49 Days of Definitions: Part III, 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 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.

49 Days of Definitions: Part I, 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 second definition, part I, number 2 of 5:

Consequently (there are) three worlds on the whole: two units (make up) the sensible and one (is) the intelligible; one (is) after the species, and the third one (is) after (its) fullness.  All of the multiple (belongs to) the three worlds: two of them (are) visibile: (namely) the sensible and man, (that) destructible world; and the intelligible is this God; he is not visible, but evident within the visible (things).

Starting off from the last definition, we know that there are three worlds:

  • God: intelligible, immovable, partially sensible
  • Heaven: sensible, moveable
  • Man: sensible, destructible, reasonable

Further, we also know that Man and God are one, with Man taking the form and essence of God but being still destructible in part.  Of the “three worlds on the whole”, the “two units” that make up the sensible part of the world is that of heaven and that of Man, while God is the world that is intelligible, thus strengthening our conjecture from before that while all sensible things may be in God, God itself is not necessarily sensible but is still intelligible.

The part of this definition distinguishing species and fullness refers to the relationship between Man and God.  Both are one, as said before, but there’s a difference this time between species and fullness.  Species is one type, essence, or idea of thing; this may be called the Greek eidea, while the Fullness may be appropriately called the pleroma, which indicates all possible things, the complete entireity of the cosmos, universe, world, and every thing that can, will, has, and no longer exists.  The world of God, then, can be said to encompass literally all things, and that all things both possible and actual are in God.

Hermes basically disproves the negative of this, saying that there is nothing that is actually nothing, and that all things (even space itself) are filled with things within God, even that which is not sensible but only intelligible (i.e. that which is part of God and no other world).  Compare the Asclepius (book XXXIII):

Now on the subject of a “Void,”—which seems to almost all a thing of vast importance,—I hold the following view.  Naught is, naught could have been, naught ever will be void.  For all the members of the Cosmos are completely full; so that Cosmos itself is full and [quite] complete with bodies, diverse in quality and form, possessing each its proper kind and size.  And of these bodies—one’s greater than another, or another’s less than is another, by difference of strength and size.  Of course, the stronger of them are more easily perceived, just as the larger [are]. The lesser ones, however, or the more minute, can scarcely be perceived, or not at all—those which we know are things [at all] by sense of touch alone.  Whence many come to think they are not bodies, and that there are void spaces,—which is impossible.  So also [for the Space] which is called Extra-cosmic,—if there be any (which I do not believe),—[then] is it filled by Him with things Intelligible, that is things of like nature with His own Divinity; just as this Cosmos which is called the Sensible, is fully filled with bodies and with animals, consonant with its proper nature and its quality;—[bodies] the proper shape of which we do not all behold, but [see] some large beyond their proper measure, some very small; either because of the great space which lies between [them and ourselves], or else because our sight is dull; so that they seem to us to be minute, or by the multitude are thought not to exist at all, because of their too great tenuity.  I mean the daimones, who, I believe, have their abode with us, and heroes, who abide between the purest part of air above us and the earth,—where it is ever cloudless, and no [movement from the] motion of a single star [disturbs the peace].

Because of this, Asclepius, thou shalt call nothing void; unless thou wilt declare of what that’s void, which thou dost say is void;—for instance, void of fire, of water, or things like to these. For if it should fall out, that it should seem that anything is able to be void of things like these,—though that which seemeth void be little or be big, it still cannot be void of spirit and of air.

In another sense, however, it may be said that God is fullness itself; instead of merely saying that all things exist within God, it can also be said that all things are God, and since God is all things, God is All.  However, since God is still one divinely simple entity, God is also One, and thus All is One.  Compare this from the Corpus Hermeticum (book XV, part 3):

Thus, then, will I begin the sermon by invocation unto God, the universals’ Lord and Maker, [their] Sire, and [their] Encompasser; who though being All is One, and though being One is All; for that the Fullness of all things is One, and [is] in One, this latter One not coming as a second [One], but both being One.  And this is the idea that I would have thee keep, through the whole study of our sermon, Sire!  For should one try to separate what seems to be both All and One and Same from One,—he will be found to take his epithet of “All” from [the idea of] multitude, and not from [that of) fullness—which is impossible; for if he part All from the One, he will destroy the All.  For all things must be One—if they indeed are One. Yea, they are One; and they shall never cease being One—in order that the Fullness may not be destroyed.

And, as Hermes says, all things will always be One, just as God is One, and so that Fullness “may not be destroyed”; we know that God is not destructible because of definition I.1, but that individual parts within God may be (e.g. Man).

On the next point in the definition, that “all of the multiple belongs to the three worlds”, this is just another way of saying that all things that exist or can exist do so somewhere, somehow: either it is in the world of Man, the world of heaven, or the world of God.  However, two of the worlds are “visible”, which are the “sensible” (meaning heaven, or the sensible world external of Man) and Man itself, “that destructible world”.  This is where we finally get to compare the destructibility of Man with heaven, which is not said to be destructible; thus, we might infer that heaven is indestructible and that the only thing that is destructible is Man, though this might be reaching a bit too far for the moment.

However, both heaven and Man are indeed sensible, which is pitted against the intelligibility of God, which is clarified to be “not visible” (and thus not sensible, at least physically or in the same manner that corresponds to things “visible” existing) but “evident within the visible things”.  Again, we are told that God is in all things, and from before, we know that all things are in God.  Plus, we know that heaven is moveable and that God is immoveable, and that God exerts power over heaven; thus, we know that God has the power to affect and change heaven, which can be extended to the act of creation.  Creation makes something within God manifest, either outside the sensible worlds or within them.  Plus, it can be said that all things that are makeable are made within God and yet separate from him; things that are made are no longer intelligible, but they become sensible.  Compare the Corpus Hermeticum (book V, parts 1 and 2):

I will recount for thee this sermon (logos) too, O Tat, that thou may’st cease to be without the mysteries of the God beyond all name.  And mark thou well how That which to the many seems unmanifest, will grow most manifest for thee.  Now were It manifest, It would not be. For all that is made manifest is subject to becoming, for it hath been made manifest. But the Unmanifest for ever is, for It doth not desire to be made manifest. It ever is, and maketh manifest all other things.  Being Himself unmanifest, as ever being and ever making-manifest, Himself is not made manifest. God is not made Himself; by thinking-manifest, He thinketh all things manifest.  Now “thinking-manifest” deals with things made alone, for thinking-manifest is nothing else than making.

He, then, alone who is not made, ’tis clear, is both beyond all power of thinking-manifest, and is unmanifest.  And as He thinketh all things manifest, He manifests through all things and in all, and most of all in whatsoever things He wills to manifest.  Do thou, then, Tat, my son, pray first unto our Lord and Father, the One-and-Only One, from whom the One doth come, to show His mercy unto thee, in order that thou mayest have the power to catch a thought of this so mighty God, one single beam of Him to shine into thy thinking. For thought alone “sees” the Unmanifest, in that it is itself unmanifest. If, then, thou hast the power, He will, Tat, manifest to thy mind’s eyes. The Lord begrudgeth not Himself to anything, but manifests Himself through the whole world. Thou hast the power of taking thought, of seeing it and grasping it in thy own “hands,” and gazing face to face upon God’s Image.  But if what is within thee even is unmanifest to thee, how, then, shall He Himself who is within thy self be manifest for thee by means of [outer] eyes?

And again, in book XIV, parts 2 and 3:

If all things manifest have been and are being made, and made things are not made by their own selves but by another; [if] made things are the many,—nay more, are all things manifest and all things different and not alike; and things that are being made are being made by other [than themselves];—there is some one who makes these things; and He cannot be made, but is more ancient than the things that can.  For things that can be made, I say, are made by other [than themselves]; but of the things that owe their being to their being made, it is impossible that anything should be more ancient than them all, save only That which is not able to be made.

So He is both Supreme, and One, and Only, the truly wise in all, as having naught more ancient [than Himself].  For He doth rule o’er both the number, size and difference of things that are being made, and o’er the continuity of their making [too].  Again, things makeable are seeable; but He cannot be seen.  For for this cause He maketh,—that He may not be able to be seen.  He, therefore, ever maketh; and therefore can He ne’er be seen.  To comprehend Him thus is meet; and comprehending, [it is meet] to marvel; and marvelling, to count oneself as blessed, as having learnt to know one’s Sire.

Thus, as God makes all things, all things still remain a part of God and within him, just as God remains in all things.  However, they become sensible, and no longer part of the world of God, but become part of the world of heaven or of man; these are still part of God and, especially in the case of Man, in the same form as God, but are not identical with God, though they are still One.  It’s a little convoluted, but you can think of it in terms of emanations within emanations, such as that of Qabbalah.  Further, God is “evident within the visible things”, indicating that not only is he present in all things made visible and sensible, but also that he has left his mark upon them in creating them.

Multiple Divinities

As most of you are aware, I’m a ceremonial magician.  (If you weren’t aware, I question your powers of observation.)  I was raised very loosely Jewish (more Jew-ish, really), and though I flirted with neopaganism in middle school and Buddhism in high school, I don’t particularly consider myself a follower of any one religion.  If I had to pick a label, I’d probably go with panentheistic, which essentially means that the Divine is immanent in the world (within and a part of all things) as well as transcendent of the world (beyond and greater than all things).  While pantheism is God-in-all, panentheism is both God-in-all and all-in-God; here, God is not equated with the cosmos, but is both part of and contains the cosmos.

That said, this kind of capital-G God is a big entity to handle.  It’s Kether, it’s the Endless Light, it’s the Sphere of the Prime Mover, it’s the complete infinite sum of all things manifest and unmanifest and otherwise.  It’s mindblowing, and threatens to be literally so if one tries to leap ahead of themselves to comprehend this.  In this sense, God cannot be described except in terms of negatives, and the best term that comes to mind is infinite, “no end”. 

For a little guy like me to try to work with divinity, going straight to the Source is like plugging my phone charger directly into the uranium core of a nuclear power plant.  It doesn’t work that way; the power has to be transformed from raw heat and radiation into electricity, then into alternating electrical current, then throttled down into an appropriate voltage, then channeled through an appropriate socket, plug, and wire into my phone.  There are a lot of steps inbetween, a lot of transformation from something raw and pure into something discrete and refined.  In some ways, this describes how an Idea comes from the sphere of the Prime Mover, picks up weight and form and style on its descent through the planetary spheres, and ends up materialized on Earth.  In other ways, though, it offers me a good reason to work with other gods and divinities besides the One.  They do say that variety is the spice of life, after all.

Every Wednesday, I make offerings to the god Hermes and the planet Mercury.  Being a Hermetic magician, geomancer, software engineer, calligrapher, linguist, and all-around awesome young guy, I rely on Mercury like whoa.  He’s presided over a lot of the things I’ve done in my life wittingly or no, and I figure it’s nothing bad to get in the guy’s good graces by making prayers, offerings, and vows to the god.  I’ve got plans to set up my own Hermaion, a dedicated altar space for Hermes himself and his emanations and forms, once I get the room for it, and I’ve even entertained ideas of becoming a priest of the dude in addition to my role as magician (he seemed to enjoy the idea, as well, for the record).

Do I see a contradiction between this and my ceremonial magic stuff?  By no means!  Of course a lot of the Solomonic literature relies on the One God of Judaic or Christian origin, and though he (and a good number of his followers) claims to be the only guy up there, the Bible and tradition give very strong hints that it’s just not so.  Do I still keep him at the top of my list?  Yes and no; the One, the Source, the First Father is bigger than any one god or divinity, stronger than any one religion or spirituality, longer and more manifold than any one path.  I believe in God as One; I believe that the God of Israel is but one, just as Mercury is.  God as One is too big for me to handle or interact with; depending on the need, I have to throttle the guy down into something I can actually work with without getting obliterated by his infinite grace.

A recent post at Thicket of a Witch gave me a new term to my lexicon: oligotheism.  It’s a subset of polytheism (many gods), and refers to the primary worship of several gods while admitting the existence of many more.  It’s different from henotheism in that henotheism refers to the exclusive worship of one god among others (extreme Vaishnavites or Shaivaites in Hinduism, Jews in some readings of the Bible, etc.).  Oligotheism, while a new term to me, gives me a new term for a very old phenomenon that I’ve known about and has made sense to me ever since the idea of polytheism did.  After all, once you have more than one god, you end up with an endless number of them; there’s no way to worship all of them, so you’re almost of necessity forced to pick and choose.

Consider an average citizen in Athens back in the day.  They had a job, a family and clan, a local neighborhood, and the like.   They knew all the myths, stories, and fables of the Olympians, the Trojans, the Ithacans, the Cretans, and the like.  They would be involved in the worship of several gods, heroes, and the like that they deal with.  They wouldn’t really care about Poseidon of the Horses if they had nothing to do with raising, using, or racing horses; they’d pay him respect if they passed by his temple, sure, but wouldn’t go out of their way to make offerings to him for nothing at all.  They likewise wouldn’t get involved with Hephaistos of pottery if they weren’t a potter.  If their profession involved cows and crops, though, they’d make the trips to the local fertility festivals, the shrines of the deities related to those, and the like.

In other words, they didn’t deal with infinite divinity.  They didn’t deal with infinite divinities, either.  They interacted with divinity according to what they needed, and this is alright.  Is this complicated?  Not really.  Catholics often do something similar with their calendar of saints: they might call on the patron saint of their profession but not their cousin’s, only because they have nothing to do with their cousin’s profession.  Ancient healers would rely on the deities of plants, healing, and spirit while probably keeping the divinities of war, plague, and poison at arm’s length.

Working with multiple powers is not just a good idea, but also a good practice.  Even staunchly monotheistic Solomonic magicians call on various aspects of God through the use of his names, teasing out specific attributes on their own from a greater Whole.  It’s seen all across the place, from syncretic pan-Hellenic worship, to eclectic neopaganism incorporating Sumerian, Egyptian, and Celtic divinities on the same altar, to Vaishnavites recalling the different powers and tales of different incarnations of Vishnu.  Myself?  I like working with angels, planets, the occaisonal saint, ancient Mediterranean Greco-Roman gods, and of course the One.