49 Days of Definitions: Part X, Definition 3

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.

49 Days of Definitions: Part X, 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 forty-fourth definition, part X, number 2 of 7:

Nature in man is omniform, and (it is) an energy endowed with all qualities (whose) force (is) invisible and effects (are) conspicuous.  An energy is a movement.  Matter is a wet essence; a body is a agglomeration of matter.

In the last definition, we talked about four terms: good, evil, female, and male.  Of these, that which is Good is, basically, God; anything that is not God is within God, but not everything that is not God is evil.  That which hides the Good, which is knowledge, is evil, which is ignorance, and evil resides in the material world, since this is the world of nature.  Nature is a reflection of truth, but is not truth itself; nature generates within itself as God generates within itself, but that which is God stays God, while nature keeps to itself.  Nature generates within itself according to two principles, the female or passive principle which allows things to be changed, and the male or active principle which allows change to happen.  These are not elements, but forces present in all things; moreover, they are “fluidities”, implying constant change, motion, and mobility that constantly shifts every passing moment.

We know that everything that exists is within Man (IX.4), and that Man understands all of creation (VI.1), not least because Man is the sole creature capable of possessing Nous, but also because wherever Man is, so is God (IX.6).  Since God is literally everything that exists and does not exist and all that stuff (IX.1), God is greater than Man, but because God is Nous and Nous is within Man (or at least some of Man), Man has the capability and the understanding of all things.  How can this be, though?  God knows all things because God is all things.  If we follow that same logic, we can construct a parallel statement that also holds under what we’ve discussed so far: Man understands all nature because Man is all nature.  Indeed, this definition says as much: “nature in man is omniform”.  All natures and all of nature is within Man; after all, Man is a microcosm or “small world” (I.4).  Within Man (properly, the essence of Man), there are all qualities, all quantities, all good, all evil, all female, all male, and all other states of nature, including light, darkness, honesty, lies, ugliness, beauty, and everything else.  Every member of Man contains all natures, which allows every member of Man to be capable of experiencing and understanding all natures, much as how Man contains Nous and so is capable of receiving and understanding Nous.

Moreover, this omniform nature within Man is “an energy endowed with all qualities whose force is invisible and effects are conspicuous”.  We can see nature, since “nature is the mirror of truth” (VIII.5) and since truth is invisible, but the forces of nature are not necessarily visible.  We cannot see pure qualities or quantities; we cannot see maleness or femaleness, abstract number, or the like.  We understand them, though they may be invisible; we can certainly see their effects in the world where truth and nature are realized and materialized.  But note how these things are described: the force of nature is “invisible” and its effects are “conspicuous”.  These are the same words used to describe good and evil, respectively, in the previous definition.  Thus, the forces of nature can be likened to or are good and thus truths, while the effects of nature can be likened to or are evil.  Again, this leads us to say that the material world, being conspicuous and able to be seen, is evil, as opposed to the invisible and intelligible truths that are God.

But there’s one term in that statement that’s confusing, since we haven’t encountered it before and which carries a fair amount of baggage in modern parlance: “energy”.  Throw out all your notions of prana, qi/chi/ki, orgone, nuclear/quantum physics, or what have you; we’re not talking about those here.  According to this definition, energy “is a movement”.  Movement, as we know, is provided by soul (II.1), and which is seen by Nous and performed by breath (II.6).  Any motion, any movement, any act of nature is energy.  This is what allows plants, though they have no soul, to still yet move by breath/spirit (hypothesized from IV.2); movement is performed by breath, which plants have though they have no animating soul.  Thus, they can still experience forces of nature in a way that rocks and stones cannot, but cannot move around or act as animals, humans, or heavenly beings can.  Motions provided by nature are energies that work within nature, so long as there exists the forces of nature to provide them and matter to be moved by them.

Then again, what is matter?  All this talk about nature and bodies and elements and forces, and yet we’re not quite clear on what matter is.  This definition says that matter “is a wet essence”.  Looking back, we see that water is one of the qualities which is wetness (II.1), and that water is a “fecund essence, the support of earth, as a nutritive essence” (II.4).  Thus, matter is essentially watery, though no matter could exist materially without earth and vice versa.  The heavens are fire (II.5), the low world is earth (II.3), and air is the medium between heaven and earth (II.2), but water is what supports earth.  Water and earth are opposite qualities according to II.1, where water is wet and earth is dry; however, matter is primarily watery, which allows it to grow instead of just exist statically.  Fire can inhibit or remove growth, air can link growths together, and earth is that which is grown, but water provides the growth.  The world is essentially characterized by growth.  Moreover, the world is essentially characterized by life; not immortality or mortality, but life, bios, living.  All things that die provide life for other things, so life always continues in the world in some way.  A body may die by cancer, but cancer is merely the growth of something else that takes over an existing body; a body may die by being slaughtered, but provides food for other bodies to grow; life is death, death is life.  Both are wet.  Thus, material reality is wet.

So what about bodies in terms of matter?  A body is “an agglomeration of matter”, or matter piled on and stuck to matter.  Different matters combined form a body.  This is pretty straightfoward; every body is more than “a matter”, but which is why the phrase is so awkward to say when referring to physical objects.  Instead, we say that every body is “matter”, using a collective noun instead of a singular.  Even single atoms are compounds of smaller things, and a cloud of gas is a collection of, you guessed it, matter.  And, because matter is primarily wet, all bodies are primarily wet, too, unless they have a huge imbalance of one element or the other.  Dry sand, for instance, though it has some water in it, has an abundance of earth; pure water is mostly water with very little earth. While different bodies are composed of different elements (II.1), the basis for them is still matter, with the elements and fluidities of maleness and femaleness taking effect upon them.

And, because they’re material and worldly, they’re still evil.  Apparently.

49 Days of Definitions: Part IX, Definition 7

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

Today, let’s discuss the forty-second definition, part IX, number 7 of 7:

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

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

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

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

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

49 Days of Definitions: Part IX, 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 fortieth definition, part IX, number 5 of 7:

Who(ever) behaves well towards his body, behaves badly towards himself.  Just as the body, without a soul, is a corpse, likewise soul, without Nous, is inert.  Once a soul has entered the body, it (soul) will acquire Nous.  That which does not require (it), goes out such as it had entered.  For every soul, before entering the body, is deprived of Nous; then Nous joins it from the body, so that eventually the soul becomes endowed with Nous.  That (soul) which has gone out of the human body has (got) an ill memory: for soul, (even) covered with the body, is forced to remember its (soul’s) unforgetfulness.  One change is unforgetful and (another) change brings about forgetfulness.

We know that humans are constituted out of many things, and what makes us essentially human is really just that: the essence of being human.  This is an idea, a form that we realize through our bodies, souls, spirits, and minds.  Our bodies are born, live, increase, decrease, and die in the material world and the material world alone; our souls are sent into our bodies so they can be perfected through the life of the body; spirit is the medium between the soul and the body; the mind is what is able to use reason and the ability to know God.  This idea has been developed over the course of the Definitions, and this ninth set of definitions helps us understand how we can perfect the body by saying something a little more descriptive than “know yourself” or “know God”.

Although the soul lives within the body, what happens to the body is not always good for soul; the last definition talked about the illnesses and passions of the soul, which can prevent the soul from properly acting and developing or can sway it into acting in a manner that is unhelpful to its development.  We also know that actions, opinions, and speech that is unreasonable, i.e. it does not serve the goals of Nous/the Good, basically limits itself to the material world we live in (V.1, V.2), and to limit ourselves to this world causes ignorance and is thus evil (VII.5, VIII.6).  Thus, if we place the body over the soul, we do our souls damage, which then does ourselves damage (VI.3).  Thus, “whoever behaves well towards the body, behaves badly toward himself”.  If we treat our bodies as first and foremost, lavishing it in luxury and simply “treating it well”, then we neglect our souls, which should deserve that same or better treatment.  This isn’t to say that we should totally neglect the body, of course; if the body isn’t well maintained, then the soul doesn’t have a chance to perfect within it.  Rather, we should strive to perfect the soul and maintaining our bodies as necessary along the way.  It’s similar to how happiness and sadness happen to us when we interact with the world; we don’t strive to be happy for the sake of being happy, but we should strive for something good which makes us happy as a result.  Likewise, we shouldn’t treat the body well for the sake of treating it well, but we should strive for Nous which makes our body well as a result.

After all, “the body, without a soul, is a corpse, likewise soul, without Nous, is inert”.  The two rely on each other in order to live, and so they need to support each other.  If we neglect the soul, the body dies; if we neglect the body, the soul remains imperfect.  Neither of these are good, though it’s worse for the soul to remain imperfect than the body dying.  Again, though death is generally a bad thing, that only affects our bodies, which is not the entirety of us.  We are more than dying bodies; we are both mortal and immortal (I.5), and we have the power of choosing immortality and making ourselves the gods we ought to be (VIII.7).  All told, while we should neglect neither the body nor the soul in our lives, we should focus on the development of the soul as our primary task and the development of the body as a secondary (but still as necessary) task, or as a co-equal task in the process of perfecting the soul.

Going back a bit, “soul, without Nous, is inert”, meaning it has no motion, no impetus, no drive.  After all, just as God has no means to sense since there is nothing outside God to sense (VIII.2), the soul without body has no means to move since there is nothing to move.  Thus, it is motionless, incapable of doing anything.  “Once a soul has entered [a human] body, [the soul] will acquire Nous”; once the soul gains a body, it gains the ability to move and a source from which motion is derived.  This is the soul-Nous that comes with soul, not the divine Nous that we have to strive for with Logos (VIII.4).  So, before a soul ever gets to a body, it has no Nous, though it still exists within Nous; then, once it joins with a body, it is given Nous.  But if a soul already has Nous before entering the body, then it has already acquired it and does not get an “extra portion” of Nous: “[the soul] which does not require [Nous], goes out such as it had entered”.  This means that the soul has already been joined to a body before, and has already been given Nous, yet the soul is going to another body; thus, the soul has left one body and goes to another.  This statement implies reincarnation or transmigration of souls, which fits with hints from before about souls perfecting themselves through bodies.

To begin with, however, “every soul, before entering the body, is deprived of Nous”.  Then, “Nous joins it from the body”; note that soul-Nous is not simply given to the soul from Nous, but from the body.  The body is crucial to the soul’s development, and is the basis for soul-Nous to even be present.  Just as the world is in God and Man is in the world (VII.5), so too is God in the world, since “everything is within man” (IX.4).  God is in itself, too, but the soul is only intelligible and not sensible, though still lacking God in itself.  The soul must be mixed with the body in the essence of Man in order to be given soul-Nous; only then can it “eventually [become] endowed with Nous”.  There doesn’t appear to be any difference between different disembodied or unembodied souls, though once a soul has been mixed with the essence of Man, it gains the capacity for Nous in a way that other souls do not; the soul undergoes a fundamental difference.  To use alchemical terms, this makes the material world and the body the crucible within which the actions and reactions of spiritual “materials” interact with each other to refine themselves, using the body as the base stratum of material.  Through refinement and perfection, incorporating true knowledge of the world, ourselves, and God, the prima materia of the alchemists is transformed into the purest gold and leaves the Caput Mortum behind, the end result and Great Work of the alchemists, the Magnum Opus of the magician.

Still, this process isn’t easy, and can be easily set back. “That soul which has gone out of the human body has got an ill memory”; we know from before that the soul “will not know the beings outside the body” (VI.2), but now we see that there’s more at stake here.  “Soul, even covered with the body, is forced to remember its unforgetfulness”.  This is a little unclear, but keep in mind that memory is the retaining of knowledge and the ability to access it later on in time.  Knowledge is God; by remaining in knowledge, we remain in God.  By forgetting knowledge, we leave God.  Thus, by remembering our unforgetfulness, we remember our tendency to always be in knowledge/God, and so remember who and what we truly are as Man.  While we may not yet be unforgetful, we still have unforgetfulness.  This is what our immortality (at least in part) consists of.

Of course, that’s not all we are.  As Man, we have two natures, the immortal and mortal, and also the unforgetful and the forgetful.  Our eternal knowledge and union with God is our immortality and also our unforgetfulness; thus, our mortality and forgetfulness is our live and death as a living bodily creature.  Neither of these things is either the body’s or the soul’s pristine form, however: “one change is unforgetful and another change brings about forgetfulness”.  The bestowing of Nous upon the soul gives it unforgetfulness; the death of the body around the soul brings about forgetfulness.  We must choose immortality and Nous to never forget who we are; to choose mortality and the body, “to treat the body well [over the soul”, brings about forgetfulness, a lack of knowledge, and the “perdition” of V.2.

49 Days of Definitions: Part IX, Definition 1

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-sixth definition, part IX, number 1 of 7:

Every man has a notion of God: for if he is a man, he also knows God.  Every man, by the very (fact) that he has (got) a notion of God, is a man, for it is not (given) to every man to have (such a) notion.  Man and the gods and all things (exist) by God and because of man.  God is everything and there is nothing outside God, even that which does not exist: since as to God, there is no such thing, even one single <that he is not himself>.  Man (comes) from another man, the gods (exist) because of God.  Man (exists) because of God; everything because of man.  God rules over man; man over the whole.

As we get towards the final 14 of these definitions, you’ll note that a lot of them get pretty lengthy, but are no less important.  Sections VIII, IX, and X all have seven definitions each, and every word here counts, just as in all the others.  Don’t let the length of these final few definitions get to you; we’re getting into some of the really juicy stuff now that we’ve tackled the foundations and groundwork of Hermetic philosophy according to the Definitions of Hermes Trismegistus.

Remember that, as human beings made as Man in the image of God, we are bestowed with both body and soul.  Heavenly beings and animals also have body and soul, but we’re different from both; heavenly beings are immortal while we are immortal, and neither heavenly beings nor animals are capable of possessing Nous.  True, Nous dwells within all souls, since not only is God within everything and transcendent of it all, but they are only capable of possessing the Nous that directs them according to their nature.  Man, on the other hand, mortal as he is, is capable of possessing the divine Nous that connects him to God and makes him into a god; this is radically different, and separates us out from the rest of all sensible living creatures.  Because we have that sliver of God within ourselves as well as the capability of understanding God, we’re attuned to the realm of divinity in a way that other creatures are not.

Thus, “every man has a notion of God”.  After all, we naturally according to our soul’s urgings would follow and understand God, so it’s pretty much an inborn quality of Man for us to know God, or at least have opinions of God or gods.  It’s natural for us to think in terms of the divine and heaven, even if by our choices and understanding relegate it strictly to a material point of view (not just modern atheistic physicists, but also classical Stoics held this notion).  We are made in the image of God, after all, and thus, if we have any knowledge of ourselves at all, we have at least some knowledge of God: “if he is a man, he also knows God”.  Further, “every man, by the very fact that he has got a notion of God is a man”, which logically follows; this is just a repetition of the nature of Man, made in the image of God and whose perfection rests in knowing God.

But “it is not given to every man to have such a notion”.  How can this be, if we just said that every man has a notion of God?  We’ve seen a similar backtracking before in VIII.4: “every man has a body and a soul…there are two types of Nous: the one is divine and the other belongs to soul…there are certain men who do not have even that of soul”.  Just as some men are incapable of possessing even soul-Nous, there are some men who are incapable of conceiving of God, i.e. the intelligible, i.e. anything not-sensible.  This sounds unfair, but again it’s a result of the maldevelopment of souls and bodies.  Just as not all souls with soul-Nous yet have divine-Nous, there are some souls who do not have soul-Nous…perhaps yet?  Constant development may be needed to even begin the work of becoming human, or we might better say evolution here.  Just as plants are more complex than stones, and animals more complex than plants, humans are more complex than animals; however, humans with soul and without soul-Nous are relegated to the same qualities as animals, just as humans without notions of God are.  These two qualities or accidents may very well be linked, but there’s nothing concrete in the definitions to say as much yet.  Suffice it to say for now that Man includes only those life forms who are both physically and spiritually mature enough to fall into the category of human beings with the capability of reason or Logos.

Again, how do we evolve so as to be physically and spiritually mature enough to wield Logos, have a notion of God, and “want and understand and believe and love” perfection of knowledge of God (VIII.7)?  We must use that which we have: our natures, the world, and everything that exists.  Everything exists for our sake, after all; “whatever God does, he does it for man” (VIII.2) and “everything came into being for you, so that by means of either one being or of the whole, you may understand [God]” (VIII.6).  Thus, “man and the gods and all things exist by God because of man”.  Everything exists for our sake, not just the world which is “man’s possession” (VI.1), but everything intelligible and sensible.

In a sense, God itself exists for our sake.  Consider that everything God does is for the sake of Man; God cannot act on things other than God, because nothing is not God and everything is within and part of God.  God acts on itself and within itself for the sake of Man.  Everything is within God and part of God: “God is everything and there is nothing outside God”, which accords with much of what we’ve seen before (III.1, III.4).  Moreover, there is nothing outside God “even that which does not exist: since as to God, there is no such thing, even one single (thing) that he is not himself”.  Basically, there is no such thing as something that “does not exist”.  God is literally everything: everything that is, everything that isn’t, everything that was and is no longer, everything that isn’t but yet will be, everything that never will be, everything that ever could be, everything that always is, everything that is some combination of the above, everything that is none of the above, and everything that is something else.  God is infinite, without end, encompassing every possibility.  It’s hard to grasp this without any kind of sensible example (being the sensible creatures that we are), but suffice it to say that no matter what you can imagine or how big you imagine it, God is always going to be that and far more.

As a result, all things come from God, since God is “previous to all the intelligible beings” (III.4) and the intelligible world is “larger than everything [sensible]” (III.3).  Whatever exists does so because of God (as creator) and because of Man (as purpose).  Thus, just as “man comes from another man” through birth, “the gods exist because of God”; God creates all heavenly beings, and indeed all beings that exist (or don’t exist).  Similarly, “man exists because of God”, because God creates all things and is the “father of the intelligible”, which itself is the “maker of the body” (III.4).  However, because all things exist because of God, everything also exists because of Man, because God does nothing that is not for Man.  Man may not be the maker of all things, but we are the beneficiary of all things.

As beneficiaries, we basically own that which exists for us; thus, “man [rules] over the whole”, referring to the whole of existence, including the world.  We already know that “man’s possession is the world” (VI.1), and that Man has as much power as the gods themselves do (VIII.6), especially since we ourselves can become gods (VIII.7).  However, we are not all-powerful; that alone goes to God, and “God rules over man”.  After all, the scope of Man’s action is far less than what God does (VIII.2), as well as our knowledge and understanding of things.  However, God is effectively the only thing that truly rules over the immortal being of Man, since we are made in the image of God by God.

49 Days of Definitions: Part VIII, Definition 6

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

Today, let’s discuss the thirty-fourth definition, part VIII, number 6 of 7:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

49 Days of Definitions: Part VIII, Definition 3

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-first definition, part VIII, number 3 of 7:

Those who worship idols (worship plain) pictures.  For if they worshipped with knowledge, they would not have gone astray, but since they do not know how they should worship, they have gone astray, (far) from piety.  Man has the faculty of killing, God of giving life.

More about gods and divinity in this definition, to follow up with the previous one.  In the previous definition, we talked about the difference between the “body” of God and other bodies: other bodies have things external to them, so they sense external things.  God, however, has nothing external to itself, and so by definition cannot sense anything external nor does God have a means to do so, but still has sensations (literally all the sensations) within itself.  God wants us to know God, and to do that we have to properly listen to our souls’ needs to understand Logos, by which we come to attain Nous, by which we know God.

However, if we distract ourselves with “human opinion” (VIII.1) and talk without reason for the sake of other humans (“speech without Nous is a finding of man”, V.3), then we end up getting mislead.  We end up mistaking our human opinions and human talk for true divinity, and end up mixing IHVH or Jesus or Aten with God who’s actually, truly, wholly the Whole.  We shouldn’t confuse the two, since the Whole/God/Nous is far more than any one entity (and, for that matter, all possible entities), but that’s where human speech without Nous can lead us.  If we consider any such human creation to be a human construction, then we can liken these not-God gods to idols, and “those who worship idols worship plain pictures”.  God is not in an idol or any one god; God is God, and nothing else is God though is a part of God.

Why would we get gods and God mixed up?  Because of our lack of knowledge and Nous, which leads us to say unreasonable, non-Logos things (V.2), which leads our bodies astray despite the urgings of our souls (VII.3).  Thus, “since they do not know how they should worship, they have gone astray, far from piety”.  Those who have knowledge, and therefore Logos and potentially Nous, worship God, either by means of the idols or through some other means, but they do not worship the idols themselves.  In more Christian terms, that’d be like worshipping a saint, which is a big no-no.  You may venerate saints, but you never worship a saint; worship goes to God, and the saints are approached to get to God through intercession and aid.  In this worldview, then, only God is worthy of worship; all else is not God, so why should we worship it?  Just because it may be a god does not make it the God, in the Hermetic sense.

Compare what the Asclepius says (chapter XXXVII, parts 1 and 2):

Less to be wondered at are the things said of man,—though they are [still] to be admired. Nay, of all marvels that which wins our wonder [most] is that man has been able to find out the nature of the Gods and bring it into play.

Since, then, our earliest progenitors were in great error,—seeing they had no rational faith about the Gods, and that they paid no heed unto their cult and holy worship,—they chanced upon an art whereby they made Gods [for themselves]. To this invention they conjoined a power that suited it, [derived] from cosmic nature; and blending these together, since souls they could not make, [they set about] evoking daimons’ souls or those of angels; [and thus] attached them to their sacred images and holy mysteries, so that the statues should, by means of these, possess the powers of doing good and the reverse.

Again, even if our human opinion of divinity is good, it itself is not the end goal of it all.  That’d be like confusing a raft to cross a river en route to a city as the end destination itself.  If we worship idols for the sake of their own worship, we end up worshipping things that are not God, and that’s no bueno, since this is how people “have gone astray, far from piety”.  Humans worshipping, effectively, their own opinions of divinity is effectively humans acting for the sake of humans; “what man does, he does it for soul/himself” (VIII.2).

The thing is, though, that we have a choice in this.  We don’t have to end up with our opinions of divinity as the end result of all this philosophy and sophistry; we can heed our soul and act properly according to it for the sake of Logos and Nous, or we can ignore it or distort the urges of our soul and act for the sake of ourselves and humanity.  The former leads us to Nous, while the latter leads us back to the world (V.2).  The realm of Nous, the immortal and eternal realm of God, is knowledge and therefore perfection; ignorance and going astray from God, however, leads us back to the world, and therefore to death and destruction and perdition (VII.5).  If we keep talking without Logos and are content with it, we then are complacent with the mortal, destructible realm and are headed right back to it.  If we conceive speech with Nous and Logos, we end up with knowing God, and then while our bodies may die (as they should), that which is the essence of Man will live forever as opposed to enduring death.

So what do we choose?  Do we choose to seek life, or seek death?  Seeking death is effectively the natural course of Man without Nous, but God chooses to give Nous to those who earnestly seek it and are worthy of it.  Thus, “man has the faculty of killing, God of giving life”.  Yes, humanity has the power to kill whatever’s mortal, but it also has the power to kill off ourselves through our own action or inaction.  We, however, do not have the power of giving (eternal) life, which is something that only God does by bestowing Nous upon Man.  If we follow this comparison through, though, we end up saying that God does not have the power to kill.  But if God is all things, God is therefore in control of it all, isn’t it?  Shouldn’t offing something be within the power of God, especially if by God’s own choice God does not give Nous to Man?

Not at all, actually.  “Whatever God does, he does it for Man” (VIII.2); God does nothing except to benefit us.  If God does not bestow Nous upon someone, it’s because that someone has not yet earned it or is turning it away; according to the definitions, God is precluded from acting against Man, even by God’s own inaction.  After all, if we are made in the image of God, why should God maim or prevent us from becoming God, which is our own perfection?  For us to not reach perfection is out of God’s power; we have that power, and it’s up to us to willingly (whether in these terms or not) turn away from Logos and Nous or to accept it by acting according to how we ought according to our souls’ directives.  We have more to listen to than the chatter of humans, after all.