact and pull power from again by means of the air.

While the gods are to be respected, at the very least, we know that Man “is worthy of admiration” and God “is worthy of worship” from the last definition.  God, after all, is bigger than all things and includes all things within itself (III.1), and Man is the only creature able to know God and within whom all things are represented within.  We are the distillation of the entire cosmos, and within us we contain all things.  Perhaps this is why God loves us, because God sees itself in us just as we see ourselves within God.  And God made all this, all the gods and animals and elements and worlds for us.  We have our place, and though it may not appear to be the grandest or the most luxurious, that wouldn’t suit us as gods subject to death or Man made into gods.  To fully encapsulate all the things in the cosmos, we must know and be part of the entire cosmos, which includes all phenomena: life, increase, decrease, death, birth, rebirth, pain, pleasure, sadness, joy, desire, opinion, reason, unreason, good, evil, and all other qualities and quantities.  In this, we have our place in the grand harmony of the spheres, the unity of the Whole, the Good.  And just as the stars adorn heaven in their cyclic manner according to the will of God that directs their pure souls, so too do we carry out the will of God by becoming knowledgeable of God.

49 Days of Definitions: Part IV, Definition 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God is the good (which is) previous to all the intelligible (beings); God is the father of the intelligible; heaven is the maker of the body.  The magnitude of the light of the sun is earth and sea; the magnitude of heaven (is) the world; the magnitude of the world is God.

From the last few definitions in this section, we know that the Definitions provide a Hermetic panentheistic view of the universe: God is both immanent in creation and transcendent of it, existing both as part of all things that exist and outside existence entirely.  Further, all of creation isn’t one solid thing; there are different parts to creation, namely heaven, the world, and humanity.  Humanity exists only in part of the world; the world exists only in part of heaven; heaven exists only in part of God.  Thus, God is in all things that we can possibly know, but also exists outside it as well in a place of weird non-existence-yet-not-not-existing (it’s hard to talk about things that we don’t have words for, after all).

The current definition talks a little more about God and it’s relationship with heaven, the world, and man.  God is “the good”, specifying him as something that is or is part of the Nous (II.1), as well as likening him to the light of sense (II.6).  More importantly, God is “the good which is previous to all the intelligible beings”.  In other words, God is the thing that came first before anything else that has ever existed, might exist, can exist, or doesn’t exist; God has always been.  “God is the father of the intelligible”, so not only did God come first before all other things, but God also created all other things; things that are sensible (heaven, the world, Man, etc.) are a subset of things that are intelligible (things higher than heaven but still part of God).

In addition to being intelligible and coming from God, “heaven is the maker of the body”, so anything that’s sensible or has a body comes from heaven.  Just as heaven itself comes from God, so too do bodies also come from God, but bodies only exist in and under heaven.  Thus, heaven plays a microcosmic role in comparison to the macrocosmic God; heaven provides sensibility just as God provides intelligibility.  Thus, bodies don’t exist outside heaven because there’s nothing to make them, support them, or provide for them outside of heaven; beyond heaven, there is no sensibility, but only intelligibility.  This is basically saying that “the planes are discrete and not continuous” when it comes to certain characteristics of intelligible entities, in that sensibility cannot be taken out of the sensible realms into realms where sensibility isn’t actually a thing.

The next part of the definition waxes on a bit about comparisons, starting from small things and going to big things, but it talks about “magnitude”.  Magnitude, or greatness, was previously discussed in definition II.2, when it discussed that “heaven is as much as both the earth and the sea”, yet in II.3, we know that “heaven is larger than everything…for it extends beyond [the sun and the Earth]”.  So, clearly, physical size isn’t really being used as a grounds for comparison, especially since things without bodies (the strictly intelligible) don’t have any notion of “size”.  Spiritual fullness, complexity-while-being-one-ness, goodness, intelligibility, or other characteristics might be the grounds for comparison, but there’s little to go on here except a vague notion of “greatness”.

“The magnitude of the light of the sun is earth and sea”: thus, that which we receive from the heavens (being represented as a whole by “light of the sun”) is the greatness of the physical Earth we live on and all the humanity on it.  In a sense, the greatness that comes down here is that which remains down here; what comes down here is the totality of things that come from above.  “The magnitude of heaven is the world”: here, “heaven” is linked back to the previous comparison by referring to “the light of the sun”, which fills the heavens.  Just as the “earth and sea” is less than “the light of the sun”, so too is the world less than heaven; however, just as the Earth consists of the totality of everything that comes from above it, so too does the general world (which includes both the Earth as well as the sun) receive the influences of things higher than itself.  Thus, all of the world is the sum total of all the influences it receives from heaven.  “The magnitude of the world is God”:  this is where we get an interesting reversal of the sequence, when read in the same way as the others.  Here, God is certainly more than the world, and we know that there’s a lot more going on in creation than just the world (there’s also heaven, and the things part of God that are not part of heaven); thus, we can’t simply say that God is the sum total of all the influences it receives from the world, since the world is what receives influences from God, and to say that God is influenced by the thing it’s influencing implies that the world is equal with God, which contradicts many of our definitions.  Thus, we need to revise our interpretation a bit.

The first comparison likens the “magnitude of the light of the sun” to Earth, or “earth and sea”.  We haven’t really encountered “light of the sun” yet in the Definitions, though we have encountered “light”, which we know makes things visible and known (II.6).  We can take “light of the sun” to mean “visible light”, since the Sun is a visible body and not something merely intelligible.  Thus, if we take the comparison to really be more of a strict equality, we can say that visible (“light of the sun”) supports and enables the existence of things that become visible in light (“earth and sea”), as well as vice versa; they support each other.  Similarly, that the “magnitude of heaven is the world” indicates that heaven supports and enables the existence of the world, and vice versa; although things exist outside of the world in heaven, heaven as a whole cannot exist without the world, nor can the world exist without heaven.  Finally, this means the same thing for the world and God: God enables and supports the existence of the world, and the world supports and enables the existence of God.

This last bit is counterintuitive, perhaps, but isn’t as contradictory as our first attempt at understanding this.  What this means is that the world is a necessary part of God; although God is bigger and outside the world, the part of God that is the world and in the world is what enables the other things as well.  Everything is permeated with divine essence, in other words, but everything is also therefore intrinsically connected by it as well.  If the magnitude of the world is God, and the magnitude of heaven is the world, then that also means that God’s existence enables and is enabled by that of heaven as much as it is by the existence of the world.  Everything that exists is not only part of the Whole, the All, or the One, but everything that exists is necessary for the existence of everything else in the Whole.  Just because something exists outside another thing (uninhabited land outside inhabited land, heavenly places outside the worldly places, God outside heaven, etc.) doesn’t mean it’s independent of the rest, because that would make God “disjointed” in a sense that would break the interconnectedness of everything within God; if something exists independent of something else, then it would also have to be independent of everything including God, which contradicts definition III.1 (“nothing is uninhabited by God”).  Everything is connected by and through the connection to God.