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-fifth definition, part X, number 3 of 7:
Nous (is) in soul, and nature (is) in the body. Nous (is) the maker of soul, and soul, (the maker) of the body. Nous (is) not in all soul, but nature (is) in all body.
This section is starting to shape up to refer to how the world is. The rest of the Definitions relate to soul, or Man’s relationship to God, and so forth, but until this tenth section of definitions, we haven’t spoken much about the relationship of things in the world to each other. Now that we’re talking about matter, natures, good and evil, generation, and the like, we’re starting to understand what this hitherto missing corner of the puzzle is starting to look like. After all, the final definition of part IX referenced humanity’s place in the world as part of the overall order of the cosmos, so it is fitting we start talking about the world and our place within it beyond simply to be Man.
From before, we know that all natures that exist do so within Man: “nature in man is omniform” (X.2) and “everything is within man” (IX.4). Our bodies contain a reflection of the world, just as the sensible world is a reflection of the intelligible world and as all natures reflect truth (VIII.5). However, within our bodies, we also have soul, and within the bodies of Man, there exists Nous. Thus, this definition repeats once more that “Nous is in soul, and nature is in the body”. Based on the parallel structure here, we can infer that just as nature in the body of Man is omniform, Nous in the soul of Man is omnipresent. So not only can we understand the sensible world through and through, we can also understand the intelligible world through and through. With a grasp of the highest Nous and lowest nature, Man is able to understand everything; the breadth of knowledge available to him is rivaled only by its depth, and both of these are fairly infinite.
Further, not only is Nous within the soul, but “Nous is the maker of soul”. I mean, duh; all of creation, both the intelligible and sensible, were made and created by God. But this makes it explicit: Nous creates soul, but since soul is intelligible, Nous creates soul from itself. The soul is, therefore, something unseen, incorporeal, and invisible. This, if you recall the terms from VIII.5, is what truth is. God is truth as much as God is light and Nous and the Good, but this also means that soul itself is part of God and is also a truth, an immortal but not uncreated thing. Thus, if the soul is a truth, then there must be some nature that reflects it, yes? Yup! “Soul [is] the maker of the body”. Now this is interesting, since we haven’t come across this idea before, in that the soul not only inhabits the body but that the soul creates the body.
But this does logically follow. If all soul is is just a “necessary movement adjusted to every kind of body” (II.1), then what happens when there is no body yet for a soul that still needs to inhabit one? The soul moves part of the whole of the world, using the female and male fluidities and the four elements, and creates a body to live and grow. The soul made by God determines the body made by soul according to its needs, perfection or lack thereof, and so forth. Thus, whatever form, quirks, instabilities, infirmities, conditions, or oddities the body may have all come from soul, so it likewise comes from God. Thus, no natural, gendered, hereditary, inborn, genetic, or similar condition, including the circumstances of one’s birth, can be called “wrong” or “sinful” or “evil”; skin color, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, predisposition to diabetes or obesity, or anything else should never be used against someone, since that’s literally how they were made. It exists in the world and was made from the world; this is the definition of “natural” that we’ve been building up. If you needed to be born that way, you would yourself, since you possess the capacity for experiencing those same things; don’t maltreat others when you don’t want to be maltreated.
So, since Man can be born with any nature in any body, Man inherently possesses the capacity for nature in every body. Thus, “nature is in all body”. Considering how much we’re changing, we can change natures at almost the drop of a hat, or a needle, or a weight, or a car; our entire bodies are constantly changing, increasing and decreasing, emitting and receiving. The soul, however, is a little different. Unlike nature, which is all present in all body, “Nous is not in all soul”. Some souls do not have the full grasp of Nous, as we’ve said before (VIII.8), because they have not yet obtained perfection of soul yet. But, assuming they begin to act and speak reasonably with Logos, they will. As for those who lack even the innate Nous within the soul, that’s a little unclear; perhaps the soul needed to inhabit a body regardless for some early work before it begins its true path to perfection, but it’s unclear to me what happens to those people.
Understand that everything is created by something, and if not God directly, then something else that was ultimately made by God. The Nous creates all things within itself, by itself, and from itself, and since Nous is everywhere, Nous dwells within all things. However, the only means by which something can contact or understand Nous is through Logos; something with Nous but without Logos cannot effectively understand or know Nous. Man, since he has the means of Logos, can do just this, since he is blessed with a deliberate share of Nous more than other creatures. However, the body, being made of all the natures, also allows him to use Logos for unreasonable ends, clouding or muddling his connection to Nous. Until that connection is made perfect and perfectly clear, we will not be able to fully dwell within Nous nor can Nous fully dwell within us.