Plato’s Timaeus and the Tetractys of Life

At this point, it’s becoming plain to see that the occult system of mathesis, including the Tree of Life, goes beyond Neoplatonism right into the teachings of Pythagoreanism.  While I’m not annoyed at this per se, I am annoyed because Pythagoreanism is one of those things I haven’t studied too well before.  There’s plenty on Neoplatonism, sure, and plenty more on Hermeticism, but on Pythagoreanism itself, all I know is that it had a huge effect on later philosophical and mystery traditions and that’s about it.  That said, that’s basically the thrust of the academic and historical record of what we know; when we get into pinpointing exactly what in those later traditions had their roots in Pythagoreanism, it’s hard to say, since we have so little original source material on Pythagorean practices and beliefs.  So, all this Tetractys of Life stuff is half read from summaries of Pythagorean thought and half made up based on my own experiences and knowledge.  I have no idea if any such Tetractys of Life has been developed before, but then, I don’t suppose it matters at this point if it did.

One of the texts I’ve read before, obtuse as it was, is the Timaeus of Plato.  Plato, that awesome student of Socrates and teacher of Aristotle, wrote a number of books using Socrates himself and many other Greeks of his day as his mouthpieces, exploring various aspects of philosophy.  Of course, philosophy back in classical Greece had a much wider scope than modern philosophy; back then, it was focused on understanding how to live well, with questions of existence and ontology coming in second (or so I see it).  Plato is known for many of his works, especially his Republic, wherein he talks about the ideal city-state ruled by a philosopher-king.  Other works of his focus on things of arguably smaller scope, but the Timaeus is an exception to this.  This text talks about nothing less than the creation of the cosmos itself and how the structure of the cosmos is perfect in every way, and how everything that happens is directly attributable to the harmonies and ordering of the cosmos.  It’s a fascinating read, though the famous Roman writer Cicero himself claimed that he never was able to understand it.

While Plato is known for founding the philosophical school of Platonism, plenty of Pythagorean thought can be found in his texts because of course.  The Timaeus itself is the prime example for this, when the character of Timaeus explains the creation of the cosmos by the Demiurge, the World Creator.  Timaeus opens up his discourse with an important question distinguishing…something:

First then, in my judgment, we must make a distinction and ask, What is that which always is and has no becoming; and what is that which is always becoming and never is? That which is apprehended by intelligence and reason is always in the same state; but that which is conceived by opinion with the help of sensation and without reason, is always in a process of becoming and perishing and never really is.

Timaeus is setting the argument up for distinguishing the eternal, uncreated, and absolute from the temporal, created, and ephemeral.  Things that are, in other words, are unchanging and immutable, never becoming anything different from what they already are.  Things that become, however, are made to become and do not become on their own, since that would imply a power over their own selves.  Things that become can be perceived by sense and opinion, the lower faculties of the human entity, while things that are cannot be perceived yet they can be known by intelligence and reason, the higher faculties of the human entity.  (If this is sounding an awful lot like the stuff from the 49 Days of Definitions, it should!)  In other word, there is a dualism between that which is the Creator and that which is the Created, where the Creator is eternal and absolutely true and can never be directly perceived and where the Created is temporal and can be perceived without an underlying basis in reality.  Why can’t that which is become anything else?  Because that would imply that there is more than one absolute.  The creator, here, is the Good, the One, the Whole, or God, a single entity who created all other things.  Because everything else was created, it cannot be the creator, yet it comes from the creator.  The creator itself, however, was alone in this, since there is only one Good.  (Why?  It’s in other works of Plato, but if everything that becomes is due to a creator, the creator itself is uncreated, so there logically follows that there is only one creator, since there’s nothing to create the creator.  I guess.  Kinda.)

A little later on, Timaeus explains the nature of the things that become, that which is created, in terms of their physical bodies:

Now that which is created is of necessity corporeal, and also visible and tangible. And nothing is visible where there is no fire, or tangible which has no solidity, and nothing is solid without earth. Wherefore also God in the beginning of creation made the body of the universe to consist of fire and earth. But two things cannot be rightly put together without a third; there must be some bond of union between them. And the fairest bond is that which makes the most complete fusion of itself and the things which it combines; and proportion is best adapted to effect such a union. For whenever in any three numbers, whether cube or square, there is a mean, which is to the last term what the first term is to it; and again, when the mean is to the first term as the last term is to the mean-then the mean becoming first and last, and the first and last both becoming means, they will all of them of necessity come to be the same, and having become the same with one another will be all one. If the universal frame had been created a surface only and having no depth, a single mean would have sufficed to bind together itself and the other terms; but now, as the world must be solid, and solid bodies are always compacted not by one mean but by two, God placed water and air in the mean between fire and earth, and made them to have the same proportion so far as was possible (as fire is to air so is air to water, and as air is to water so is water to earth); and thus he bound and put together a visible and tangible heaven. And for these reasons, and out of such elements which are in number four, the body of the world was created, and it was harmonised by proportion, and therefore has the spirit of friendship; and having been reconciled to itself, it was indissoluble by the hand of any other than the framer.

Timaeus explains that the two major aspects of a physical body is that it is visible (able to be seen) that it is tangible (able to be touched).  These are provided by the elements of fire and earth, respectively, but here we come into a problem.  Any two properties can only ever be joined together by a third intermediate quality, so that the three become a harmony.  That would suggest there to be three elements, but interweaving mathematics into this proto-alchemical description of physical bodies, there need to be four in order for bodies to be a solid.  Remember that, in geometry, a single point is only ever a single point; two points define a line; three points define a form (a triangle); four points define a solid (a tetrahedron).  If each element is like a point, then if we only had three elements, we would all be living in Flatland, but since we’re three-dimensional beings, we need four elements.  Thus, we need two medians between fire and earth, which become air and water.  Fire is linked to water by the mean of air; air is linked to earth by the mean of water.  Thus, every individual body consists of these four elements which provide it with earthy tangibility and fiery visibility, linked together by the qualities bestowed upon them by air and water.  While Timaeus does not give what these qualities are, we can see in Agrippa (book II, chapter 7) that air gives bodies the ability to be heard and water the ability to be tasted or smelled (the two are similar in nature).  We can treat each of these qualities as an interplay between the soul and the body: fire allows other bodies to be perceived in a soulful way by the soul (only indirect contact), air to be perceived in a bodily way by the soul (indirect contact over a distance), water to be perceived in a soulful way by the body (indirect contact in close proximity), and earth to be perceived in a bodily way by the body (direct contact).

As for the soul, Timaeus backtracks a bit and goes on to explain that bodies were given souls, but that souls were made before the body.  After all, the body moves because of soul, so soul must rule over the body:

Whereas he made the soul in origin and excellence prior to and older than the body, to be the ruler and mistress, of whom the body was to be the subject. And he made her out of the following elements and on this wise: Out of the indivisible and unchangeable, and also out of that which is divisible and has to do with material bodies, he compounded a third and intermediate kind of essence, partaking of the nature of the same and of the other, and this compound he placed accordingly in a mean between the indivisible, and the divisible and material. He took the three elements of the same, the other, and the essence, and mingled them into one form, compressing by force the reluctant and unsociable nature of the other into the same. When he had mingled them with the essence and out of three made one, he again divided this whole into as many portions as was fitting, each portion being a compound of the same, the other, and the essence.

So we know that the soul is made in a different way than the body and with different materials.  Instead of using the four elements, Timaeus claims that the soul is made from two parts, the indivisible and the divisible, or “the nature of the same and of the other”.  Sameness and Difference, then, are the two qualities of the soul, but as we saw above, any two properties can only be joined by means of a third, and Timaeus gives us that as “the essence”, or Existence.  Sameness, Difference, and Existence are the qualities of the soul, which can be described as the quality that makes an object A the same as object B, that makes A different than B, and that makes A come to be at all.  Because the soul is not a body, the soul does not require a fourth substance, and is satisfied with only three properties, much as a triangle defined by three points forms the foundation for the tetrahedron with four.

From this, Timaeus describes the actual creation of the world in a weird and numerical way:

And he proceeded to divide [the creation] after this manner: First of all, he took away one part of the whole [1], and then he separated a second part which was double the first [2], and then he took away a third part which was half as much again as the second and three times as much as the first [3], and then he took a fourth part which was twice as much as the second [4], and a fifth part which was three times the third [9], and a sixth part which was eight times the first [8], and a seventh part which was twenty-seven times the first [27]. After this he filled up the double intervals [i.e. between 1, 2, 4, 8] and the triple [i.e. between 1, 3, 9, 27] cutting off yet other portions from the mixture and placing them in the intervals, so that in each interval there were two kinds of means, the one exceeding and exceeded by equal parts of its extremes [as for example 1, 4/3, 2, in which the mean 4/3 is one-third of 1 more than 1, and one-third of 2 less than 2], the other being that kind of mean which exceeds and is exceeded by an equal number. Where there were intervals of 3/2 and of 4/3 and of 9/8, made by the connecting terms in the former intervals, he filled up all the intervals of 4/3 with the interval of 9/8, leaving a fraction over; and the interval which this fraction expressed was in the ratio of 256 to 243. And thus the whole mixture out of which he cut these portions was all exhausted by him.

Lambdoma

This entire compound he divided lengthways into two parts, which he joined to one another at the centre like the letter X, and bent them into a circular form, connecting them with themselves and each other at the point opposite to their original meeting-point; and, comprehending them in a uniform revolution upon the same axis, he made the one the outer and the other the inner circle. Now the motion of the outer circle he called the motion of the same, and the motion of the inner circle the motion of the other or diverse. The motion of the same he carried round by the side to the right, and the motion of the diverse diagonally to the left. And he gave dominion to the motion of the same and like, for that he left single and undivided; but the inner motion he divided in six places and made seven unequal circles having their intervals in ratios of two-and three, three of each, and bade the orbits proceed in a direction opposite to one another; and three [Sun, Mercury, Venus] he made to move with equal swiftness, and the remaining four [Moon, Saturn, Mars, Jupiter] to move with unequal swiftness to the three and to one another, but in due proportion.

Timaeus explains, using what is now famously known as Plato’s Lambda, how the universe itself was created according to a system of musical harmonies.  Suffice to say that the Demiurge took two “strips” of reality, one made from the even numbers in Plato’s Lambda and the other made from the odd numbers, and joined them together in the form of a giant Khi (Χ), bending them around into circles to form a sphere.  The outer circle is given the property of Sameness, while the inner one the property of Difference.  The inner circle of Difference, moreover, was divided into seven segments, each associated with the spheres of the seven planets who move at different rates.  The outer circle of Sameness, however, all move at the same rate; this then becomes the sphere of the fixed stars.  Linking the two heavens together is a connection at their nexus, which we can assume to be the nodes between the ecliptic (where the planets, Sun, and Moon move in the skies) and the celestial equator (where the stars all move along around the Earth).  The circle of the Same (the sphere of the fixed stars) is kept as one indivisible unit, much as the One itself is; the circle of the Different (the spheres of the planets) are divided, emphasizing their created nature and focus on manifestation and embodiment.

So why all the Platonic and Pythagorean claptrap?  Because, as fate would have it, all this from Timaeus reinforces the structure I have on the Tetractys of Life relating the elements and reagents:

Alchemical Tetractys

At the top, we have the Monad, the One, the Good, the uncreated creator of all things.  At the bottom, we find the four elements of Earth, Water, Air, and Fire.  Water, as we said before, is the mean between Earth and Air, and Air itself is the mean between Water and Fire.  These four elements create a physical body with the capacity to be seen, heard, smelled/tasted, and touched.  The body, moreover, is built upon the soul, which itself is composed of three qualities: Sameness, Difference, and Existence, which allow the soul to distinguish these things in the cosmos.  We see three reagents: Salt, Mercury, and Sulfur.  We can link these three reagents with the three properties of Difference, Existence, and Sameness, respectively, based on Plato’s Timaeus.  After all, in using Plato’s Lambda, we’ve already established that we’re using the same notions of “left” and “right” in terms of directions down and from the Monad, and the Demiurge (saith Timaeus) “he carried round [the motion of Sameness] by the side to the right, and the motion of the diverse diagonally to the left”.  This assigns Salt the property of Difference, and Sulfur the property of Sameness.  This gives Mercury the property of Existence, which links Sameness and Difference.

Admittedly, it’s at this point that I started freaking out, thinking back on other definitions of Salt and Mercury.  After all, isn’t Mercury traditionally assigned to be the cold and moist counterpart to hot and dry Sulfur?  Yes, but these two reagents alone require a basis to work upon, which is Salt, the materia upon which other forces can act.  Salt, much as Plato describes elsewhere in terms of the element Earth, can only ever be Salt; it can be acted upon, compounded, and transformed, but anything that exists will always be Salt, though in a different form than before.  Timaeus describes, further, that when the Demiurge made the soul, he “mingled [the three properties] into one form, compressing by force the reluctant and unsociable nature of [Difference] into [Sameness]”.  Difference is hard to mix in with anything, and in order to do it the Demiurge required something to blend it in with Sameness.  So, while Mercury and Sulfur might be opposite, they’re not opposite in the same way that Sulfur and Salt are.  The alchemical perspective here is a bit unclear, and the planetary associations of the Moon, Mercury, and the Sun seem to work better.  However, Salt is literally an “other”, unable to work in the same way as Sulfur or Mercury, but which can be worked with Sulfur by means of Mercury.

Confused?  I am, too, a little.  But basically, the Timaeus tells us that Mercury is what allows Sameness and Difference to co-exist since Mercury is what allows for Existence.  If everything were Sulfur/Sameness, everything would follow the active principle and would have no body; everything could only be visible and joined together in an infinite oneness.  If everything were Salt/Difference, everything would follow the passive principle and could not be seen; everything could only be touched and distinguished through spatial location.  In order for the soul to bridge the gap between space and awareness, it must relate to both in a manner that Sulfur can work and Salt can be acted upon.  Said another way, the three principles of Existence, Sameness, and Difference allow the soul to determine what actually exists, what is the same as itself, and what is different from itself.  The soul, not being a body, recognizes the body as the most different from itself, while the soul itself is made in the image of the Monad, and so is natively inclined towards making.  Thus, the Salt which is used in producing bodies is Difference, and Sulfur which produces bodies is Sameness.  This is how the principles of Salt, Mercury, and Sulfur work together to form the foundation of elemental substance.  This logic reassured me, since I had the momentary worry of freaking out that I had mis-constructed my Tetractys of Life by putting Salt and Mercury in the wrong spheres on the Tetractys.  Rereading Timaeus, however, and a few other alchemical texts, leads me to believe that this is alright and ties in alchemical theory with Pythagorean cosmology (which, admittedly, isn’t something that should probably not be done as whimsically as I’m doing here).

So Timaeus describes the Monad, the Tetrad of elements, and the Triad of reagents (albeit in an abstract manner).  What about the Dyad?  Timaeus talks a lot about the One, the Three, and the Four, but not much about a Two, at least not explicitly.  Implicitly, however, the whole discourse is about the relationship between the Creator and the Created, that which Is and that which Becomes, the Original and the Copy.  Continuing the very first quote up above, where Timaeus explains the difference between that which Is and that which Becomes:

And in speaking of the copy and the original we may assume that words are akin to the matter which they describe; when they relate to the lasting and permanent and intelligible, they ought to be lasting and unalterable, and, as far as their nature allows, irrefutable and immovable-nothing less. But when they express only the copy or likeness and not the eternal things themselves, they need only be likely and analogous to the real words. As being is to becoming, so is truth to belief.

In the beginning, there is only the Monad; we cannot yet call it the Creator because there is nothing Created.  We cannot truly call the Monad as existing, because there is nothing that is not existing; we obviously cannot call the Monad becoming, not just because it cannot become as created things become, but because nothing is becoming.  Before the Monad creates, there is only ever the Monad, and all dichotomies and distinctions and differences are moot.  Once the Monad creates, however, there is suddenly Creator and Created; as the Monad creates, it creates in its own likeness, providing Sameness; as it provides Sameness, it provides Light to see that which is the Same.  Thus, we have Monad producing Creating force producing Sameness producing Visibility, or Monad producing Light producing Sulfur producing Fire.  At the same time, however, the Monad has also produced the Created, which is different from the Monad; this Difference then provides Tangibility.  Thus, the Monad also gives forth the force of being Created or Darkness, which produces Difference or Salt, which produces Tangibility or Earth.  Sameness and Difference require the mean of Existence to facilitate further creation between the two, which is to say that Sulfur and Salt require the intermediary of Mercury.  Visibility and Tangibility require two intermediaries of Audibility and Taste to create a body, which is to say that Fire and Earth require the intermediaries of Air and Water.

In all this, we finally have a completion: Monad, Dyad, Triad, and Tetrad.  We can see that the Tetrad relates to bodies, and the Triad to souls.  The Monad, being the source, can be called God, pure Intellect, or Mind.  So where does that place the Dyad?  I claim that the Dyad relates to the spirit.  Just as the soul dwells within the body to animate it, the spirit dwells within the soul to…what?  Timaeus tells us:

The soul, interfused everywhere from the centre to the circumference of heaven, of which also she is the external envelopment, herself turning in herself, began a divine beginning of never ceasing and rational life enduring throughout all time. The body of heaven is visible, but the soul is invisible, and partakes of reason and harmony, and being made by the best of intellectual and everlasting natures, is the best of things created. And because she is composed of the same and of the other and of the essence, these three, and is divided and united in due proportion, and in her revolutions returns upon herself, the soul, when touching anything which has essence, whether dispersed in parts or undivided, is stirred through all her powers, to declare the sameness or difference of that thing and some other; and to what individuals are related, and by what affected, and in what way and how and when, both in the world of generation and in the world of immutable being.

And when reason, which works with equal truth, whether she be in the circle of the diverse or of the same—in voiceless silence holding her onward course in the sphere of the self-moved—when reason, I say, is hovering around the sensible world and when the circle of the diverse also moving truly imparts the intimations of sense to the whole soul, then arise opinions and beliefs sure and certain. But when reason is concerned with the rational, and the circle of the same moving smoothly declares it, then intelligence and knowledge are necessarily perfected. And if any one affirms that in which these two are found to be other than the soul, he will say the very opposite of the truth.

The body is moved by soul; the soul is moved by reason.  Reason deals with Sameness and Difference, but soul consists of these as well as Existence.  Reason exists on a higher level than soul does, which allows to reconcile directly the forces of Creating with Created without need for a mediator.  Reason is not Existence; reason is the relationship that reconciles Creator and Created, the intermediary between the Monad and the Triad.  Reason works outside the circles of Sameness and Difference, closer to God than the fixed stars themselves are.  Thus, the Dyad is reason, or spirit, that which moves the triadic soul as the soul moves the tetradic body.  These concepts are replete throughout nearly all later philosophical and occult works, even being repeated in Cornelius Agrippa’s Scale of Four almost verbatim.

While I had a few inklings about the concepts I wanted to explore on the Tetractys based on where I’ve already been and what I’ve already done, I admit that my reading list has not been exhausted like it should have been before I proposed to embark on making a new occult system.  Rereading the Timaeus should have been one of the first things I did, and here I am finally going over it and finding more ways to explain the system I’m developing in a way that I should have explored beforehand.  While the Tetractys of Life is, indeed, likely a thing that’s been made before, it probably was only done in florid 2500-year-old language without the help of Adobe Illustrator, so at least I can innovate in some way.  At this point, I’m finding more and more data and knowledge to back up my structures and plans for exploration, and I can’t say I’m displeased about that.  Fine-tuning and tweaking, especially to the paths, will still be needed, but I can rest certain that the overall structure is good to go.

Towards a Greek Kabbalah: Emanations of Creation on the Tetractys

Realizing that the tetractys is pretty much the glyph I want to use for kampala wasn’t an immediate realization.  I know I wanted something like the Tree of Life from kabbalah with its ten sephiroth so nicely arranged, but of course I didn’t want to appropriate it either without making sure it was what I needed.  However, I recalled that the tetractys was another glyph of ten units that could easily describe the creation of the world, so I immediately switched to that.  One part of the problem was solved; the next was how to arrange the emanations of creation on the tetractys itself.  If the tetractys is a combination of ten units arranged into four rows, then there should be a way to describe the emanation of creation to each unit on the tetractys in an ordered way.  Since the system of emanation I’m most familiar with involves the ten heavens (Earth, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Stars, and the Source-God-Good), I decided to try my hand at arranging them in a way similar to how they’re arranged on the Tree of Life, in a top down and ordered manner.  Thus, if we assign the spheres of the cosmos to the units of the tetractys starting at the top and going down, left-to-right within a row, we get an image like this:

Naive Planetary Tetractys

Simple and straightforward.  However, there are significant problems with this.  Sure, God is at the top, which fits the nature of God as Monad or Unity.  The sphere of the fixed stars and that of Saturn are directly below, which is much like the positioning of their respective sephiroth of Chokmah and Binah on the Tree of Life.  Beyond that, though, things get weird; the Sun is off to one side instead of in the center where it probably should be in this system, and Earth is way over in the bottom right corner of the tetractys.  Honestly, nothing on this setup looked appealing to me, especially since it conflicted with other planetary relationships I had already known and studied, or even allowed for the possibility of.  This was too bizarre to feel “right” in any sense.

Okay, so maybe that wasn’t the method I should’ve used.  Let’s try another way, starting from a different perspective.  Part of the tetractys’ appeal was due to its mathematical applications, one of which is known as Plato’s Lambda, or the Lambdoma, so named because it takes the form of a lambda (Λ).  In Plato’s Timaeus, which is his treatise on Pythagorean cosmology, he describes the creation of the cosmos by a Demiurge by taking “strips” of creation and applying two mathematical sequences to it, the geometrical series based on 2 and the geometrical series based on 3.

Lambdoma

If we start at 1 at the top and go left to 2, we keep doubling the next number in the sequence, so 1 becomes 2, 2 becomes 4, and 4 becomes 8.  If we start at 1 at the top and go right to 3, we keep tripling the next number in the sequence, so 1 becomes 3, 3 becomes 9, and 9 becomes 27.  The left side is a sequence of even numbers, and the right a sequence of odd numbers.  The Pythagoreans considered even numbers female or passive and odd numbers male or active, which we can still see vestiges of in modern numerology (cf. the Tarot, where trump I is the Magician and II the High Priestess).  However, 1 was neither odd nor even, so 2 was the first even number and 3 the first odd number, hence their use in starting their progressions.  If we fill in the blanks, so to speak, in the Lambdoma with extra numbers based on the Tetractys, where a new number is the product of the two numbers above it, we get 6 in the third row (being the product of 2 × 3), and 12 and 18 in the fourth row (2 × 6 and 6 × 3, respectively):

Filled Lambdoma

The original lambdoma has seven numbers: 1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 8, and 27.  Three of these are odd, three are even, and one is neither odd nor even.  The number seven recalls the seven planets, and I’ve seen a system of dividing the planets where three are in one category, three are in another, and one is in neither group.  This is called sect, which refers to whether a planet is more powerful in the sky or under the earth either in the daytime or at nighttime.  This is a type of polarity much like femininity or masculinity of a planet, and the planets are divided into three groups like this:

  • Diurnal: Sun, Jupiter, Saturn
  • Nocturnal: Moon, Venus, Mars
  • Hermaphroditic: Mercury

If diurnality is equitable to masculinity and nocturnality to femininity, then diurnal planets can be ascribed to odd numbers and nocturnal planets to even numbers.  The Sun and Moon are the most diurnal and nocturnal, respectively, with Jupiter and Venus following them, and Saturn and Mars following them.  Mercury, being neither diurnal nor nocturnal, adapts to either; it can be given a value of 1 in the lambdoma.  Thus, if we use the original lambdoma to plot the seven planets, we get a figure like this:

Planetary Lambdoma by Sect

However, that still leaves three slots in the tetractys to be filled in, and having everything come from Mercury at the top isn’t quite true, especially when Mercury can obtain a sect depending on whether it rises just before or just after the Sun.  Thus, if we move Mercury down to where 6 is in the completed lambdoma (the combination of an even and an odd number, suitable for Mercury), we have an empty slot at the top for the Monad.  This leaves two more slots at the bottom, which can be reserved for the Earth in slot 12 (2 × 2 × 3, more female than male) and the Stars in slot 18 (2 × 3 × 3, more male than female):

Filled Planetary Lambdoma

While this arrangement makes sense, having the Earth and Stars in the same row as Saturn and Mars still didn’t feel right, and trying to draw connections between everything felt wrong.  Mercury being in the middle, being the communicator of the gods and a middling connecting force, felt right, as did the Moon on the left side and Sun on the right, but this doesn’t agree with the standard emanationist models I’m used to.  After all, shouldn’t the sphere of the fixed stars, the ultimate barrier between this world and God, be higher than the Sun and Moon?  Should the Sun and Moon, luminaries though they might be, be representative of the two principles of Duality?  I was stumped, honestly.  Further, Plato in the Timaeus groups the planets into two groups based on their relative speed: three that move roughly together (Sun, Venus, Mercury) and four that move with unequal motion to the first three and amongst themselves (Moon, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn).  This was in the same section as the use of the lambdoma and mathematical progressions of 2 and 3, so surely a better grouping could be made that would exemplify this.

It was at this point that I started getting a headache and an odd itch on my back, and not just any itch, but something that didn’t feel too physical.  I recalled what I had on my back: the Golden Chain of Homer, a tattoo that symbolically describes Man’s creation from and evolution to God using alchemy.  It was when I realized that the Chain is a sequence of ten stages that I facepalmed and reinspected this tattoo I got a while back and thought it so important to be inscribed onto my mortal coil.  I reread the book available to me on the Golden Chain, and that’s when I found this description of principles:

Elements of AlchemyWould you look at that?  It’s an organization of different alchemical principles: four elements, three reagents, two principles, and one source.  Arranged in a one-two-three-four pattern, a tetractys.  Who’d’ve thunk it, really.  The realization that my tattoo was a key to the system I’m working on gave me a sort of nauseating tremble, but that’s revelation for you, I suppose.

So, maybe my trying to base a Tetractys of Life on planetary principles right off the bat was misguided; perhaps I should start from here, since this pretty much points out the path ahead.  If, instead of using planetary principles to describe sequential emanation through the tetractys, I use the notion of different stages of development in different levels of manifestation, perhaps a more reasonable tetractys layout could be found.  The diagram above needed some tweaking, however; Nitrum (Male, Light) and Fire were on the left side, while Salt (Female, Darkness) and Earth were on the right, and the Lambdoma has the two sides switched so that the left side was feminine and the right side masculine.  Further, Mercury was on the male side when I feel it would more properly be in the middle, since (to me) Sulfur speaks more forcefully than Mercury, and mercury more than Salt.  I’ve also seen other diagrams presenting Mercury to be completely feminine and Salt to be in the middle, so it would seem like these principles are still up for debate in alchemical terminology.  To my mind and for my analysis, I’m establishing Mercury as between the purely active reagent and purely passive reagent.  So, taking these alchemical principles together, I developed the following alchemical tetractys:

Alchemical Tetractys

Note that in this diagram, the Sun symbol stands for Light, Activity, or Masculinity, and the Moon symbol stands for Darkness, Passivity, or Femininity, not their corresponding planets.  Mercury stands for the alchemical reagent of Mercury, but we’ll get to more on that in a bit.

Okay, so now it might be more possible to assign the planetary spheres of the cosmos to the tetractys based on their corresponding alchemical forces.  Obviously, the Monad would stay the Monad, and alchemical Mercury would likely best remain planetary Mercury.  I didn’t like having the Sun and Moon remain representatives of the two principles of Light and Dark, but instead decided that they’d fit better as the alchemical reagents of Sulfur and Salt, respectively.  In this way, we have the most Light of the planets, the most Dark of the planets, and the hermaphroditic Median of the planets, all together in the same row.  This left six spheres left: the four Planets, Earth (or Mundus, to differentiate it from the element Earth), and the Stars.  To me, having Mundus and the Stars represent the principles of Darkness and Light, or Female and Male, made more sense than using the Moon and the Sun; there’d be the lowest and passive receptacle of creation, compared to the highest and most ethereal initiator of creation.  Thus, Mundus and Stars became the two principles at top.

This left the last four nonluminary planets to be given to the four elements.  Saturn, being the darkest and coldest of the planets, seems fitting to be the natural progression from the Moon on the left (more feminine), so Saturn would be attributed to the element Earth.  Likewise, Mars would be given to Fire, since Mars is the hottest of the planets and befits a more masculine progression from the Sun.  This leaves Venus and Jupiter, the former of which is cooler than Jupiter according to Agrippa (book I, chapter 26 and chapter 28), even though they’re both airy planets (book II, chapter 7).  Assigning Jupiter, a diurnal and masculine planet, and Venus, a nocturnal and feminine planet, to either Water or Air was something of a sticking point for me, since I could argue for either arrangement with a variety of reasons.  I originally put Venus as Air to be paired with Mars as Fire, and likewise gave Jupiter to Water to be paired with Saturn as Earth.  However, I realized that it’d be a better arrangement to have Venus as Water and Jupiter as Air, since although they’re equally moist in elemental terms, Venus is cooler than Jupiter, and since Venus is nocturnal, it had more in common with the Moon than the Sun; the converse case applied with diurnal Jupiter and the Sun.

So, in the end, after assigning the spheres of the cosmos to the tetractys based on alchemical principles, the Tetractys of Life is starting to have actual form:

Planetary Alchemical Tetractys

(Note that, in this diagram, the alchemical representation of a sphere is in the upper-right half, and the planetary representation is in the lower-left half.  The Mercury symbol, however, stands for both alchemical and planetary Mercury, and “Monad” represents, well, the Monad.  The pentagram represents the sphere of the fixed stars, because typing takes up too much space, like my blog.)

It’s an interesting layout, but I like it.  It represents another view of emanation that isn’t necessarily sequential but, in a sense, simultaneous; in the beginning, there is only God (Monad), but as soon as there’s Differentiation (Heaven and Mundus), there’s Process (Sulfur, Mercury, Salt) as well as Substance (Fire, Air, Water, Earth).  Each of these forces can be related to a planetary sphere, but it’s not in a sequential order as in the Tree of Life.  For instance, in kabbalah, the Lightning Bolt Path descends from God to the Fixed Stars to Saturn to Jupiter all the way down to Earth.  On this tetractys, the Monad could descend into the Fixed Stars, but then into the Moon, Mercury, Sun, or maybe even Saturn or Jupiter, or even directly to Earth.  It’s hard to assign a type of sequence to this tetractys, and indeed, even considering all possible paths that could be drawn on this setup between the spheres, it’d be impossible to draw a path that connects all the spheres in a direct sequence without passing through other spheres disrupting the order.  Perhaps that’s a good thing, depending on the paths we assign and take and what the paths themselves mean.

Speaking of sequences, is there a way to sequentially number the spheres on the tetractys?  In a simple way of ordering them from 1 to 10, not really; for convenience, I number them from top to bottom, left to right, such that the Monad is 1, Mundus is 2, Stars is 3, and so forth to Mars being 10.  It makes more sense to use the Lambdoma numbering, personally, which is what I plan to base further exegesis and analysis on in the future, but for now, we’ll refer to the spheres on the tetractys by their alchemical or planetary assignment.

So, with all this at our fingertips and our disposal, what can we meditate on now?  Plenty more, as if we needed more (we always do).  Between the relationships that the tetractys indicates to all other things in existence, or the process of coming into existence, we now also have processes and principles that guide our meditations.  We have relationships between principles, reagents, and elements with the planets, as well as with notions of masculinity/activity/light and femininity/passivity/darkness as well as with number and mathematics.  Most importantly, we now have destinations between which we can start creating paths, and assigning to them the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet to tie those into our process of emanation and creation.  We’ll talk about paths on the Tetractys of Life next.

Elemental Transformations and the Geomantic Figures

It’s interesting what you can pick up from talking with spirits.  The other day, I was enjoying my weekly chat with my ancestors, making the usual offerings and just chewing the fat with them.  I don’t just include the ancestors of my blood and kin, though; the ancestors include everyone whose work or lives led to my own, so it’s a pretty wide field.  Generally speaking, as a magician, I have two large fields for my ancestors: one for ancestors of my blood and kin, and another for those of my faith and practice.  Magicians, priests, pagans, Christians, Jews, Hermeticists, anyone who’s already crossed and yet led to my spiritual life is considered an ancestor, and I have a special place for the ancestors of my Work in my heart.  There are other ancestors thrown into the mix of those two groups, of course, but those are the big ones.

When I told them that I was writing a book on geomancy, some in the ghostly crowd perked their ears up and started chatting more with me.  Geomancy being one of the most popular forms of divination in Europe historically over the past millennium, this isn’t too surprising, though I was caught a little off-guard by how on-board they were with that.  Since I like tapping into the ancestral font of knowledge those who have gone before me provide, I asked them for some advice with geomancy.  Besides some techniques I plan to do some more research on, one of the things they mentioned was performing another elemental analysis of the geomantic figures.  I got an image of Fortuna Maior transforming into Carcer, then again into Fortuna Minor, then again into Coniunctio, and then again into Fortuna Maior in a cycle.  I got the hint, and after a few inspired flashes of insight, I got the gist for a new(?) kind of elemental analysis for the figures.  I’ve already delved into one such analysis before, but this is a different kind focusing on the structure of the figures.

As you might have guessed, this post is gonna get into some geomantic theory.  Run away now if that’s not your thing or get some wine.

When considering the geomantic figures as mathematical objects, I normally ascribe four operations that can be done on them: addition, inversion, reversion, and conversion.  Readers of my De Geomanteia posts may recall this in my descriptions of the figures, but put briefly:

  • Addition: adding two figures to get a third (e.g. Puer added to Puella to obtain Coniunctio).  The interaction, harmony, and force between a pair of figures or forces in the cosmos.
  • Inversion: replacing all the single dots with double dots and vice versa (e.g. Puer inverted becomes Albus).  Everything this figure is not on an external level.
  • Reversion: rotating a figure upside down (e.g. Puer reverted becomes Puella).  The same qualities of this figure taken to its opposite, internal extreme.
  • Conversion: inversion with reversion (e.g. Puer converted becomes Rubeus).  The same qualities of this figure expressed in a similar, contraparallel manner.

The ancestors showed me yet another method to alter a geomantic figure, which I’m tentatively terming descending.  Descending a figure takes the bottommost row of a figure and stacks it on top of the figure, pushing the other rows downward.  Thus, Puer descended once becomes Cauda Draconis; this descends again into Caput Draconis, and again into Puella; and  again into Puer.  In doing this, we get several groups of figures that descend in a particular order: two monadic cycles, one binadic cycle, and three tetradic cycles of descent.

  • Populus descends into Populus
  • Via descends into Via
  • Acquisitio and Amissio descend into each other
  • Laetitia descends into Rubeus, which descends into Albus, which descends into Tristitia, which descends into Laetitia
  • Fortuna Maior descends into Carcer, which descends into Fortuna Minor, which descends into Coniunctio, which descends into Fortuna Maior
  • Caput Draconis descends into Puella, which descends into Puer, which descends into Cauda Draconis, which descends into Caput Draconis

Taken from an elemental viewpoint, this is the process by which the elements of a figure transform into their next most available state.  I forget where I read it from (something from Plato, probably), but the elements have two qualities, only one of which is primary.  The qualities are broken into two pairs of opposing natures: hot and cold, and wet and dry.  For instance, while the element fire is both hot and dry, it is primarily hot and secondarily dry.  The list of the elements then becomes:

  1. Fire: primarily hot, secondarily dry
  2. Air: primarily wet, secondarily hot
  3. Water: primarily cold, secondarily wet
  4. Earth: primarily dry, secondarily cold

Moreover, the elements are capable of changing into each other by replacing one of the qualities with its opposite.  Water, for instance, can turn into earth by making its moisture dry, and air can turn into water by cooling its heat; air can likewise turn into fire by drying its moisture, and fire can turn into earth by removing its heat.  The transformation of the elements can go in either direction, with the process from fire to earth signifying a process of settling or stability and the process from earth to fire signifying entropy or activity.  However, the elements also form a cycle, such that earth can also directly become fire without going through water or air, and likewise fire into earth.

Descending, then, is essentially the “settling” process of the elements applied to the structure of the geomantic figures.  The number of dots within a figure is preserved (note how Laetitia, Rubeus, Albus, and Tristitia descend into each other and all contain the same seven dots in different arrangements).  The reverse process of ascending is the “entropy” process of the elements, where the top line becomes the bottom and the rest of the elemental rows are pushed up.  Since the geomantic figures can be seen as abstract combinations of the elements, what the elements can do, so too can the geomantic figures.

Via and Populus are interesting in that they’re the only figures that descend (or ascend) into themselves.  Since they have the same activity or passivity in every line of their figures, they can only ever descend into what was already present.  I take this to mean that Populus and Via are at extremes of the elements: either there is absolutely nothing or there is absolutely everything, a void or a singularity.  Where there is nothing, nothing can be done since there is nothing to be acted upon; where there is totality, nothing can be meaningfully changed since it already includes everything.

Acquisitio and Amissio, similarly, are unusual in that they only descend into each other, without another two figures filling in the cycle.  Acquisitio is a combination of air and earth; Amissio is a combination of fire and water.  These elemental pairs are opposites, so by preserving their structural relationships, the descent of one figure composed from opposite elements is another figure composed from opposite elements.  No other figure in geomancy are like these two because of this.  Further, while the combination of air and earth produces gain, the combination of fire and air produces loss; moisture/dryness is a separate beast from heat/cold, so while one relies on the material bases of things (Acquisitio) which relies on the energetic and spiritual, the other relies on the energetic means of things (Amissio) which consumes the material and physical.  In order to gain things, one must expend effort or resources for it; in order to lose something, one must get meaning and direction for it.

The real show of descent comes into play with the other twelve figures of geomancy.  The simplest case is that with figures that contain a single active element: Laetitia, Rubeus, Albus, and Tristitia.  Laetitia is pure fire, and is a figure of joy, elation, optimism, and planning, all due to its hot and dry nature.  It has nothing else to go for it, though, so when that energy becomes less goal-oriented (fire) and settles down into a more material state (air), Laetitia becomes Rubeus, which is a figure of violence, chaos, confusion, and destruction.  That same energy is there, but it’s pure and untempered by anything else, so without direction the energy from Laetitia becomes scattered and dispersed.  Over time, the dispersion of energy in Rubeus settles further into Albus, with it starting to collect back into itself in a more contemplative, reflective manner.  The energy becomes less capable of causing change and is now more capable of being changed, becoming passive (not in elemental terms, here) instead of active.  Further, once the detached reflection of Albus settles further into Tristitia, the energy becomes locked down and completely crystallized into matter, unable to do anything on its own and only capable of being acted upon as a basis for other work.  Tristitia is a figure of fixidity and rigidness, without ability to move or act; it is only when the material of Tristitia is consumed and rejuvenated can it become active again, burning the dry fuel of Tristitia into Laetitia once more.

The next tetrad of figures in descent is Fortuna Maior, Carcer, Fortuna Minor, and Coniunctio.  Here, Fortuna Maior is a figure of slow and independent development, like a river carving out a canyon by its own nature and movement.  However, over time that energy becomes less and less, with all its potential used up; this devolves the nurturing force of Fortuna Maior into Carcer, which is no longer nourishing but only vacant.  Nothing can be done with this energy as it is, since it has lost all means of interacting with the world around itself; it is only when an outside force picks it up can it be sustained or made use of again, as indicated by the descent of Carcer into Fortuna Minor.  This mingling of forces leads to further mingling, focusing less on action and more on interaction, leading from Fortuna Minor to Coniunctio.  Communicationa and interaction becomes the theme, at least for a short while, until the interaction of forces settles further into self-action, separation of ways into one’s own path, which leads once again to the force of Fortuna Maior.

The last tetrad of figures in descent is Caput Draconis, Puella, Puer, and Cauda Draconis.  Caput Draconis is the figure of beginnings, with everything but fire being present; unlike its inverse of optimistic Laetitia which is all plan and no potential, Caput Draconis has all the material and interactive potential but nowhere and no impetus to use it; it is a pure seed.  The force of Caput Draconis, once it settles into Puella, becomes patient and harmonizing, aware of one’s physical means and of the need of others to make use of it.  In this phase, there is still little means to use something, but at least the desire for use is present.  Puella awaits the arrival and energy of Puer, which is the force that uses what Puella has to offer while having little of its own to use.  Puer is active and direct, countering Puella’s passivity and indirectness, and seeks to find and join with.  However, once Puer attains this and uses up everything obtained, this all settles down into an ending with Cauda Draconis; either the hero accomplishes his journey successfully or falls short and fails having exhausted his means prematurely.  Cauda Draconis is everything but earth, all energy and interaction but no means or substance, and quickly falls apart.  However, the residue from the collapse of Cauda Draconis plants the germ for the next iteration, starting with Caput Draconis again.

Bear in mind that each figure is a representation of the four elements that compose everything in our world; it’s not a stretch to consider the geomantic elements like alchemical formulae or states of the cosmos, and if we consider the figures to represent closed systems (as opposed to open systems that the operation of addition affords us), then we can analyze how a situation can evolve based on a single figure.  This enables us to make better use of single-figure readings: if we draw Coniunctio as a single answering figure for a query about a relationship, we can certainly say that things are going well and will continue to do so, but the relationship will also allow for self-discovery by means of the relationship and eventual self-growth (Fortuna Maior), with periods of being alone to process it or with difficulty (Carcer), and recovery with the help of the partner to come back to more connection (Fortuna Minor).  Likewise, if we add two figures in a house chart to understand the interaction between them, we can use the descent of the figures to see how that interaction will progress over time independent of the other factors in the chart.

Similar explanations of the tetrads of the figures can be given for the ascent transformation, as well, but I leave that as an exercise for the interested geomancy-minded reader.  Consider what we’re doing when we descend a figure: we take the elements within that figure, and turn the secondary quality into its opposite and make it the primary quality.  So, fire, which is primarily hot and secondarily dry, turns into air by our taking the secondary quality (dry) and turning it into its opposite (wet) and making it primary; the element that is primarily wet and secondarily hot is air.  The ascent of the figure is the opposite case: we take the primary quality of the elements, turn that into its opposite, and make it secondary.  Thus, fire (primarily hot and secondarily dry) becomes earth by taking its primarily quality (hot), turning it into its opposite (cold) and making it secondary; the element that is primarily dry and secondarily cold is earth.  I would say that it’s more natural for an element to descend than ascend, since it’s easier to change an element’s secondarily quality than it is to change its primary quality, so while the descent of the elements indicates a natural evolution without interference, the ascent of the elements can indicate a forced evolution from within the situation itself.  A situation might go either way, depending on the actions of those involved in the situation, but until outside forces are brought in to break the transformation by ascent or descent through addition, things are going to keep cycling in a particular pattern metaphorically and realistically.

Not a bad idea from sharing some rum with dead folk.

49 Days of Definitions: Part II, Definition 3

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

Today, let’s discuss the eighth definition, part II, number 3 of 6:

Earth is the support of the world, the basis of the elements, the nurse of the living (beings), the receptacle of the dead; for (it comes) last after fire and water, since it became what (it is) after fire and water.  What is the power of the world?  To keep up for ever the immortal (beings), such as they came into being, and to always change the mortal.

While the previous definition described the role of air in the cosmos, this one describes the role of earth, which is good since the earth was the only part of the previous definition that was left undefined.  Again, this whole part of definitions describe the cosmos, and now we’re getting into the nitty-gritty of the parts of the cosmos and what its constituent parts are: the elements.  Air is that which conjoins the highest parts of the cosmos with the lowest, which is earth.

Earth is “the support of the world”, and here this provides an interesting comparison with the relationship between bodies and souls generally.  In definition 1.3, the soul is said to support or “keep up” the body, and that all bodies require souls.  Similarly, the breath (or spirit, which may or may not be the same thing as air) is said to be the support or the “column” of the soul.  The thing that supports another is what enables it to work: the soul animates the body, and the spirit facilitates the motion of the soul.  Earth is a part of the cosmos, which is the sensible world, and earth is said to be the support of the world.  Earth is the element responsible, then, for making the cosmos what it is as distinct from the world of God: earth enables the cosmos to be sensible and movable.  Earth is the foundation of the sensible world, the foundation of the cosmos itself.  Indeed, just as the cosmos is made from the four elements, if earth is the foundation of the cosmos, then earth is also the foundation for everything made from the elements; earth is “the basis of the elements”.

Thus, because all things that are composed of the four elements require earth, earth is “the nurse of the living beings”.  Anything that arises in the cosmos does so because of earth; anything that has a body does so because of earth; anything that is able to move and be moved in the cosmos does so because of earth.  Everything that exists in the cosmos with a body comes from earth in at least some sense; as in Ecclesiastes 3:20, “all go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.”  And, indeed, according to the definition, earth is also the “receptacle of the dead”; all things that die or are destroyed return to earth.  However, bear in mind that nothing ever truly dies or is destroyed, but only changes form from one thing into another.  As such, when this definition says that earth is the “receptacle of the dead”, it refers to the ultimate nature of all material entities and bodies: when all water is evaporated out, all head dissipated, all breath expired, all that is left is earth.  (This leads into something like the Black Work and White Work of the alchemists, but that’s for another day.)

Earth is said to come “last after fire and water, since it became what it is after fire and water”.   Here we have the beginnings of a cosmogony: in the beginning was God, who spoke the Word and somehow created the cosmos and eventually Man.  Within the cosmos, the elements were formed at different stages, not all at once: fire and water and air came first in some manner, and earth was last.  Earth was made unique, partitioned out, or “separated” out from the cosmos last.  Something similar is said in the Poemandres of the Corpus Hermeticum (chapter I, part 5):

[Thereon] out of the Light . . . a Holy Word (Logos) descended on that Nature. And upwards to the height from the Moist Nature leaped forth pure Fire; light was it, swift and active too.

The Air, too, being light, followed after the Fire; from out the Earth-and-Water rising up to Fire so that it seemed to hang therefrom.

But Earth-and-Water stayed so mingled each with other, that Earth from Water no one could discern. Yet were they moved to hear by reason of the Spirit-Word (Logos) pervading them.

Earth is often seen as the heaviest of the four elements.  Fire rises up, air moves around, water flows around; earth sinks and compresses into itself.  Earth is often exemplified as the rocks, boulders, crystals, metals, soil, humus, loam, and dust that is lowest on the ground, that which falls from the sky or from trees down through the air and water.  If one mixes up a batch of mud, over time the water will rise to the top and the earth will sink to the bottom; the earth is what comes out last when all else is formed, and when all else leaves again to return to its natural elements.  Fire can burn earth to produce brittle earth, but it’s still earth; air can break earth to form dusty earth, but it’s still earth; water can moisten earth to produce sloppy earth, but it’s still earth.  Earth is the last element, and the one that is always produced from any interaction with the other elements.  Plato discusses the nature of the element of earth in similar terms in the Timaeus:

To earth, then, let us assign the cubical form; for earth is the most immoveable of the four and the most plastic of all bodies, and that which has the most stable bases must of necessity be of such a nature…

From all that we have just been saying about the elements or kinds, the most probable conclusion is as follows : earth, when meeting with fire and dissolved by its sharpness, whether the dissolution take place in the fire itself or perhaps in some mass of air or water, is borne hither and thither, until its parts, meeting together and mutually harmonising, again become earth ; for they can never take any other form…

In essence, where the world is (and by “world” here I mean the sensible world of the cosmos), earth must necessarily be, because earth is the “support of the world”, its core and defining element that forms the foundation for all other elements, including itself, to interact amongst each other.  The cosmos is made because of earth; without earth, nothing tangible or visible could exist.  This is what makes the cosmos separate from the rest of the All as God; basically, the cosmos is earthy, and because of this, the question “what is the power of the world?” is essentially “what is the power of earth?”

To that question, the definition gives “to keep up for ever the immortal beings, such as they came into being, and to always change the mortal”.  The first part, “to keep up for ever the immortal beings”, indicates that all things that live forever (note the use of “immortal” here as opposed to the “ever-living” of Man) live by means of earth, which supports (“keeps up”) these creatures.  Anything that exists forever in the cosmos does so because of the imperishable, indissoluble earth that it consists of.  The Earth (not the element, but the planet) is something that can very well be considered immortal, as can the other planets, as can mountains or similar.  These things are called “immortal” since their bodies always were and always will be (modern notions of physics being laid aside for now).  Mortal things, however, are those whose bodies pass into existence from and within the cosmos, and whose bodies will pass out of existence from and back into the cosmos.  These things suffer the increase and decrease appropriate to physical bodies, with the element of earth that composes them taking the hits, so to speak.  Earth, being the densest and most plastic of the elements, is what is physically acted upon by the other elements; the other elements act together upon the body, changing it and reacting with it, eventually causing deterioration, decrease, death, and destruction.  Again, though, the element of earth that composes these bodies only ever decomposes back into the raw elements that they consist of; mass and elements will always be conserved within the cosmos, since nothing comes from nothing.

Personal Piety

What is piety?

  • According to etymology, piety comes from Latin pietas, the noun from of pius, meaning “good” or “devout”.
  • According to the dictionary, piety means “reverence for God or devout fulfillment of religious obligations”.

Simple enough.  Time to end this post, let’s all get drunk.  Not.

Back in ancient Greece, Plato once wrote a dialogue wherein his then-dead teacher, Socrates, was talking to someone outside the courts.  Socrates was on his fated and fatal trial charging him with impiety and the introduction of new gods to Athens, and he encounters Euthyphro, a prosecutor for another case (against his father for murder) which also involves piety and doing what is just in the eyes of the gods.  Chatting idly before the courts, they engage in a bit of discussion about their upcoming trials, which eventually settles on the nature of piety.  After all, if piety weren’t an issue, Socrates couldn’t be charged with corrupting the youth of Athens because of his impiety, and if piety weren’t demanded of Euthyphro, he wouldn’t be testifying and placing a charge against his own father.

The problem is that neither of them can give an explanation for what piety actually is.  Through their dialogue, Socrates gets the following answers out of Euthyrphro for what piety is, but notices a problem with each of them.

  1. Piety is what Euthyphro is doing right then, viz. prosecuting someone of a crime, just as Zeus restrained and punished his father, who restrained and punished his father before him, which were acts of justice.  Socrates points out that, while this act may be pious indeed, there are other acts which are considered pious; this is an example of piety, not an explanation or definition of it.  Rejected.
  2. Piety is what is dear to the gods, and impiety is what is not dear to the gods.  Socrates points out that the gods disgree amongst themselves, and that some disagreements may be on points where there is no factual or objective measure to agree by, such as what is just and what is unjust.  So, though the gods may hold what is dear to them to be what is pious, what is dear to one god may be repulsive to another, so the same action may be both pious and impious at once, which is a contradiction.  Rejected.
  3. Piety is what is dear to all the gods, and impiety is what is all the gods hold not dear.  This is something they both agree on, but then Socrates asks a crucial question: is what is pious pious because the gods love it, or do the gods love it because it’s pious?  In other words, is it pious because the gods say so, or is it pious because of something intrinsic to itself?  It can’t be both, because then that would lead to a vicious circle, and further, just the fact that the gods love something doesn’t mean that it is intrinsically pious because of that fact.  Their loving it is a recognition of it being pious is thus an attribute of piety, but is not a definition for piety.  Rejected.
  4. Piety is a type of justice.  In other words, Socrates supposes that, since all things that are pious are just, piety is based on what is just.  However, because there are things that are just that are not necessarily pious, we can’t just assign the qualities of justice to piety and be finished there.  It’s a superclass/subclass or genus/species issue of definition; we may have some qualities of piety, but not all of them, without which we can’t yet have a definition of piety.  If piety is only a part of justice, which part is it?  Neither Socrates nor Euthyphro can answer.  Rejected.
  5. Piety is an action that is just that attends to the gods.  In this instance, attendance to something is done to improve, benefit, and guide them.  However, Socrates then states that pious acts are done to improve the gods, which they both quickly agree is a dangerous statement of hubris.  Instead, Euthyphro restates the definition of attendance to be something more like ministration or service to a god to deliver things that please them.  This then defines piety as giving the gods what pleases them, which then devolves into the definition of what is dear to the gods.  Rejected.
  6. Piety is the art of sacrifice and prayerto the gods, learning how to please the gods in word and deed.  Sacrifice is defined as the act of giving to the gods, and prayer as asking or receiving from the gods; piety, then, is an art and science of giving and asking, which is a kind of business or transaction.  However, the gods want from us things that please them, which is essentially gives piety the same definition as above.  Rejected.

After this point, Euthyphro has to leave to get to his trial on time, leaving Socrates just as confused as ever as he prepares to combat a charge about a quality he hasn’t found any explanation or definition for.  Kinda sucks, really, but we end up with the notion that piety is intricately bound up with what divinity approves of.  So we have a bit of a dilemma on our hands: is something pious because it has an innate nature called “piety” that is only recognized and approved of by an outside source, or is it pious because it is explicitly liked by divinity for no other reason than it pleases them?

  • If what is pious is instrinsically pious, then that implies that there is a rule or order of things outside of divine order.  If so, then divinity has no power over it to change it, divinity is itself holy based on things that are pious and so aren’t worthy of worship in and of themselves but only to the degree that they support piety, and piety would still exist even if there were no gods to approve of them.
  • If what is pious is just what is pious to the gods because they like it, then that implies that pious things amount to no more than “because I said so”.  If so, then anything could be possible, allowed, legal, or demanded just because divinity wants it: if he said it pleased him to kill unborn babies, or for triangles to have more than three angles.  Morality could not exist without divinity already existing, morality could not be eternal laws due to the potential for divinity to change its mind about a command, and removes any reason to praise God.

In Hebrew thought, the similar quality of tzedeq (same triliteral root that gives Jupiter and its angel their names) doesn’t have the same dilemma, since it’s considered an action or event that can be seen and recognized.  The only way to describe the totality of things that are tzedeq is a list of all things that fall under that category.  In other words, it can only be enumerated specifically, not formulated generally.

From the point of view of a Hermetic philosopher, this is where a slightly different notion of divinity come into play.  In my case, good is not separate from divinity; divinity is not separate from what is good, or anything else for that matter.  Being good is being godly, and the only thing that is purely and only good is God (or, rather, the Divine Source).  Being good in a godly way (not in the common, mundane, or humane way) is, then, what piety could very well be.  This permits bad things to happen, in the sense that bad is what is not good, but only from a humane or mundane perspective.  This agrees with the earlier definition Euthyphro kept getting stuck on, because God likes and constantly contemplates Itself Mindfully, at one point speaking the Word to act and interact with itself; thus, being Good (capital-g “good in a godly way”) is being what God likes, i.e. pious and piety.

How do we know what being Good is?  By being Godly.  In being Godly, we learn the mind of the Nous, the word of the Logos, and the wisdom of Sophia, which help us collectively in knowing ourselves.  By knowing ourselves, we learn what we really want to do and what we really need to do; from a teleological or Godly point of view, the two are ultimately the same.  This is knowing our True Will, knowing the true course of our lives and how to act in accordance with our nature and Nature/God itself.  “Do what thou wilt” isn’t just a license to fuck around and fuck up as fancy would drive one to do, but is really an injunction to do what you need, are suited, and are destined to do.  In doing this, we do what is Good, and in doing what is Good we become pious.

However, this type of Good defies definition beyond “what is Godly”.  It’s entirely above and beyond mechanical, natural, logical, or spiritual revelation, coming from the superclass and source of all these things.  The only way to learn what one should do is to…well, you tell me.