49 Days of Definitions: Part X, 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-ninth and final definition, part X, number 7 of 7:

Therefore soul is an immortal essence, eternal, intellective, having, as an intellectual (thought), its reason endowed with Nous.  By understanding nature, it attracts to itself the intellect of (the planetary) harmony; then, once it is freed from this natural body, it remains alone with itself (and) is grieved, belonging only to itself in the intelligible world.  It rules on its reason.

After the last few definitions, which I feel were getting a little dramatic in how they were presenting the interaction between mortals on earth and immortals in heaven and how us who are Man should act, we wrap things up with this definition, which talks about the soul, which really is the centerpiece and focus of the entire Definitions.

First, we start of with a list of attributions of the soul, and here specifically that of Man.  It’s an essence, an underlying quality, which helps to define that which we are.  It is immortal; it does not die, nor is it born; while it may have been made by Nous (X.3), it was not generated in the same way bodies are (V.5).  The soul is eternal, which only confirms that it has always existed outside of time itself and experiences time only as much as God does or allows us to in our bodies; the soul truly is unbegotten, just as matter is (X.5).  It is intellective, able to think and reason with Nous, since that is what makes Man distinct from other creatures (IV.1, V.3).  Because of this, we can reason and understand the cosmos in a way that only God can, but it takes time, practice, skill, dedication, and perseverance to do so.  We can similarly choose to do none of those things and remain as, essentially, animals are; we can let our reason and minds stay catatonic and remain as animals do, or we can use reason just enough to get things done but in nowhere a complete way as we ought.

The way we understand things as we ought to is obtained by acting reasonably with the soul in the body (V.3).  This produces knowledge, true honest knowledge, which when obtained enough yields knowledge of everything: ourselves, all other things, and God itself (VII.5).  By understanding that which goes on around us, we understand everything as it works together: how bodies increase and decrease, by what means, and why they do this.  We understand the intelligible things that cannot be seen but we can still yet know, all the same.  However, we must continue to choose to do this, lest influences from the heavenly beings above sway us to do otherwise.  But even then, once we understand even a little bit of nature and the natural world, Man “attracts to itself the intellect of the planetary harmony”.  We begin to associate ourselves with the planets and other gods, and we begin to raise ourselves up into knowledge of systems far beyond that of the material plane of the earth.  As we attract ourselves to “the intellect of the planetary harmony”, we ascend into godhood, coming to know how all things work.  This is not the final stage of gnosis or perfection, but it’s certainly getting there.

After all, the soul stays in the body only as long as it needs to; then, once the soul reaches perfection, the soul leaves the body to die (VI.2, VI.3).  At this point, the soul is “freed from this natural body”, and, without a body, the soul becomes inert once more as it was beforehand.  Thus, it “remains alone with itself”, but it is also “grieved”.  After all, it has all the knowledge of the cosmos and of God at this point, yet it sheds its old skin, its old world, everything it had grown up knowing, and “grieves”.  This is an interesting point, since why should we grieve?  Sadness, after all, is an illness of the soul; without anything to expose itself to, how can the soul obtain anything?  After all, it remains “belonging only to itself in the intelligible world”.  It is without body, and it is now independent as a truly immortal being, a god, free from the sensible world in the infinity of God.  It rules, on its own and by its own, according to “its reason”, it’s Logos.

So why should there be grief?  All this work and perfection and godhood for…grief?  It doesn’t make much sense, I’ll agree, so there’s something missing, I’d think.  Jean-Pierre Mahé notes that the text is not only incomplete at this point, but that the rest of the text in several versions of the Definitions is spurious and an add-in from some other text dealing with astrological influences.  It’s kind of a let-down for the final definition, but let’s assume that the text is complete, and that this is the final and definitory definition of them all.  What follows is pretty much my interpretation, but this is going to be less logical and less based on the rest of the text than the other definitions.

The perfect soul, freed from the body,  rules on its reason in the intelligible world of God.  It, already possessing soul-Nous (VIII.4), has now also obtained divine Nous in its entirety, and thus becomes one with the knowledge of God and, thus, God.  By knowing all the beings, by knowing the self, by knowing Man, by knowing God, the soul becomes everywhere God is.  By ruling on its reason, which is now the Logos of the Nous, the soul acts according to the will of God without any external influence to sway it, and no unreasonable things to change its opinions or desires.  It belongs only to itself, but since itself is now effectively God, then it belongs to and exists within God perfectly in harmony.

The grief mentioned in this definition refers to it being separated from the material sensible world, which is odd when you consider the etymological root of “grief” to mean “weighty” in Latin.  The process of shedding the body for the soul may not be a very peaceful process, just as the process of birth for a human being is by no means easy or painless.  Perhaps, then, the grief of the soul is the final removal of its illnesses of sadness and joy, or the experiences it can no longer experience as a moving soul in a sensing and sensible body.  Yet, being joined in the knowledge of God, it already knows these things and experiences them intelligibly.  But it also knows that there are others that have not yet experienced this, and that they suffer in envy and jealousy and death when they don’t have to.  Why should they suffer?  God loves Man, after all, and Man loves God; if you saw a loved one in pain, you might also do what you could to relieve it.  As God, since that’s effectively what the soul is now, why wouldn’t you try to help out those who are suffering so that they wouldn’t need to suffer anymore?  If that’s what reason dictates, after all, why couldn’t you return to animate a new body, speak reasonably, act reasonably, lead others to act and speak reasonably, lead others to knowledge, and help perfect the souls of others that they too might be free?

Maybe this is an indication that the soul, ruling on its reason, may reason to return to the world; after all, since this soul is now God, we know that “God changes and turns into the form of man” for the sake of Man, so that others may become God as well.   In other words, to quote one of my favorite stories, perhaps the ending has not yet been written.

49 Days of Definitions: Part X, 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 forty-eighth definition, part X, number 6 of 7:

Providence and Necessity (are), in the mortal, birth and death, and in God, unbegotten (essence).  The immortal (beings) agree with one another and the mortal envy one another with jealousy, because evil envy arises due to knowing death in advance.  The immortal does what he always does, but the mortal does what he has never done.  Death, if understood, is immortality; if not understood (it is) death.  They assume that the mortal (beings) of this (world) have fallen under (the dominion) of the immortal, but (in reality) the immortal are servants of the mortal of this (world).

The relationships between different material bodies in the world is complicated, ranging from different types of living beings, some immortal and some not, some with Nous and some not, to the motions provided by the immortal heavenly beings that influence the lower mortal ones, and so forth.  Between figuring out what’s really us when we move and what’s an influence we’re being moved by can be difficult, and this is starting to raise some cosmological questions that this text is probably unsuited to answer adequately.  This definition, however, affords some more reason and rules to how everything down here works.

First, we’re introduced to Providence and Necessity.  We’ve already met necessity once before, in VIII.1: “there is a destiny which has come into being according to a just necessity; there is a law which has come into being according to the necessity of humans”.  Necessity is, then, an ordering principle of the cosmos, which structures things just so according to what we need so that everything can work together.  No matter what else happens in the world, it must fulfill necessity, else it cannot happen at all.  For all intents and purposes, we can consider necessity, providence, fate, and destiny to all be the same thing here; the two terms are not seen apart from each other, even in a similar passage in the Corpus Hermeticum (chapter XII, part 14):

Necessity and Providence and Nature are instruments of Cosmos and of Matter’s ordering; while of intelligible things each is Essence, and Sameness is their Essence.

In the world, each thing that exists must fulfill a particular fate.  For the mortal, these things are “birth and death”; these things are mandated for every mortal being that lives.  For every birth, there is a death; for every death, there is a birth.  Nothing mortal can live without being born, and all mortal things, by virtue of their being mortal, must die.  On the other hand, for Man who is both mortal and immortal in his own godly way, the corresponding fate of God is being “unbegotten”.  God is unbegotten, as we’ve mentioned before in the last definition, and God can neither die nor be born, nor can God grow or increase or decrease.  Simply put, God is, was, always will be, and can only ever be.

So, mortal beings are born, live for a short while, and die, and immortal beings live forever.  Cool.  But there’s more to it than that, especially when you put two of the same kind of beings with each other.  With immortal beings, they “agree with one another”; they do not fight, they do not bicker, they do not argue, but they agree and exist in more-or-less harmony with each other.  They have their roles and their parts to play, they always have, and they always will.  Consider the planets of the sky; though they may enter into harmful or violent aspects with each other, they do not fight or try to take from another what they have.  Mortal beings, on the other hand, “envy one another with jealousy, because evil envy arises due to knowing death in advance”.  So us mortal beings, including animals and plants, fight and bicker and harm each other because we always want things that others have.  We envy others for what they have, and we’re jealous over what we already possess.  This is because we’re afraid of losing it when we die, so we want to hold onto it as much as we can before our bodies expire.

But this is stupid, isn’t it?  I mean, look at the planets: “the immortal does what he has always done”.  They don’t care what other things are doing; they’ve got their own job to do, and they’re in no rush nor lax state to get it done.  They just keep doing it forever; that’s their job.  A mortal being, on the other hand, “does what he has never done”.  Although any immortal part within us may have done it at some point before, these bodies are constantly changing (cf. panta rhei), not to mention that every body has not existed forever before.  There is always something new that we’re doing that we have not yet done, and may never get the chance to do it again.  We are only born once, we only take our first breath once, we only eat a particular plate of food once (different food is on it the next time!), and so forth.  Nothing is ever the same for us mortals, and with death approaching as is due for all mortals, we want to try to get everything we can done, and to obtain everything we can.  Being material creatures, we often find solace in material ends, which leads us to “envy one another with jealousy”.

Still, it’s stupid.  I mean, what is death?  It’s just the ending of the body’s use for the soul.  Man may have a body, but Man is so much more than that.  The essential Man is more than the sum of its parts; the essential Man is immortal and cannot die, no matter what kind of death the body may undergo.  The body simply doesn’t affect the soul in that way; while the body’s premature death may leave the soul stunted in development, it doesn’t kill the soul or the essential Man.  “Death, if understood, is immortality”, which is obtained through knowledge, and knowledge is perfection of the soul.  If we properly understand death, just as we can understand anything else, we will not fear it (IX.3), which then removes death from jealousy and envy and fighting over things.  That said, if we do not understand death, “it is death”.  By being ignorant of the nature of life and death, mortality and immortality of Man, we who are Man condemn ourselves to death and forsaking our chances at immortality and knowledge.

And, trust me, there are plenty of people who fit that bill.  How many people do you know are focused only on the material world?  How many who fight over money or possessions or Black Friday deals or what-have-you?  How many who conceive of nuclear wars to get rid of some pesky people from the face of the planet so we can get more oil?  There’s a lot of these people, and they find death to be fascinating without understanding it.  These type of people “assume that the mortal beings of this world have fallen under the dominion of the immortal”.  In other words, these people are violent or are ignorant because they think that’s just the way things are.  They don’t stop to think how they can change it, they don’t think they’re capable of changing it, and they don’t care about what the world might be if they changed it.  They think that the underlying reality of everything that happens is out of their control, so they may as well play along and “do their part” in being ignorant, however wise and reasonable it may seem to them.

But, as you who’re reading these Definitions know, that’s not the case.  Those who understand the nature of beings, who know reality and God and truth, understand that Man has as much power as the gods in determining our own actions (VIII.7).  We don’t have to be led around by the nose according to the whims and influences and passions of other beings.  We have the power to choose good or evil, knowledge or ignorance.  Those who realize these things have knowledge, and they understand that “in reality the immortal are the servants of the mortal of this world”.  The immortal don’t serve to rule or own the world; that’s for Man.  Man rules and owns the world, and we’re to understand and properly live our lives with the immortal beings so as to know them, by which we know ourselves, by which we know God, by which we obtain Nous, by which we perfect the soul, by which we obtain true immortality.

So what do we have to gain from the immortal gods?  Let’s restrict ourselves to the topic of the astrological planets and stars, then, when we talk about these heavenly beings.  Just as the four elements constitute four essences or qualities of created bodies down here, the stars and planets constitute essences or qualities of motion and action that are performed by bodies down here.  Mars, for instance, cuts off and burns up and produces a heat strong enough to lead people to fight.  Venus, on the other hand, embraces and nourishes and produces a cold mild enough to nurture and join people together.  All the planets, stars, gods, and heavenly beings produce other effects, and they take place down here in the world.  If we understand these influences, we understand what we do when we’re exposed to them, how we internalize and realize them, how we effect them, what they make use of in different situations, and how we can make the best use of them.  We use the immortal beings as a means to knowledge, which is why they exist in the first place.  The immortal beings, just as everything else, are a means by which we can know ourselves.

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 VIII, 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 thirty-fifth definition, part VIII, number 7 of 7:

You do not have the power of becoming immortal; neither does, indeed, the immortal (have the power) of dying.  You can even become a god if you want, for it is possible.  Therefore want and understand and believe and love; then you have become (it)!

So the rest of this section of definitions has been building up a theme involving the power of Man: we are powerful, and have the power within ourselves as bestowed by God to stay in the world as mere animals or to transcend it as part of God.  It’s really all up to us; our actions, our thoughts, our opinions, our worship, our experiences all help us develop ourselves to perfection or inhibit our development.  In that sense, “man has as much power as the gods” (VIII.6); we have the power of choosing for ourselves (each and every one of us) mortal, material perdition or immortal, transcendent salvation.  Again, the whole goal of perfection and development according to the Definitions as a whole is knowledge of God, and by knowing God we come to know everything that exists and ourselves, and vice versa.

That said, keep in mind that despite all this power we’re entitled to have, we’re not omnipotent.  We’re still human, and therefore consist of body and soul; we’re dual-natured, which means we still have some sort of nature, and since we’re sensible, we are not purely intelligible as God is.  Our nature as humans is to die; we are mortal, after all, and the nature of things with material bodies is to die eventually.  Remember that “all beings cannot exceed their own capacity” and that “every being in this world has a nature” (VIII.1); we have our own nature that we cannot change.  Thus, even though we have the choice of choosing immortality for our souls, we “do not have the power of becoming immortal”.  To do so is simply not in our nature, and we cannot change our nature.  This natural law is something above destiny or choice, and while our nature is capable of possessing Nous, our nature is not capable of becoming a heavenly being, since human beings are not heavenly beings (owing to the different bodies, forms, and natures we possess).  Likewise, “neither does, indeed, the immortal have the power of dying”; it’s not in their nature to.  So it’s not just that we’re declined the power of changing natures, but everything is; whatever something is according to its nature, that is going to be how it will be for that being.

Despite that we cannot change our natures, we still have great power: “you can even become a god if you want”.  This may pose something of a problem, since we’re told at once that we cannot change our natures, and yet we can become divine.  Our nature as Man is to be human; this is understood.  We’re subject to natural law, the human condition, “quality and quantity as well as good and evil” (VII.4).  That said, it is also the nature of Man to be godly, if only we come to know God in the process, which we’re all capable of doing.  This is because we are made like God “after the species” (I.1), so whatever God is, we inherently are in a way apart from other living creatures.  But because of our twofold nature, this is complicated by the presence of the soul inhabiting the body.  We alone dwell in the sensible world and understand (or are capable of understanding) the intelligible world, and we alone dwell throughout and in all parts of the sensible world.  This is similar to how God exists throughout and in all parts of the intelligible world, which extends beyond the sensible world in all possible ways (IV.3, IV.4).  Thus, by becoming gods in our own right within God, we’re simply following our nature and expanding upon it into the fullness of knowledge that is the fullness of the world within God.

This is complicated, I know, since it seems contradictory.  Aren’t gods immortal?  Yes: gods, as heavenly beings such as those made of fire, do not die, the quality of being immortal.  However, Man dies, or more properly, the body of Man dies while the soul lives on in its own way.  We know that the soul is not so tightly coupled with the body that the soul perishes with the body (VI.2); rather, the soul leaves the body upon the body dying, and the soul leaves.  However, while the body requires the soul to move, the soul requires the body to develop.  If the body dies before the soul completes its development, it is “imperfect and lacks a body” (VI.3), but we don’t yet know what happens to remedy that.  If the soul requires the body to develop and it is made to leave the body before it can finish developing, then perhaps the soul returns to another body in a sort of reincarnation or transmigration; it hasn’t yet been said in the Definitions, but it’s also immaterial here.  The point is that the soul is immortal, as is the essence of Man, though the realization of Man as human beings is imperfect as all realizations of ideas are.  We are not just our bodies, and in a sense our bodies are not truly who or what we are, no more than any given pine tree is the idea of pine trees or the DNA of pine trees.

As humans with perfected souls, we are enjoined with God in perfect knowledge of God, which is in our nature, capability, and reason to do; this is what makes us gods in our own nature.  This is not just some grand, divine theological statement, but a practical one: “you can even become a god if you want, for it is possible”.  It is possible for us to perfect our souls; it doesn’t state when, how, or under what circumstances.  It’s possible for us no matter who, what, or where we are.  It’s possible for us, this very moment in each of our lives even, to perfect our soul.  Every moment that we have not perfected our souls or done what is necessary for perfection is one in which we’ve essentially chosen not to, since if we were to just listen to the urges of our souls, we would naturally come to perfection and therefore godhood (VII.3).  In a way, it’s almost Buddhist in its similarity to realization of one’s Buddha-nature; we just need to see through the inane material BS going on in our lives, wipe away the dirt and grime, and let the truth of our existence shine.

Of course, this is more difficult than it sounds.  Many people are entrenched in unreasonable words or living or choices, or are made to be so by others, and it’s hard for many of us to understand or even listen to our souls and its urgings to do the right thing for ourselves.  If it were easy, then we wouldn’t need Hermeticism or Christianity or Thelema or Buddhism or any other path; we’d just naturally do what comes to us.  But it’s in our nature to choose what we do, beyond what animals or heavenly beings do; this set of choices that faces us each and every moment can lead us to knowledge of God or away from knowledge of God.  But the fact remains that it’s possible to do the right thing for ourselves no matter who we are, so even in our present lives, we can attain perfection and, thus, godhood and godliness.

So what do we do?  Hermes gives four commands to us to guide us to perfection: “therefore want and understand and believe and love”.  By following these injunctions, we will “have become [gods]”.  So what do these four commands really tell us to do?

  • Want.  Many of our choices are fueled by what we like and what we don’t like, or what we fear and what we desire.  From our lizard brain to our emotional brain to our logical brain, all our choices are backed up by some sort of logic based on what we want to happen for ourselves.  If we are to perfect ourselves, we must want to perfect ourselves in every way, so that our entire body works in unison with what our soul wants.  Our soul wants perfection; we must consciously recognize that want, and similarly want it as well.  We have to consciously want perfection in order for us to obtain it.
  • Understand.  It’s all well and good to want perfection, but if we don’t know why we want something or how to accomplish it, then we’re going to be stranded at square one.  In order to properly want something, we need good logic behind it that appeals to our lizard, emotional, and rational brains.  These logical reasons must be reasonable; thus, we must employ Logos, reasonable speech, in ourselves and in our lives.  This helps us to understand ourselves and how we work, and likewise how we function across the entire world that we’ve inherited and possess.  By understanding ourselves, we understand the world, and vice versa; by understanding ourselves, we understand God, and vice versa; by coming to understand God, we perfect ourselves.  Thus, we must be completely aware of ourselves and our entire existence, both in and of the world, so as to be immanent within it and transcendent of it.
  • Believe.  There’s a lot of things in the cosmos that we cannot yet understand; this is natural, since it takes time for us to understand any one thing.  For instance, if you don’t understand the principle of heat, you won’t understand how cooking with heat changes food.  Likewise, until we understand the sensible world, we won’t understand the intelligible world, which is where truth really lies.  However, even if we don’t fully understand it, we can still believe in it.  Belief is where we hold something to be true without having reason for it yet; we must use reason to test that belief, and if it holds up to actually be true, then that belief becomes understandable knowledge.  Understanding little things helps us to believe larger things, even if we don’t yet fully understand the larger things.  This is especially true of that which is purely intelligible e.g. God, so we must believe in God and the intelligible for us to understand it.  Thus, we must believe things properly just as we must reason about things properly.  We must believe “that nothing is a vain work”, for then we “will find the work and the craftsman”, but if we believe that everything exists as some sort of nihilist joke, then we “will be mocked at” (VIII.5), which is a euphemistic threat for nothing good.
  • Love.  This isn’t something that’s come up before, but it’s a natural progression of belief, just as belief was from understanding and understanding from wanting.  We must love perfection as something to be worshipped, or seen as worthy of our entire selves and work.  We must hold perfection, and the object and goal of perfection of God, close to us as something that we not just adore but aspire to join with.  We have to give ourselves wholly in body, in soul, in spirit, and in mind to God so as to become perfect.  We need to devote ourselves in a passionate, almost lustful way that makes use of our entire selves, leaving nothing leftover, to the highest goal we possibly can.  We must love perfection.  We must love God.

Note how, by that last injunction of love, this forms a type of cycle, an iterative process towards perfection.  After all, if we devote ourselves to perfection and we yet lack it, we must follow it and chase it and strive to obtain it.  This is, essentially, wanting perfection.  So if we want to love perfection, we must believe in it; if we are to believe in it, we must understand it; if we are to understand it, we must want it; if we are to want it, we must love it.  Even with just a curious desire to do something, this will open the door and start one off on the path to perfection, but it may be a long road.  It’s an iterative process that builds upon itself; we want a little, then eventually we want more, then we want even more, and so on.  Eventually, our wanting, our understanding, our believing, our loving will become so great that it will completely overwhelm any evil, ignorant, unreasonable choice we might possibly make, and we will end up in perfection of ourselves.

Want, understand, believe, and love.  This is the Work.

49 Days of Definitions: Part VI, 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 twenty-second definition, part VI, number 2 of 3:

Just as you went out of the womb, likewise you will go out of this body; just as you will no longer enter the womb, likewise you will no longer enter this material body.  Just as, while being in the womb, you did not know the (things which are) in the world, likewise when you are outside the body, you will not know the beings (that are) outside the body.  Just as when you have gone out of the womb, you do not remember the (things which are) in the womb, likewise, when you have gone out of the body, you will be still more excellent.

The last definition described the power and place of Man in the world: “…the gods are God’s possession…and man’s possession is the world”.  Because of the combination of body, breath, soul, Logos, and Nous, being made after the image of God, Man is this weird, complex entity that spans both the sensible and the intelligible worlds like nobody and nothing else except for God.  Because of that same weird mixture, though, we have this weird quandry like no other entity has, being both partially mortal and partially immortal.  This isn’t something that hasn’t been talked about much besides the fact that we have this problem until now.

This definition is basically one big comparison between Man as the body dies and a baby being born from a womb.  There are basic statements made here:

  1. A baby leaving the womb vs. Man leaving the body
  2. A baby having left the womb unable to reenter vs. Man having left the body unable to reenter
  3. A baby in the womb ignorant of the world outside vs. Man outside the body ignorant of the physical things outside the body
  4. A baby having left the womb ignorant of the inside of the womb vs. Man having left the body being “still more excellent”

First, why is the comparison between Man and the body and a baby and the womb being used?  Because it shows how things are able to develop over time.  A baby in the womb is both made in the womb and nurtured by it, but it is not a permanent thing.  Once the baby is fully-formed (assuming no accidents along the way), the baby leaves the womb through birth.  Until then, however, the baby will remain in the womb and continue to develop.  The baby’s senses are not only being developed while this happens, but are limited to the womb itself; the baby will not know of anything outside the womb, such as who the mother is or where the womb might be placed on the earth.  The baby’s world is limited to the womb, but only for so long.  After that point, the baby is born from the womb and lives independently of it, never returning for it but continuing to grow and develop apart from the womb; however, the person now born will always be marked by how it developed in the womb, forming a link to it through its own existence.

With that said, let’s talk about each of these comparisons.  The first comparison says that “just as you went out of the womb, likewise you will go out of this body”.  Simple enough; a baby born cannot be un-born, nor can it be re-born from the same womb with the same body.  Once born, that’s it; the baby is separated, the umbilical cord cut, the placenta removed, and the baby now lives as an independent human being.  This is contrasted with the process to “go out of this body”, i.e. physical death of the body while the immortal part of us lives on.  Thus, once we die, we “go  out” from the body; it’s the immortal part that is not part of the mortal body that leaves, i.e. the Nous.  There is a part of Man that survives physical death, but it’s tied to the body just as a baby is tied to the womb: temporarily until it can survive on its own.  This implies that the Nous, the immortal essence within Man, develops in some way within the body until it is developed enough to leave it to exist on its own apart from the body.

The second comparison says that “just as you will no longer enter the womb, likewise you will no longer enter this material body”.  Simple enough; once a baby exits the womb, it cannot be stuffed back in nor will it grow back into the same womb.  The baby will grow, mature, and live on its own independent of it, having left the womb where it developed only but so long enough to continue the process on its own.  Likewise, when Man dies, the immortal part of Man cannot reinhabit the body that it left.  When the body dies, it dies; it’s no longer good for anything, and the immortal part of Man cannot reenter or be stuffed back inside it.  The Nous, the immortal essence within Man, can be said to develop in the body for just as long as it needs to, then leaves the body to live on its own, independent of the body.  It’s like the parable of the raft from before: just as we don’t need to carry a raft with us after we’ve crossed the river, we similarly don’t need the womb to continue developing after we’ve left it, and we similarly don’t need the body to develop ourselves after the bodiless part of us leaves it.

Let’s skip ahead to the fourth and final comparison in this definition before tackling the third.  The last part of this definition suffers from a bit of a mistranslation: “just as when you have gone out of the womb, you do not remember the things which are in the womb, likewise, when you have gone out of the body, you will be still more excellent”.  This last part was written in Greek, but the Armenian text has it written as “you will remember nothing of what belongs to it”, which I like a little more but with the connotation of what the Greek says.  Consider your experience with your life: do you remember what it was like before you were born?  Do you remember the warmth of the womb, the texture of the umbilical cord?  I highly doubt it; most people don’t remember what happened last week, much less what happened in the nine months while they were forming, especially since a good chunk of that was before we even had the ability to sense or become aware of things.  Upon leaving it, we simply started new, and don’t recall the experience of being inside; we had known nothing before it, and only know the things after birth since it was the first contrasting experience we could have.  The case is similar with the immortal aspect of Man with the body: upon dying, the immortal part of Man leaves the body and essentially forgets the experience of the body.  After all, if everything we’ve ever known is regulated and determined by the body, imagine what it’s like to be bodiless.  It’s about as hard for an as-yet unborn child to imagine worldly existence.  This allows us to be “still more excellent”, which seems to imply that being bodiless and purely immortal is preferable and better than being mortal and worldly.  It’s an interesting thought that we’ll develop later on, but at the risk of developing an anti-matter dualistic viewpoint, it’s not wholly unreasonable to say here that immortality and bodiless living is overall preferable to mortality and bodily living.

Let’s go back a bit now.  The third comparison is a little difficult, and I question whether there’s an error in the text.  The text says “just as, while being in the womb, you did not know the things which are in the world, likewise when you are outside the body, you will not know the beings that are outside the body”.  Consider the baby in the womb: it isn’t aware of what’s going on outside the womb, since its ability to sense what’s going on around it is limited to the womb itself.  Its ability to sense lies in its body (cf. VI.1), and since its body is tied to the womb, it cannot sense things that are outside its body and the womb.  Thus, the baby cannot know what’s going on in the world outside the womb: who’s standing nearby, whether it’s daytime or nighttime, and so forth.  When it comes to Man and the body, it seems like the comparison should read “likewise when you are in the body, you will not know the beings that are outside the world” (my suggestion being bolded).  After all, it makes sense, right?  We’d be limited to the body and that which the body is connected to, i.e. the world.  But we know that this isn’t the case; we know that Man even within the body can look into the world and outside the world due to Nous; “nobody sees heaven and what is therein, but only man” (V.3), and “man’s possession is the world” (VI.1).  Man is indeed fully capable of knowing the things inside and outside the body and the world.

However, all these comparisons describe the immortal nature of Man leaving the mortal nature, so let’s try that third comparison again: “…likewise when you are outside the body, you will not know the beings that are outside the body”.  The immortal part of Man, once it leaves the body, will not know the things outside the body.  It’s important to notice that, since the same word and phrasing is used for “body” in both parts of this statement, and since this statement only refers to the physical body itself as opposed to the etheric or spiritual immortal part of Man, we need to reinterpret this statement with that notion.  If a baby in the womb does not know the world outside it, then a baby having left the womb becomes aware of the world outside.  Thus, if the immortal part of Man in the body knows does not know what’s going on outside the body, the immortal part of Man having left the body…still doesn’t know what’s going on outside the body?  Again, it would make sense for this to read that the immortal Man would be aware of what goes on outside the physical world, unless our initial comparison with the baby leaving the womb was off.  If a baby in the womb does not know the world outside, then it knows the world inside; thus, when it leaves the womb, the baby…still wouldn’t know what goes on outside the world?  Isn’t that what the whole point of being Man is about?

I’m really tempted to correct this part of the definition, since something here seems off and contradictory to the other definitions we’ve been through; something in this comparison keeps breaking.  Without changing the definition, we might draw a connection here between the third comparison and the fourth one here.  Remember that the fourth comparison basically says that when the immortal nature of Man leaves the body, it forgets all the experiences it had with the body, though it still relied on the body to develop it.  Thus, once we leave the body, we lose all memory of it and knowledge of it, just as we know wombs exist but don’t remember ours or our experiences within it.  To connect it back to the third definition, once we leave the body, we lose our memories of it, and therefore our connection to it; what happens to the body is no longer anything we care about or have control over.  We “will not know the beings that are outside the body” once we’ve left it, since it’s nothing we can sense anymore, since being bodiless we have no more sense to sense the sensibility.  This does actually fit with the comparison made to being in the womb: a baby’s sense is limited only to itself, and it is entirely in the womb, so it is unable to know anything outside the womb.  The immortal part of Man understands itself (which is quite a bit), but is unable to know anything outside of the intelligible.  It may know that bodies exist, but is unable to remember, sense, or use the body; thus, once the immortal part of us leaves the body, we are unaware of what’s outside the body.  Physical embodiment is meaningless to something bodiless.

So, what does all this say about Man?  The two parts of us, the mortal body and the immortal part of us which is as yet unspecified (possibly Nous?), are not so tightly coupled that they live and die at once.  Instead, the body can die but the immortal part of us will live on independently of it.  As the body lives, the immortal part dwells within it; once the body dies, the immortal part leaves it forever, and the body becomes inert material that returns to the four elements.  Further, once the immortal part leaves the body, it essentially becomes its own independent thing of the body, forgetting and severing all connections with the body into an utterly new kind of existence.  While Man may be a combination of the mortal and the immortal, it seems more like a detachable pieces of paper than something so deeply intertwined and coupled together.

49 Days of Definitions: Part V, 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 nineteenth definition, part V, number 2 of 3:

To Nous nothing is incomprehensible, to speech nothing ineffable: when you keep silent, you understand; when you talk, you (just) talk.  Since Nous conceives speech in silence, only (that) speech (which comes) from silence and Nous (is) salvation.  (But that) speech (which comes) from speech (is) only perdition; for by (his) body man is mortal, but by speech (he is) immortal.

Speech with reason is Logos; speech without reason is voice (V.1).  Among all the creatures with voice, Man is the only one with Nous, which enables him to reason (I.1, IV.1).  Logos, which is “reasonable speech”, is the servant of Nous, allowing for the gap between that which is only intelligible and that which is both sensible and intelligible (or, said another way, that which is sensible and that which is insensible) to be bridged.  Voice is sensible; reason is intelligible only; by combining the two, we get reasonable speech, which allows for the intelligible to become sensible.  Now we start to see how the Logos works with the Nous, and how Man works with both of these in its own manner.

First, we read that “to Nous nothing is incomprehensible”; this follows from V.1, where “Nous sees everything”, and from III.1, where “nothing is uninhabited by God”.  Nous is Mind, and more than that, the Mind of All as well as the All.  After this, we learn that “to speech nothing [is] ineffable”; thus, there is nothing that cannot be intelligible nor reasoned about.  Consider that it is impossible for anything to exist outside of God; all things must be a part of God, and all of God is intelligible.  Add to it, where the Mind is, so too is the Word, so the Word is with the Mind in all places at all times and is a servant to Mind.  The Word, the Logos, allows things to be reasoned and reasonable; thus, where Logos goes, so too does reason.  Whatever can be reasoned can be spoken of; thus, “nothing is ineffable” to Logos, which can reason about literally everything that exists and can possibly exist within God.

However, while nothing is ineffable to the Word itself, this is a far cry from the words we humans use.  “When you keep silent, you understand; when you talk, you just talk” suggests that the real reason within us is not connected to sensibility, since silence is not sensible.  Sensing a lack of talking is not the same thing as sensing silence, since we can sense the absence of something but not something that is truly insensible, as Logos is.  Reason allows us to bridge the gap between the sensible and the insensible, but is not itself sensible.  Consider the beginning of Hermes Trismegistus’ prayer from the Poemander (chapter I, parts 30 through 32):

Accept my reason’s offerings pure, from soul and heart for aye stretched up to Thee, O Thou unutterable, unspeakable, Whose Name naught but the Silence can express.

We know that “to speech nothing [is] ineffable”, though we also know that God is ineffable (I.4); this would appear to be a contradiction, but remember that speech is not the same thing as reasonable speech.  Reasonable speech allows us to learn about the intelligible through sensible means, but does not allow us to bring the intelligible into sensibility, much as “Nous does not become an observer for the eyes, but the eyes for Nous” when it comes to sight (V.1).  True understanding through reasonable speech requires us to abandon voice; I’m reminded of the parable of the raft to explain this point:

A man is trapped on one side of a fast-flowing river. Where he stands, there is great danger and uncertainty – but on the far side of the river, there is safety. But there is no bridge or ferry for crossing. So the man gathers logs, leaves, twigs, and vines and is able to fashion a raft, sturdy enough to carry him to the other shore. By lying on the raft and using his arms to paddle, he crosses the river to safety.

The Buddha then asks the listeners a question: “What would you think if the man, having crossed over the river, then said to himself, ‘Oh, this raft has served me so well, I should strap it on to my back and carry it over land now?'”

The monks replied that it would not be very sensible to cling to the raft in such a way.

The Buddha continues: “What if he lay the raft down gratefully, thinking that this raft has served him well, but is no longer of use and can thus be laid down upon the shore?”

The monks replied that this would be the proper attitude.

The Buddha concluded by saying, “So it is with my teachings, which are like a raft, and are for crossing over with — not for seizing hold of.”

Reasonable speech serves the Nous by bringing us closer to understanding, that which the Nous does, but this is done through speech which serves reasonable speech which serves Nous.  Once we reach understanding, we no longer have need of speech, since we are enjoined with Logos, and once we are brought by Logos to Nous, we no longer have need of even that.  And, much as the innate Buddha-nature within us all according to several kinds of Buddhist thought, Man already has Nous, and nothing really stops us from understanding things as we are immediately.  To talk for any purpose besides reason, and only then when understanding is not yet obtained through it, is talking simply for the sake of talking.  Speech just becomes voice, and Man acts as animals with only voice and no Nous.

“Nous conceived speech in silence”; it’s easier to understand this as “Logos” rather than “speech”, since speech implies sensibility, but Logos was not conceived in the realm of sense.  Logos is intelligible; voice is sensible; reasonable speech is the cross between the two.  Thus, reason abides in silence, not merely a lack of talking, but silence as intelligibility can only be.  Because of this, “only that [Logos] which comes from silence and Nous is salvation”.  This is making the case that simply reasoning about things out loud, using sensibility as the primary and only means of understanding creation, is not the way to go; silent contemplation, reasoning from reasoning itself, is the way to approach the Nous.  This itself is directed by the Nous, who conceived Logos in silence; similarly, as Man is made in the image of Nous, we too must conceive within ourselves Logos in silence and not jabbering about.

Contrasted to this, “speech which comes from speech is only perdition”.  Remember that all living beings with voice are earthly; although the immortal, heavenly beings made of fire and air have soul and body, it’s only the earthy mortal beings that have soul and breath as well as voice (IV.1, IV.2).  And, since earthy living beings are mortal, they must die.  Speech-from-speech is part and parcel of this; this is an aspect of animalian, mortal, worldly speech, which limits one’s understanding of things only to that which is sensible.  Speech-from-speech binds Man to the world just as it does for animals, who can only ever use speech-from-speech.  This is not the way to “salvation”, to Nous, which requires speech-from-silence.

The last part of this definition clarifies something about Man: “by his body man is mortal, but by speech he is immortal”.  Now we start to pick up on the last part from definition I.V, where it said that “man is mortal although he is ever-living”.  Speech-from-speech represents the animalian, inferior part of Man; speech-from-silence represents the spiritual, superior part of Man.  The former is a creation of the world; the latter is the Nous and Logos itself.  Creations of the world die, while the Nous and Logos are eternal and undying.  It’s by reasonable speech, Logos, speech-from-silence that Man can attain salvation and immortality; in other words, we talked ourselves into this mess, and now we have to understand it to get back out.  Merely keeping on talking will only serve to get us further entrenched in the mess of the world, so that’s not the route we need to take.  We need to understand what’s going on, how the higher affects the lower and vice versa, and what reason itself is to get back on our immortal legs; in order to become immortal, we need to be silent.

We have to understand that Man is not merely a creature of this sensible world; Man is something made from both above and below, from God as well as from Heaven.  Man is made in the image of God because Man was given Nous; Man was also made in the image of Heaven being made from the four elements with an animalian body.  We’re a weird syncresis of purely-divine and impurely-divine parts, or directly-divine and indirectly-divine, that gives us both death and immortality at once.  The Poemander describes this weird amalgamation of Mankind and how we came to be (chapter I, parts 14 and 15):

So he who hath the whole authority o’er [all] the mortals in the cosmos and o’er its lives irrational, bent his face downwards through the Harmony, breaking right through its strength, and showed to downward Nature God’s fair Form.  And when she saw that Form of beauty which can never satiate, and him who [now] possessed within himself each single energy of [all seven] Rulers as well as God’s [own] Form, she smiled with love; for ’twas as though she’d seen the image of Man’s fairest form upon her Water, his shadow on her Earth.  He in his turn beholding the form like to himself, existing in her, in her Water, loved it and willed to live in it; and with the will came act, and [so] he vivified the form devoid of reason.  And Nature took the object of her love and wound herself completely round him, and they were intermingled, for they were lovers.

And this is why beyond all creatures on the earth man is twofold; mortal because of body, but because of the essential Man immortal.  Though deathless and possessed of sway o’er all, yet doth he suffer as a mortal doth, subject to Fate.  Thus though above the Harmony, within the Harmony he hath become a slave. Though male-female, as from a Father male-female, and though he’s sleepless from a sleepless [Sire], yet is he overcome [by sleep].

So, where does that leave me with all this writing and talking about the Definitions, or any of my magic and philosophical work?  If talking only serves to keep talking, and if silence is the only means to real understanding, why am I bothering with all of this?  We have to remember that, being made from two parts, we must be able to act as One, just as God is One from the All.  God conceived Logos in silence, which is the realm of God.  Thus, to do the same for us, we must conceive Logos in a lack of talking, which is the correspondence in our realm to that of silence in God’s.  However, God not only conceived the Word but spoke it, creating the rest of the cosmos; Man must, then, not only conceive the Word in a lack of talking but speak it.  Understanding is silence, but salvation is reason, and reason and speech go together as one in Man; just as Man is a combination of the intelligible (Nous) and sensible (body), so too is reasonable speech a combination of the intelligible (Logos) and sensible (voice).  Speech borne from silent understanding allows Logos to enter more into the world; speech borne from speech brings more of the world into itself.

In other words, we have to use speech to sensibly approach Logos, which is the first step to salvation in the Definitions.  This leads us from talking to a lack of talking, which produces silence within ourselves.  Once we approach and obtain Logos, and thus reason and Nous within ourselves, we must use Logos instead of speech to approach the Nous itself.  After all, why else would Hermes Trismegistus have spoken and taught, if not to bring others to Logos and Nous when he himself had already accomplished it?  For that matter, why else would Jesus have taught his disciples, or Buddha Shakyamuni the arhats?  Because they wanted to bring others to truth.  Because they saw the need for more people to obtain understanding.  Because reasonable speech is the servant of Nous.  “For what Nous wants, speech interprets it” (V.1); and if those who understand Nous speak from their (silent) understanding, then it’s not speech-from-speech they’re saying, but speech-from-silence, and it’s only speech-from-silence that shows the way to salvation, to nirvana, to enlightenment, to immortality, to God, to Nous.  We can then derive from this, then, that Nous wants Man to join itself through Logos.

I’ll let Hermes finish this post off, with his own explanation of his own spoken words to his student Asclepius, from the Corpus Hermeticum (chapter IX, part 10):

These things should seem to thee, Asclepius, if thou dost understand them, true; but if thou dost not understand, things not to be believed.  To understand is to believe, to not believe is not to understand.

My word (logos) doth go before [thee] to the truth. But mighty is the mind, and when it hath been led by word up to a certain point, it hath the power to come before [thee] to the truth.  And having thought o’er all these things, and found them consonant with those which have already been translated by the reason, it hath [e’en now] believed, and found its rest in that Fair Faith.

To those, then, who by God[’s good aid] do understand the things that have been said [by us] above, they’re credible; but unto those who understand them not, incredible.

Let so much, then, suffice on thought-and-sense.

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.