Plato’s Timaeus and the Tetractys of Life

At this point, it’s becoming plain to see that the occult system of mathesis, including the Tree of Life, goes beyond Neoplatonism right into the teachings of Pythagoreanism.  While I’m not annoyed at this per se, I am annoyed because Pythagoreanism is one of those things I haven’t studied too well before.  There’s plenty on Neoplatonism, sure, and plenty more on Hermeticism, but on Pythagoreanism itself, all I know is that it had a huge effect on later philosophical and mystery traditions and that’s about it.  That said, that’s basically the thrust of the academic and historical record of what we know; when we get into pinpointing exactly what in those later traditions had their roots in Pythagoreanism, it’s hard to say, since we have so little original source material on Pythagorean practices and beliefs.  So, all this Tetractys of Life stuff is half read from summaries of Pythagorean thought and half made up based on my own experiences and knowledge.  I have no idea if any such Tetractys of Life has been developed before, but then, I don’t suppose it matters at this point if it did.

One of the texts I’ve read before, obtuse as it was, is the Timaeus of Plato.  Plato, that awesome student of Socrates and teacher of Aristotle, wrote a number of books using Socrates himself and many other Greeks of his day as his mouthpieces, exploring various aspects of philosophy.  Of course, philosophy back in classical Greece had a much wider scope than modern philosophy; back then, it was focused on understanding how to live well, with questions of existence and ontology coming in second (or so I see it).  Plato is known for many of his works, especially his Republic, wherein he talks about the ideal city-state ruled by a philosopher-king.  Other works of his focus on things of arguably smaller scope, but the Timaeus is an exception to this.  This text talks about nothing less than the creation of the cosmos itself and how the structure of the cosmos is perfect in every way, and how everything that happens is directly attributable to the harmonies and ordering of the cosmos.  It’s a fascinating read, though the famous Roman writer Cicero himself claimed that he never was able to understand it.

While Plato is known for founding the philosophical school of Platonism, plenty of Pythagorean thought can be found in his texts because of course.  The Timaeus itself is the prime example for this, when the character of Timaeus explains the creation of the cosmos by the Demiurge, the World Creator.  Timaeus opens up his discourse with an important question distinguishing…something:

First then, in my judgment, we must make a distinction and ask, What is that which always is and has no becoming; and what is that which is always becoming and never is? That which is apprehended by intelligence and reason is always in the same state; but that which is conceived by opinion with the help of sensation and without reason, is always in a process of becoming and perishing and never really is.

Timaeus is setting the argument up for distinguishing the eternal, uncreated, and absolute from the temporal, created, and ephemeral.  Things that are, in other words, are unchanging and immutable, never becoming anything different from what they already are.  Things that become, however, are made to become and do not become on their own, since that would imply a power over their own selves.  Things that become can be perceived by sense and opinion, the lower faculties of the human entity, while things that are cannot be perceived yet they can be known by intelligence and reason, the higher faculties of the human entity.  (If this is sounding an awful lot like the stuff from the 49 Days of Definitions, it should!)  In other word, there is a dualism between that which is the Creator and that which is the Created, where the Creator is eternal and absolutely true and can never be directly perceived and where the Created is temporal and can be perceived without an underlying basis in reality.  Why can’t that which is become anything else?  Because that would imply that there is more than one absolute.  The creator, here, is the Good, the One, the Whole, or God, a single entity who created all other things.  Because everything else was created, it cannot be the creator, yet it comes from the creator.  The creator itself, however, was alone in this, since there is only one Good.  (Why?  It’s in other works of Plato, but if everything that becomes is due to a creator, the creator itself is uncreated, so there logically follows that there is only one creator, since there’s nothing to create the creator.  I guess.  Kinda.)

A little later on, Timaeus explains the nature of the things that become, that which is created, in terms of their physical bodies:

Now that which is created is of necessity corporeal, and also visible and tangible. And nothing is visible where there is no fire, or tangible which has no solidity, and nothing is solid without earth. Wherefore also God in the beginning of creation made the body of the universe to consist of fire and earth. But two things cannot be rightly put together without a third; there must be some bond of union between them. And the fairest bond is that which makes the most complete fusion of itself and the things which it combines; and proportion is best adapted to effect such a union. For whenever in any three numbers, whether cube or square, there is a mean, which is to the last term what the first term is to it; and again, when the mean is to the first term as the last term is to the mean-then the mean becoming first and last, and the first and last both becoming means, they will all of them of necessity come to be the same, and having become the same with one another will be all one. If the universal frame had been created a surface only and having no depth, a single mean would have sufficed to bind together itself and the other terms; but now, as the world must be solid, and solid bodies are always compacted not by one mean but by two, God placed water and air in the mean between fire and earth, and made them to have the same proportion so far as was possible (as fire is to air so is air to water, and as air is to water so is water to earth); and thus he bound and put together a visible and tangible heaven. And for these reasons, and out of such elements which are in number four, the body of the world was created, and it was harmonised by proportion, and therefore has the spirit of friendship; and having been reconciled to itself, it was indissoluble by the hand of any other than the framer.

Timaeus explains that the two major aspects of a physical body is that it is visible (able to be seen) that it is tangible (able to be touched).  These are provided by the elements of fire and earth, respectively, but here we come into a problem.  Any two properties can only ever be joined together by a third intermediate quality, so that the three become a harmony.  That would suggest there to be three elements, but interweaving mathematics into this proto-alchemical description of physical bodies, there need to be four in order for bodies to be a solid.  Remember that, in geometry, a single point is only ever a single point; two points define a line; three points define a form (a triangle); four points define a solid (a tetrahedron).  If each element is like a point, then if we only had three elements, we would all be living in Flatland, but since we’re three-dimensional beings, we need four elements.  Thus, we need two medians between fire and earth, which become air and water.  Fire is linked to water by the mean of air; air is linked to earth by the mean of water.  Thus, every individual body consists of these four elements which provide it with earthy tangibility and fiery visibility, linked together by the qualities bestowed upon them by air and water.  While Timaeus does not give what these qualities are, we can see in Agrippa (book II, chapter 7) that air gives bodies the ability to be heard and water the ability to be tasted or smelled (the two are similar in nature).  We can treat each of these qualities as an interplay between the soul and the body: fire allows other bodies to be perceived in a soulful way by the soul (only indirect contact), air to be perceived in a bodily way by the soul (indirect contact over a distance), water to be perceived in a soulful way by the body (indirect contact in close proximity), and earth to be perceived in a bodily way by the body (direct contact).

As for the soul, Timaeus backtracks a bit and goes on to explain that bodies were given souls, but that souls were made before the body.  After all, the body moves because of soul, so soul must rule over the body:

Whereas he made the soul in origin and excellence prior to and older than the body, to be the ruler and mistress, of whom the body was to be the subject. And he made her out of the following elements and on this wise: Out of the indivisible and unchangeable, and also out of that which is divisible and has to do with material bodies, he compounded a third and intermediate kind of essence, partaking of the nature of the same and of the other, and this compound he placed accordingly in a mean between the indivisible, and the divisible and material. He took the three elements of the same, the other, and the essence, and mingled them into one form, compressing by force the reluctant and unsociable nature of the other into the same. When he had mingled them with the essence and out of three made one, he again divided this whole into as many portions as was fitting, each portion being a compound of the same, the other, and the essence.

So we know that the soul is made in a different way than the body and with different materials.  Instead of using the four elements, Timaeus claims that the soul is made from two parts, the indivisible and the divisible, or “the nature of the same and of the other”.  Sameness and Difference, then, are the two qualities of the soul, but as we saw above, any two properties can only be joined by means of a third, and Timaeus gives us that as “the essence”, or Existence.  Sameness, Difference, and Existence are the qualities of the soul, which can be described as the quality that makes an object A the same as object B, that makes A different than B, and that makes A come to be at all.  Because the soul is not a body, the soul does not require a fourth substance, and is satisfied with only three properties, much as a triangle defined by three points forms the foundation for the tetrahedron with four.

From this, Timaeus describes the actual creation of the world in a weird and numerical way:

And he proceeded to divide [the creation] after this manner: First of all, he took away one part of the whole [1], and then he separated a second part which was double the first [2], and then he took away a third part which was half as much again as the second and three times as much as the first [3], and then he took a fourth part which was twice as much as the second [4], and a fifth part which was three times the third [9], and a sixth part which was eight times the first [8], and a seventh part which was twenty-seven times the first [27]. After this he filled up the double intervals [i.e. between 1, 2, 4, 8] and the triple [i.e. between 1, 3, 9, 27] cutting off yet other portions from the mixture and placing them in the intervals, so that in each interval there were two kinds of means, the one exceeding and exceeded by equal parts of its extremes [as for example 1, 4/3, 2, in which the mean 4/3 is one-third of 1 more than 1, and one-third of 2 less than 2], the other being that kind of mean which exceeds and is exceeded by an equal number. Where there were intervals of 3/2 and of 4/3 and of 9/8, made by the connecting terms in the former intervals, he filled up all the intervals of 4/3 with the interval of 9/8, leaving a fraction over; and the interval which this fraction expressed was in the ratio of 256 to 243. And thus the whole mixture out of which he cut these portions was all exhausted by him.

Lambdoma

This entire compound he divided lengthways into two parts, which he joined to one another at the centre like the letter X, and bent them into a circular form, connecting them with themselves and each other at the point opposite to their original meeting-point; and, comprehending them in a uniform revolution upon the same axis, he made the one the outer and the other the inner circle. Now the motion of the outer circle he called the motion of the same, and the motion of the inner circle the motion of the other or diverse. The motion of the same he carried round by the side to the right, and the motion of the diverse diagonally to the left. And he gave dominion to the motion of the same and like, for that he left single and undivided; but the inner motion he divided in six places and made seven unequal circles having their intervals in ratios of two-and three, three of each, and bade the orbits proceed in a direction opposite to one another; and three [Sun, Mercury, Venus] he made to move with equal swiftness, and the remaining four [Moon, Saturn, Mars, Jupiter] to move with unequal swiftness to the three and to one another, but in due proportion.

Timaeus explains, using what is now famously known as Plato’s Lambda, how the universe itself was created according to a system of musical harmonies.  Suffice to say that the Demiurge took two “strips” of reality, one made from the even numbers in Plato’s Lambda and the other made from the odd numbers, and joined them together in the form of a giant Khi (Χ), bending them around into circles to form a sphere.  The outer circle is given the property of Sameness, while the inner one the property of Difference.  The inner circle of Difference, moreover, was divided into seven segments, each associated with the spheres of the seven planets who move at different rates.  The outer circle of Sameness, however, all move at the same rate; this then becomes the sphere of the fixed stars.  Linking the two heavens together is a connection at their nexus, which we can assume to be the nodes between the ecliptic (where the planets, Sun, and Moon move in the skies) and the celestial equator (where the stars all move along around the Earth).  The circle of the Same (the sphere of the fixed stars) is kept as one indivisible unit, much as the One itself is; the circle of the Different (the spheres of the planets) are divided, emphasizing their created nature and focus on manifestation and embodiment.

So why all the Platonic and Pythagorean claptrap?  Because, as fate would have it, all this from Timaeus reinforces the structure I have on the Tetractys of Life relating the elements and reagents:

Alchemical Tetractys

At the top, we have the Monad, the One, the Good, the uncreated creator of all things.  At the bottom, we find the four elements of Earth, Water, Air, and Fire.  Water, as we said before, is the mean between Earth and Air, and Air itself is the mean between Water and Fire.  These four elements create a physical body with the capacity to be seen, heard, smelled/tasted, and touched.  The body, moreover, is built upon the soul, which itself is composed of three qualities: Sameness, Difference, and Existence, which allow the soul to distinguish these things in the cosmos.  We see three reagents: Salt, Mercury, and Sulfur.  We can link these three reagents with the three properties of Difference, Existence, and Sameness, respectively, based on Plato’s Timaeus.  After all, in using Plato’s Lambda, we’ve already established that we’re using the same notions of “left” and “right” in terms of directions down and from the Monad, and the Demiurge (saith Timaeus) “he carried round [the motion of Sameness] by the side to the right, and the motion of the diverse diagonally to the left”.  This assigns Salt the property of Difference, and Sulfur the property of Sameness.  This gives Mercury the property of Existence, which links Sameness and Difference.

Admittedly, it’s at this point that I started freaking out, thinking back on other definitions of Salt and Mercury.  After all, isn’t Mercury traditionally assigned to be the cold and moist counterpart to hot and dry Sulfur?  Yes, but these two reagents alone require a basis to work upon, which is Salt, the materia upon which other forces can act.  Salt, much as Plato describes elsewhere in terms of the element Earth, can only ever be Salt; it can be acted upon, compounded, and transformed, but anything that exists will always be Salt, though in a different form than before.  Timaeus describes, further, that when the Demiurge made the soul, he “mingled [the three properties] into one form, compressing by force the reluctant and unsociable nature of [Difference] into [Sameness]”.  Difference is hard to mix in with anything, and in order to do it the Demiurge required something to blend it in with Sameness.  So, while Mercury and Sulfur might be opposite, they’re not opposite in the same way that Sulfur and Salt are.  The alchemical perspective here is a bit unclear, and the planetary associations of the Moon, Mercury, and the Sun seem to work better.  However, Salt is literally an “other”, unable to work in the same way as Sulfur or Mercury, but which can be worked with Sulfur by means of Mercury.

Confused?  I am, too, a little.  But basically, the Timaeus tells us that Mercury is what allows Sameness and Difference to co-exist since Mercury is what allows for Existence.  If everything were Sulfur/Sameness, everything would follow the active principle and would have no body; everything could only be visible and joined together in an infinite oneness.  If everything were Salt/Difference, everything would follow the passive principle and could not be seen; everything could only be touched and distinguished through spatial location.  In order for the soul to bridge the gap between space and awareness, it must relate to both in a manner that Sulfur can work and Salt can be acted upon.  Said another way, the three principles of Existence, Sameness, and Difference allow the soul to determine what actually exists, what is the same as itself, and what is different from itself.  The soul, not being a body, recognizes the body as the most different from itself, while the soul itself is made in the image of the Monad, and so is natively inclined towards making.  Thus, the Salt which is used in producing bodies is Difference, and Sulfur which produces bodies is Sameness.  This is how the principles of Salt, Mercury, and Sulfur work together to form the foundation of elemental substance.  This logic reassured me, since I had the momentary worry of freaking out that I had mis-constructed my Tetractys of Life by putting Salt and Mercury in the wrong spheres on the Tetractys.  Rereading Timaeus, however, and a few other alchemical texts, leads me to believe that this is alright and ties in alchemical theory with Pythagorean cosmology (which, admittedly, isn’t something that should probably not be done as whimsically as I’m doing here).

So Timaeus describes the Monad, the Tetrad of elements, and the Triad of reagents (albeit in an abstract manner).  What about the Dyad?  Timaeus talks a lot about the One, the Three, and the Four, but not much about a Two, at least not explicitly.  Implicitly, however, the whole discourse is about the relationship between the Creator and the Created, that which Is and that which Becomes, the Original and the Copy.  Continuing the very first quote up above, where Timaeus explains the difference between that which Is and that which Becomes:

And in speaking of the copy and the original we may assume that words are akin to the matter which they describe; when they relate to the lasting and permanent and intelligible, they ought to be lasting and unalterable, and, as far as their nature allows, irrefutable and immovable-nothing less. But when they express only the copy or likeness and not the eternal things themselves, they need only be likely and analogous to the real words. As being is to becoming, so is truth to belief.

In the beginning, there is only the Monad; we cannot yet call it the Creator because there is nothing Created.  We cannot truly call the Monad as existing, because there is nothing that is not existing; we obviously cannot call the Monad becoming, not just because it cannot become as created things become, but because nothing is becoming.  Before the Monad creates, there is only ever the Monad, and all dichotomies and distinctions and differences are moot.  Once the Monad creates, however, there is suddenly Creator and Created; as the Monad creates, it creates in its own likeness, providing Sameness; as it provides Sameness, it provides Light to see that which is the Same.  Thus, we have Monad producing Creating force producing Sameness producing Visibility, or Monad producing Light producing Sulfur producing Fire.  At the same time, however, the Monad has also produced the Created, which is different from the Monad; this Difference then provides Tangibility.  Thus, the Monad also gives forth the force of being Created or Darkness, which produces Difference or Salt, which produces Tangibility or Earth.  Sameness and Difference require the mean of Existence to facilitate further creation between the two, which is to say that Sulfur and Salt require the intermediary of Mercury.  Visibility and Tangibility require two intermediaries of Audibility and Taste to create a body, which is to say that Fire and Earth require the intermediaries of Air and Water.

In all this, we finally have a completion: Monad, Dyad, Triad, and Tetrad.  We can see that the Tetrad relates to bodies, and the Triad to souls.  The Monad, being the source, can be called God, pure Intellect, or Mind.  So where does that place the Dyad?  I claim that the Dyad relates to the spirit.  Just as the soul dwells within the body to animate it, the spirit dwells within the soul to…what?  Timaeus tells us:

The soul, interfused everywhere from the centre to the circumference of heaven, of which also she is the external envelopment, herself turning in herself, began a divine beginning of never ceasing and rational life enduring throughout all time. The body of heaven is visible, but the soul is invisible, and partakes of reason and harmony, and being made by the best of intellectual and everlasting natures, is the best of things created. And because she is composed of the same and of the other and of the essence, these three, and is divided and united in due proportion, and in her revolutions returns upon herself, the soul, when touching anything which has essence, whether dispersed in parts or undivided, is stirred through all her powers, to declare the sameness or difference of that thing and some other; and to what individuals are related, and by what affected, and in what way and how and when, both in the world of generation and in the world of immutable being.

And when reason, which works with equal truth, whether she be in the circle of the diverse or of the same—in voiceless silence holding her onward course in the sphere of the self-moved—when reason, I say, is hovering around the sensible world and when the circle of the diverse also moving truly imparts the intimations of sense to the whole soul, then arise opinions and beliefs sure and certain. But when reason is concerned with the rational, and the circle of the same moving smoothly declares it, then intelligence and knowledge are necessarily perfected. And if any one affirms that in which these two are found to be other than the soul, he will say the very opposite of the truth.

The body is moved by soul; the soul is moved by reason.  Reason deals with Sameness and Difference, but soul consists of these as well as Existence.  Reason exists on a higher level than soul does, which allows to reconcile directly the forces of Creating with Created without need for a mediator.  Reason is not Existence; reason is the relationship that reconciles Creator and Created, the intermediary between the Monad and the Triad.  Reason works outside the circles of Sameness and Difference, closer to God than the fixed stars themselves are.  Thus, the Dyad is reason, or spirit, that which moves the triadic soul as the soul moves the tetradic body.  These concepts are replete throughout nearly all later philosophical and occult works, even being repeated in Cornelius Agrippa’s Scale of Four almost verbatim.

While I had a few inklings about the concepts I wanted to explore on the Tetractys based on where I’ve already been and what I’ve already done, I admit that my reading list has not been exhausted like it should have been before I proposed to embark on making a new occult system.  Rereading the Timaeus should have been one of the first things I did, and here I am finally going over it and finding more ways to explain the system I’m developing in a way that I should have explored beforehand.  While the Tetractys of Life is, indeed, likely a thing that’s been made before, it probably was only done in florid 2500-year-old language without the help of Adobe Illustrator, so at least I can innovate in some way.  At this point, I’m finding more and more data and knowledge to back up my structures and plans for exploration, and I can’t say I’m displeased about that.  Fine-tuning and tweaking, especially to the paths, will still be needed, but I can rest certain that the overall structure is good to go.

Strength of Voice

One of the most difficult problems I had in starting my career as a magician was speaking.  I mean, I’ve always had a way with words; writing has always been my forte, and was one of the things that saved my ass in college when other projects didn’t go so well.  Speaking, however, was another story; I often speak too quickly for many people to follow, and according to my parents (though I have no memories of this) I had a speech therapist help me when I was really young.  Public speaking has always given me a minor case of stage fright, and I used some herbs now and then to calm the shaking of my knees and slow me down when presenting a topic to a class.  It’s gotten better over time, but the written word was always better than my spoken word for years.

In magic, of course, one can’t always get by with writing things out, despite the inherent magic in the written word (a la Thoth-Hermes).  Prayer, for instance, nearly mandates speaking things out loud, especially in a Hellenistic or pagan context, and making my prayers “feel” powerful wasn’t a matter of my word choice.  It was a matter of speaking things willfully, intentfully, and powerfully on their own using the here-and-now voice rather than preserving and enduring ink.  Saying a consecration of fire over my altar candles never really “felt” like it took effect, and though the angels came when I conjured them, it still felt like my words were empty though I was using the proper channels and ritual to back them up.  Speaking out loud is something that has been a weak point in my magical practice, though it’s gotten better with practice.  This practice is more than just focusing on the words.  This rings too close to contemplation and meditation, and that’s not always the proper thing to do in a conjuration or a quick blessing of something, especially if you’re pressed for time, and ultimately isn’t helpful if you’re already in a meditative or focused state.  Focusing on the words is important, of course; any ritual action can benefit from increased or single-minded focus, since having the mouth talk in one direction while the mind is running in the other never helps to complete a ritual successfully.  Still, focus wasn’t really the issue.

Recent studies of mine have pointed out where this practice really took off for me, though I’m thinking about it in a new way than I did before.  In my style of aikido, there are five disciplines, one of which is called sokushin no gyō, or bell purification.  You sit down and clear the breath, then ring a bell in tune while performing a simple but loud chant.  This is usually done for a substantial amount of time, often forty minutes or more, and chanting anything loudly for forty minutes can wreak havoc on the vocal chords.  That is, unless you chant in the proper way.  Aikido teachers call it “speaking from the one-point”, or the center of the body, which is energetically the same as speaking from the navel/svadisthana chakra or the lower dantian in Chinese medicine.  Although we speak using our vocal chords, if we merely chant “from” there, we end up stressing them and causing damage; if we speak “from” our center, the vocal chords are more relaxed and aren’t stressed out from the chanting.

This is an important part of aikido in any of its disciplines; one moves or pushes the individual parts of the body to change things, but always moves with the one point and letting the rest of the body follow with it.  Walking, for instance, involves moving the one point forward and letting the legs carry it in that direction, rather than just moving the legs one in front of the other.  It’s weird to think about, but it’s an important point in aikido.  By acting from the center, we end up acting with our whole body as well as our whole mind, since the center is both the energetic center of the body as well as its physical center of mass.  If we chant or speak from the center, then, we speak with our whole body and mind unified as one, which can be done for much longer and with less strain than if we spoke or moved from any other part of the body.  The kiai, or force shout that martial artists often use, is done in the same way; instead of shouting it from the vocal chords or lungs, one shouts it from the center which helps to coordinate the body better when executing a particular technique.  Moving and acting from the center projects energy and strength in a way that uses our entire being more than if we used an individual part of the body, which uses just the strength of that part alone.

This aikido-centric way of thinking about speaking from the center is what’s really being meant when other magicians talk about vibrating or intoning words or sounds.  Some magicians talk about this from a physical standpoint, where you feel your body reverberate or feel the words reverberate in your head.  What’s really being meant here is that you’re using your entire being to speak the word, not just the body with the lungs nor the thought with the mind.  By all means, of course, vibrate your godnames until the Sun sets for the last time; it helps, and producing these sounds in the world is enough to cause changes in it and in yourself!  It’s just like me speaking the prayers of conjuration without really saying them, as it were, since the prayers still worked when I merely spoke them.  But it’s the unification of the mind and body that really puts these prayers and names and sounds and chants on a whole different level than just saying them mentally or just saying them physically with no such unification.

Unifying the mind and body feels different, too, when speaking in this way.  Physically, it doesn’t feel like much, save for something much stronger than a simple reverberation in the head; it feels like everything goes comfortably fuzzy and fizzy, or like you’re entering a trance state.  Mentally, however, it’s a lot more noticeable.  You’ll probably be aware that the thoughts in your head “feel” different depending on who’s saying them and how; for instance, your own thoughts about something you’re actively thinking about “feel” different from the chatter going on in the back of your head about monkey-mind concerns, just as the thoughts that you think “feel” different from those that spirits speak in conjuration or communion.  Likewise, thoughts that are spoken with a unified and directed mind “feel” different from thoughts with a non-unified mind.  To me, it feels like these unified-mind thoughts are “higher up”, or clearer in some way that’s hard to put into words.  It’s really similar to how the Hymns of Silence feel, now that I have experience with those.  Speaking in this way, in a sense, is applying the Hymns of Silence to back up any prayer or speech you have, which can cause far more change in the world than merely spoken words, since you have the force of the cosmos backing up your own vocal chords at that point.

When you get this feeling even once, it’s easy to keep going with it, and soon it becomes second nature to speak with this.  Spirits come to your call more often and with less delay; blessings feel more assured and secure; people snap to attention and hear you out for longer.  It still requires practice, of course, and a lack of focus can easily take away from this style of speaking, but this is a strength of voice that rivals even what Dune’s Bene Gesserit can muster.  Channeling the sacred words and names, the sounds of the vowels, and prayers takes getting used to, and it’s important to build up a familiarity with the words themselves first so the mind can easily recognize them just as so the body can easily pronounce them.  Again, it’s like aikido: it’s important to learn what the name and ideas are of the technique as well as the proper hand, arm, foot, and body motions are before one can properly apply them from the center rather than from individual body parts.  In order to unify the actions of the body and the thoughts of the mind, it’s important to have the actions and thoughts known ahead of time; you can’t unify things without anything to unify together.

If you’re not in such a martial art that puts a focus like this on its motions, never fear!  I got the hang of speaking with unified mind and body without taking aikido, too, though aikido has certainly already helped me in that regard, as well.  When you pray, don’t just rattle the words out from a book; study the prayer, feel how each word feels in the mouth, understand what feelings are triggered in the heart and what thoughts come from the mind, and then put them all together praying, essentially, from the heart.  When you vibrate the vowels of the planets, don’t just sing them loftily; feel the energies of the planets within you being directed outwards in all directions from you just as your voice can be heard in all directions, unifying you with the planetary energies already around you and strengthening yourself as well as your environment.  When you intone sacred names in the LBRP or similar rituals, don’t just shout them out; connect, commune, and open yourself up to the beings and forces behind and within those words and bring themselves to you just as you bring yourself to them.  It takes practice, but then, no strength can be developed without a good and repeated workout.

49 Days of Definitions: Part X, Definition 7

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

Today, let’s discuss the forty-ninth and final definition, part X, number 7 of 7:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

49 Days of Definitions: Part VII, 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 twenty-fourth definition, part VII, number 1 of 5:

But now, what is man?  What (else) if neither body nor soul?

Aye, dear Asclepius, who(ever) is not soul, is neither Nous nor body.  For (one) thing is what becomes the body of man, and (another) thing is what comes in addition to man.  Then what should be called truly a man, O Asclepius, and what is man?  the immortal species of every man.

This definition starts off with a question, and it seems to be posed to Hermes Trismegistus and not a rhetorical question of Hermes.  The answer, in the second paragraph, would be spoken by Hermes to Asclepius, his disciple; in fact, coupled with the last definition (VI.3), we might say that the “Contain yourself!” bit was spoken by Asclepius to calm him down or get him to clarify something otherwise unclear.  This happens enough in the Corpus Hermeticum, and these are the “Definitions from Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius”, so it makes sense that there’d be at least a passing reference to dialog here.

The last section of definitions elaborated on the position and power of Man in the cosmos, and how we’re made more special than other entities by our weird combination of body, spirit, soul, reason, and mind.  However, as Man, we’re more than the sum of the parts; what is it that makes Man Man?  What is the essence of Man?  Or, as Asclepius asks, “what is man…if neither body nor soul?”  This is a valid question to ask; we know we consist of various parts, but we also know that there’s still something distinct that allows Man to be more than animal and different than heavenly body.

First, remember what the relationships are between Nous, body, and soul.  Bodies that move on their own need soul to perform it, and bodies that live and grow on their own need breath or spirit which allows the soul (if any) to enact itself (IV.2).  Thus, stones are mere bodies; plants are bodies and breath; animals are body, breath, and soul.  The combination of body, breath, and soul allow animals to use voice and utterance.  Man, however, is a special type of animal that has the capacity for Nous, or Mind, which allows his voice to be reasonable and thus allow him access to Logos, or reasonable speech, which can endow him with Nous.  Nous, however, isn’t something guaranteed among all of Man, but only to those worthy of it (V.3).

We know that we are neither just body (we breathe and move with animation and soul), nor just soul (it doesn’t make sense to be a soul without a body), nor just Nous (which is God); this is what Asclepius and Hermes agree on.  After all, bodies are “what become the body of man”, implying that our material side comes from material causes, but doesn’t constitute all of Man with his dual nature.  The other thing, Nous, is “what comes in addition to man”, since it is a “gift of God” (V.3).  We are not merely soul, either, since soul “is a necessary movement adjusted to every kind of body” (II.1), so souls go along with that which have bodies.

There’s still something beyond all this, something else, some essential quality of Man which makes Man Man.  Hermes says that it is the “immortal species of every man”, but what does this mean?  We find the term “species” elsewhere so far: Man is the “reasonable world…after the species” (I.1).  We’re not exactly told what the species of Man exactly is, and that’s because Man is distinctly Man.  In other words, there is a form, a quality, an essence, a form, an idea of Man that distinguishes Man apart from all else in the world, just as there are chairs and the idea of a chair as distinct from phones and the idea of phones.  Man is something unique in the world, and not because of the ability to be both immortal and mortal at once, though this is another result of the same cause.  Man is distinct in the cosmos and is made distinct.

This is probably a confusing idea, but contrast what modern scientists would think of species of creatures versus other thinkers.  To a modern biologist, a species of animal or plant or fungus or what-have-you is made distinct only because of subtle, gradual changes from other species on the same phylogenic tree or path.  Evolution causes these small changes and, over time, these accumulated changes become so distinct that one branch of the phylogenic tree from another that they can no longer breed or intermingle successfully.  Species, then, is just a matter of random subtle differentiation over a period of time.  However, a premodern thinker would conceive of species as distinct units or groups that do not change over time, though they might be grouped into categories.  Consider felines: all felines share certain characteristics, though there are characteristics that distinguish tigers from housecats.  These groups are species and were made so from The Beginning (i.e. that of Creation Itself), but not necessarily in a merely physical way.  The spiritual form and type of these creatures was also made separate, such that the “soul” of tigers would be distinct from the “soul” of cats.

This gets into some heavy Platonic notions of forms and ideas, which I honestly don’t care to get into or explain at this point.  Suffice to say that a “species” here is an abstract generalized perfect concept that can be manifested in imperfect ways through material means.  Thus, we have the immortal “species” of Man, and the mortal humans that are made in the image of Man.  The essential quality that defines Man is, simply, the essence of Man itself.  Compare with what Hermes is taught by the Poemander in the Corpus Hermeticum (chapter I, part 15):

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

Of course, when we start talking about ideas and forms, those too can undergo a type of speciation.  For instance, I belong overall to the idea of Man; I also belong to the idea of Magus, and that of Caucasian, and so forth.  There are a lot of archetypes, cosmic roles, or ideas that I fulfill; would it not also be said that I fulfill an idea of polyphanes?  That there is a perfect me, and this physical, material body is just an imperfect manifestation of that perfect idea?  This, to me, is the implication I get from all this; we might even consider the idea of our perfect selves as what makes us immortal within the broader immortal idea of Man, and the bodies that are moved by breath and soul the material manifestations of those ideas, and the Nous that visits us the bridge between our imperfect bodies and the perfect ideas to make our bodies more perfect and, thus, more in line with our perfect selves and God, which is what Nous has us strive to do.

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

The present (things) follow close upon the past, and the future (close upon) the present.  Just as the body, once it has gained perfection in the womb, goes out, likewise the soul, once it has gained perfection, goes out of the body.  For just as a body, if it goes out of the womb (while it is still) imperfect can neither be fed nor grow up, likewise if soul goes out of the body without having gained perfection, it is imperfect and lacks a body; but the perfection of soul is the knowledge of the beings.  Just as you will behave towards your soul when it is in this body, likewise it will behave towards you when it has gone out of the body.
—Contain yourself, O Trismegistus!

Let’s skip the connections with the past few definitions and get right into this one.  The first part of this definition simply says that things follow in a logical order from point A to point B: “the present things follow close upon the past, and the future close upon the present”.  There is nothing coming that isn’t already being made now, and there’s nothing currently that wasn’t made in the past.  Essentially, the cosmos is causal in some way; certain events follow each other in time, and importantly, only in one direction in time.  The past does not follow the present, nor does the present follow the past, but the other way around.  Things once done cannot simply be undone or nullified.  Whatever happens in the future happens because of things happening now, which themselves happen because of things that happened in the past; thus, everything that happens in the future happens because of things in the past.  How things happen, in what ways, and for how long, however, are left unspecified by this definition.

Continuing the comparisons between the baby in the womb and Man in the body, this definition affords a few more comparisons.  The first is that “just as the body, once it has gained perfection in the womb, goes out, likewise the soul, once it has gained perfection, goes out of the body”.  First, we now know what part of the immortal Man survives death: the soul, not (only) the Nous!  (Then again, the Nous may be said to be part of or within the soul, but that’s another point.)  We know that all Man must eventually die and leave the body, just as an unborn child must leave the womb at some point; we now know that the soul “goes out of the body” once it has gained “perfection”.  “Perfection” here is first used to describe a fully-formed baby in the womb, when birth is supposed to happen so the baby can “go out” of the womb.  Thus, the soul only leaves the body when it is fully-formed; while we can summarize what this means for a body, we aren’t yet told in what ways the soul develops (besides being given Nous and Logos and the ability to use reasonable speech from definition set V).

Of course, there are times when babies miscarry or are stillborn, and we often talk about people dying or being killed “before their time”.  What of them?  Well, “if [a baby] goes out of the womb while it is still imperfect can neither be fed nor grow up, likewise is soul goes out of the body without having gained perfection it is imperfect and lacks a body”.  A prematurely-born child, though in some cases is well-developed enough to survive on its own, often has significant problems that prevent its viability.  If born too early, then the baby will be unable to function as an independent entity and will not “grow up”, i.e. it will die.  Likewise, the soul is in the body for a reason: to attain perfection.  If the soul “goes out of the body” before it attains perfection, the soul is stunted and will have significant soul-related problems, like the lack of reasonable speech or understanding of the cosmos.  How might this happen?  An early death, catching a plague, murder, suicide, and many other causes.

It’s important to note that what happens to the body isn’t synonymous with what happens to the soul.  Based on what we know, a soul can attain perfection at any time or through many means; any soul can technically be perfect, and murder can destroy the body of one whose soul is perfect just as it can destroy the body of one whose soul is imperfect.  The soul needs time to develop on its own within the body; depending on how the body treats the soul and how the soul acts on its own, this may be a fast process or a slow process.  What is the perfection of the developed soul?  The definition says that it is “knowledge of the beings”, which is a faily obsure statement, but remember that what the Nous is: mind.  Nous is the ability to understand the intelligible, the sensible, and all things that exist and can exist within itself.  Nous is, essentially, gnosis, and gnosis is knowledge.  Thus, perfection of the soul is the knowledge of God.  This statement echoes that of Hermes Trismegistus when he proclaimed his wishes to Poemander in the Corpus Hermeticum (chapter I, part 3): “I long to learn the things that are, and comprehend their nature, and know God”.

Thus, in order for us to properly develop our souls, we need to come to know God; this is the “perfection of soul”.  How do we do that?  Through the use of reasonable speech or Logos (section V), which is made possible through Nous and the body.  The body nurtures the progress of the soul much as the womb does to the baby; thus, we need to use the sensible, mortal body to come to know the intelligible, immortal God.  This is kind of a shocking revelation, but it follows from the rest of the comparisons and definitions.  To know God is to know all the things within God, all the gods, all the worlds, and ourselves, and “know thyself” is among the most holy maxims ever uttered or written.

The penultimate part of the definition sounds like a warning: “just as you will behave towards your soul when it is in this body, likewise it will behave towards you when it has gone out of the body”.  In order for us to be treated well, we need to treat our souls well and guide our souls towards God in this life and body; if we mistreat our souls and lead it away from gnosis, it will lead us away from life, pleasure, and perfection.  Then again, this same warning also has something of an issue: what is Man if neither body nor soul?  After all, the warning says that the soul will treat us in a certain way after it leaves the body, so there’s something else besides soul or body that is also part of Man.  Remember that, although we have two natures according to definition VI.1 (the immortal and the mortal), we also have three essences: the intelligible Nous, the animated soul, and the material body.  There is another part of us, the Nous, that is not soul.  Nous is the image after which Man is made, and Nous is bestowed upon Man who deserves it.  After all, even if Nous is generally with Man, not all of Man has Nous (V.2, V.3).

Essentially, what this warning says is that if we want perfection of Nous and its presence in our lives, we need to strive for it by perfecting our soul; by denying the soul’s perfection, Nous is removed or blocked from our lives.  This is said as much in definition V.3, but the Poemander says more in the Corpus Hermeticum (chapter I, parts 22 and 23):

I, Mind, myself am present with holy men and good, the pure and merciful, men who live piously.  [To such] my presence doth become an aid, and straightway they gain gnosis of all things, and win the Father’s love by their pure lives, and give Him thanks, invoking on Him blessings, and chanting hymns, intent on Him with ardent love.  And ere they give the body up unto its proper death, they turn them with disgust from its sensations, from knowledge of what things they operate. Nay, it is I, the Mind, that will not let the operations which befall the body, work to their [natural] end. For being door-keeper I’ll close up [all] the entrances, and cut the mental actions off which base and evil energies induce.

But to the Mind-less ones, the wicked and depraved, the envious and covetous, and those who murder do and love impiety, I am far off, yielding my place to the Avenging Daimon, who sharpening the fire, tormenteth him and addeth fire to fire upon him, and rusheth on him through his senses, thus rendering him the readier for transgressions of the law, so that he meets with greater torment; nor doth he ever cease to have desire for appetites inordinate, insatiately striving in the dark.

Thus, good actions produce good fruit, and bad actions produce bad fruit.  Simple enough; we see similar rules in many religions and philosophies from Buddhist karma/kamma and Christian salvation and sin.  To know Mind, our creator and our true selves, is our purpose; by denying our purpose, we get enmeshed in the pains and sufferings of life and death, but by fulfilling our purpose, we find holiness and blessing from that which we seek to know.

The final part of this definition is confusing; it seems to be an injunction from…someone to tell Hermes Trismegistus himself to calm down or keep quiet.  It’s not something I fully understand in the text; it could be an injunction or addition from some manuscriptist telling Hermes “enough” or “I’m tired of this”, or one telling Hermes to contain his soul in his body to teach more or show more perfection of the soul and Nous to his students.  It might similarly be an injunction from Nous itself as is seen in the Poemander for Hermes to keep still or silent.  It might even be an order to “contain yourself” in good conduct, i.e. behavior towards the soul.  In any case, it doesn’t seem to properly belong, considering the abrupt change in voice and style, but my hunch that it’s a student (say, Asclepius?) calming Hermes after an ecstatic state of gnosis and wisdom.

Overall, this section of three definitions elaborated on the position and power of Man in the cosmos, and how we’re made more special than other entities by our weird combination of body, spirit, soul, reason, and mind.  Being both mortal and immortal, we can split ourselves (the soul and the Nous) from the body by death, but this can be risky, since we only want to do that when we have perfection of the soul, which is gnosis of God.  In other words, we should try really hard not to die until we’re fully ready.  It’s a difficult prospect, but further definitions will begin to describe how to become “fully ready”.  This will have the ability for us to raise our eyes to heaven, see within, and overcome our mortal condition.

49 Days of Definitions: Part V, Definition 2

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

Today, let’s discuss the nineteenth definition, part V, number 2 of 3:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The monks replied that this would be the proper attitude.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

49 Days of Definitions: Part IV, Definition 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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