August Updates: back to routine, I guess!

What a time it’s been, y’all.  After a bit of annoying circumstances that pushed it back a few days, I gave my presentation for the Salem Witchcraft & Folklore Festival 2020, hosted by the good people at the Salem Summer Symposium.  By the accounts of those who attended, my class, Spelling by Spelling: Greek Alphabet Divination & Magic, went well, and even I’m pleased with it, having gotten a bit of extra time to polish up the presentation, and having ended about on target (with ten minutes leftover for questions instead of fifteen).  I’m frankly surprised that so many people still managed to show up as they did, rescheduled as it was from a Saturday afternoon to a Monday evening, and I want to express my deepest thanks and appreciation to all the attendees as well as to the organizers of the symposium and festival for hosting such a wonderful event even in light of the current awkward situation of the Reign of the Lady of Crowns.  Unfortunately, since it was just a two hour class, I didn’t get to cover half the things I originally wanted to, so I guess I’ll just have to do a separate series of classes sometime in the next year to make up for that, but that’ll be in the future.  If you didn’t manage to catch my class or any of the other amazing classes offered by SWFF2020 live, you can still register for the recordings through the end of 2020, so check out their website and sign up for everything that catches your interest, or get a package deal for multiple classes at once!  The recordings will be up in the coming days after they finish processing and uploading them, so stay tuned to their website for more information.

I consider my little hiatus from blogging well-spent, though it’s not like I wasn’t busy in general these past six-ish weeks.  It seems that I can’t not avoid writing one way or another, and I’ve been pretty busy on Twitter lately with a series of threads that I’d like to share pontificating or didacting about this or that.  To be fair, Twitter these past few weeks has been…interesting, between everything being cakes to newbie witches hexing the fae and also the Moon, to more shade being thrown against the Kybalion (which, I maintain, is more hernia than Hermetica), but a few of the highlights I wanted to share of my own twatting (which can be considered blog posts in their own right) would be these:

  1. That men (of all types) need to listen to women (of all types) more in general
  2. How our words can offend and injure even when we don’t mean for them to
  3. How we shouldn’t bias ourselves regarding accusations towards us based on what we hear alone about them and from whom
  4. How we present ourselves can affect how people react to us
  5. Nobody gets to buy any more crystals until you first learn how to treat, use, and work with the rocks in your own driveway/alleyway first
  6. How magic, spirits, and curses don’t need belief and how revealed experience is Hermetically superior to both discursive logic and faith
  7. An unfortunate incident with someone who asked for way too much information in a rather wrong way
  8. Follow-up to the preceding: on how and why closed traditions limit knowledge and teaching
  9. Why non-Jews working with or venerating Lilith most likely isn’t cultural/religious appropriation
  10. What learning from books really means and how to read them properly
  11. An unfortunate incident when someone tried to use one of my copyrighted designs for their own advertising
  12. Accuracy is not precision, but both are needed for diviners

All that in addition, of course, to the usual shitposting and antics I get up to on Twitter.  Somehow I’ve only gained followers over the past few weeks, which is nothing short of a profound mystery to me.

For those with a linguistic bent, Dr. Christian Casey of Brown University is hosting a free online course for teaching Sahidic Coptic.  If you have an interest in translating Coptic works from the early Christian, Gnostic, and Hermetic traditions or have an eye on getting at the non-Greek more-Egyptian magical papyri, this is something to keep an eye on!  The classes will be weekly on Saturdays at 1pm Eastern US time, starting September 5 and continuing for 30 weeks, so sign up if you’re interested!  I’ve signed up and hope to keep up with it, but we’ll see.

I’ve also picked up Final Fantasy XIV again.  I had a dream during a nap one day a few weeks back that I was playing again, and BOOM the desire hit me to play again, even though I hadn’t played in about two or three years.  So, after about two weeks and no small amount of enticing from some other magicians and astrologers who also play, I’ve caught up on all the main story content from patches 4.3 to 5.3 (holy shit you guys, I cried so much), though I’m still getting caught up on the side story and other stuff.  I’m trying to limit myself mostly to weekends for playing and spending the rest of the week researching and writing as ever, but I’ve definitely missed the game and my friends who play it.  Plus, this gives me a good reason to pick up my writing about the Deck of Sixty, the in-game divination deck used by the Astrologian job, and how it can be used and expanded upon using in-game lore and other canonical information given by the lorebooks to be used as an actual method of divination we ourselves can use.  I’ve written about it in a publicly-viewable spoiler-free Google Doc for those who are interested in checking out the system, such as it is.  (And yes, I’m still Smoking Tongue on Aether/Midgardsormr.)

I’m sure other things have happened these past six weeks that have escaped my memory, but in general, things have been largely quiet and peaceful for me on my end.  Still at home and rarely leaving the house, still working from home full time, still annoying the cats, still keeping up with housework and ritual work as best as I can.  I wish I could say I’ve caught up on sleep, but we all know that’d be a lie.  On the whole, things go well and busily as ever, and I’m happy with that.  I hope the past few weeks have been at least as nice for you all, dear readers, and that things continue to improve for us all, wherever we might be and whatever we might be doing.

With that, I suppose it’s time to figure out what to write about next.  I’ve got a few ideas lined up, but it’ll take me a few days to get back into the swing of things.  At least, with the presentation for SWFF2020 over, I can devote more time back to my other projects again—and start figuring out what to propose for next year’s symposium, too.  Plus, with it getting to be towards the end of summer (finally), the busy season is really going to start ramping up soon, so there’s always more to do.

On Things that Die

I am becoming increasingly familiar with the smell of rot.

The husband and I were on a small road-trip to a friend’s birthday the other day, and we were driving up and down some lovely backwoods roads in the Appalachians to get there.  It was nice to get a breath of somewhat cleaner air than we’re normally treated to, and the sight of mountains covered in verdant green and carbon-tinted shade under blue skies always fills my heart with a quiet joy.  Smells of crab shacks, flowers, cow dung, corn fields, and daytime mountain winds mingled with the cologne we wore and the menthols we smoked along the way.  And, yes, at several points during the drive, my nose would unfailingly twitch as we’d drive past the occasional roadkilled raccoon or hunted deer or whatnot.

“Mmmm. Rot.”  “Yup.” <drags on cigarette>

To clarify: I use the word “rot” to mean the smell of a once-living animal that has died or been killed.  Yes, plants and fungus and other organic matter can decay in their own ways, and perhaps there’s a better word for the smell I’m describing besides something dead-animalian.  Though it’s certainly not what I’d consider pleasant, it’s not so offensive that I can’t stand to be around it.  Sure, I’d rather avoid smelling it, but it won’t stop me from the Work at hand.

I’ve always heard that rot smells sickeningly sweet, but…maybe I have a different notion of sweetness than those who made up that timeworn phrase.  I try to take out the trash regularly enough, keep the fridge cleaned out, and wipe down the showers, but those tend to have the smells of food gone bad, mold in the tupperware, or mildew on the tiles.  These are not the smells of rot as I’d consider it; these are the smells of things going sour or sickening, but not of rot.  Rot has a distinct profile to the smell, and one that’s surprisingly difficult for me to describe.  It’s something totally different than anything else I’ve smelled: something like a mixture of pink cotton candy, overly ripe fruit on the edge of fermentation, old steel, dirt after the rain, and the idea itself of revolting (lit. “turning away”).  Sure, the specific thing that’s rotting will color the smell differently, whether it’s skin or feather or fur or leaves or wood, but that core smell in the middle of it is unmistakable.

The way the smell seems to travel feels different than other smells, too.  While foods or pheromones or perfumes seem to waft like ribbons of invisible smoke in the air, rot crawls and seeps like a slow, glacial flood that is just as hard to get rid of once it’s there.  It lurks behind other smells, making it difficult to mask or suffumigate or sweep under the carpet; there’s always some tiny, faintly pungent hint of it always reminding you that something there has died.  Some people would even say that the smell is capital-w Wrong, like something is trying to force you out of the room, or something is setting off alarm bells to make your hair stand on end in the lizard brain we humans’ve got.

And yet, despite all this, I cannot bring myself to call rot a “smell of death” as I’ve also heard it described.  Yes, it is a smell of things that are dead, but it is not the smell of death.  When an animal dies, that is not the end of the story.  Sure, the soul or spirit or mind of the thing might dissipate or go elsewhere, depending on which cosmology you’re following, but the body continues to exist in the physical world, and the body is nowhere near done.  It becomes a breeding ground for bacteria, parasites, fungus, and even insects.  It becomes a food and a host, and the toxic smell that humans have innately, instinctively evolved to reject is the olfactory evidence that everything continues in the world.  Call it the “circle of life”, if you will; just because a thing dies does not mean that’s the end of the story for the thing.  It continues to exist to nourish, to fertilize, to disintegrate, to return to its base elements for the repurposing and recycling of all things in this world as constituent parts into new and more exciting forms.

Our world is predicated on the Idea of life and living things; the only things that are truly absent of life are those bodies, viewed as distinct and separate from their surroundings, that never had life to begin with (and even then, that idea is suspicious on its own).  Everything else is alive, in one form or another.  And yet, all that lives must one day die, right?  So our world must therefore be as much death as it is life, right?  I mean, we’ve all seen this adorable and saccharine little comic about the interplay between life and death at some point on our Facebook feeds:

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I’m not so certain anymore.  Things that are dead are not death itself.  Much as nature abhors a vacuum, I claim that our world does not abide death.  Life exists to beget more life, and if death weren’t a limiting constraint on these things, life would always and only serve to beget more life in one way or another.  Death is…unwelcome, in many ways, though a necessary law in the world.  But, to me, it feels increasingly like death is something Other, something Else, something Different than anything else in the world.  It does not feel part of this world in the same way that conception, flirting, hate, offices, rituals, or fruit feels like a part of this world.  Death is like a vacuum; if this world is composed of Life, then what place does Death have?

The Japanese language has an interesting idea that makes English students a little distressed: there is no way to say “I’m dying” in Japanese. In Japanese, gerundive forms (sometimes called the “-te form” of a verb) are what’s used to make a progressive action when used with the supplemental verb iru; for instance, taberu means “to eat”, while tabete iru means “to be eating”.  However, in Japanese, shinu “to die” has the progressive form shinde iru, which isn’t “to be dying” but rather “to be dead”.  For speakers of Japanese, the act of dying is something that can only happen in a single moment; it is not something that can be prolonged, continued, or stretched out temporally.  One is going to die at some point in the future, one dies is in this very moment, one died at some point in the past, or one is in the state of being dead.  There is no “one is dying across time” in Japanese; it is a transition from one state to another, and there is no grey area between the two.  Either you are animated or you are inanimate, you breathe or you cease to draw breath, you live or you are dead.

It still seems like Death is something so distinctly different, so Other, that it does not belong to this world.  And yet, that doesn’t seem like a right claim to make; even I think I sound like some willful child raging against having to flush their expired goldfish down the toilet because “it’s not right” or “this shouldn’t happen”.  I do not mean to say in the least that Death is something unnecessary, forced upon us, or wrong; far from it!  Life here on this planet would be a Malthusian hellscape without death to regulate us and keep us in check.  Death is the rightful end of life, and the (generally, hopefully) rightful point at which our spirits shake off their physical forms and go their separate ways.  We all know and have heard from innumerable traditions that Death belongs to this world just as much as Life does.

Yet, what is Death, then?  We know of the dead; they’re “here” as much as any spirit, but then, they’re not “here” in the same sense as you or me, since we’re incarnate and they’re not.  It’s like they’re just beyond the chiffon curtain in the room, on a slightly different frequency a half-kHz up on the radio.  They’re not part of this world of physical forms and bodies, barring any attachments or grounding to bones or artifacts of the dead, so we can leave them out of the picture for the time being.  What is Death, then, if Death can be considered a spirit, one of the very few able to directly interact with the living processes of this world strong enough to quell them?  Is it truly some specter or shade, skeletal and robed in black-white-red with a scythe and an owl on their shoulder, swooping in to catch her prey?  Is it some king of a hell-realm with four eyes and wide nostrils and two dogs, chasing people down and bringing them to his doorstep as prisoners?  Is it a radiant angel, taking people by the hand and elevating them from their bodies for the last time?  Is it an ancient woman, one of three sisters, who cuts the thread of light at its right proportion and length?

None of those, either, seem right.  Sure, they’re ways we can personify and interact with Death as a spirit, but they are themselves not Death.  After all, even gods themselves die, some more permanently than others, and there is some precedent (even if I’ve only come across it in games like Neverwinter Nights) that Death is a non-entity apart from any spirit or god, even those related to or administering the sacrament of death.  Plus, what sort of crazy exception of a spirit would Death then have to be, to be so powerful as to directly interfere with living creatures on a level totally unseen and unheard of when compared to literally every other deity and spirit, save for those religious texts where miracles happen de rigueur?

It does not seem right to claim that Death is a spirit, any more than Life itself is a spirit.  It is a phenomenon that happens in our world naturally, and therefore must be a natural part of this world, too.  It is the exact moment of transition from animacy to inanimacy, and therefore is not an action in the same way “eating” is an action, both because it is a state transition and because it is…probably? difficult to impossible for a living body to intentionally, intentfully die without causing its own death.  Like, a body can continue breathing, pumping blood, digesting, wiggling in the dirt, and so on, but dying is not something the body can just do.  Dying happens as a result of other natural processes: the failure of parts of the body (from the organ scale to the cellular scale) to function together concordantly, trauma inducing failure of the body, disease inducing failure of the body, or so forth.  When Life cannot continue, Death occurs.  When Life fails to proceed “normally”, Death occurs.  And yet, Death is as needed, as necessary, and as natural as Life; it’s not that Death is inimical to Life, or Death is something “wrong”, but that the one picks up where the other leaves off.  And Death then becomes the endpoint for physical incarnation, after which, the story of that spirit that once animated a body, which existed only once for a short while and in a limited location in such a form in all of infinite time and boundless space, continues outside this world of physical forms.  The body begins its own dissolution, the spirit continues its own analysis, but the story ends for the two of them together.

Rot is the smell of the world reclaiming its due and collecting its own spare resources for other purposes.  Sure, it smells toxic and wrong to us, not only because we’ve evolved to avoid it for health and survival reasons, but because it reminds us that, as living bodies, that is something that we’re not yet ready for, and something that we won’t necessarily be around to witness once it happens to ourselves.  Rot is something that happens when you’re already shinde iru; it is not the smell of shinu, although it may be a reminder of it.

Yet, look what happens when rot is not allowed to happen.  Consider the Red Forest in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; the leaves from the trees there do not rot, due to the toxic radiation they’ve all been exposed to.  Things there persist long after they have any right to, just as bodies preserved with formaldehyde or encased in glacial ice for millennia.  These are things that cannot return to the world; they may as well be ejected by rockets from the Earth as space junk, lost and unusable to the world forever, except they linger on posing a space-wasting and ecological threat of disaster to everything around it, like a cancer in the body unwilling to be flushed out by its neighboring cells.  They cannot undergo the total process of life.  See, also, why zombies and the undead generally cannot be permitted in the world, as they take something already in the process of life-after-death (rot) and hijack it.  Either the zombie in question continues to rot, leaving its new consciousness to die a new death, or the zombie is preserved against rot and cannot continue the process of life proper; unnatural, to be sure.

The smell of rot tells me (besides the fact that I need to air out my basement more) that death is always around me.  Rot is a necessary and natural part of all these physical bodies: things that are made (created) to die that are also things that are made (forced) to die.  Rot is the “Kilroy Was Here” graffiti that Death leaves behind; it is the trash collector routine of the CPU of the world we inhabit.  Yet rot does not show me what Death is.

A Break in the Threads

So, I had a few thoughts to myself lately on what I’ve been doing, where I stand, and the like, especially with regards to the whole lot of nothing I can account for these past…what, seven? ten? months.  I figure that I can use this, too, as a learning experience and gain from it, and if I can learn from it, I can write about it.  Besides, it’s not like I’ve been wearing you, dear reader, out with an endless stream of posts these past few moons.  I apologize that this is something of a navel-gazing whinefest, but it’s something that, perhaps, some of my readers could use.  While the burnt hand teaches best for some (e.g. myself), I’d rather those who can learn from the examples of others do so from me.

I don’t know where to really begin or even how to really discuss it, but I suppose I could always start with a list and give a rough chronological order of things.  Mind you, I plan on being vague about a few events, but it should give you an outline of the magnitude of things.

  1. Back in October 2014, despite a few of the good things that happen, there were other things happening beneath the surface.  Things for me and mine got really rough and there was a massive falling-out.  There was isolation, there was drama, and there were tears.  I personally got really knocked off-balance, and even to this day am still trying to get my bearings back.
  2. In early November, some of the problems of the preceding month had been cleared up; perhaps fittingly, everything in October happened during a Mercury retrograde, and as soon as Mercury went direct again, things started picking up and being picked up and put back together.  Some of the breaks were mended, but only some; mutual animosity, as well as righteous indignation and asshattery, had permanently assured me that some breaks were permanent.  Good for that.
  3. In late November, I performed what was intended to be an empowerment ritual using a well-known, lengthy psalm which had some massive and unanticipated side-effects.  This opened my life up to amazing and awesome new people, but at the same time, dredged up a sealed Pandora’s box of emotional what-the-fuckery I thought I had sealed and buried for good a long time ago.  Still, if even King Solomon couldn’t permanently seal the demons of the Lemegeton Goetia in a brass vessel under the sea, I suppose I shouldn’t have expected any differently.  Some of those personal demons are still hanging around and lingering at the corners of my eyes, and the only way I can face them now is head-on; how is still yet to be determined.
  4. In December, my partner and I took two steps towards being together in the eyes of God, gods, and men: not only did we exchange our rings in our engagement, but I started playing Final Fantasy XIV, a massively multiplayer online RPG which is frickin’ awesome.
  5. In February 2015, I undertook my first major initiation in the Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria, which significantly changed my outlook on more than a few topics personal and magical, not to mention completely thrashed my energetic and spiritual state of being for at least one solid weekend and, to a lesser extent, several weeks afterward.
  6. In early July, between visits from a good magical colleague of mine, an upcoming party, and a rather busy week at work, out of whimsy, I remembered one of the holiest acts I as a human and magos can do: the Hymns of Silence.  Even briefly, standing outside on my patio smoking a cigarette in the work week on a humid summer night, that little shadow of an echo of a resonance caught me off-guard and…broke something in me, something that really needed to be broken, something that needed to be snapped.  It wasn’t violent, it wasn’t sharp, it wasn’t painful; it was like taking out an extraneous support beam that didn’t need to be there.  I’m not even sure “broke” is the right word.  Starting about this point, I abruptly put a hold on playing FFXIV, feeling burnt out due to repetition in the game as well as personal drama with the group I play with.
  7. In the transition between late July and early August, I accepted a new job position within my current office, one which has great potential for my career, personal development, and (most awesome and utilitarian) income.  This is causing some changes in my routine and how I approach people, as having to start a new job (even in a familiar environment) is going to cause me to be hyperaware of certain elements in myself and around me.  Plus, now that I won’t be able to work from home for several months at minimum, I’ll need to develop a better routine to keep me in shape and in line.

So that’s about where I stand.  Not exactly the most epic of journeys, but every road has its flat and boring stretches, I suppose.

What I want to focus on here is the effect that playing FFXIV was having on me, especially now that I’ve been divorced of it for a few weeks now.  I admit, I enjoy the company and interaction of the people I play with, and the world of Eorzea that Square-Enix built up for us to play in is beautifully crafted and exceedingly well-done, and I miss hanging out with my free company and our antics.  That said, what’s been interesting, and something that I’ve noticed more and more as of late, is that I can pretty solidly say that I was relying on FFXIV for more things than just entertainment for…pretty much eight months of my life.  To be fair, I think I needed it; shit was getting too heavy even for me to healthily deal with, and I needed an escape.

So escape I did, and took a break from the rest of the shit that was going on around me.  In those eight months, I’ve done fuck-all.  Sure, I’ve kept up with commissions for crafts and divination readings, taught my students as I’ve agreed to do, and led or undergone a few rituals here and there, but I can’t say with any level of honesty that I’ve been active in my magical life.  I haven’t bothered with pretty much any of the tasks I set for myself to accomplish at the start of 2015, I haven’t kept up with my prayers or offerings, and when I have gone into my temple room, it’s usually to get something for myself instead of actually doing Work.  I’ve ended up putting on a few more pounds than I had, and the Quimbanda tronco I built on my own based on ley-person guidance has been shut and more-or-less ignored only right after I built it.  I’ve barely even kept up with blogs on my RSS feed and haven’t really been active with other magicians besides the occasional theory or theology discussion with friends, and as you may have noticed, I’ve barely had anything to say on my own blog.

I’ve completely wasted my time pursuing simple antics of fun and relaxation, which even sometimes produced problems on its own accord, in a made-up world not of my own creation, obeying its own sets of rules that I have willingly submitted myself to. Dear reader, take note: if you have even a barest glimmer of Hermetic or Gnostic cosmology and anthropogony, or if you’ve read some of my metaphors for human existence in the Hermetic worldview before, you can see the conundrum.  This world is beautiful, but also incredibly seductive; our true origin is not here, but Elsewhere, in the All.  And yet, not only have I forgotten that much on an intellectual level, I’ve even gone so far as to forget myself in this world and get lost in a tinier, even more beautiful and seductive world, forgetting even my incarnate origin and work in this world.  But hey, at least I can see that now, and I can treat the world of Eorzea in the archonic grip of Square-Enix as the fun side-show it really is.

What’s peculiar is that I still haven’t gotten my bearings straight yet after several weeks.  Rather, instead of just replacing my work in FFXIV with my Work in the cosmos, which is what I’d like to claim and what would intellectually make sense to do, I’ve just kinda been…adrift.  I’ve been experiencing what might be seen as symptoms of addiction withdrawal (as MMORPGs tend to cause in certain people), or what might be seen as depression: lack of energy to do things, general thoughtlessness, increased sleep (which would normally be a blessed thing), unwillingness to focus on the tasks before me, yada yada.  It’s almost embarrassing, but now I’m starting to see my situation with clearer eyes than I’ve had in months: I lost the threads of my Work and haven’t picked them up again.  I’ve picked up other threads to fill the gap in time, but now that I’ve dropped those, I haven’t yet picked up the new threads of my Work.  Call it a lull, or a change in direction where the mere act itself of looking in another direction is taking a long time.  The fact is that I have not yet given myself anything to substantially and substantively Do to fill this void of time and energy, and it’s taking its toll on me and driving me into another, different unhealthy place.

I lost the threads I once wove, and I’ve been struggling to find a new one to pick up and start weaving again.  But, in a tapestry, there are countless threads with which to work, even if it’s just tying a few of them them up for good.

Recently, I picked up one thread I had lost a ways back.  Some of you may remember that I developed an interest in astragalomancy, or Greek knucklebone divination, late last year after I finally got a book on the subject.  Yes, it still is an interest of mine, but memorizing all 56 oracular verses proved more difficult than I had anticipated, and given the knockings-around I’ve had, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that I wasn’t going to memorize them anytime soon.  Still, I didn’t want to lug the book around with me just for reference, so I got myself a tiny little black journal, about the size of my palm, that I wanted to copy all the verses into so I could have an enchiridion, a handbook of sorts, I could consult at will.  I planned on copying verses into it during the downtimes I had in the office, but either found myself too busy or just too lazy to do so.  Recently, I decided (while working at home, no less!) to finally copy down those last…gosh, more than half of the verses that I hadn’t touched in months.  And, even though it’s such a minor task of copying down words from one medium into another, it…it was good.  Even the most basic and elementary of activities, picking up a book and just copying notes out of it, made me feel a little satisfied with things.

Even the smallest thread can act as a sturdy rope, if it’s all you’ve got.  And you need something to hold onto and climb up in order to get out of a pit, however deep.

I have many shelves of books on astrology, divination, magic, religion, and cult.  I have a temple room filled with idols and offering cups and magical tools of great power.  I live on a land filled to bursting with life and spirits.  I have friends, colleagues, and teachers both in the physical and online who surround me, showing me countless possibilities of work and the rich rewards thereof.  Shit, I have my own destiny and path to walk, and sitting on a bench beside the road playing chess is not getting me anywhere, especially when I haven’t set up a tent to keep me out of the rain or a fire to cook food.  Me neglecting my Work is not only disrespectful to the spirits, angels, gods, and saints that I’ve called on before, it’s disrespectful to my friends and students and others who look to me and check up on me, and it’s disrespectful to myself and my own well-being.  I know I have shit to do, and I know I have projects waiting for me, and I know I have places to go and things to do.

It’s time I’ve picked up a few of those dangling threads again.  Who knows?  Maybe, in the mess I left for myself, I’ll find a few of those that I dropped.

49 Days of Definitions: Part VIII, Definition 5

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

Today, let’s discuss the thirty-third definition, part VIII, number 5 of 7:

Nature is the mirror of truth; the latter is at once the body of the incorporeal (things) and the light of the invisible.  The generous nature of this (world) teaches all (the beings).  If it seems to you that nothing is a vain work, you will find the work and the craftsman, if it seems to you (like) a mockery, you will be mocked at.

We’ve been having a hard time defining the word “nature” in a Hermetic sense since it popped up a few definitions ago.  There, we read that “nature is everyone of the beings of this world” or that “every being in this world has a nature”, and also that “the body increases and reaches perfection due to nature”.  But what is nature?  Nature is the whole of increase and decrease, the four elements, sense and vision, and all the bodies here.  Nature is the restrictions, capacities, and abilities that we have.  Nature is, in effect, everything that sensibly exists and each of their qualities along with it.  Nature is, in a way, fate and destiny.

But beyond all that, in this definition we get an actual explanation, or about as much as one as we’re likely to get: nature is “the mirror of truth”.  Nature reflects true things.  It is not itself true things, but it shows them to those who look and observe.  Consider your reflection in a mirror: the mirror is not you, but it shows how you are.  It shows your form, your age, your condition; it shows you.  Likewise, nature shows all these things, but it is not these things on its own.  Nature is a reflection, a microcosm of something greater, and what’s greater than the cosmos we find ourselves in?  God is bigger than the world, after all; is God truth?  (Well, duh.)  What is truth?  Truth is “the body of the incorporeal and the light of the invisible”.  These statements must be meant metaphorically, because they on their own don’t make sense.

  • What are bodies?  Bodies are corporeal masses, things with form and length and breadth and depth, things with “quality and quantity” (VII.4).  These things do not belong to incorporeal things, since quality and quantity are sensible just as bodies are.  The solely intelligible, however, are without bodies, and as such cannot be sensed.  However, they can be known.  They have some sort of substance, but it is not material substance.  The concepts, the words, the knowledge itself has a form, and that form is the “body” of the incorporeal.  What they are is truth; a truth is something intelligible that exists.
  • What is light?  Light is “a clear vision which makes appear all of the visible things” (II.6).  However, the invisible cannot be seen, so light does it no good.  However, light can be used to see visible things in the darkness, clearing away ignorance of the physical world around ourselves.  Likewise, truth can be used in the same way to know the invisible things in ignorance.  Truth is the means by which we come to know the things that are invisible without seeing them.

Nature, then, is the reflection of things that are.  Nature is the material, corporeal result of the intelligible and incorporeal; just as software code is the reflection of its design, or a constructed building the reflection of its blueprints, nature is the reflection of truth.  If what is intelligible is truth, then God is also truth.

Just as “whatever God does, he does it for man” is a truth (VIII.2), so too does the world reflect that: “the generous nature of this world teaches all the beings”.  If perfection of the soul is knowledge of the beings (VI.3), and it is our soul’s directive to come to know God by knowing all the beings (VII.3, VIII.4), then the world exists to help us do that.  The soul works within the body to learn; the world offers itself to learn from.  Again, “man’s possession is the world” (VI.1), so it would almost (maybe not quite?) be tautological to say that it’s for our benefit.  Further, Man’s job is to experience the entire world in all its parts for the benefit of the soul and body (VII.2), so we must fully experience and learn from the world in all that it has to teach us and offer us.  Every part of the world is necessary to experience and know for ourselves to be perfected in body, soul, and Nous.  Add to it, if we make use of the Hermetic maxim “as above, so below”, then we might also say that because everything God does is for Man, then everything the World does is also for Man, since the World is a microcosm reflecting the macrocosmic God.  This makes sense because “nature is the mirror of truth”, so whatever is done above is done below; that which is below represents, reflects, and indicates that which is above; if the nature of God is to act for Man, then the nature of the world is to do the same, as is the nature of Man (which gives the actions of Man a dual meaning here, both for himself as well as for soul/soul-Nous/God).

Since nothing God does is not for Man, then nothing the World is or does is not for Man.  Thus, nothing is made, done, or created in vain; this is similar to the statement in VI.1, where “if there were nobody to see [the world], what would be seen would not even exist”.  All things exist for a purpose and that is to act by God within God for Man and God.  Further, by properly seeking to learn what the world generously teaches us, we come to fully experience the world, perfecting our bodies and our souls in the process, coming to the perfection of the soul, which is the knowledge of beings as well as of God.  Thus, “if it seems to you that nothing is a vain work, you will find the work and the craftsman”, where the work is the body, soul, world, and beings and where the craftsman is God.  Neglecting this, however, yields the opposite result: “to you like a mockery, you will be mocked at”.  This is another thinly-veiled warning, much as from VI.3: “just as you will behave towards the soul when it is in this body, likewise it will behave towards you when it has gone out of the body”.