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.