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 twelfth definition, part III, number 1 of 4:
Nothing is uninhabited by God, for where heaven is, God (is) too, and where the world is, heaven (is) too. I think that God is in heaven, and heaven in the world.
Now we start on the third set of definitions. The first set of definitions described the fundamental philosophy that lays out the three worlds of God, cosmos, and Man for us; the second set briefly described the composition of bodies in the cosmos from the four elements, along with a bit on the nature of the soul and sensibility that light provides. This first definition begins to describe the relationship between the cosmos (what we know of as creation) and God, and first states that “nothing is uninhabited by God”. This statement makes clear that God is immanent in creation, and that there is nothing that is not with God. Since God is the “invisible world” (I.4), and since “all of that visible cannot possibly be constituted without the invisible” (I.3), God must be present in at least all visible things. Add to it, God is the intelligible world, and the cosmos is made in the likeness of God “after its fullness” (I.2); the cosmos is all made as and part of God, and God is similarly within all things. Hermes Trismegistus waxes ecstatically on this and a bit more about the Divine in the Corpus Hermeticum (chapter V, parts 10 and 11):
He is the God beyond all name; He the unmanifest, He the most manifest; He whom the mind [alone] can contemplate, He visible unto the eyes [as well]; He is the one of no body, the one of many bodies, nay, rather He of every body. Naught is there which He is not. For all are He and He is all. And for this cause hath He all names, in that they are one Father’s. And for this cause hath He Himself no name, in that He’s Father of [them] all.
Who, then, may sing Thee praise of Thee, or [praise] to Thee? Whither, again, am I to turn my eyes to sing Thy praise; above, below, within, without?
There is no way, no place [is there] about Thee, nor any other thing of things that are. All [are] in Thee; all [are] from Thee, O Thou who givest all and takest naught, for Thou hast all and naught is there Thou hast not.
And when, O Father, shall I hymn Thee? For none can seize Thy hour or time.
For what, again, shall I sing hymn? For things that Thou hast made, or things Thou hast not? For things Thou hast made manifest, or things Thou hast concealed?
How, further, shall I hymn Thee? As being of myself? As having something of mine own? As being other? For that Thou art whatever I may be; Thou art whatever I may do; Thou art whatever I may speak. For Thou art all, and there is nothing else which Thou art not. Thou art all that which doth exist, and Thou art what doth not exist,—Mind when Thou thinkest, and Father when Thou makest, and God when Thou dost energize, and Good and Maker of all things.
Not only is God in all things, the definition continues to say that “where heaven is, God is too, and where the world is, heaven is too”. Now we have a clear distinction between two parts of the cosmos: the heavens and the world, or the upper cosmos and the lower cosmos. It may be that these two parts are those that are conjoined by air (II.2), but it’s still unclear at this point. However, now that we’re starting to get into the more concrete description of the world in Hermetic philosophy, it is suitable that we start to draw concrete delineations of worlds in our aphorisms, too.
So, where there is heaven, there is also God. Where there is the world, there is also heaven; thus, there there is the world, there is also God. This is like a set of nested spheres or a Russian matryoshka doll, and we’ve made similar descriptions of this before. Imagine three nested circles: between the outermost circle and the middle circle, there is God; God encompasses all things. Between the middle circle and the innermost circle, there is heaven; all of heaven is within God, but there may be parts of God that are not heaven (this is as yet unknown; it may be that heaven is God and God is heaven, in which case these two circles would simply overlap entirely). In the innermost circle, there is the world; all of the world is within heaven, but there are parts of heaven that are not within the world (unless the world is identical with heaven, but this seems unlikely). Because the world is within God, God is also in the world, but there are parts of God that are not in the world.
The last part of this definition is a little perplexing, and the footnotes suggest that the last sentence was a gloss of the compiler. After all, we don’t commonly see the first person used in these definitions, so it’s unclear; besides, it’s unlike the Hermes of this text to offer a conjecture instead of an axiom. Let’s assume, however, that Hermes said it. “God is in heaven, and heaven in the world”; essentially, this says the same thing as before. Wherever the world is, there is also heaven, since heaven is in the world; wherever heaven is, there is also God, since God is in heaven; thus, wherever the world is, there is also God, since God is in heaven and heaven is in the world.
This definition affords a clearly panentheistic view of God: not only is God fully immanent in the world, but God also transcends the world. Likewise, God is fully immanent in heaven, but God also transcends heaven (probably, since we have no identification of God with heaven). However, the way this last sentence is phrased almost reads to me like a reversal of the nested-circles image from before. From before, God is the outermost circle and the world the innermost. Phrased this way, it can read that God is the innermost circle and that the world is the outermost circle. This doesn’t lead to panentheism, since this indicates that there are places in the world that are only in the world and not part of heaven and not a part of God, and that there are parts of heaven that are also not part of God though all of heaven is within the world, and that all of God is within heaven though the reverse isn’t true.
I don’t believe this last view is the case, since it contradicts a lot of other Hermetic writing, even in the Definitions; rather, I think that this particular statement indicates that God is the source of heaven (“God is in heaven”) and that heaven is the source of the world (“heaven in the world”), so that instead of containers and sets, we have an idea of emanation. All things come from God, so God is the core of all things and is “in” all things; the further away from God or the more changes something undergoes doesn’t matter, since at its core there is always God. With the world being the outermost circle in this latter image, this is simply another way to view all of creation as one whole with the materially real world we know and see being the most readily apparent; it’s like seeing creation in the Qabbalah from the point of view of Malkuth up to Kether, or from the viewpoint of Kether all the way down to Malkuth. In either case, the same basic truth is evident: all has God, and all comes from God.