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 X, Definition 3

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

Today, let’s discuss the forty-fifth definition, part X, number 3 of 7:

Nous (is) in soul, and nature (is) in the body.  Nous (is) the maker of soul, and soul, (the maker) of the body.  Nous (is) not in all soul, but nature (is) in all body.

This section is starting to shape up to refer to how the world is.  The rest of the Definitions relate to soul, or Man’s relationship to God, and so forth, but until this tenth section of definitions, we haven’t spoken much about the relationship of things in the world to each other.  Now that we’re talking about matter, natures, good and evil, generation, and the like, we’re starting to understand what this hitherto missing corner of the puzzle is starting to look like.  After all, the final definition of part IX referenced humanity’s place in the world as part of the overall order of the cosmos, so it is fitting we start talking about the world and our place within it beyond simply to be Man.

From before, we know that all natures that exist do so within Man: “nature in man is omniform” (X.2) and “everything is within man” (IX.4).  Our bodies contain a reflection of the world, just as the sensible world is a reflection of the intelligible world and as all natures reflect truth (VIII.5).  However, within our bodies, we also have soul, and within the bodies of Man, there exists Nous.  Thus, this definition repeats once more that “Nous is in soul, and nature is in the body”.  Based on the parallel structure here, we can infer that just as nature in the body of Man is omniform, Nous in the soul of Man is omnipresent.  So not only can we understand the sensible world through and through, we can also understand the intelligible world through and through.  With a grasp of the highest Nous and lowest nature, Man is able to understand everything; the breadth of knowledge available to him is rivaled only by its depth, and both of these are fairly infinite.

Further, not only is Nous within the soul, but “Nous is the maker of soul”.  I mean, duh; all of creation, both the intelligible and sensible, were made and created by God.  But this makes it explicit: Nous creates soul, but since soul is intelligible, Nous creates soul from itself.  The soul is, therefore, something unseen, incorporeal, and invisible.  This, if you recall the terms from VIII.5, is what truth is.  God is truth as much as God is light and Nous and the Good, but this also means that soul itself is part of God and is also a truth, an immortal but not uncreated thing.  Thus, if the soul is a truth, then there must be some nature that reflects it, yes?  Yup!  “Soul [is] the maker of the body”.  Now this is interesting, since we haven’t come across this idea before, in that the soul not only inhabits the body but that the soul creates the body.

But this does logically follow.  If all soul is is just a “necessary movement adjusted to every kind of body” (II.1), then what happens when there is no body yet for a soul that still needs to inhabit one?  The soul moves part of the whole of the world, using the female and male fluidities and the four elements, and creates a body to live and grow.  The soul made by God determines the body made by soul according to its needs, perfection or lack thereof, and so forth.  Thus, whatever form, quirks, instabilities, infirmities, conditions, or oddities the body may have all come from soul, so it likewise comes from God.  Thus, no natural, gendered, hereditary, inborn, genetic, or similar condition, including the circumstances of one’s birth, can be called “wrong” or “sinful” or “evil”; skin color, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, predisposition to diabetes or obesity, or anything else should never be used against someone, since that’s literally how they were made.  It exists in the world and was made from the world; this is the definition of “natural” that we’ve been building up.  If you needed to be born that way, you would yourself, since you possess the capacity for experiencing those same things; don’t maltreat others when you don’t want to be maltreated.

So, since Man can be born with any nature in any body, Man inherently possesses the capacity for nature in every body.  Thus, “nature is in all body”.  Considering how much we’re changing, we can change natures at almost the drop of a hat, or a needle, or a weight, or a car; our entire bodies are constantly changing, increasing and decreasing, emitting and receiving.  The soul, however, is a little different.  Unlike nature, which is all present in all body, “Nous is not in all soul”.  Some souls do not have the full grasp of Nous, as we’ve said before (VIII.8), because they have not yet obtained perfection of soul yet.  But, assuming they begin to act and speak reasonably with Logos, they will.  As for those who lack even the innate Nous within the soul, that’s a little unclear; perhaps the soul needed to inhabit a body regardless for some early work before it begins its true path to perfection, but it’s unclear to me what happens to those people.

Understand that everything is created by something, and if not God directly, then something else that was ultimately made by God.  The Nous creates all things within itself, by itself, and from itself, and since Nous is everywhere, Nous dwells within all things.  However, the only means by which something can contact or understand Nous is through Logos; something with Nous but without Logos cannot effectively understand or know Nous.  Man, since he has the means of Logos, can do just this, since he is blessed with a deliberate share of Nous more than other creatures.  However, the body, being made of all the natures, also allows him to use Logos for unreasonable ends, clouding or muddling his connection to Nous.  Until that connection is made perfect and perfectly clear, we will not be able to fully dwell within Nous nor can Nous fully dwell within us.

49 Days of Definitions: Part X, Definition 2

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

Today, let’s discuss the forty-fourth definition, part X, number 2 of 7:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

49 Days of Definitions: Part VIII, 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 thirty-fifth definition, part VIII, number 7 of 7:

You do not have the power of becoming immortal; neither does, indeed, the immortal (have the power) of dying.  You can even become a god if you want, for it is possible.  Therefore want and understand and believe and love; then you have become (it)!

So the rest of this section of definitions has been building up a theme involving the power of Man: we are powerful, and have the power within ourselves as bestowed by God to stay in the world as mere animals or to transcend it as part of God.  It’s really all up to us; our actions, our thoughts, our opinions, our worship, our experiences all help us develop ourselves to perfection or inhibit our development.  In that sense, “man has as much power as the gods” (VIII.6); we have the power of choosing for ourselves (each and every one of us) mortal, material perdition or immortal, transcendent salvation.  Again, the whole goal of perfection and development according to the Definitions as a whole is knowledge of God, and by knowing God we come to know everything that exists and ourselves, and vice versa.

That said, keep in mind that despite all this power we’re entitled to have, we’re not omnipotent.  We’re still human, and therefore consist of body and soul; we’re dual-natured, which means we still have some sort of nature, and since we’re sensible, we are not purely intelligible as God is.  Our nature as humans is to die; we are mortal, after all, and the nature of things with material bodies is to die eventually.  Remember that “all beings cannot exceed their own capacity” and that “every being in this world has a nature” (VIII.1); we have our own nature that we cannot change.  Thus, even though we have the choice of choosing immortality for our souls, we “do not have the power of becoming immortal”.  To do so is simply not in our nature, and we cannot change our nature.  This natural law is something above destiny or choice, and while our nature is capable of possessing Nous, our nature is not capable of becoming a heavenly being, since human beings are not heavenly beings (owing to the different bodies, forms, and natures we possess).  Likewise, “neither does, indeed, the immortal have the power of dying”; it’s not in their nature to.  So it’s not just that we’re declined the power of changing natures, but everything is; whatever something is according to its nature, that is going to be how it will be for that being.

Despite that we cannot change our natures, we still have great power: “you can even become a god if you want”.  This may pose something of a problem, since we’re told at once that we cannot change our natures, and yet we can become divine.  Our nature as Man is to be human; this is understood.  We’re subject to natural law, the human condition, “quality and quantity as well as good and evil” (VII.4).  That said, it is also the nature of Man to be godly, if only we come to know God in the process, which we’re all capable of doing.  This is because we are made like God “after the species” (I.1), so whatever God is, we inherently are in a way apart from other living creatures.  But because of our twofold nature, this is complicated by the presence of the soul inhabiting the body.  We alone dwell in the sensible world and understand (or are capable of understanding) the intelligible world, and we alone dwell throughout and in all parts of the sensible world.  This is similar to how God exists throughout and in all parts of the intelligible world, which extends beyond the sensible world in all possible ways (IV.3, IV.4).  Thus, by becoming gods in our own right within God, we’re simply following our nature and expanding upon it into the fullness of knowledge that is the fullness of the world within God.

This is complicated, I know, since it seems contradictory.  Aren’t gods immortal?  Yes: gods, as heavenly beings such as those made of fire, do not die, the quality of being immortal.  However, Man dies, or more properly, the body of Man dies while the soul lives on in its own way.  We know that the soul is not so tightly coupled with the body that the soul perishes with the body (VI.2); rather, the soul leaves the body upon the body dying, and the soul leaves.  However, while the body requires the soul to move, the soul requires the body to develop.  If the body dies before the soul completes its development, it is “imperfect and lacks a body” (VI.3), but we don’t yet know what happens to remedy that.  If the soul requires the body to develop and it is made to leave the body before it can finish developing, then perhaps the soul returns to another body in a sort of reincarnation or transmigration; it hasn’t yet been said in the Definitions, but it’s also immaterial here.  The point is that the soul is immortal, as is the essence of Man, though the realization of Man as human beings is imperfect as all realizations of ideas are.  We are not just our bodies, and in a sense our bodies are not truly who or what we are, no more than any given pine tree is the idea of pine trees or the DNA of pine trees.

As humans with perfected souls, we are enjoined with God in perfect knowledge of God, which is in our nature, capability, and reason to do; this is what makes us gods in our own nature.  This is not just some grand, divine theological statement, but a practical one: “you can even become a god if you want, for it is possible”.  It is possible for us to perfect our souls; it doesn’t state when, how, or under what circumstances.  It’s possible for us no matter who, what, or where we are.  It’s possible for us, this very moment in each of our lives even, to perfect our soul.  Every moment that we have not perfected our souls or done what is necessary for perfection is one in which we’ve essentially chosen not to, since if we were to just listen to the urges of our souls, we would naturally come to perfection and therefore godhood (VII.3).  In a way, it’s almost Buddhist in its similarity to realization of one’s Buddha-nature; we just need to see through the inane material BS going on in our lives, wipe away the dirt and grime, and let the truth of our existence shine.

Of course, this is more difficult than it sounds.  Many people are entrenched in unreasonable words or living or choices, or are made to be so by others, and it’s hard for many of us to understand or even listen to our souls and its urgings to do the right thing for ourselves.  If it were easy, then we wouldn’t need Hermeticism or Christianity or Thelema or Buddhism or any other path; we’d just naturally do what comes to us.  But it’s in our nature to choose what we do, beyond what animals or heavenly beings do; this set of choices that faces us each and every moment can lead us to knowledge of God or away from knowledge of God.  But the fact remains that it’s possible to do the right thing for ourselves no matter who we are, so even in our present lives, we can attain perfection and, thus, godhood and godliness.

So what do we do?  Hermes gives four commands to us to guide us to perfection: “therefore want and understand and believe and love”.  By following these injunctions, we will “have become [gods]”.  So what do these four commands really tell us to do?

  • Want.  Many of our choices are fueled by what we like and what we don’t like, or what we fear and what we desire.  From our lizard brain to our emotional brain to our logical brain, all our choices are backed up by some sort of logic based on what we want to happen for ourselves.  If we are to perfect ourselves, we must want to perfect ourselves in every way, so that our entire body works in unison with what our soul wants.  Our soul wants perfection; we must consciously recognize that want, and similarly want it as well.  We have to consciously want perfection in order for us to obtain it.
  • Understand.  It’s all well and good to want perfection, but if we don’t know why we want something or how to accomplish it, then we’re going to be stranded at square one.  In order to properly want something, we need good logic behind it that appeals to our lizard, emotional, and rational brains.  These logical reasons must be reasonable; thus, we must employ Logos, reasonable speech, in ourselves and in our lives.  This helps us to understand ourselves and how we work, and likewise how we function across the entire world that we’ve inherited and possess.  By understanding ourselves, we understand the world, and vice versa; by understanding ourselves, we understand God, and vice versa; by coming to understand God, we perfect ourselves.  Thus, we must be completely aware of ourselves and our entire existence, both in and of the world, so as to be immanent within it and transcendent of it.
  • Believe.  There’s a lot of things in the cosmos that we cannot yet understand; this is natural, since it takes time for us to understand any one thing.  For instance, if you don’t understand the principle of heat, you won’t understand how cooking with heat changes food.  Likewise, until we understand the sensible world, we won’t understand the intelligible world, which is where truth really lies.  However, even if we don’t fully understand it, we can still believe in it.  Belief is where we hold something to be true without having reason for it yet; we must use reason to test that belief, and if it holds up to actually be true, then that belief becomes understandable knowledge.  Understanding little things helps us to believe larger things, even if we don’t yet fully understand the larger things.  This is especially true of that which is purely intelligible e.g. God, so we must believe in God and the intelligible for us to understand it.  Thus, we must believe things properly just as we must reason about things properly.  We must believe “that nothing is a vain work”, for then we “will find the work and the craftsman”, but if we believe that everything exists as some sort of nihilist joke, then we “will be mocked at” (VIII.5), which is a euphemistic threat for nothing good.
  • Love.  This isn’t something that’s come up before, but it’s a natural progression of belief, just as belief was from understanding and understanding from wanting.  We must love perfection as something to be worshipped, or seen as worthy of our entire selves and work.  We must hold perfection, and the object and goal of perfection of God, close to us as something that we not just adore but aspire to join with.  We have to give ourselves wholly in body, in soul, in spirit, and in mind to God so as to become perfect.  We need to devote ourselves in a passionate, almost lustful way that makes use of our entire selves, leaving nothing leftover, to the highest goal we possibly can.  We must love perfection.  We must love God.

Note how, by that last injunction of love, this forms a type of cycle, an iterative process towards perfection.  After all, if we devote ourselves to perfection and we yet lack it, we must follow it and chase it and strive to obtain it.  This is, essentially, wanting perfection.  So if we want to love perfection, we must believe in it; if we are to believe in it, we must understand it; if we are to understand it, we must want it; if we are to want it, we must love it.  Even with just a curious desire to do something, this will open the door and start one off on the path to perfection, but it may be a long road.  It’s an iterative process that builds upon itself; we want a little, then eventually we want more, then we want even more, and so on.  Eventually, our wanting, our understanding, our believing, our loving will become so great that it will completely overwhelm any evil, ignorant, unreasonable choice we might possibly make, and we will end up in perfection of ourselves.

Want, understand, believe, and love.  This is the Work.

49 Days of Definitions: Part VIII, Definition 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

49 Days of Definitions: Part VIII, Definition 4

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

Today, let’s discuss the thirty-second definition, part VIII, number 4 of 7:

The body increases and reaches perfection due to nature; and soul fills up with Nous.  Every man has a body and a soul, but not every soul has Nous.  Consequently there are two (types of) Nous: the one (is) divine and the other (belongs to) soul.  Nevertheless there are certain men who do not even have that of soul.  Who(ever) understands the body, also understands soul; who(ever) understands soul, also (understands) Nous, because the admirable is (a) natural (object) of contemplation: each of the two is seen by means of the other.

From the last several definitions, we know that Man is meant to become God by means of knowledge of God.  This is accomplished through our natural gifts of voice and speech, along with Logos or reason, to attain Nous or Mind.  With this, we can come to know all of creation, which is God, and by this attain perfection of the soul.  However, although we’re meant to do this, this is not always an assured thing; by means of voice and speech without Logos, we end up talking for the sake of talking, or talking for the sake of mankind.  This applies to worship and our knowledge and opinions of divinity, too; with true knowledge of God, we endeavor to worship God by becoming God.  However, with only our human and incomplete ideas and opinions of gods, we may worship them instead, preventing us from reaching our full goals and true gnosis of God.  No one god is God, no matter how great, since God is always greater than everything else.  The choice of attaining God or not attaining God is entirely up to us.

Of course, the definitions suggest that we already know what’s proper for us: “the body increases and reaches perfection due to nature; and soul fills up with Nous”.  Our nature, as discussed in VIII.1, is basically what we’re meant to do and what we’re meant to accomplish; our nature is our design and core operating procedures.  We’re meant to live, and in the process attain fullness and perfection of the body.  (While “increase” is used here, according to J.-P. Mahé’s footnotes, the Armenian has “decrease”; in either case, it’s implied here that the body is meant to live and all that comes along with living).  Further, in the course of the body attaining perfection, the soul also attains perfection by “fill[ing] up with Nous”.  This, too, is our nature; every human being alive can be perfect and made holy by being anointed with Nous and coming to know God.  This is our nature.

That said, we humans have the choice of going against our nature.  We can purposefully or unreasonably ignore God and our souls, preventing our souls from filling up with Nous.  Thus, while our bodies may be perfect, our souls may not be; perfection of the one does not mandate perfection of the other.  Thus, “every man has a body and soul, but not every soul has Nous”.  Even though Man generally and by design should have Nous, not all humans actually do; this is based on the humans’ own development and progress towards that goal.  Just as it’s the goal of the fetus to be born whole in body, so too is it the human’s goal to be made whole in body and soul.  Many things can prevent this, of course, which in turn prevents Nous being bestowed upon every human.  This is no fault of God’s; after all, “whatever God does, he does it for man” (VIII.2), so the blame must then be laid on the shoulders of Man (or in astral demons, cf. VII.5, but even then, Man still deserves some of the blame).

We’ve mentioned the idea of there being two kinds of Nous before in set VII, but here we find it made explicit: “consequently there are two types of Nous: the one is divine and the other belongs to soul”.  The former refers to Nous as a whole, which is identical with God; the divine Nous is God, and thus is the Whole and the All and the One.  The other Nous is that which is in the soul itself and guides it to lead the body (cf. VIII.3).  It’s that divine-Nous that we are meant to obtain, that saving perfection-grace, that the soul-Nous which comes from the divine-Nous leads us toward.  Thus, it’s both true and untrue that all humans have Nous; we each have a tiny sliver of Nous (soul-Nous) within us that guides us, but not all of us are filled with divine-Nous.  It’s the soul-Nous that leads us to divine-Nous once we’re spiritually mature enough to accept it from God.  God/Divine-Nous wants us to have this at all points, but we’re not able to accept this until a certain point.

Even though all souls are designed by nature to be perfected with divine-Nous, not all souls have it; worse, there are even some humans who lack even soul-Nous, and are entirely unguided by Nous: “there are certain men who do not have even that [Nous] of soul”.  This isn’t fully explained, and seems somewhat contradictory to our previous statements; in these cases, these particular Nous-less humans are made no better than animals, who only have soul without Nous.  We might consider this severe mental disease or simply growing up feral, but these are essentially humans whose development was so stunted that they are unable to listen to or possess soul-Nous.  This might be the result of not developing the soul enough to possess soul-Nous, which gives yet another darker and urgent shade to the development of the soul in the body (cf. VI.3).  We must constantly strive to not only protect our shard of soul-Nous, but enjoin it with divine-Nous through perfection of the soul.

Of course, there’s more to perfecting the soul than the soul itself.  If we were just focused on the soul and going right to Nous, there would be no need for our bodies; we’d be like the heavenly beings made of fire and soul.  But no; that would relegate us to only the heavenly world, and we need to learn about all the parts of the world (VII.2), since it is our possession (VI.1), after all.  Thus, because we need to experience the material world, we need to have material bodies.  By fully using the body we have, we can come to understand it, and by understanding and perfecting the body, we can come to understand and perfect the soul (VI.3): “whoever understands the body also understands the soul”.  Once we understand the soul, we can progress onto using the body and soul together with Logos to perfect the soul and attain Nous: “whoever understands soul, also understands Nous”.

That said, why is it that working with the soul leads to the Nous?  Or that contemplating the Nous leads to perfection of the soul?  That’s just part of the design and nature of humanity: our souls are designed to partake in Nous and soul-Nous to inhabit our souls.  That is, after all, part of the nature of Man, made distinct from other living creatures in our capacity for Nous.  The connection isn’t made absolutely clear yet about the manner in which this is done, though, but this definition teases us with a hint: “the admirable is a natural object of contemplation: each of [soul and Nous] is seen by means of the other”.  Soul leads to Nous, and Nous leads to soul.  Listening to the soul leads to Nous, since Nous is the sight of the soul just as “the sight of the body is the eye”, and listening to Nous leads to soul, since “whatever Nous in soul will crave for, so will man desire the same” (VII.3).  The Nous looks out for soul and the soul is the means by which Nous is obtained.  Working with one works with the other; it’s just that the soul-Nous is what connects us to divine-Nous, which we have yet to obtain.  Yet.

49 Days of Definitions: Part VIII, 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-ninth definition, part VIII, number 1 of 7:

All (beings) cannot possibly exceed their own capacity.  Nature is everyone of the beings of this (world); there is a law which is in heaven above destiny, and there is a destiny which has come into being according to a just necessity; there is a law which has come into being according to the necessity of humans, there is a god who has come into being according to human opinion.

At this point in the Definitions, we’re a little more than halfway done, and we have only three sets of definitions left.  However, nearly all of these are lengthy, and the sets themselves have more definitions within them than the previous sets.  We’re just now getting to the real meat of philosophy; everything before was basically setting up the groundwork for the philosophical and theological structures we’ll be building in these sets.

First, “all beings cannot possibly exceed their own capacity”.  We’re not given a definition or context for this phrase, but from the other definitions, we know enough to explain this.  First, all beings that are not God are finite (based on I.4); they are not infinite, unending, immovable, or the like, since these are only things that belong to God.  Something that is finite has an end; it is defined, or set in by boundaries.  The maximum extent of these boundaries can be called something’s capacity.  Further, we know that when a being is created from body and soul, these obtain “quality and quantity as well as good and evil” (VII.4); these things can be measured, sensed, described, and defined in many ways.  However, because they can be defined and measured, there will always be things that they are not; these things are outside the being’s capacity.  So, because I’m six feet tall, I am not taller than my own height, so I cannot be seven feet tall; my shirt is red, and so it cannot be any color but red; and so forth.  Anything that can be sensed can only be sensed in a particular time, location, and condition; it cannot be sensed elsewhere or elsewhen, since those lie outside the thing’s capacity.

A common word used to replace “capacity” when used like this is “fate”, and Hermes Trismegistus talks a little about fate in the Corpus Hermeticum (chapter XII, part 7):

Her. But all men are subject to Fate, and genesis and change, for these are the beginning and the end of Fate.  And though all men do suffer fated things, those led by reason (those whom we said the Mind doth guide) do not endure like suffering with the rest; but, since they’ve freed themselves from viciousness, not being bad, they do not suffer bad.

Thus, everything that exists has a certain way of existing up to a certain point, whether it be in quantity or quality or good or evil; these things cannot act outside or beyond that point, because then it would “exceed their own capacity”.  It makes sense, after all; I cannot be immortal, because I only have an approximate lifespan.  I can lengthen or shorten that lifespan depending on my life choices, but it’s certain that I will eventually run through my lifespan and eventually die, because it is in my nature to die, being a mortal human being.

What is nature, though?  “Nature is everyone of the beings of this world”, so it basically sounds like the microcosm of the sensible world in relation to the macrocosm of the intelligible world.  Nature is the whole of increase and decrease, the four elements, sense and vision, and all the bodies here.  Nature is the restrictions, capacities, and abilities that we have.  Nature is, in effect, everything that sensibly exists and each of their qualities along with it.  Alternatively, however, a footnote provided by Jean-Pierre Mahé in the text suggests that this same statement might be translated another way, which I prefer: “every being in this (world) has a nature”.  Thus, our natures are our own capacities and tendencies; it is in the nature for the wolf to hunt and form packs, for the tiger to hunt and remain solitary, for the deer to graze and run, and for all animals to be born, live, and die.  In effect, our natures are our design, the Idea of ourselves and the things we are.  It might be said that nature is, in a way, our fate or destiny.

Of course, though, destiny isn’t the only force we have to deal with, nor is it the greatest force.  “There is a law which is in heaven above destiny” suggests that there are things that even destiny itself must bow down to.  After all, the destiny of something exists so long as that thing itself exists or can exist.  And, even if all ideas were formed in the beginning of time, they were still formed by something else, and thus preceded by something else: God (III.4).  Things work according to the divine plan of the Nous, which in turn creates destiny, which then acts on heaven, which then acts on the world (cf. the bit about astral demons affecting human actions in VII.5) and, thus, on Man and all other entities.  In effect, destiny is brought into existence because without it there could be no design or form for things that exist.  Destiny is “a just necessity”, providing for and supporting forms, species, and ideas just as souls are “a necessary movement” to provide for and support bodies of all kinds.  Destiny is a law in its own way; certainly not the highest one, but not the lowest one, either.

Of those other laws, one has “come into being according to the necessity of humans”.  This could be interpreted in several ways on its own, but the context for this is provided by the next statement: “there is a god who has come into being according to human opinion”.  Thus, as humans work and live and exist down in the world, there are certain needs that we have that we also fulfill.  Of those, there are human laws, such as prohibitions on stealing or usury or land management or equal pay.  These are laws that humans need that other beings or realms don’t need; it doesn’t make sense to talk about food and drug regulation in a realm where there is no matter to constitute food or drugs, and it likewise doesn’t make sense to discuss same-sex marriage laws for species that have no capability for abstract social connections, much less marriage benefits and contracts.  These are not laws of the Most High, but they’re needed by us all the same to help us live our lives down here.

Likewise, to help us live our lives, we also have invented gods for ourselves: “there is a god who has come into being according to human opinion”.  This smacks of Voltaire’s famous quote, “si Dieu n’existait pas, il faudrait l’inventer”, or “if God did not exist, we would have to invent him”.  What this definition is saying is that, much as we have set up laws and regulations for ourselves in our endeavor to be human, we have also set up religions and gods for ourselves for the same endeavor.  Whether it be the gods of Olympus or Meru or the various Buddhafields or Yggdrasil, or whether it be the physical world itself, we have these opinions and conceptions of divinity that we rely on to help us understand and make sense of the world.  I wrote about some of these different views about materialists and spiritualists a ways back, and some people (notably the atheists in the crowd) essentially make the material, physical world their God, their All, their Whole.  They may not worship, pay reverence, or make offerings to the world, but it fills the same role that YHVH would have for an Abrahamist, or moksha or paranirvana to a Dharmist.

Everything in creation, whether it be in the intelligible or the sensible worlds, is needed; nothing is out of place, and everything has a purpose.  However, there are purposes, whole destinies, that individual things are not meant to fulfill; whether it’s a certain quality or quantity or characteristic, or a use or experience, there are things that other things cannot be.  This is okay; these are needed just as much as anything else.  Further, everything even down to the nitty-gritty of human transactions have needs and laws; much as the law of destiny governs all beings and were set up by God to manage the affairs of the world, the laws of humanity govern all human interactions and were set up by Man to manage the affairs of the human world.  Of these, we have developed notions of divinity and whole gods and religions to help us manage our understanding of God and the world.

But note that, even though the text distinguishes the gods of human invention from the God of Hermes Trismegistus, there is no word on which is right or wrong.  It may be that these different opinions and notions of divinity may reflect true Divinity, depending on how they arise.  It’s much like reasonable speech, Logos, as Hermes explains to Tat in the Corpus Hermeticum (chapter XII, part 13):

Tat. Why, father mine!—do not the other lives make use of speech (logos)?

Her. Nay, son; but use of voice; speech is far different from voice. For speech is general among all men, while voice doth differ in each class of living thing.

Tat. But with men also, father mine, according to each race, speech differs.

Her. Yea, son, but man is one; so also speech is one and is interpreted, and it is found the same in Egypt, and in Persia, and in Greece.

Logos is not restricted to any one language, or to any language at all; Logos is reason derived from silent understanding and knowledge of God.  Reasonable speech is speech with Logos imbued in it by Nous; it doesn’t matter what language it’s spoken in, since the reason itself is universal to all languages.  It’s like communicating a mathematical problem; you can solve it through geometry, infinitesimal calculus, or even a memory-bounded Turing machine, but the mathematical problem itself and the answer will be the same.  Reason is abstract, much as ideas are; speech is manifest, and helps to manifest ideas to others.  Thus, reasonable speech “is found the same in Egypt, and in Persia, and in Greece”, because it all reflects the same reason.  Similarly, it may be that the gods of Egypt and of Persia and of Greece, while appearing different, all reflect the same God, just as their languages can reflect the same Logos.  More on that later.