A Hermetic Musing on Fate, Necessity, and Providence

This post was originally a short tweet thread I shared last September, but I don’t think I ever shared it outside Twitter, and I think I phrased some things in it that even I hadn’t realized were as big as I do now.  I’ve reformatted it and embiggened it slightly for a proper blog post, but the gist is the same.

So, a few definitions first, largely based on SH 12—14:

  1. Providence is the will of God.
  2. Necessity is what comes up with what needs to happen in order for Providence to be fulfilled.
  3. Fate is what arranges things in order for that which Necessity declares to come about.

In software engineering terms, Providence is the requirement that specifies what is to be done, Necessity is the design that specifies how it’s to be done, and Fate is the code that does what the requirement says in the manner the design says. The execution of the code—the carrying-out of Fate—is the actual activity that happens in the cosmos, right down to our own lives.

And what are the agents of Fate, you might ask?  What are the entities that facilitate and serve Fate to bring it about?  It’s the planets and stars themselves, which are not just indicators of Fate but the things that provide all things that exist down here with the energy (in the philosophical sense of activity or being-at-work-ness) to do what they need to do to be born, to grow, to die, and decay—and, in the process, fulfill whatever purpose it was meant to achieve.

That the planets are the agents of Fate is why astrology is the first (and most important) Hermetic art, because the study of the planets and stars allows us to learn about Fate, and thus about Necessity and Providence, and thus God and our relation to it. Our external and bodily lives are commanded by Fate, and Fate is not up to us to change in the Hermetic worldview, no more than we can make Mercury not go retrograde when we find it inconvenient. Fate is going to happen one way or another; we must learn to live with it.  (This is where a good understanding of Stoicism comes into play when studying Hermeticism.)

But, the thing is, your soul—that which you really are—is not your body; rather, our souls come from a place beyond the cosmos, and thus a place beyond Fate.  As such, our souls are not compelled by Fate the way our bodies and external lives are.  Our bodies are creations of the cosmos, and the cosmos is ruled by Fate, and so our bodies are naturally controlled by Fate as well as a production of it (and, by extension, the seven planets).  The soul, which only wears the body like how the body wears a shirt, is only impelled, not compelled, by Fate, in the same way that while the quality of a shirt can make a body comfortable or uncomfortable, the body is not fundamentally bound to the same fate as the shirt.  That saying that we’re spiritual entities having a physical experience, or that we should only be in the world and not of the world?  That notion is critically Hermetic, and we need to take that to heart.  We can’t be in control of everything (or even anything) external on the level of the body, but internally on the level of the soul, we can overcome it all.

It is in rising above the powers of Fate that we conquer it, by learning what it does and how it plays out that we learn the exceptions in the code and the behavior unspecified by the design and the loopholes in the requirements. Only once we rise above Fate can we make it our plaything., but in order to do so, we need to understand how Fate actually plays out on the low level once we see what Fate is trying to accomplish at a high level.  This is why alchemy is the second Hermetic art: alchemy is the study and science of learning how the activities and energies of the cosmos play out specifically at the level of material creation and manifestation, in the world we live in. Astrology looks above to see “why”, alchemy looks below to see “how”. And, well, as the Emerald Tablet (and so many others who love to quote it) says, “as above, so below”.

Learning Fate’s activity/energeia by alchemy and Fate’s power/dynamis by astrology, that’s where the third Hermetic art comes in: theurgy. Theurgy doesn’t change Fate to fight against Necessity or change Providence. Rather, it works by Fate to do what is best—what is Necessary—in accordance with highest Providence.  In working by Fate, we rise up to Fate’s own level and surpass it, able to at last be consciously and intentionally free of Fate.  Theurgy relies on knowing that which is above, that which is below, and the relationship between the two to not just go up or down, but to go beyond both entirely.  (After all, when you’re talking about a sphere, any direction away from the center is technically “up”.)

To borrow a bit of Christianity for a moment: angels are said to have no free will, but consider instead that they have will, just that their will is to fulfill God’s will. In this, the will of an angel is the will of God to be expressed through that angel.  The same goes for us, too. Theurgy is what allows us to make our will God’s will, which also makes God’s will our will. And if God is for you, sharing the one and same will, who can be against you?

When your own will is Providence, what need would you have to fight with Fate, when Fate itself could not fight with you?

On Keeping the Occult Occulted

I’m extraordinarily lucky in my occult practice that I live as a free adult in my ostensibly secular country, without the control or necessarily involvement of my family, coworkers, or even roommates.  I have my own apartment where I do what I want, I have my own income that I spend how I want, I have my own schedule that I set how I want, and I have my own practice that I effect how I want, largely without the supervision or interference of outside parties.  My family, though aware of and amused by my occult works, don’t have any say in what I do, nor will they disown me for living my life the way I find best.  My job is independent of my occult work and I am legally protected from incurring any punishment for my activities outside the workplace, especially as they pertain to my religious and spiritual beliefs and practices.  I live in a country whose laws protect me, my beliefs, and my free exercise (or lack of exercise) thereof, and where there’s a large and healthy occult interest where I can find many people to share my beliefs and discussions with openly or semi-openly.  And I count myself as among the extraordinarily lucky and fortunate that my boyfriend (and many of our friends, shared and otherwise) isn’t just permissive of the occult but is an active participant in it, studying and training in his own ways for his own purposes, and who mutually aids me as I aid him in our spiritual lives and growth.

Not everyone can be so lucky, however.  Many who want to study and practice magic, the occult, or religious lifestyles often cannot do so nearly as openly, if at all, given their living situations.  Sometimes it’s because their culture won’t permit it, finding occult studies and practices harmful or dangerous, and punishing those who engage in the occult with imprisonment, torture, or death.  Sometimes it’s because of their resources, where they simply can’t afford the space, tools, or supplies that many magicians use (and the temple’s worth of ceremonial regalia my type of magic is known for).  Sometimes it’s because they live with others in close quarters and don’t wish to disturb them or rouse their ire at engaging with this stuff, either out of respect for their housemates or out of fear of their reactions.  Many reasons abound for this, but I’d wager that the fear of religious persecution and oppression is a big one.  I mean, look at how religions like Santeria and Palo Mayombe developed under the slave trade in the Caribbean from their ancestral African forms; depending on the culture, occult and spiritual practices might be blended and merged with those of the slavers and colonialists, or they might be hidden away and kept furtive and secretive when the colonialists punish them.

And this is why magic, spirituality, spirit-working, and the like is called the occult.  The occult is called the “occult” because it’s literally a hidden, secretive, and unrevealed thing to most of the world.  It’s, quite literally, an esoteric study and practice, and though many magicians and occultists (including myself, obviously) have no qualms about talking about it in public, it’s ultimately an intensely personal and internal practice that cannot and can never be shared with others on a fundamental level; each person must develop themselves in their own way according to their own personality and internal self.  Whether it’s out of fear of persecution or merely misunderstanding, many occult topics simply can’t be shared or revealed to the public.  The fourth power of the Sphinx, “to keep silent”, is a development of this; by keeping silent about one’s work, not only will you prevent the world from fucking it up or fucking you up, but you’ll also keep the mysteries a mystery in the classical and original sense.  The occult truly thrives when it’s done privately, personally, and internally, and practicing it in such a manner will give the practitioner a true power that otherwise they might lack.

I was recently emailed by a young man nearing the age of majority who was living with his atheist parents yet wanted to study and practice magic in a way that wouldn’t disturb them or arouse their suspicions.  He couldn’t set up any kind of altar, nor can he perform any kind of advanced ritual; the most he’s been able to do are little amulets and charms and some invocation.  He wanted my thoughts and advice on how he might further his spiritual practice in this situation.  I can completely sympathize with him, too; when I first moved up to the DC metro region four years ago, I was living with my then-ex-boyfriend who wasn’t very spiritual, and though my spiritual work was just starting then, I didn’t want to do much when he was around, much less intoning arcane words of power or making holy water on Wednesdays when we both might be working at home and he needed the kitchen.  Still, I was able to at least start my spiritual practice regardless of his presence, and though it truly blossomed out after he left and I had the apartment to myself for a few months (and got over any apprehension about practicing magic with a future housemate), it was those initial months of practicing in a private and internal way that helped me the most.

First, never forget that no matter what the external world controls in your life, it can only ever control the external things in your life.  The people around you, the resources available to you, the places you find yourself in, and the like all only ever affect the external well-being and state of your life, like your body’s health, the food you eat, the clothes you wear, the parties you go to or are made to go to, and so forth.  None of these things, however, are you, and none of these things can truly affect your internal self.  No matter what happens to you, you are the only one who can ever decide how you react to them and act based on them.  To draw a comparison with aikido, no matter where someone grabs you or attacks you on your body, they can never get your one-point, or center of balance; you can give them your center of balance and let them pin you to the ground, or you can maintain it and move them around no matter how they grab onto you.  It’s the same with the mind and the spirit; no matter what someone tells you to think or how to act, you are the only one who can determine what you think or how you act.  Once you’ve established this primacy and independence of mind from the world, you’ve unrepentantly and irrevocably opened the door to a new way of life, your own way of life.  With that done, everything else is just details.

So what are these details in terms of a spiritual and magical practice?  It’s the simple basics of stuff, really, that I keep harping on about when it comes to magical practice.  The most important resources you need for this are privacy and time, which you likely if you have the capacity to email me or read my blog from a first-world country.  If you have your own bedroom where you sleep at night, or if you have a bit of regular free time in an empty park or office room, you have all you absolutely need to engage in the occult.  If you live with others and if you have the time and privacy (and maybe the occasional excuse or cover-up) for masturbating or playing video games, you have the time and privacy for the occult.  If you absolutely don’t have the capacity for privacy even for sleep (and this is surprisingly common), ask those around you to give you a bit of privacy or seek it on your own; abandoned parks or buildings, empty rooms not your own, even the bathroom will work.  And, no matter how much you might argue, you will always have the time you need to do the occult.  It may not be as much time as you think you need, but if your life is so busy and jam-packed that you truly have no time for the occult, then you need to reconsider what it is you’re doing so you can make time for the occult.

With privacy and time, what can you do?  Plenty, especially if nobody’s going to peek in after you’re done or if you have the ability to leave things as they are after you’re finished.  Even if you can’t, though, there are four big things that you can do: meditate, pray, energy work, trance work, and visualization practice.  I won’t talk about any of these here, because you can find plenty of resources across the Internet and in books about these practices, but suffice to say that any and all of these things, which don’t depend on any physical tools except your own body and breath, are necessary and fundamental to occult practice.  Hell, even if you can dedicate 20 minutes a day every day for private prayer and meditation, you’ve already got 75% of magical practice down right there.  I cannot understate the importance of these few disciplines; everything else in magic, the occult, spirituality, and religion is based off these things.

Besides that, what else can you do?  Study!  Read and absorb as much as you can and whatever you care to.  Nobody (with the exception of the NSA and especially nosy parents) is going to be looking at your browsing history on your computer, tablet, or smartphone, and you can always clear the cache and history when you’re done (and if you ever grew up using a family computer as an adolescent male at nighttime when everyone else was asleep, this should be second nature to you).  If you don’t want people to see your library, get an e-reader and download copies of texts.  We live in a time when an unimaginable wealth of occult and spiritual lore and information is freely and instantly available to ourselves at the speed of thought; by all means, use it!  Study correspondence tables, sacred geometry, the history and development of religious sects, the seals and sigils of spirits, and the like.  Practice drawing out the Tree of Life with a compass and straightedge, and learn how to write in Hebrew and Greek and the magical variants of their writing systems.  Keep a private journal where you note important connections you make, dreams you have, odd happenstance circumstances, how deep your last meditation was, important prayers you have a fancy for, and the like.  Just because you aren’t able to have a blog with oh-so-many devoted readers and shelves upon shelves of magical texts and tools doesn’t mean you can’t keep your own record, notes, and doodles that an untrained eye would think is no more than a student exploring simple art or playful ciphers.

Anything else?  With altars and offerings, you may not be able to erect a permanent shrine to a particular deity, nor might you be able to set up a permanent altar with an array of magical tools synced up in a particular way.  You might not be able to light candles or incense and leave them burning for long periods of time.  You might not be able to make offerings of wine, water, or food.  All of this is entirely okay, and aren’t strictly necessary.  If you absolutely need a working space, clear off a small side table or a reasonably-sized area on the floor.  Pack up your tools when you’re done, and be simple and minimal with your tools if you even need them at all: use a paper printout of a Table of Practice or draw one out on a whiteboard or chalkboard, use a sharpened pencil or a single matchstick (or even your index finger!) as your wand, use a pocketknife as a ritual blade, use a shotglass as a chalice, use a cup of water as a scrying medium, use a colorful bandanna as an altar cloth.  Leave offerings out only for as long as you have privacy and time, and dispose of them in the trash, the drain, the compost, or out the window when you’re done.  Use electric candles, scented candles, an oil diffuser, or a wax melter instead of traditional candles or incense.  Or, rather, don’t do any of this at all, and keep everything internal and personal in an astral temple with visualization and minor trancework.

The only thing that you’re really impeded from in tough circumstances are prolonged and involved ritual, such as a multi-day consecration of a talisman or a full Solomonic evocation of a spirit.  Admittedly, these can be difficult, especially when you need a material embodiment of something to act as a vessel for power.  What can you do?  Be subtle and minimal, as always!  When consecrating a talisman, do the major work in the astral first to build up the power being as elaborate as you want or can, then transfer that power from the astral into a simple object down here: a wooden plank, a wax mold, a cheap ring, whatever.  When doing evocation or conjuration, do it in the astral, and meet up with your spiritual allies and friends there frequently to keep tabs on what you send them out to do down here in the material world.  In fact, the majority of the stuff you can do in a physical temple you can do as well in an astral one, and building up your own astral space is an important aspect of much of modern magic and spirituality.

I won’t lie to you: having the physical space, time, privacy, and resources to engage in the occult is an awesome thing, and it does help immensely to have all this stuff, and I look forward to the day when the dude who emailed me can move out on his own and explore his own spirituality as thoroughly as he desires.  That said, it’s by no means necessary for the practice and study of the occult.  Humanity has always been able to practice the occult and spirituality in even the most dire of circumstances, with the harshest conditions, under penalty of death and worse; this shit is our birthright, and the spirits of the cosmos want us to engage with them and with the cosmos in whatever way is most appropriate and suitable for us.  To that end, they’ll be more than glad and ready to help us in whatever way we can, and they’ll try to communicate with us in whatever way we are able to.  Whether we use the spiritual equivalent of a next-gen cellphone with the clearest call quality ever or a tin-can phone across the cul-de-sac, the spirits will respond; whether we use the Golden Dawn-style or John Dee’s style of pronouncing Enochian, the Enochian angels will still catch our drift; the connection may not be as clear or as easy to understand, but the connection will still be there.  So long as you make the effort to work the magic you want and need to work, you’ll be rewarded for your efforts.

Setting a Daily Spiritual Practice

As much as I harp on about setting up a daily practice, I have to admit that I’m kinda terrible at maintaining my own.  Then again, mistakes, lapses, and unexpected events are often the case, and with an already-packed schedule, sometimes prayers or meditations or offerings get pushed back or forgotten entirely (and made up later with profuse apologies).  It happens to everyone, unless you’re one of those die-hard devotees with good time management and enough free time to allow for it all (confound you, lucky/hardened bastards).  I try my best, all the same, and I try to keep myself on the ball when I can.  After all, what good is a daily practice if it’s not kept daily?

Lately I’ve been experimenting with different routines and different ways to set my routines up, from spending less time in the mornings and more time in the evenings to changing when I sleep and how much I (can stand to or get by on) sleep.  Some things have worked, and some things haven’t, and it all informs what my ideal practice would look like given my current situation.  However, that doesn’t take into account what my actual practice is, and whether aspects of my daily practice are worth it or should stand to be continued as daily as they are, or whether they should be cut back to weekly or even less frequent practices.  For instance, it used to be the case that I would spend time every day doing the Headless Rite before attaining contact with my HGA; now that I have contact, I don’t do the Headless Rite except when I really need the extra oomph for a ritual.

To that end, I decided to come up with five major questions that helped guide me to clarify my own thoughts, desires, and necessities when formulating a daily practice, each of which deal with time constraints and necessities:

  1. What are your worldly obligations?  While it may be nice for some of us to daydream about becoming full-time spiritual, devoting every second of every day to prayer and magic, that’s quite out of the realm of possibility for many of us.  Hell, even monks of various traditions have to spend some of their time farming, taking inventory of goods, doing chores, and the like.  For the majority of us, we’re obligated to interact with the world in ways that can easily take over most of our time, especially when it comes to school and work.  Classwork and studying, or preparing lessons and teaching, as well as meetings and overtime work are all important things that must be given highest priority, as well as all the attendant time-sinks like commuting, lunch breaks, and the like.  Making yourself presentable and livable, too, also counts as worldly priorities, so getting enough sleep at night, taking care of your body and hygiene, and taking care of chores and errands also count here.  Without fulfilling our worldly obligations to the extent that is proper for ourselves, we neglect to build a solid worldly foundation upon which we can build our spiritual lives.
  2. What are your personal priorities?  As human beings, we have human needs such as intoxication, being social, supporting families, enjoying hobbies, being productive, and just generally being happy.  Working in the world and Working in the cosmos both lead to happiness, sure, but chances are you’re going to desire other things besides these that can help you be a well-rounded human being.  Unless you’re a die-hard OCD schedule-master, you’re going to have at least one hour a day where you’re relaxing and enjoying some sort of pastime.  Sports, martial arts, hobbies, craftwork, being social, going partying, writing, and anything “extracurricular” can be considered something personal, and these should also be given important weight.
  3. What are the crucial aspects of your daily practice? Everyone has a different notion of what they consider to be their daily practice, and more than that what they consider essential to it.  Some people have no need for any type of daily ritual, only interfacing with their spirits and the like as needed; other people like doing a bit of daily meditation or prayer, while others insist on doing a LBRP-type ritual every day.  It’s up to you to determine what exactly you find yourself doing every day and what you need to be doing every day, and no two magicians or priests will have exactly the same schedule.
  4. What do you have time for?  Once you have an idea for what you want to do for your daily practice, it helps to figure out what you absolutely need to do to have a core minimum practice that you can elaborate for when you have time.  When you have little time, you can only do a little; when you have more time, you can do more.  It’s that simple.  Within the time you can afford to spiritual practice, what is it you absolutely need to do that you can fit within your time constraints?  What practices can be combined or smooshed into a single practice, or what practices can be eliminated from daily practice entirely?  As we grow, we may find that our needs may evolve over time, working more on this thing that we before never encountered and working less on that other thing now that we’ve gained some more knowledge or initiation.
  5. When are you most comfortable Working?  Even considering one’s obligations and priorities, not everyone is going to enjoy carrying out one’s practice at the same time in the same way.  Many of my friends prefer to do their spiritual work at night when they’re relaxing after work, while I’ve always been a morning person and get my best work done before I leave my house.  Biasing your practice towards a particular time of day can benefit your practice substantially, but if you don’t have such a preference, using any available time works just as well.

For instance, consider my own situation.  My primary worldly obligation is my job: I work roughly 40 hours Monday through Fridays with mandated half-hour lunch break at an office that takes me an hour to commute to in one direction, so already I spend about 53 hours each week at a place where I can’t really do much in the way of spiritual growth or ritual.  Plus, I tend to spend about three hours a week taking care of errands and chores, get about seven hours of sleep a night, work out for about half an hour each day, and my major hygiene routine takes about half an hour each day. Among my major personal priorities are going to a 2-hour aikido 20 minutes from my house class three times a week, divination readings and classes on Sundays for six-ish hours at the local new age store, and going out to eat with friends for about three hours a week total.  Plus, to factor in where I’m decompressing and don’t need to be doing anything else, we can factor in another hour per day of just downtime.

All told, this yields about 135 hours a week where I’m given to be doing other human things.  A week only has 168 hours, so I only (“only”?) have 33-ish hours a week for spiritual work.  Taking into account my obligations for each day, this leaves about 9 hours on Sunday and Saturday, 1.5 hours on Monday, 4.5 hours on Tuesday and Thursday, and 2 hours on Wednesday and Friday.  On paper, these time amounts hover between “eh, it’s enough” and “mildly stressed for time”, so it doesn’t look terrible from the outset, but when I factor other things such as potential emergencies, delays at work, spending time with my boyfriend or family, and so forth, those 33 hours can quickly dwindle down even further.

When it comes to daily routine, I find that the things I feel compelled to do for my practice are meditation, energy work, prayer, and offerings.  Meditation is a must for any spiritual activity, as I and many other occultists see it, and I spend about 20 to 30 minutes in meditation a day, usually in the mornings after I work out and shower but before I do anything else.  Energy work comes after all my other daily spiritual work in the mornings before I get out into the world for work or pleasure, and my ritual takes anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes depending on what I need (anointing with oils, weekly banishing, extra ki training, realigning my magician’s altar, etc.).  Prayer is a wide and varied thing for me, but I generally break it down into morning prayers (recognizing and praising the Divine and the World, aligning myself with virtue and divine will, singing the Hymns of Silence, requesting the aid and company of my Holy Guardian Angel) and evening prayers (reflection and contrition, thanksgiving, singing the Hymns of Silence); without other prayers, each set of prayers takes about 30 minutes to do.  Offerings, on the other hand, are even more varied, and can take forms such as praying the rosary to the Virgin Mary, making a planetary observation with the Orphic Hymn for the day, reciting a chaplet for a particular saint, offering wine to the gods, or spending time with my ancestors; while prayers are for the Divine, offerings (which are also prayers) are for other, lower spirits.  I spread my offerings through the week, and usually spend between 10 and 60 minutes a day in offerings to the spirits and forces I work with, especially if I have multiple offerings to do.  Some offerings I do in the morning and some in the evening, depending on the spirit and my time, but generally it’s half-and-half.  Between all this, I spend about 1.5 hours (one hour in the morning and half an hour at night) to 3 hours (two hours in the morning and one hour at night) a day in daily practice alone.

Clearly, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are days where I can’t do my lengthened daily routine schedule, since I’d only just barely cut it on Wednesdays and Fridays (and that’s with an already full day with my aikido practice!), and Monday simply doesn’t have the time (since I reserve that for chores and errands).  Sundays and Saturdays, with the most amount of time, would be best for my extended daily routine, given that I have the most time available for them generally, as well as other ritual work or simply relaxing.  Of course, even this schedule can be variable; if I work from home on a particular day, I can overlap my work with chores or Work and do away with commuting entirely, especially if I have a day off from work.  Plus, I often have downtime at work, where I do my general internetting and a good amount of my writing, which saves me time at home for more ritual work; my own work schedule is somewhat variable within certain boundaries, too, so I can take off early one day and leave later another day to make up for the time.  If I take a trip out of town (as I’m wont to do once every month or so), then my free time might not be free at all depending on where I’m going, how far it is, and whom I’m visiting.

Since I work best in the mornings, I try to allot as much time for myself as I can within my boundaries.  I take the last available train to work, so I have to leave my house around 7:50am; since I don’t like going to bed super-early but need to get enough sleep, I go to bed around 11pm and wake up around 5am or 6am (usually the former, but sometimes the latter if I really need the extra hour).  That way I have almost two or three hours in the morning to exercise, shower, get my morning routine done, and get ready for work before leaving.  After work, when I get home usually around 6:30pm or 7pm, I have about four hours to decompress, run whatever chores or do whatever rituals I want, and then wind down for my evening practice before heading to bed at 11pm.  Some nights I have plenty of time, even with aikido class; some nights I have only enough time for a quick prayer and heading off to bed after errands and chores.

Of course, my daily practice itself might be changed up a bit depending on what other rituals I do on a given day.  For instance, if I do a conjuration in the evening after work, a lot of the introductory prayers I make are the same as the ones I do in my morning prayer set, so I might elide those out of the morning routine or the preliminary ritual.  Offerings one day might be delayed a day or so to coincide with a better astrological timing for it, or I might forsake something like energy work entirely (arguably my lowest priority daily practice) if I don’t have the time in the morning and make up for it the next day.  Offerings can be more tricky, since they might be made as a gesture of appreciation or as part of a vow, and broken vows are never fun to deal with; I might double an offering to make up for a previously missed one, or simply ask forgiveness and forbearance from the spirit being made offerings.  If nothing else, offerings are the one thing I make my highest priority, but even they can get missed from time to time due to scheduling conflicts (like a Saturday offering at my altars when I’m out of town).

After all that, I think I have a good idea of what my daily practice should be like.  I’ve looked at my time constraints and time sinks with a critical eye, as well as what my practice consists of and what it should consist of; I’ve figured out what practices can be done on which days and to what extent, as well as my other general free time that I can use for (gasp) more practice, other rituals, other obligations (commissions, readings, studying, drinking, etc.) or other non-spiritual acts entirely (luncheon, video games, aikido, drinking, etc.).  The only thing left at this point is to actually implement my practice, and now that the first Mercury retrograde of 2014 is over, it’s a good time to do just that.

Do you have a daily practice you stick to, or try to stick to?  What are some of your biggest time sinks in terms of obligation, desire, and vice?  What do you consider necessary for your daily work, if anything at all?  Feel free to share in the comments!

49 Days of Definitions: Part X, Definition 6

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

Today, let’s discuss the forty-eighth definition, part X, number 6 of 7:

Providence and Necessity (are), in the mortal, birth and death, and in God, unbegotten (essence).  The immortal (beings) agree with one another and the mortal envy one another with jealousy, because evil envy arises due to knowing death in advance.  The immortal does what he always does, but the mortal does what he has never done.  Death, if understood, is immortality; if not understood (it is) death.  They assume that the mortal (beings) of this (world) have fallen under (the dominion) of the immortal, but (in reality) the immortal are servants of the mortal of this (world).

The relationships between different material bodies in the world is complicated, ranging from different types of living beings, some immortal and some not, some with Nous and some not, to the motions provided by the immortal heavenly beings that influence the lower mortal ones, and so forth.  Between figuring out what’s really us when we move and what’s an influence we’re being moved by can be difficult, and this is starting to raise some cosmological questions that this text is probably unsuited to answer adequately.  This definition, however, affords some more reason and rules to how everything down here works.

First, we’re introduced to Providence and Necessity.  We’ve already met necessity once before, in VIII.1: “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”.  Necessity is, then, an ordering principle of the cosmos, which structures things just so according to what we need so that everything can work together.  No matter what else happens in the world, it must fulfill necessity, else it cannot happen at all.  For all intents and purposes, we can consider necessity, providence, fate, and destiny to all be the same thing here; the two terms are not seen apart from each other, even in a similar passage in the Corpus Hermeticum (chapter XII, part 14):

Necessity and Providence and Nature are instruments of Cosmos and of Matter’s ordering; while of intelligible things each is Essence, and Sameness is their Essence.

In the world, each thing that exists must fulfill a particular fate.  For the mortal, these things are “birth and death”; these things are mandated for every mortal being that lives.  For every birth, there is a death; for every death, there is a birth.  Nothing mortal can live without being born, and all mortal things, by virtue of their being mortal, must die.  On the other hand, for Man who is both mortal and immortal in his own godly way, the corresponding fate of God is being “unbegotten”.  God is unbegotten, as we’ve mentioned before in the last definition, and God can neither die nor be born, nor can God grow or increase or decrease.  Simply put, God is, was, always will be, and can only ever be.

So, mortal beings are born, live for a short while, and die, and immortal beings live forever.  Cool.  But there’s more to it than that, especially when you put two of the same kind of beings with each other.  With immortal beings, they “agree with one another”; they do not fight, they do not bicker, they do not argue, but they agree and exist in more-or-less harmony with each other.  They have their roles and their parts to play, they always have, and they always will.  Consider the planets of the sky; though they may enter into harmful or violent aspects with each other, they do not fight or try to take from another what they have.  Mortal beings, on the other hand, “envy one another with jealousy, because evil envy arises due to knowing death in advance”.  So us mortal beings, including animals and plants, fight and bicker and harm each other because we always want things that others have.  We envy others for what they have, and we’re jealous over what we already possess.  This is because we’re afraid of losing it when we die, so we want to hold onto it as much as we can before our bodies expire.

But this is stupid, isn’t it?  I mean, look at the planets: “the immortal does what he has always done”.  They don’t care what other things are doing; they’ve got their own job to do, and they’re in no rush nor lax state to get it done.  They just keep doing it forever; that’s their job.  A mortal being, on the other hand, “does what he has never done”.  Although any immortal part within us may have done it at some point before, these bodies are constantly changing (cf. panta rhei), not to mention that every body has not existed forever before.  There is always something new that we’re doing that we have not yet done, and may never get the chance to do it again.  We are only born once, we only take our first breath once, we only eat a particular plate of food once (different food is on it the next time!), and so forth.  Nothing is ever the same for us mortals, and with death approaching as is due for all mortals, we want to try to get everything we can done, and to obtain everything we can.  Being material creatures, we often find solace in material ends, which leads us to “envy one another with jealousy”.

Still, it’s stupid.  I mean, what is death?  It’s just the ending of the body’s use for the soul.  Man may have a body, but Man is so much more than that.  The essential Man is more than the sum of its parts; the essential Man is immortal and cannot die, no matter what kind of death the body may undergo.  The body simply doesn’t affect the soul in that way; while the body’s premature death may leave the soul stunted in development, it doesn’t kill the soul or the essential Man.  “Death, if understood, is immortality”, which is obtained through knowledge, and knowledge is perfection of the soul.  If we properly understand death, just as we can understand anything else, we will not fear it (IX.3), which then removes death from jealousy and envy and fighting over things.  That said, if we do not understand death, “it is death”.  By being ignorant of the nature of life and death, mortality and immortality of Man, we who are Man condemn ourselves to death and forsaking our chances at immortality and knowledge.

And, trust me, there are plenty of people who fit that bill.  How many people do you know are focused only on the material world?  How many who fight over money or possessions or Black Friday deals or what-have-you?  How many who conceive of nuclear wars to get rid of some pesky people from the face of the planet so we can get more oil?  There’s a lot of these people, and they find death to be fascinating without understanding it.  These type of people “assume that the mortal beings of this world have fallen under the dominion of the immortal”.  In other words, these people are violent or are ignorant because they think that’s just the way things are.  They don’t stop to think how they can change it, they don’t think they’re capable of changing it, and they don’t care about what the world might be if they changed it.  They think that the underlying reality of everything that happens is out of their control, so they may as well play along and “do their part” in being ignorant, however wise and reasonable it may seem to them.

But, as you who’re reading these Definitions know, that’s not the case.  Those who understand the nature of beings, who know reality and God and truth, understand that Man has as much power as the gods in determining our own actions (VIII.7).  We don’t have to be led around by the nose according to the whims and influences and passions of other beings.  We have the power to choose good or evil, knowledge or ignorance.  Those who realize these things have knowledge, and they understand that “in reality the immortal are the servants of the mortal of this world”.  The immortal don’t serve to rule or own the world; that’s for Man.  Man rules and owns the world, and we’re to understand and properly live our lives with the immortal beings so as to know them, by which we know ourselves, by which we know God, by which we obtain Nous, by which we perfect the soul, by which we obtain true immortality.

So what do we have to gain from the immortal gods?  Let’s restrict ourselves to the topic of the astrological planets and stars, then, when we talk about these heavenly beings.  Just as the four elements constitute four essences or qualities of created bodies down here, the stars and planets constitute essences or qualities of motion and action that are performed by bodies down here.  Mars, for instance, cuts off and burns up and produces a heat strong enough to lead people to fight.  Venus, on the other hand, embraces and nourishes and produces a cold mild enough to nurture and join people together.  All the planets, stars, gods, and heavenly beings produce other effects, and they take place down here in the world.  If we understand these influences, we understand what we do when we’re exposed to them, how we internalize and realize them, how we effect them, what they make use of in different situations, and how we can make the best use of them.  We use the immortal beings as a means to knowledge, which is why they exist in the first place.  The immortal beings, just as everything else, are a means by which we can know ourselves.