On Aspects in Geomantic Interpretation

Geomantically interpreting the House Chart usually necessitates a bit of knowledge about astrology.  Even though geomancy can be interpreted completely without relying on any sort of astrological symbolism or techniques, one of the biggest innovations that geomancy developed was to incorporate these very same symbols and methods into geomantic technique.  When looked at the right way, the integration is often flawless and seamless, and a good number of techniques and ideas that apply in astrological divination apply either identically or in parallel ways to geomantic divination.  This isn’t usually the case for the Shield Chart, of course, but for the House Chart?  The more astrology proper you know, the better off you are in geomancy; geomancy has often been called “astrology’s little sister”, and for good reason.

Still, though, not all astrological tricks can be borrowed directly into geomancy, and of those that can, some may need tweaking or a complete rehaul of the technique to get the ideas behind the trick to properly apply to geomancy.  Among such techniques that astrology can lend to geomancy, what we consider to be a major, integral technique in one art can be considered a minor detail in the other.  And, of course, there are always those techniques that are barely understood at all in either system but we laud them as among the best and greatest things ever until we take a step back to actually try to understand the damned thing at all.

Bearing all that in mind, here’s a few thoughts and explanations of astrological aspect, why we use them the way we do astrologically, and how they can be applied to geomantic interpretation of the House Chart.  I suggest that you grab a drink and settle in for this.

What is an aspect?  The word comes from Latin ad+spicere, meaning “to look at” or “to regard”, but in its form aspectus it can also refer to appearances, countenances, or coming into sight of something else.  Although I suppose it’s possible that you could see any planet from any position of any other planet, considering the planets as mathematical volumeless points in the sky, only a handful of specific spatial arrangements are considered to be proper aspects based on their geometry within the circle of the Zodiac.  More properly, I suppose it’s better to say that aspects are based upon the geometry presented within the Thema Mundi, the astrological-mythological chart of the beginning of creation that is fundamental to exploring and understanding many of the basic symbols of astrology:

Thema Mundi

(No, this is not actually a real chart; note the positions of Mercury and Venus in relation to the Sun.  We know.  It’s not intended to actually represent any point in time besides Creation itself, and was an important teaching tool used in Hellenistic astrology.  Of particular importance, note how the chart starts with the ascendant in Cancer, not Aries; the natural world we live in is of a nurturing, cool nature exemplified most by watery Cancer, and not the harsh, aggressive nature of fiery Aries.)

The Thema Mundi is what establishes the planetary rulerships of the signs themselves.  Judging from a location in the Northern Hemisphere, the Sun and Moon (the two luminaries whose motion only ever proceeds forward) are given to the two signs of the brightest and hottest time of the year, the Moon to feminine/receptive/cool Cancer and the Sun to masculine/active/warm Leo.  After this, we assign Mercury to Virgo, Venus to Libra, Mars to Scorpio, Jupiter to Sagittarius, and Saturn to Capricorn.  Because the planets can only ever be in one place at any one time, the other signs are left empty, but we can envision the non-luminaries to be in a “mirror world” in the signs opposite the axis formed between Cancer/Leo and Capricorn/Aquarius; thus, Saturn gets “mirrored” into Aquarius from Capricorn, Jupiter into Pisces from Sagittarius, Mars into Aries from Scorpio, Venus into Taurus from Libra, and Mercury into Gemini from Virgo.  The Sun and Moon, being two distinct luminaries already in their own signs, do not get mirrored.

Planetary Rulerships of the Signs

Now, consider the positions of the planets in relationship to the luminaries:

  • Mercury is 30° from the Sun on the right, or from the Moon on the left.  Mercury is a neutral force, blending like with like and opposite with opposite, always changing and always in flux.  The angular relationship between Mercury and its nearest luminary is that of the semi-sextile, a mutable and weak relationship that doesn’t mean or do much either which way.
  • Venus is 60° from the Sun on the right, or from the Moon on the left.  Venus is a pleasant planet, inducing joy and pleasure and which opens up the door to opportunity and happiness, though it can be fickle.  The angular relationship between Venus and its nearest luminary is that of the sextile, a relationship that tends to harmony but requires energy and action in order to keep the relationship fortunate and well.
  • Mars is 90° from the Sun on the right, or from the Moon on the left.  Mars is the planet of separation, strife, heat, anger, and war.  The angular relationship between Mars and its nearest luminary is that of the square, indicating a relationship of tension, strife, resistance, and problems that, although they can be surpassed and built upon, are not easy to overcome.
  • Jupiter is 120° from the Sun on the right, or from the Moon on the left.  Jupiter is the planet of blessing, benefice, and heavenly wonder.  The angular relationship between Jupiter and its nearest luminary is that of the trine, indicating a relationship of harmony, luck, ease, and prosperity.
  • Saturn is 180° from the Moon or the Sun on the opposite side.  Saturn, the darkest and coldest planet placed in the darkest and coldest sign, is found in the opposite sign as the luminaries in the brightest and warmest signs of the year; Saturn is the planet of cursing, curses, and being cursed, of death compared to the life of the luminaries.  Not only that, but the angular relationship formed between Saturn and its directly-opposing luminary crossed boundaries into a true mirror-world opposition, which is the relationship of extremes, rivalry, enmity, and difficulty.
  • Saturn is 150° from the Sun on the right, or from the Moon on the left.  More on this later.

Note that the relationships we care about in the list above are in particular angular arrangements such that the angle is a proper divisor of the circle of 360°: it takes twelve semi-sextiles to make a complete loop (12 × 30° = 360°), six sextiles (6 × 60° = 360°), four squares (4 × 90° = 360°), three trines (3 × 120° = 360°), and two oppositions (2 × 180° = 360°).  Additionally, since the zodiac (and the House Chart we use in astrology) is already divided up into twelve sections, an angular arrangement that does the same thing doesn’t show us anything new or more important that the simple progression of signs from one to the next, or of houses from one to the next, doesn’t also already tell us.  This leaves us with four major angular relationships, or aspects: sextile, square, trine, and opposition, each of which is exemplified best by its “thematic” presence in the Thema Mundi: Venus is the aspect-producing planet of the sextile, Mars of the square, Jupiter of the trine, and Saturn of the opposition.

However, we don’t have to limit ourselves to talking just about degree-based angular relationships when it comes to aspects.  In fact, it’s arguably more traditional to talk about them in terms of whole signs (and, thus, houses), and the idea is the same as before.  Mercury is one sign away from its luminary for the semi-sextile aspect, Venus two for sextile, Mars three for square, Jupiter four (for trine), and Saturn six for opposition.  This is the distinction between partile and platick aspects, where partile aspects are measured by the “parts” of signs (i.e. the exact degrees) and platick aspects by the “broad areas” of whole signs at a time; while we moderns generally consider partile aspects to be what really counts (ideally exact by angle, though we allow the wiggle-room of orbs for the planets), it would have been just as valid in Hellenistic and traditional astrology to consider platick aspects based on sign relationships between the location of any two particular planets.  In the above talk about the Thema Mundi, it’s actually more proper and traditional to note the angular relationships of the planets to the luminaries based on how many signs/houses they are away rather than how many degrees of celestial longitude they are away.  If we count by signs, then we have the nifty association between aspects and sign relationships:

  • Signs in sextile share the same temperature of element (i.e. hot Fire and Air, cold Water and Earth) and different modality.  They understand what each other needs and uplift/sustain each other in their complementary ways.
  • Signs in square are of the opposite element but same modality.  They understand how each other works and work in the same way, but they have the opposite views and goals and needs.
  • Signs in trine share the same element.  They understand what each other needs and join with each other in common purpose.
  • Signs in opposition share the same temperature of element as well as the same modality.  They conflict because they operate in the same way, and share the same passion but for different goals and needs, leading to rivalry and conflict.  So different, yet so similar at the same time!

But this leads to something interesting: if there are only aspects based on whole-sign counting, what about two planets that are found in signs that have no such relationship?  We already counted differences of one sign (semi-sextile), two sign (sextile), three (square), four (trine), and six (opposition), and if it’s more than six, we can simply flip the calculation to get a corresponding opposite-direction same-type aspect.  This leaves the relationships unclear when we have differences of zero signs and five signs away:

  • If there are zero signs between two planets, then they’re in the same sign, or more ideally, at a 0° difference.  In other words, this is conjunction of two planets, where instead of there being a relationship, there is a true unity and melding of force, power, and presence.  Relationships can only happen when there is a distance or difference, but in conjunction, there is neither; thus, a conjunction is not a type of aspect, technically speaking, because there’s no “other planet” for each to look at, since they become one and the same force.
  • If there are five signs between two planets, then they’re…weird.  They have nothing to relate to each other: they’re of different elements yet not opposing elements (e.g. Fire and Earth), and are not of the same modality.  If conjunction is a complete identity of essence, then this relationship is complete dissonance, and is called inconjunct; the angular relationship of 150° is called the quincunx, but the idea is the same.  This is the complete lack of relationship, which in traditional astrology was considered worse than any relationship at all (no matter how bad).

In addition to the complete dissonance bit of the inconjunct, there was a notion of certain places being “unseen” from any particular place in the House Chart.  From the ascendant, consider that houses VI (illness) and VIII (death) are inconjunct with house I (life).  While being close to the aspect (“seen”) of opposition, they are just out of range of vision, just off to the side of focus.  It’s like when you’re staring at a particular distant point: you have that point in complete view, but things just off to the side?  You can’t look at them the same way, things slide out unnoticed, or change without being seen.  This “just off to the side” quality of the inconjunct lends them to “being unseen”.  Similarly, we can say the same thing for houses XII and II: while there is technically an aspect for these (semi-sextile, 30° or one sign away), house XII (enemies) is inimical to house I (life) in the same way houses VI and VIII are, and worse, house XII is “right behind” house I, and thus is also unseen.  House II (property) isn’t usually considered negative, but it is similarly “unseen” because it is too close, too under-the-nose, to be properly regarded as an aspected house.  This leaves the relationships of one sign away and five sign away as anti-aspects, or more properly, averted.  Aversion indicates an anti-relationship: a lack of communication or awareness, a disability to understand and be understood, and a lack of control in either direction.  This is why, for the sake of astrology, the 30° relationship is at best trivial and meaningless, and at worst is as bad as the 150° quincunx.

Okay!  So much for an introduction on aspects.  Where does that leave us?  Well, we have particular angular relationships that, for the sake of both traditional astrology and geomancy, we can determine based on how far two particular things are in the House Chart based on how many signs/houses come between them:

  • Sextile: two houses away, the relationship of Venus.  Luck, opportunity, happiness, fickle fortune.
  • Square: three houses away, the relationship of Mars.  Strife, fighting, conflict, construction.
  • Trine: four houses away, the relationship of Jupiter.  Blessing, ease, harmony, prosperity.
  • Opposition: six houses away, the relationship of Saturn.  Rivalry, enmity, enemies, tension.

And, in addition, we have three non-aspects:

  • Conjunction: same house in the same location, the identification of the two luminaries as one light.  Two forces that become one.
  • Semi-sextile: one house away, the anti-relationship/aversion of Mercury.  Being too close to properly see or control.
  • Inconjunct: five houses away, the anti-relationship/aversion of Saturn.  Being just out of sight to properly see or understand.

In geomancy, we can use aspects to better understand the relationship between two particular figures in the House Chart, or the effects a given figure has on another figure based on the angular house-based relationship between them.  The naïve and simplistic way of doing this is to take any particular figure as your significator, and interpret the figures two, three, four, and six houses away as being in aspect to the significator.

Just to make things a little more exciting, let’s add in two more distinctions to our expanding set of aspects, shall we?  In geomantic interpretation, not only is it the number of houses away that matters for an aspect, but also the direction of the aspect, or dexter and sinister aspects, which are ultimately based on the natural motion of the planets as seen from the Earth:

  • Dexter aspects (literally “right”, as in “right-handed”) are counted clockwise around the House Chart from the aspecting figure to the aspected figure.  For instance, the trine formed by House V onto house I is a dexter trine, because the aspect is made going clockwise around the chart from house V to house I.  Dexter aspects go against the natural flow of the signs of the Zodiac, or said another way, against the usual counterclockwise numbering of the houses.  These are considered to be more direct, effective, obvious, blatant, or vigorous.
  • Sinister aspects (literally “left) are counted counterclockwise around the House Chart from the aspecting figure to the aspected figure.  For instance, the trine formed by House IX onto house I is a sinister trine, because the aspect is made going counterclockwise around the chart from house IX to house I.  Sinister aspects go with the natural flow of the signs of the Zodiac, or said another way, with the usual counterclockwise numbering of the houses.  These are considered to be more subtle, hidden, weak, slow, or indirect than dexter aspects.

Thus, consider the following geomantic House Chart:

If we were to consider house IV (Tristitia) as our significator, then we find the following figures in aspect with it:

  • Dexter sextile: house VI, Cauda Draconis
  • Dexter square: house VII, Amissio
  • Dexter trine: house VIII, Fortuna Minor
  • Opposition: house X, Cauda Draconis
  • Sinister trine: house XII, Coniunctio
  • Sinister square: house I, Via
  • Sinister sextile: house II, Acquisitio

Note that opposition, because it is six houses away, is always on the opposite point of the House Chart.  Therefore, it is only ever an opposition, and cannot be dexter or sinister.  Also note that we don’t count semi-sextiles or quincunxes here; although we can technically mark these as aspects, given their “unseen” nature, it’s better to say that there is no relationship between house IV and houses V, IX, XI, and III.  For similar reasons, because only one figure can only ever appear in any given house, there is no notion of conjunction in the geomantic House Chart (outside of perfection, of course, but that’s a different topic that I’ll bring up in a bit).

As a facile way of using aspects in geomantic interpretation (though it is useful when learning how to interpret aspects!), we could find every figure that makes an aspect to a particular significator and interpret them to get a whole lot of details about all possible things that are acting upon, influencing, or impelling the significator to act a particular way.  However, I find this to be a whole lot more than I care to deal with, and often provides more confused data than usable information, so I typically limit the use of aspects in my own geomantic practice to only two significators at a time, and even then, only when either one or both of the significators pass.  Consider that two houses may already be in a “fixed” aspect relationship by virtue of where they are.  Marriage, for instance, is always going to be represented in house VII, so in a query about marriage, it’s trivial and useless to say that the significators of querent and quesited are in an opposition aspect (houses I and VII), because opposition is inherent to the house of marriage, and therefore is more a subject for philosophical introspection on the subject in general rather than helpful divination and guidance in a particular matter involving the subject.  We can’t use the “real houses” of the significators for determining aspect alone, so we must use something else.

In the case where one of the significators passes elsewhere in the chart, it may form an aspect to the other significator based on the house the significator passes to in relation to the “real house” of the other significator.  Consider in the above House Chart a case where we’re investigating the topic of marriage, so we have house I (Via) representing the querent and house VII (Amissio) representing the marriage or spouse-to-be.  Via in house I and Amissio in house VII, in their own “real houses”, don’t make an aspect, but Amissio passes from house VII to house IX.  House IX is in aspect with house I, so we can say that Amissio (significator of the quesited in house VII) makes a sinister trine to Via (significator of the querent in house I) by means of house IX.  Thus, we can say that the spouse-to-be and the querent are in a good relationship together, characterized by quiet peace and modest harmony, possibly involving matters involving academia, spirituality, or foreign travel, especially on the part of the spouse-to-be and how they incorporate the querent into their own life.  The aspect here reveals what their relationship is like; how each of them are individually is determined more by the figures themselves.

So, in this more limited, exacting, and useful way of interpreting aspect in the geomantic House Chart, we can determine the relationship between two significators if one of them passes to a house that aspects the other in its own “real house”.  If one of them passes but into an averted house (a house that is one or five away from the “real house”), then there is no relationship, which can be interpreted either not at all (modern) or in the more dire unseen, uncontrolled, incommunicable way (traditional).  What happens if both figures pass elsewhere in the chart?  Say we have an example where, for another chart about marriage, Coniunctio in house I passes to house IX and Amissio in house VII passes to house III.  There are two aspects here: the significator of the querent makes a dexter sextile onto the significator of the quesited (house IX onto house VII), and likewise, the quesited makes a dexter sextile onto the querent (house III onto house I).  In this case, both significators pass, and there’s a third aspect being made here: the opposition between houses III and IX!  This aspect doesn’t involve either real house of the significators, but is still another relationship between the significators that needs to be accounted for.  This is where yet another dichotomy can come into play for us:

  • Direct aspect: an aspect made by one significator that passes elsewhere in the chart onto the real house of the other significator.  Indicates the direct, known, or intended effects one significator has upon the other.  Direct aspects (with the exception of opposition) will be either dexter or sinister, using the real house being aspected to as a point of orientation.
  • Indirect aspect: an aspect made by both significators from the houses each passes to onto the other, not involving the real houses of either significator.  Side effects that result from the actions and interactions of the significators, or emergent properties of their relationship that are unknown or unintended by either party.  Indirect aspects cannot be considered dexter or sinister since there is no direction inherent to them, since both figures pass equally.

Thus, in this relationship where Coniunctio and Amissio both have direct dexter sextiles upon each other with the indirect opposition between them, the querent and quesited generally get along pretty well as each opens up new doors for the other and provides glee and luck for each other, but there’s this nagging tension that seems to result as they get closer, this weird difficulty that leaves only a soft echo in the dark corners of their minds; their friends don’t seem to get along the longer they hang out, and there’s this weird unspoken division that both of them subconsciously work around.  That’s what an indirect aspect is: an emergent property or a side-effect of the actions and interactions of both parties acting upon each other.  It’s not always the case that an indirect aspect can be formed when both significators pass, but when one can, even if it’s a subtle or minor thing, it’s usually important enough to note because of how easy it is to overlook in the real world.

What about if one significator passes to multiple other houses, each of which aspects the real house of the other significator?  In this case, despite the confusion, it’s actually pretty straightforward: there are multiple aspects, so first interpret each one separately then see how they’re all connected and fit into a bigger picture.  In such a case, can the same significator make indirect aspects with itself?  No, it cannot; when considering two or more significators, an aspect must be made between two different significators so as to indicate a relationship.  A relationship indicates two distinct parties to relate to each other; just as a significator passing to another house cannot aspect its own real house, a significator passing to multiple houses cannot form an indirect aspect amongst its passing houses.  Rather, it’s better to analyze what that same significator is doing in so many houses, and how they’re all connected and fitting into the same overall or overarching action or set of actions, and how they all impact or influence the other significator both separately and in unison.

That’s what I do to use aspect in interpreting geomantic house charts; the technique is fairly straightforward, though there is a bit of nuance between dexter and sinister as well as direct and indirect.  So, why do I use aspect?  Aspect indicates a relationship between two significators that results in their actions one upon the other (not necessarily “upon each other!”) which can affect a particular situation as a whole, or offer more details into the specific nature of the two parties acting on their own or interacting with each other.  The keyword here is “relationship”; aspects indicate the existence and nature of relationships, if any, between the significators and, if one exists, how it plays out between the two significators.

What I do not use aspect for is as a type of perfection.  Perfection, as I’ve written about before, is a method of geomantic interpretation that uses the motion of the figures in the House Chart to determine whether a particular situation will happen (if the chart perfects) or won’t happen (if the chart denies perfection).  Both perfection and aspect utilize the passing of the significators with and around each other, but to my mind, I find that they are distinct techniques that answer fundamentally different questions of the geomantic chart.  This is something I disagree with JMG on; in his “Art and Practice of Geomancy”, he says that aspect functions as a weaker kind of perfection alongside the usual occupation, conjunction, mutation, and translation.  If the chart denies perfection, such that none of the four major kinds of perfection are present in the chart, then JMG says that beneficial aspects that are made between the significators can be used to affirm the chart, and negative aspects (along with no aspects, along with the outright denial from proper perfection) can be used to reinforce a denial in the chart, or to weaken another perfection.

In my experience, however, I haven’t seen this to be borne out, and so I don’t consider aspect-as-perfection as useful.  I’m familiar with the fact that perfection in horary astrology (which is where the whole idea of where perfection came from) uses aspects in order to accomplish its types of perfection: aspect made between the two significators, translation by a third faster-moving body making aspects to both, or collection by both significators making an aspect to a third slower-moving body.  However, we’ve departed from this by “tweaking” the understanding of perfection for the purposes of fitting it into a geomantic system; in this case, we really only consider conjunction (in the sense of one “body” identifying with the other, as in perfection by occupation, or going to meet another, as in perfection by conjunction or mutation).  We’ve broken the identification of perfection and aspect by limiting ourselves to a non-aspect type of passing.  Plus, although horary astrology has a number of ways where perfection can be denied based on the motion of other planets to interfere with the aspects being made or other astrological mishaps, there’s no such idea in geomantic perfection; the only way a geomantic chart can deny perfection is the absence of the four types of perfection.

While an argument can be made that “because perfection comes from astrology, and astrological perfection uses aspects, we should use aspects in geomantic perfection”, I would counter that since we’ve effectively come up with a new set of geomancy-specific rules that we only call “perfection” because although it accomplishes much the same aim in astrology, the methods are completely different and follow a different logic.  Perfection inspects how the figures pass irrespective of angular relationships between the significators, and is almost always sufficient to accurately answer the query.  If the chart perfects, the thing inquired will happen, and if the chart denies perfection, the thing inquired will not happen; that’s the end of the statement.  Perfection, as I’ve said before, only answers whether something will or won’t happen and, if it will happen, how it will be accomplished.  Aspect, on the other hand, answers to the existence and nature of relationships between different parties/events/situations.  Perfection answers the “what will happen” and “how”, while aspect answers “where” and “what kind”; aspect is well-suited to talk about the goodness or badness of something, but not to determining whether something will happen or not.

It can often be helpful to interpret perfection and aspect alongside each other to get a better grasp of the nature of a situation:

  • Perfection, no aspect: The situation will happen, but beyond the involvement of the parties in the situation, there is no other action being taken by either significator, or there are no side-effects or other intentions, or there are no other worlds/circles of work being pulled into the situation
  • Perfection, aspect by the quesited onto the querent: Will happen, and the quesited is producing an effect or engaging in a relationship with the querent
  • Perfection, aspect by the querent onto the quesited: Will happen, and the querent is producing an effect or engaging in a relationship with the quesited
  • Perfection, aspects by both significators onto each other: Will happen, and both significators are engaging in a relationship with each other, possibly with side-effects or emergent properties that they are unaware of
  • Perfection, good aspects: Will happen, and will turn out favorably for the significator(s) having good aspects made to it
  • Perfection, bad aspects: Will happen, and will turn out unfavorably for the significator(s) having bad aspects made to it
  • Perfection, both good and bad aspects: Will happen, but the result will be a mixed bag depending on the different effects and acts made upon the significator(s)
  • No perfection, … : All the above goes for all the “no perfection” situations, except the thing inquired about will not happen

In other words, this is just a fancier, aspect-specific version of the following chart I’ve used before when discussing perfection vs. favorability:

Good figures Bad figures
Chart perfects Will happen,
situation will turn out well
Will happen,
situation will turn out badly
Chart denies Will not happen,
situation will turn out well
Will not happen,
situation will turn out badly

Perfection and aspect are both useful techniques in geomancy, but I see them as answering different kinds of questions within a given chart.  If what you want to know is how good or bad something is, where a certain party is acting from onto a given situation or person, or what kinds of influences are upon a given situation or person, then aspect is a fantastic way to deduce the nature of relationships between different parties, if any should exist at all.  If what you want to know is whether something will happen or not, perfection is excellent.  Both can be combined to yield a well-rounded, detailed, and thorough answer, but I caution against confusing “niceness of a situation” with “accomplishment of intention”.  Just as I warn against confusing perfection with favorability, I warn against misusing or confusing aspect into saying something it may not be equipped to say.  While I understand why aspect can be used as a type of perfection, I find that it doesn’t often say anything that perfection already hasn’t said when it comes to the “will/won’t” question, and that it has much better and more detailed applications answering the questions about relationships between the significators, both on its own and alongside the technique of perfection.

 

Asking Inverse Questions with Geomantic Perfection

A good friend of mine, who’s also a decent geomancer to boot, recently emailed me with a question on interpreting a rather troublesome kind of query with geomancy.  It’s a problem I’ve encountered before with some people and, occasionally, in my own work, and although I think I’ve implied how to handle the issue in other posts around here or that I’ve written enough to allow the astute geomancer to deduce what to do properly, I think it’s about time I’ve made it explicit what I do in these instances.

As we all know, one of the most important aspects, if not the most important aspect, of the process of divination is the art of asking the query.  Knowing how to phrase the query in a clear, concise, and concrete manner that seeks the right amount of information as well as the right information you want is crucially important; as is especially the case with geomancy but as well as with many forms of divination, if you ask a vague query of geomancy, you get a vague answer you can’t do much with.  To help out with this, when I perform a geomantic reading for someone, I first figure out what exactly it is they want to know, and it’s sometimes the case that the query they came to me with is not the one they actually want to ask, and it’s very often we radically change the wording that gets to the point of what they want to know.

Still, sometimes you’re stuck with a weird query, and there’s a particular type of query that leads to a lot of consternation among diviners of all types.  These are the so-called “inverse queries”, where one asks about something not happening.  So, for example, if a proper query has the form “Will X occur?”, then its corresponding inverse query has the form “Will X not occur?”.  Any binary query (one that expects a “yes” or “no” answer) can be phrased in such an inverted way, and while it’s preferable that we don’t use inverted queries but phrase them in their more direct, proper way, there are times when we can’t get out of answering such a query with geomancy.  It’s obnoxious when those cases happen, but they do, and it’s helpful to know exactly how to handle them when they arise.

First, remember that inverted queries are still just queries, and moreover, they’re binary queries that expect a “yes” or “no” answer.  As with all such binary queries, the big technique we want to use to answer them is perfection, which I’ve detailed before in two blog posts here and here.  To summarize the technique of perfection, we analyze the motion of figures between and around the houses of the querent and quesited, and depending on whether the significators of the querent and quesited come into contact with each other in some way, we can say that the chart perfects or denies perfection.  If the significators contact each other, then the chart perfects and affirms the query, i.e. the chart is saying “yes, it will happen”; if the significators do not contact each other, then the chart denies perfection and negates the query, i.e. the chart replies “no, it will not happen”.  This does not say anything about the fortune, misfortune, goodness, badness, helpfulness, or the lack thereof about anything; all perfection determines is whether something will or will not happen.  Perfection can happen in one of four ways, with more possibilities in each technique depending on what’s going on in the chart, but the specific methods of perfection don’t really matter for the purposes of answering inverse question.

So, quick example.  Let’s say I was just given a job offer, and I want to know whether I should take the job.  So, I cast a geomantic chart for the query “Should I take the job?”, which is a proper (not inverse) query.  There are two possibilities here:

  • The chart perfects: this agrees with the query and gives an affirmative answer, thus, “yes, you should take the job”.
  • The chart does not perfect: this disagrees with the query and gives a negative answer, thus, “no, you should not take the job”.

Simple enough, right?  All perfection determines is whether the chart says “yes” or “no” to the query, regardless of what’s asked or how it’s asked.  This means we can do the same thing with inverse queries in a straightforward, although clumsy, manner.  If we use the inverse of the preceding query, let’s say we cast a chart for the query “Should I not take the job?”, and we get one of two answers:

  • The chart perfects: this agrees with the query and gives an affirmative answer, thus, “yes, you should not take the job”.
  • The chart denies perfection: this disagrees with the query and gives a negative answer, thus, “no, you should not not take the job”.

No, that second “not” there is not a typo.  Remember, perfection agrees with what’s been asked, and denial of perfection disagrees with what’s been asked.  If it so happens that you get a denial of perfection for an inverse query, then you’re getting a disagreement with a negative, which effectively affirms the positive.  So, when the chart says “no, you should not not take the job”, it can be read as “no, you should take the job”; the double negative becomes a positive.  Remember, however, that this says nothing about how good or bad the situation is; that’s left up to the nature of the figures themselves, not how they pass around as far as perfection’s concerned.

All this is basically a geomantic form of the theorem of double negation in propositional logic: “if a statement is true, then it is not the case that the statement is not true” or, said another way, A = not (not A).  While the idea here is simple enough, and while these types of inverse queries that may or may not be answered through a double negative can be interpreted in a straightforward manner, this causes the practice of geomancy to quickly get unwieldy and confusing for many, so we prefer to use proper queries instead that avoid the whole business of trying to eliminate double negatives.  It’s preferable to phrase queries so that you avoid this kind of logical weirdness, and some shades of meaning could be toyed with in ways that haven’t been fully explored.  For instance, say that a chart for the query “will I not get the job” perfects by translation; what then?  Strictly speaking, this means that there is a third party helping to achieve the query, so someone is helping you not get the job, which could be interpreted as someone arguing against it with the interviewer, stealing the job from you, winning out over you, or something similar depending on the other factors in the chart.  This is often a more roundabout and confusing way to ask something when you could more easily ask “will I get the job”, which in many respects is more direct and simpler to interpret.

However, one case when I have found it helpful to ask an inverted query is when I’m confirming something.  While it’s generally bad form to ask the same question multiple times of an oracle, I’ve found that it’s good and acceptable practice to confirm something by negating its inverse, and this goes for many forms of divination including geomancy.  For instance, say I’m unsure about taking a given job offer, so I ask “should I take the job”, and the chart perfects, so it would seem that I should take the job.  Not willing to use that as my sole data point, however, I would then throw another chart and ask “should I not take the job” to confirm its opposite; here, the chart denies perfection, so no, I should not not take the job, i.e. I should take the job.  This method of asking a proper query immediately followed up by an inverse query is good for absolutely confirming something along the following lines:

  1. The proper query is of the form “Should I do X?”
  2. The inverse query is of the form “Should I not do X?”
  3. If the proper query perfects and the inverse query denies perfection, we have “yes, you should do X” and “no, you should not not do X”.  Both are saying that you should do X, and the agreement between the two strongly confirms this.
  4. If the proper query denies perfection and the inverse query perfects, we have “no, you should not do X” and “yes, you should not do X”.  Both are saying that you should not do X, and the agreement between the two strongly confirms this.
  5. If the proper query and inverse query both perfect, we have “yes, you should do X” and “yes, you should not do X”.  Both are saying that you could do either X or not X equally well, implying that either way is acceptable or suggested, or that it doesn’t matter which course of action you take.
  6. If the proper query and inverse query both deny perfection, we have “no, you should not do X” and “no, you should not not do X”.  Both are saying you should do neither X nor not X, implying that you might be better off looking for a third option to pursue instead of either of these two.

This method of confirming an answer, while it might bug the occasional spirit, tends to work very well in practice, and if you’ve already done all the work of casting a full geomantic chart to get a complete answer to see whether one should pursue a given course of action and the effects thereof, if the need for confirmation is strong enough, it can often be worth the extra work to cast another full geomantic chart just to make sure that the opposite course of action isn’t recommended.  In doing so, however, we might find out that we have more options than we thought we did, or that we might want to consider something entirely different besides X and not-X.

Now, all that said, when it comes to asking inverse queries, they may not always have the word “not” in them.  The English language has a truly rich and immeasurable vocabulary, and we have many words that are the exact opposite of other words (yes, antonyms are a thing!).  So, while it may not be apparent that “should I turn down the job offer?” is an inverse question, it’s easy to see that turning down a job offer is equivalent to not taking the job offer.  Once we understand that turning down a job offer is the inverse of taking the offer, we can think of this as an inverted query, and we might switch instead to “should I take the job offer?” for clarity’s sake.  This begins to get into the debate of how to properly and best phrase a query, but I think we can see the logic now behind proper queries and inverse queries.

More about Geomantic Perfection

The idea of perfection comes from horary astrology, considered to be the primary and foremost divination system of the antique, classical, and premodern periods; you can find good descriptions of astrological perfection here and here, among elsewhere.  In horary astrology, where the planets move through the 360° of the Zodiac at different rates, the planets make certain aspects to each other at different times; noting how these aspects take place, where they take place, and what other planets make aspects at the same time can indicate different types of perfection or different ways that perfection cannot be obtained.  Geomancy, however, uses sixteen figures that can appear at 12 discrete places in the House Chart instead of smoothly moving through 360°

So, with all that in mind, let me get out the basics first starting from first principles.

What is perfection?  Perfection is a technique used in geomantic divination where a House Chart and not the Shield Chart is used.  This technique helps indicate different types of connection, or the lack thereof, between different actors, events, or goals in a situation.  While the figures themselves describe what a given actor, event, or goal may be like, perfection indicates how these things relate to and work with or against other things.  The things that play a role in a situation are represented by figures called significators, and these figures are found by inspecting a particular house of the House Chart that best represents the thing.  For instance, the querent (person asking the query, or question of divination) is represented by house I, so the figure that appears in house I represents the state, quality, and person of the querent.  If the querent is asking about something in specific, such as a marriage, job, health problem, or debt, we would look to other houses to see what those things are represented by in the chart, which are houses VII, X, VI, and XII, respectively; the thing being asked about is the quesited.

Because any given figure can appear in multiple places in the House Chart, it is possible that one of the significating figures can appear in multiple places, as well.  Different houses that share the same figure indicate a strong connection between the two areas of life, actors, events, or goals.  For instance, if the significator of the querent appears in houses I and VI, we might say that the querent is heavily involved with matters of health, service, or working for others in addition to those things having qualities similar to the querent since they share the same figure.  A figure can appear in more than two houses; in one rare case, the same figure can even appear in all 12 houses, but it’s more common that a figure appears in one to three houses at a time, depending on the chart.

All this puts geomancy in an unusual place in divination systems generally; unlike Tarot, runes, astrology, or other forms of divination, where any given symbol can appear at most once in a reading, a geomantic figure can appear multiple times in a reading.  This allows us to make use of this repetition of figures to indicate relationships between significators based on how they repeat, or pass, around in the chart in relationship to each other.  This is where geomantic perfection is superficially similar to astrological perfect, where the latter relies on aspects being made between planets to form contacts between significators, the former relies on repetition of figures to do the same.  Say the querent wishes to know about marriage, or marrying a particular person; in this case, the significator of the querent is in house I, and the significator of the quesited is in house VII.  If the querent’s significator passes from house I to house VI, then we note that house VI and house VII are neighboring each other; the querent’s significator comes into direct physical contact with that of the quesited.  This is a type of contact made that illustrates perfection.

There are four types of perfection used in geomancy, and I went over those in an earlier post, which you should read up at this point.  To review, there is occupation (the same figure appears in both the house of the querent and the house of the quesited), conjunction (either significator appears in one of the two houses neighboring the other), mutation (when both significators neighbor each other at some other location away from their own houses), and translation (when the same figure which is neither significator appears next to both).  If no method of perfection applies, then we say that the chart is in denial, or lacking perfection.  Where the figures pass to, such as before or after the significator, or whether a figure passes to both before and after, or a mutation-conjunction combination, can all offer variants of these four methods of perfection, but the same basic rules apply.  If a chart has perfection between the significators, then we say that the chart perfects for those signficators; otherwise, we say that the chart denies perfection.

What does perfection answer?  To speak floridly, perfection indicates the connection between different realities, the experienced reality of the querent (represented by the significator of the querent) and the hypothetical reality of the query (represented by the significator of the quesited).  If the chart perfects, then the hypothetical reality will come to pass; if the chart denies perfection, the hypothetical reality will not come to pass.  In more direct terms, perfection in a chart indicates a simple “yes” to the query, and denial of perfection indicates “no”.  So, if Jane Doe asks “will I get married to John Smith?” and the chart perfects between houses I and VII in any way, then the answer is yes, Jane will marry John; if the chart denies perfection, the answer is no, Jane will not marry John.  It’s important to be clear on phrasing the query, because perfection answers about the situation inquired; if Jane asks “will I not marry John?” and the chart perfects, then the answer is yes, she will not marry John.  In other words, perfection affirms or denies the query put to divination.  Learning how to phrase the query clearly and concretely is an important aspect of divination generally, but especially so when perfection is used.

Being able to phrase a query clearly and directly is important especially if one phrases a query in a negative light.  Perfection will affirm whatever is asked, and denial of perfection will deny whatever is asked.  So, if one asks a question negatively, like “will X not happen?” or “should I not do X?”, then the query will be answered as it is.  Thus, if one asks “will X not happen?” perfection says “yes, X will not happen”, and denial says “no, X will not not happen” (or, more directly, “X will happen”).  Thus, the more directly one can phrase the query, reducing all ambiguity and complexity to its barest, the more clear and easily accessible the answer will be.

Now that you understand (hopefully) what perfection is, let’s talk about the limits of this technique.  For one, perfection does not answer whether something is good or bad; it only indicates whether something will or won’t happen.  It indicates a connection between different realities, but it does not indicate whether it’ll be good or bad, pleasing or displeasing, or any other qualities besides whether there exists a connection and how that connection is forged.  For understanding the qualities of the situation, you’d need to look at the figures themselves and whether they’re good or bad, how those figures relate to the rest of the chart, the Court figures, and so forth.  You can envision a kind of 2×2 table that shows this:

Good figures Bad figures
Chart perfects Will happen,
situation will turn out well
Will happen,
situation will turn out badly
Chart denies Will not happen,
situation will turn out well
Will not happen,
situation will turn out badly

There are lots of techniques in geomancy, and perfection is only one of them.  Perfection really comes in help when a query is phrased in a way that “yes” or “no” will answer it, i.e. if the query expects a binary answer.  Anything that is asked in a way like “Will X happen”, “Should I do X”, “Can I do X”, and the like are all things that can be answered directly and easily with perfection.  Other queries, such as “When will X happen”, “What will X be”, “Where is X”, and the like are not answered by perfection; in this case, the use of perfection simply doesn’t apply to these queries and will produce nonsense answers.  For instance, if Jane Doe lost something, she might ask “will I find my lost object?” and use perfection for that reading; if she wants to know the answer to “where can I find X?”, she should use another technique entirely, since this isn’t a yes or no question.  Perfection is only one tool in the toolkit of the geomancer; just as one wouldn’t use a screwdriver to hammer in a nail, perfection isn’t the best tool for the job when the query is best answered in a non-binary way.

Many binary queries put to divination are straightforward: whether I can get such-and-such a job, whether I’ll find my true love in the next five years, whether I’ll flunk out of college even if I study hard, and so forth.  In many instances, it suffices to use only two significators in the reading, one for the querent and one for the quesited.  However, some queries are more nuanced and complicated, and to fully answer it require a nuanced and complicated reply from the reading.  This is most easily done by considering multiple significators, where one figures out how different actors (plural) relate amongst themselves as well as with the querent in a situation.  Consider a situation where a querent wants to know how a new medical treatment prescribed by their doctor will help a health issue they’ve had for some time now.  We know of several factors here: the querent (house I), the doctor (house VII), the medical treatment (house X), and the health issue itself (house VI).  Any of these significators can perfect with any other, and since there are six different ways perfection can be forged between the significators (I and X, I and VII, I and VI, X and VII, X and VI, VII and VI), the answer could get quite complicated, indeed!  In this case:

  • Perfection between I and X indicates that the querent will carry out the medical treatment prescribed to them.  Denial indicates that they won’t or it simply won’t be available to them.
  • Perfection between I and VII indicates that the querent will be in contact with their doctor to work with them.  Denial indicates that their relationship may be blocked, broken off, or obstructed.
  • Perfection between I and VI indicates that the health issue will be resolved or will be helpfully controlled.  Denial indicates that the health condition will continue unmitigated.
  • Perfection between X and VII indicates that the doctor is the one prescribing the treatment and understands it.  Denial indicates that the doctor isn’t in control of the treatment or has no clue what he’s doing.
  • Perfection between X and VI indicates that the health issue will respond to and be helped by the treatment prescribed.  Denial indicates that the issue will not be changed or helped by the treatment.
  • Perfection between VII and VI indicates that the doctor understands the health issue and is actively working to help it.  Denial indicates that the doctor has no idea what’s going on and doesn’t really care.

These types of readings with multiple significators can be deeply involved, and there’s no simple yes or no to be had with these.  Instead, one has to develop a nuanced, qualified answer that might be yes in some ways and no in others, and build a complete message from that.  For instance, say that in this hypothetical health reading, say that perfection exists between I and VII (querent and doctor), I and X (querent and treatment), I and VI (treatment and health issue), and VII and X (doctor and treatment); the chart denies perfection between X and VI (treatment and health issue) and VII and VI (doctor and health issue).  In this case, the querent is getting along fine with the doctor and will take the steps prescribed by the doctor to change the situation.  However, the treatment prescribed by the doctor will not have any effect on the condition since the doctor doesn’t really understand it well enough to prescribe something useful; even then, however, the treatment will still be cleared up on its own or due to the personal actions of the querent.  So, in some ways, the query of “will the treatment prescribed by my doctor help this health issue?” is answered by “no”, and in some other ways “yes”, but it’s hard to answer that query fully in a single word if the whole story needs to be communicated.

Perfection is a useful tool, don’t get me wrong, but it’s also one of the most difficult to understand for many beginners due to its complexity.  I ascribe this to the mechanics of geomancy itself, since this isn’t your standard oracle deck-fare divination; there’s math and analysis involved that go far beyond intuitive readings of the figures themselves as you might normally do in other divination methods.  Many people don’t pick up geomancy as their first divination system, so they’re used to systems that are simpler, more rudimentary, and less mechanical in their own ways; this is not a bad thing, but it ill-prepares them to study geomancy in a proper way.  It’s important to know the limits of perfection here, as well as when to use it and when not to use it, to fully understand how the technique works and what it represents in a chart.

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 IX, 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-first definition, part IX, number 6 of 7:

Where(ever) man is, also (is) God.  God does not appear to anybody but man.  Because of man God changes and turns into the form of man.  God is man-loving and man is God-loving.  There is an affinity between God and man.  God listens only to man, and man to God.  God is worthy of worship, man is worthy of admiration.  God does not appear without man; man is desirable to God and God to man, because desire comes from nowhere, but from man and God.

“[Both God and man] are one: God and man after the species” (I.1); “nothing is uninhabited by God…God is in heaven, and heaven in the world” (III.1); “God is within himself, the world is in God, and man in the world” (VII.5); “everything is within man” (IX.4).  These are all things we’ve seen before: not only does God dwell within the soul that dwells within the body, but that not only is Man within God, but God is within Man.  Moreover, “whoever thinks of himself in Nous knows himself and whoever knows himself knows everything[;] everything is within man” (IX.4).  This tightly couples up the identities and existence of God and Man so closely, especially with knowledge itself delivered by God/Nous/light being everywhere as it is.  Man, being endowed with Nous, can know all things, and can in a way be everywhere just as God is everywhere.  Thus, this definition starts off with a profound statement: “wherever man is, also is God”.  We are not only made in the image of God, and we are not only endowed with the power of God, but we are with God wherever we go.  We are always within and with God, so perhaps it’s not shocking, but this definition makes it clear that we are never separated from God.

Moreover, “God does not appear to anybody but man”.  This is probably shocking, but consider that Man is the only one among the living beings capable of Nous.  Because of this, we’re the only ones who are able to transcend the material realm (VIII.7), and we’re the only ones capable of examining the entirety of creation (VI.1, VII.2).  While Nous sees all things through all souls, only Man among all the ensouled creatures can know Nous in the other direction, and in the process know himself and all other things.  Other creatures are limited in what they can see, and can only see themselves and their own worlds that exist within God.  But Man is Man because “he has got a notion of God” (IX.1), so only Man truly understands what God is, while other beings don’t.  Man is special because he alone can know God, and since knowledge is so tightly bound up with light and sight, Man is special because he alone can see God.  Thus, “God does not appear to anybody but man”.

Of course, if we can see God appear, then that means God must appear sensible to us, but we know that God is intelligible.  But that’s not always the case: “because of man God changes and turns into the form of man”.  God condescends down to us and takes on a human form, which allows us to know God.  This can be taken in two big ways, as far as I can tell: either God comes down as his own human to lead us to God, or God comes down as us and becomes us so we can know ourselves to know God.  The former is basically soteriology: we have some savior, some divine human (as if humans aren’t divine!) who comes down as God and appears to us, speaks to us, and leads us; this could be Jesus, or Dionysus, or Horus, or Mithra, or Krishna, or any other savior-god.  This allows us to witness God as something external to ourselves (though this isn’t ultimately true, but in the world of forms and matter it can appear so), making it easier for ourselves to know God through the God-human.  On the other hand, God comes down to the world as us, taking on human forms as us, and lives down here as us.  In this case, it makes sense why human souls are given Nous; that’s God who dwells within us, and by coming to know ourselves, we come to know Nous, and we come to know God.  In either case, we are made as God and as gods to know God, and to do this, God appears to us in ways we can understand.

But why?  Why does God even bother with us?  “God is man-loving and man is God-loving”.  God loves us.  With knowledge, there is no fear (IX.3), but now we know that love is the opposite of fear.  With knowledge, we love God, and God loves us.  God, by extension, loves everything, since everything is within Man and everything is within God and Man is within God and God is within God, but we alone are the only form that God takes down here, and it’s for our sake.  Everything God does is for our sake (VIII.2), because God loves us.  This isn’t some passionate romantic love, but this is an existential, “you are family”, “you are part of me”, “you are me” love.  This is agape, the unconditional love of God for Man, a promotion of well-being in response to having been made well.  “There is an affinity between God and man”, suggesting that everything between God and Man is mutual, and that we love each other, as spouses love each other.  Together we form a whole, as was mentioned in I.1.

Not only does God appear only to Man, but “God listens only to man, and man to God”.  Just as God appears to Man because Man is the only creature endowed with Nous to know and sight to see, God listens to Man because Man is the only creature capable of Logos to speak reasonable speech.  Logos is the servant of Nous, and is the only means by which we can come to approach and know God (V.1).  All reasonable speech is of God, while unreasonable speech is only worldly (V.2, V.3).  Thus, God only listens to reasonable speech, and the only source of that that is not itself is Man, so “God listens only to man”.  Man, however, listens among himself and the words of others, but can also listen to God.  Whether an “only” is omitted in that latter half of the statement or whether it was intentionally left out is not known, but if we assume the parallel structure here omitted it, then “Man [listens only] to God” is what we should be reading.  All speech comes from the world and the voices it produces, though reasonable speech comes from voice and Logos used at once.  But the world and all voices all come from God, and voice is used according to one’s nature, whether Man or any other creature, and “nature is the mirror of truth” (VIII.5).  Whatever Man hears, he can understand, and he can understand it with reason even if the original utterance was unreasonable.  Thus, no matter what is said, or where or when or by whom, Man listens only to God.

God loves us and is so much bigger than us; this we know now, but we also know that everything is within God, and everything is within Man.  So which is “bigger”?  When you deal with matters of infinity, things can always get a little hazy, since God is truly infinite while Man is…well, Man is finite.  But yet we have everything within ourselves; this isn’t as much a literal truth as it is a reflection of it.  So, rather, while Man is by nature representative of God, God is in truth God; we might say that Man is the nature of God, especially if God appears in the world as Man and if truly “nature is the mirror of truth” (VIII.5).  Thus, no matter how great Man may be, God is greater, and gives that greatness to us.  Thus the next part of the definition: “God is worthy of worship, man is worthy of admiration”.  Admiration literally means “to look at”, and we know that by knowing Man/ourselves, we know God.  To know God is perfection and completion in all things, and is where our reverence and prayers truly go toward.  God is worthy of worship above all, since God is the greatest and, moreover, the Good (II.1), while we have the choice between good and evil and can choose good (VII.6).

“God does not appear without man”; after all, “God does not appear to anybody but man” and “wherever man is, also is God”.  This makes sense with an older definition, VI.1: “if there were nobody to see [the world], what would be seen would not even exist”.  After all, if everything is within Man, and if knowledge of the world is knowledge of God, and if we know God through the world, then God appears to us through the world and through other human forms.  So, if we were no Man to exist to see things, then there would be no God to see, and there would be no need for light or things to exist.  Yet, here we are, and so “everything exists because of man” (IX.1).  So why is it that we exist at all?  Because “man is desirable to God”, so God wants Man to exist and live; moreover, “God [is desirable] to man” because we are within and blessed with God which leads us to him as our desire.  Where does this desire come from?  We know that desire is a passion of the soul that moves it and the body (IX.4), but this desire comes from Nous within our souls (VII.3).  Desire as a passion does not come from the world, nor does it come from other humans, but it comes from within ourselves.  Thus, “desire comes from nowhere, but from man and God”.

Now, one of the things that this definition introduces but does not clarify is why we should worship God.  God made us, and God loves us, and God finds us desirable.  Sure, okay, we can get that.  We also know that because knowing God is immortality and knowledge and love, we also love God and naturally strive to know God.  Okay.  But why does God love us and find us desirable?  This isn’t something said or known yet, and it’s unclear at this point whether the Definitions will say so later on.  That said, why would it matter for the Definitions to tell us?  Why would God make the world at all?  Why would God make things the way God did?  These are purely intelligible things, I’d claim, that are not for humans to know, at least not those without Nous.  Suffice it to say that it gets us started on our path to God to know that God loves us and God wants us to live and perfect ourselves.

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 VII, Definition 1

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

Today, let’s discuss the twenty-fourth definition, part VII, number 1 of 5:

But now, what is man?  What (else) if neither body nor soul?

Aye, dear Asclepius, who(ever) is not soul, is neither Nous nor body.  For (one) thing is what becomes the body of man, and (another) thing is what comes in addition to man.  Then what should be called truly a man, O Asclepius, and what is man?  the immortal species of every man.

This definition starts off with a question, and it seems to be posed to Hermes Trismegistus and not a rhetorical question of Hermes.  The answer, in the second paragraph, would be spoken by Hermes to Asclepius, his disciple; in fact, coupled with the last definition (VI.3), we might say that the “Contain yourself!” bit was spoken by Asclepius to calm him down or get him to clarify something otherwise unclear.  This happens enough in the Corpus Hermeticum, and these are the “Definitions from Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius”, so it makes sense that there’d be at least a passing reference to dialog here.

The last section of definitions elaborated on the position and power of Man in the cosmos, and how we’re made more special than other entities by our weird combination of body, spirit, soul, reason, and mind.  However, as Man, we’re more than the sum of the parts; what is it that makes Man Man?  What is the essence of Man?  Or, as Asclepius asks, “what is man…if neither body nor soul?”  This is a valid question to ask; we know we consist of various parts, but we also know that there’s still something distinct that allows Man to be more than animal and different than heavenly body.

First, remember what the relationships are between Nous, body, and soul.  Bodies that move on their own need soul to perform it, and bodies that live and grow on their own need breath or spirit which allows the soul (if any) to enact itself (IV.2).  Thus, stones are mere bodies; plants are bodies and breath; animals are body, breath, and soul.  The combination of body, breath, and soul allow animals to use voice and utterance.  Man, however, is a special type of animal that has the capacity for Nous, or Mind, which allows his voice to be reasonable and thus allow him access to Logos, or reasonable speech, which can endow him with Nous.  Nous, however, isn’t something guaranteed among all of Man, but only to those worthy of it (V.3).

We know that we are neither just body (we breathe and move with animation and soul), nor just soul (it doesn’t make sense to be a soul without a body), nor just Nous (which is God); this is what Asclepius and Hermes agree on.  After all, bodies are “what become the body of man”, implying that our material side comes from material causes, but doesn’t constitute all of Man with his dual nature.  The other thing, Nous, is “what comes in addition to man”, since it is a “gift of God” (V.3).  We are not merely soul, either, since soul “is a necessary movement adjusted to every kind of body” (II.1), so souls go along with that which have bodies.

There’s still something beyond all this, something else, some essential quality of Man which makes Man Man.  Hermes says that it is the “immortal species of every man”, but what does this mean?  We find the term “species” elsewhere so far: Man is the “reasonable world…after the species” (I.1).  We’re not exactly told what the species of Man exactly is, and that’s because Man is distinctly Man.  In other words, there is a form, a quality, an essence, a form, an idea of Man that distinguishes Man apart from all else in the world, just as there are chairs and the idea of a chair as distinct from phones and the idea of phones.  Man is something unique in the world, and not because of the ability to be both immortal and mortal at once, though this is another result of the same cause.  Man is distinct in the cosmos and is made distinct.

This is probably a confusing idea, but contrast what modern scientists would think of species of creatures versus other thinkers.  To a modern biologist, a species of animal or plant or fungus or what-have-you is made distinct only because of subtle, gradual changes from other species on the same phylogenic tree or path.  Evolution causes these small changes and, over time, these accumulated changes become so distinct that one branch of the phylogenic tree from another that they can no longer breed or intermingle successfully.  Species, then, is just a matter of random subtle differentiation over a period of time.  However, a premodern thinker would conceive of species as distinct units or groups that do not change over time, though they might be grouped into categories.  Consider felines: all felines share certain characteristics, though there are characteristics that distinguish tigers from housecats.  These groups are species and were made so from The Beginning (i.e. that of Creation Itself), but not necessarily in a merely physical way.  The spiritual form and type of these creatures was also made separate, such that the “soul” of tigers would be distinct from the “soul” of cats.

This gets into some heavy Platonic notions of forms and ideas, which I honestly don’t care to get into or explain at this point.  Suffice to say that a “species” here is an abstract generalized perfect concept that can be manifested in imperfect ways through material means.  Thus, we have the immortal “species” of Man, and the mortal humans that are made in the image of Man.  The essential quality that defines Man is, simply, the essence of Man itself.  Compare with what Hermes is taught by the Poemander in the Corpus Hermeticum (chapter I, part 15):

And this is why beyond all creatures on the earth man is twofold; mortal because of body, but because of the essential Man immortal.  Though deathless and possessed of sway o’er all, yet doth he suffer as a mortal doth, subject to Fate.  Thus though above the Harmony, within the Harmony he hath become a slave. Though male-female, as from a Father male-female, and though he’s sleepless from a sleepless [Sire], yet is he overcome [by sleep].

Of course, when we start talking about ideas and forms, those too can undergo a type of speciation.  For instance, I belong overall to the idea of Man; I also belong to the idea of Magus, and that of Caucasian, and so forth.  There are a lot of archetypes, cosmic roles, or ideas that I fulfill; would it not also be said that I fulfill an idea of polyphanes?  That there is a perfect me, and this physical, material body is just an imperfect manifestation of that perfect idea?  This, to me, is the implication I get from all this; we might even consider the idea of our perfect selves as what makes us immortal within the broader immortal idea of Man, and the bodies that are moved by breath and soul the material manifestations of those ideas, and the Nous that visits us the bridge between our imperfect bodies and the perfect ideas to make our bodies more perfect and, thus, more in line with our perfect selves and God, which is what Nous has us strive to do.