The Difficulty of Centralizing the Way of Hermēs

I guess I should write a follow-up to that last post about the difficulty of coming up with a set of coherent principles for Hermet(ic)ism.  The main point I was trying to make was that coming up with a short set of overall principles for the Way of Hermēs is really difficult, despite the popularity of such a notion as spread by the Kybalion to make bite-sized pieces of philosophy and spirituality easy to digest.  There are lots of reasons for this, which I brought up in the last post, but the big one is that the notion of a principle is (as defined by Dictionary.com) “a fundamental doctrine or tenet; a fundamental, primary, or general law or truth from which others are derived”.  This sounds all well and good, and it’s reasonable that we should want and strive to come up with some Hermetic principles to arrange for the study of Hermet(ic)ism and the Hermetic canon, but the problem I kept running into was that everything seemed to be contradicted at one point or another by the very texts those principles are supposed to derive from and summarize.  This isn’t so much a problem of the principalizers as it is the things to be principled; it’s a known fact that the Hermetic texts are not consistent among themselves, even by their own admission, by the very nature of what it is they teach and how they go about teaching it.

First, why should we want principles?  As we mentioned earlier, we have a notion of κεφαλαὶα, “chapter headings” as it were, brief gnomic statements about doctrine which often serve as mnemonics and fundamental…well, principles that other Hermetic texts work on expounding.  There are two excellent sets of such statements at our disposal—the Definitions of Hermēs Trismegistus to Asclepius on the one hand and the Eleventh Stobaean Fragment on the other—but there are about fifty such statements in each, and are often paradoxical, supremely terse and soaked with deeper meaning, and not exactly as memorable or catchy as the well-known (but faulty) “Seven Hermetic Principles” from the Kybalion.  To an extent, that really should be okay; as I’ve said before, the study of the Hermetic texts and of the Way of Hermēs generally is going to be a difficult process, just as the Hermetic texts themselves say, not because of how they’re written (through choice and style of translations can make it more difficult), but because of the very subject matter itself.  Even for those for whom the doors to the Way of Hermēs were built, the way is hard and long to walk.  To try to simplify everything into bite-sized things can be useful at times, but we should remember that a sugary snack is no replacement for a hearty meal.  Substituting a handful of Hermetic principles for the deeper lessons and lectures and logoi we should be studying and contemplating might be nice at times, but that’s not the same as actually doing the Work needed.  There’s a world of difference between a simple, high-level, abbreviated awareness of a concept, and fully understanding, comprehending, and grokking it, and the use of simple pithy principles does not help us accomplish that.  It might get us started, if at all, but simply remembering a pithy phrase is not the same thing as having actual wisdom to back it up.

But let’s say that we still want principles to write about, and let’s assume we have a good reason for their writing.  We still run into the problem of principles being contradicted by the very texts they’re supposed to be principles for; we still have the problem of a lack of consistency across the Hermetic canon for all but the broadest and highest-level of notions.  At that point, though, such statements would end up being neither particularly informative nor particularly helpful nor particularly distinct to Hermet(ic)ism.  This forces us to take a look at these contradictions and inconsistencies in the Hermetic texts, which forces us to realize that…well, Hermet(ic)ism isn’t just a single thing, not a single doctrine held by a single group, not a single practice implemented by a single temple, not a single lineage with a single source.  There are hints in the Hermetic texts of a variety of different views and standpoints, where the way the text is phrased suggests setting the specific author apart from the other views (sometimes as polemic, sometimes as correction, sometimes as an actual viewpoint held by other Hermetic groups, sometimes as views held by other traditions as incorrect views, sometimes a viewpoint made an example of without being seriously considered as being Hermetic):

  • A purely monist view of creation versus a dualist one.
  • A view of the cosmos that begins from a dualist standpoint to a monist one, versus one that begins from a monist standpoint to a dualist one.
  • Groups who proclaim direct descent from Hermēs through Asclepius, Tat, and Ammon, and groups who proclaim indirect descent from Hermēs through Isis, Osiris, and Horus.
  • Monotheistic versus polytheistic stances on God or the demiurge.
  • A favorable view or unfavorable view of the demiurge as relating to corruption and vice in the world.
  • A favorable view or unfavorable view of asceticism and abstaining from sex and reproduction.
  • A favorable view or unfavorable view of making material offerings to divinity, and in specific contexts.
  • A favorable view or unfavorable view of using magic to rectify or change things in the cosmos.
  • A view that in reincarnation the human soul can reincarnate into animals versus one that prohibits such a view.
  • A view that God is capable of sensation and understanding in the world versus one that prohibits such a view.

We see a variety of these differences in different Hermetic texts, and not just the philosophical Hermetica, but the technical Hermetica, too, depending on the specific genre of text, the specific time period it was written in, the presence of the influence of specific other traditions, and the like.  We see this not just in classical Hermetic texts, but in pretty much other texts right up through into the modern day.  While some of these viewpoints were argued against as a point to make about what’s Hermetic and what’s not Hermetic, some of these were also argued against as a point to make about what’s good Hermet(ic)ism and what’s bad Hermet(ic)ism, and it’s not always clear which is which.  What we end up with is, frankly, a mess, but there is one clear answer that arises from it like shining Harpocratēs on the lotus from the mud: there is no one single Way of Hermēs, but a whole bunch of such ways.  What we end up with is that there is not one single Hermet(ic)ism; what we end up with is a set of texts that are a collection of a survival of loosely-affiliated Hermet(ic)isms that did not always agree on the finer points of doctrine and practice.

I suppose the drive to have the “one true Way” is as strong with me as it is with others, and has been since the dawn of Hermēs Trismegistus in this light.  I recall some snarky comment on (probably?) Reddit—I don’t remember who made it, just the basic gist of the comment—that people are going to argue over whatever they think is Hermeticism that day.  And I admit that I do that, too; heck, my recent rant about relabling myself as a Hermetist and leaving the Hermeticist label behind is myself telling on myself that I have my view on what constitutes the “real” Way of Hermēs.  But, then, so did the authors of the Hermetic canon themselves, though they all use the mask of Hermēs or one of his disciples to teach.  While this was the custom at the time, to be sure, to ascribe all good, approved, traditionally-sourced knowledge to the god who was the font of all suck knowledge, we also have to admit that it gives us a false sense of unity that quickly falls apart based on what we have available to us, both in how little we have as well as in how much we have.

In almost any real-world scenario, when we want to get from Point A to Point B, we often have many ways to choose from to accomplish such a trip.  Though some might consider the shortest, most direct path to be the “correct” one like on an IQ test, let’s be honest: the way you get there doesn’t so much matter so long as getting there is.  Whether you walk the most direct path on foot or drive a cart for a more scenic path or take the bus along a preplanned route, whether you go straight to your destination or hit up other destinations along the way, whether you like taking only left turns or avoid taking any left turn at all, so long as you get from Point A to Point B to accomplish what you originally set out to do, that’s what matters more in the end, so long as you end up making your destination.  While I can point out the distinctions and departures any particular Hermetic (or, in some cases, “Hermetic”, quotes intentional) path might depart from that described by (whatever chunks of the Hermetic canon are consistent amongst themselves), the fact that they take such a path from A to B for the same underlying reasons is good enough to claim the Hermetic title for themselves.  Sure, they might not be classically Hermetist in their approach and would rather take a more modern Hermeticist approach, but that’s still just one approach out of many under the broader umbrella of the Ways of Hermēs.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying this with some sort of BS climax saying “yanno, maybe the Kybalion is alright in the end”, because it’s not; that’s still a New Thought text, not a Hermetic text except in cases of sheer coincidence where Atkinson took a break from lauding himself for sharing such “secret”, “ancient” knowledge out of the goodness of his heart to actually make a point about New Thought dolled up in faux-Hermetic drag.  (Quite the opposite, really, as we’ll get to eventually.) What I’m saying is that when it comes to the matter of coming up with principles for the Hermetic texts…maybe we’ve got it backwards, and that’s where we’re coming into problems.  That’s the distinction between the kephalaía statements and principles, because the kephalaía statements were the seeds of texts that had to be nourished to flourish into a beautiful garden, while here we are trying to make a jar of reduced jam from the fruit of such texts when not all such texts make compatible fruit.  Principles are supposed to be things from which we derive other truths, not to be merely summaries of existing ones.  Principles establish the guideposts and landmarks and directions to take on a given Way, but a difference in principles will set you up from a different Way than someone else who has different principles, even if both are derived from the same collection of texts.  This can’t really be avoided; without going through some super complex and arcane (and more than likely roughshod and ramshackle) effort to harmonize conflicting teachings on their surface (because all such teachings will be true at some point or another for some people and not others, all pointing the way towards a deeper truth of an ultimately ineffable Truth), you’re going to have to “pick sides” as it were.  This means that, although I call all these texts collectively “the Hermetic canon”, you’ve got to make a move here to say what’s really canonical or not.  A better term for all this is simply Hermetica, or Hermetic corpus (not to be confused with the Corpus Hermeticum), perhaps, with “Hermetic canon” being the specific texts one holds as consistent with each other and true or with elisions and explanations to deal with the things that aren’t consistent with the rest, but in the end, the principles you use need to be made with the full understanding that those are going to be the parameters for the Way you’re planning to follow.

Let me say that again: the principles you use need to be made with the full understanding that those are going to be the parameters for the Way you’re planning to follow—and, thus, the Way you’re planning to teach and guide others on, as well.  When you establish a set of principles, you end up making a new Way, whether you intend to or not, and that should only be done after great thought and deliberation in the process.  Otherwise, the Way you establish by means of those principles can be more dangerous, deceptive, repetitive, or misleading than you intend it to be.  In making canon, we use cannons; be careful where you aim, and be careful of collateral damage in the process.  I’m not saying that you can’t make a set of principles as guiding statements for (your preferred brand of) Hermet(ic)ism, but that you need to be supremely cautious that, in doing so, you don’t lose sight of where you’re coming from, where you’re heading to, how you’re getting there, and why you’re heading there at all, and that it all still looks, smells, and feels enough like other Ways of Hermēs to still be a Way of Hermēs itself.  After all, Hermēs is the god of all roads and all paths, and is the teacher of all students; he can teach you in any way, but only the way that is best for you.  If you’re going to take that role of Hermēs upon yourself for others, then you better know what you’re doing, because a faulty guide gets everyone lost.

I suppose this is one reason (out of many) for my own difficulty in trying to come up with “Hermetic principles”: I’m still learning, studying, and contemplating the classical Hermetic texts too much, and want to try to get at the deeper truth from all angles of each, to take a side just yet on any of them.  It’s why I don’t feel ready enough to make a judgment on the worthiness of any particular Hermetic text, at least within the bounds of that which was written up to and including the Emerald Tablet, after which my own interest in practice and belief wanes—again, a conscious choice I make on my part, and perhaps the only solid one I make regarding the broader notion of “Hermetic literature”, and which centers my view of Hermet(ic)ism on the philosophical Hermetica over the technical Hermetica, at least for the purpose of illustrating the overall Way as opposed to specific vehicles or directions to take on any given way, whether of Hermēs or otherwise.  It’s why I don’t feel at the proper point to proclaim what my recommend guideposts, landmarks, and directions on the Way of Hermēs should be, because I’m still figuring that out for myself and haven’t reached my destination yet to look back and see what can be said about the way I took to get there.  It’s why I like just pointing to Book III of the Corpus Hermeticum as my own sort of Hermetic “Heart Sutra” that I think should be the first Hermetic text one reads, because I feel that it’s a good summary of the Way of Hermēs as anything else without being too long, too obscure, or too challenging while also giving a good, high-level view of the Way that doesn’t have polemics against other quasi- or non-Hermetic ideas and which doesn’t have polemics against it elsewhere in the Hermetic canon.  In this, I suppose that Book III, “the Sacred Discourse of Hermēs”, is my preferred bedrock of the Hermetic life—and thus provides a ready, premade set of principles of its own.  (In addition to the kephalaía of the Definitions and the Eleventh Stobaean Fragment, of course.)

Not to overplay the song of the target of my disdain too much, but this matter of principles is fundamentally the substantial reason why I consider the Kybalion to not be Hermetic, in addition to its non-Hermetic origin.  Not only do the “Seven Hermetic Principles” not appear in any legitimate Hermetic text (classical or otherwise), but they all point to aspects of doctrine, none of which are written in a way that makes sense in the original contexts of Hermetic literature, and none of which are particularly Hermetic even when they aren’t outright contradicted by Hermetic texts, all without actually setting a goal or purpose.  In that, the Kybalion can be considered no more than that one miscellany drawer we all have at our desk or in our kitchen full of trash and knickknacks; some might be able to turn it into a toolbox of miscellaneous (and poorly-made, vague, undefined, indefinite) tools, but without any clear purpose for what those tools can be used for besides feel-good solipsistic “The Secret”-esque navel-gazing.  This is direct contrast to the ultimate goals of the Way of Hermēs, said in no uncertain terms from the Corpus Hermeticum (CH) and Stobaean Fragments (SH):

  • To show devotion (SH IIb.2)
  • To join reverence with knowledge (CH VI.5)
  • To not be evil (CH XII.23)
  • To enter into God so as to become God (CH I.26)

I refrain from calling these “principles” because, while these are all things that aren’t contradicted by other parts of the Hermetic canon, I’m not sure that these are sufficient to serve as axioms or declarations of truth from which other concepts can derive.  I’m not saying that this is all that there is along these lines, either, but these are sufficient to illustrate what the whole point of Hermet(ic)ism is about.  Thus, they point to a destination, an incontrovertibly Hermetic one in the truest sense as being part of the entire Hermetic literature—if not perhaps more than a little vague—but a destination, all the same, which is nowhere found in the Kybalion.  Can one use the Kybalion in a Hermetic fashion?  Sure, but that’s because of you, not because of the book, and so that’s you making the book a Hermetic aid, not the book being Hermetic in and of itself.  This is also why I center the philosophical Hermetica over the technical Hermetica to illustrate the Way of Hermēs, because the technical Hermetica can be used in non-Hermetic contexts and can be used in ways contrary to these statements; in this light, the Kybalion can be considered a sort of abstract technical text with quasi-philosophical elements, but that still doesn’t make it Hermetic.

Again, without calling these four statements “principles”, it is (in addition to a notion of being revealed by Hermēs Trismegistus for the sake of the well-being of humanity and their spiritual rejoining with God) a way to gauge how Hermetic something really is based on its claims, philosophies, theology, and practices.  And, barring other polemics, I think maybe these four statements can help us remember the goal that all of us who follow one of the myriad Ways of Hermēs work towards, and which can unite us all in singular purpose.  The specific roads might differ, but so long as we get to the same place in the end, there’s nothing truly wrong about it.

The Difficulty of Principalizing the Way of Hermēs

In my downtime between chores, ritual work, office work (done at home as it is), I’ve been mulling over a lot lately and quietly when it comes to talking about the Way of Hermēs, which is my preferred way to call what many are more familiar with as Hermeticism, or Hermetism, to be more exact.  And I feel…honestly, I feel pretty daunted about this particular topic, not just because of the extreme breadth and depth of it all, but because of how difficult it can be to correlate everything together in a neat, clean, organized way.

Not too long ago, Nick Farrell made a blog post called The Real Hermetic Principles, which is his attempt to come up with a set of guiding principles or axioms about the cosmos and the spiritual practices that evolve from them to replace what people popularly (and wrongly) consider to  be the “Seven Hermetic Principles” as found in the Kybalion (and nowhere else in the Hermetic canon, I might add).  I applaud Nick’s effort, though I take issue with a few of these principles of his, especially his principle #5, that “the macrocosm and microcosm influence each other (as above so below); the planetary spheres are a Microcosm of the Divine Sphere and Nature is a microcosm for the planetary macrocosm”.  The notion of “as above, so below” comes from the Emerald Tablet, which (most likely) postdates the rest of the classical Hermetic corpus (Corpus Hermeticum, Asclepius, Stobaean Fragments, etc.) by a few centuries, and although the idea seems reasonable, there are plenty of counterpoints made in the Hermetic canon that refute this notion of both influencing the other, where the higher influences the lower but the lower does not influence the higher in the same way.  They can resemble each other, sure, but resemblance is not the same thing as influence.  I’m not saying that one can’t use the notion of “as above, so below” as a Hermetic concept in some way, but doing so requires care in order to keep continuity and coherence with the rest of actual extant Hermetic belief.

But therein lies a problem: although I treat the “Hermetic canon” as one set of literature equivalent to a Bible of sorts, it’s important to realize what these texts are and are not, what they do and do not do.  And one thing the Hermetic canon isn’t is consistent.  I mean, consider the opening paragraph of Book XVI of the Corpus Hermeticum (Copenhaver translation), in a letter from Asclepius to Ammon:

I have sent you a long discourse, my king, as a sort of reminder or summary of all the others; it is not meant to agree with vulgar opinion but contains much to refute it. That it contradicts even some of my own discourses will be apparent to you. My teacher, Hermes—often speaking to me in private, sometimes in the presence of Tat—used to say that those reading my books would find their organization very simple and clear when, on the contrary, it is unclear and keeps the meaning of its words concealed…

It’s easy to just read the Corpus Hermeticum, Asclepius, and so forth and so on, but without actual meditation, unpacking, and contemplation of the texts, they’ll simply seem like some sort of classical pop occulture.  After all, our notion of “intellectual understanding” is not a classical one; to the ancients, the notion of “intellect” was something much more profound and all-encompassing than a mere surface-level, quasi-Apollonian awareness of something.  And when one looks at a single Hermetic text in isolation, like a single book of the Corpus Hermeticum or a single Stobaean Fragment, all is well and good, but when one starts to look at the broader picture, we run into difficulties with inconsistencies, contradictions, and paradoxes that make trying to hold all of the Hermetic canon in our minds at the same time impossible.

There are a few major things to bear in mind when we read the Hermetic texts:

  1. What we have as our Hermetic canon is only that which survived the cruel knife of history.  We know for a fact that there was much more Hermetic literature written and produced in classical times than what we have nowadays, and we know that what we have is only what survives, and even then not always in a complete form.  While hopefully further classical Hermetic literature will come to light, either in part or in whole, we have to be aware that we’ll likely never have access to all the texts that we find references to otherwise.
  2. There wasn’t one single Hermetic school or lineage.  Although there’s much in common between all the Hermetic texts, there’s evidence in the very texts themselves of different Hermetic groups that contributed bits and pieces to the Hermetic canon, and evidence as well of polemics and debates and disagreements between those groups.  Just as in other things, there was no monolithic, centralized authority on what was or was not Hermetic back in the day.
  3. Even if we were to take the Hermetic canon as a more-or-less continuous single “thing”, we still run into the fact that we see some major difficulties even on a pretty fundamental level, such as the goodness or badness of the cosmos.  Modern scholars of Hermetic works, such as Garth Fowden or Christian Bull, posit that these inconsistencies point to the notion of the Way of Hermēs as a progressive thing, either going from a monist to dualist viewpoint (Fowden’s theory) or a dualist to monist one (Bull’s theory).

What we end up with is a notion that the Hermetic texts are not a single thing, even though there’s plenty in common in underlying thought between these texts, because the whole of the Hermetic tradition (even limiting ourselves to a classical Hermetist stance) isn’t a single, static thing.  There’s a reason why I call this the “Way of Hermēs”, because it really is a way, a process towards divinity.  This isn’t a single philosophy or a single religion, but something more like a meta-philosophy or meta-religion, something that goes on at a different level either behind the scenes or beyond the outward practice of discourse and cult.  What we have as the Hermetic texts, most of which is representative of back-and-forth dialog between master and student, are more indicative of an ongoing upraising (both in the conventional sense as well as the metaphorical sense), and because of that, we have to understand that not everyone is going to be ready for the same notions or ideas at the same time.  A single “Hermetic catechism” that lays it all out bare would seem to go against this notion, because not everyone would be able to understand it all, and need to go through a process of expounding and understanding (a very old school form of “solve et coagula”) in order to get there.

For instance, consider Fowden’s and Bull’s theories on dualistic versus monistic Hermetic beliefs.  It’s a fact that some of the Hermetic texts seem to be incredibly supportive and encouraging of the world of creation we live in, seeing it as worthy of veneration and adoration, while others consider it in a more gnostic light of it being evil and something to be shunned and departed from.  Fowden posits that the Way of Hermēs begins with a monistic stance that proceeds to a dualist one, while Bull has it the other way around.  From Christian Bull’s paper Ancient Hermetism and Esotericism (Aries (15), 2015, pp.109—135):

Another central question in the scholarship on Hermetism regards the internal doctrinal consistency between the various treatises ascribed to Hermes and his disciples; to wit, a reader of the Hermetica in toto faces conflicting injunctions as to how one should view the world and one’s place in it. Early scholars such as Thaddeus Zielinski and Wilhelm Bousset maintained that there were two main groups of texts, containing mutually exclusive teachings: the “Gnostic”, dualistic, and pessimistic texts, and, on the other hand, the “philosophical”, monistic, and optimistic texts (while a third set of texts mixed the two tendencies). This distinction was further elaborated by perhaps the twentieth-century’s most influential scholar of Hermetism, André-Jean Festugière. However, the theory has been challenged in the last three decades by Garth Fowden and Jean-Pierre Mahé, who both consider the different texts to belong to various stages on a cohesive “Way of Hermes”, an initiatory way of spiritual formation. In the view of both of these authors, this way would lead the candidate from initially seeing the cosmos as good, an image of god, and then progressively develop a more negative view on matter, the body, and the world, ostensibly no longer important for the upward journey of the soul. This theory of a way of Hermes has so far not been seriously challenged, although Tage Petersen questioned the usability of the term dualism for the texts commonly so-called, and instead postulated an overriding monistic tendency even in these texts. For my own part, I have suggested that the way in fact moves from a pedagogical dualism, in which the disciple is taught to alienate himself from the body and the world, so as to be able to achieve visionary experiences on the higher stages of the way, at which point the value of the body and the world is reaffirmed.

In this way, I think the notion of a progressive Way is useful to understand what Hermet(ic)ism “is”, and not just for this monist/dualist bit, but for much else as well.  It’s like the Buddhist parable of the raft from the Alagaddūpama Sutta combined with the parable of the burning house from the Lotus Sutra, in that we need to use and phrase things the right way for the right person for them to develop the right way, but only when it’s right for them; any earlier, and we might not lead them or develop them in the right way (or even do harm), but any later and the value of it will be diminished or pointless having already served its purpose.  This is much like what Asclepius tells Ammon in his letter from Book XVI: “earlier I taught this, but what I’m about to tell you now is going to contradict that”, because at this point, Ammon is ready to be revealed a deeper truth that couldn’t be contained in the earlier teachings.  In other words, while general truths can be taught in general teachings, more nuanced and subtle truths cannot.  It’s like learning physics: introductory physics uses simple models that account for things in an ideal sense, but more advanced and applied physics often require different models that would go against the simpler ones to account for more meaningful or profound contexts.

All this to say that trying to think of Hermet(ic)ism, the Way of Hermēs, in terms of a handful of “principles” is surprisingly really hard to do.

Now, I’m not saying it can’t be done, and there’s already a historical parallel for this, even in the Hermetic texts themselves: that of the κεφαλαία kephalaía, the “chief points” (sometimes translated as “principles”).  We see this most clearly in the Definitions of Hermēs Trismegistus to Asclepius (as given in English by J.P. Mahé in Clement Salaman’s Way of Hermēs and which I expounded on on my blog years ago) as well as in the Eleventh Stobaean Fragment, but all of these are rather long lists of gnomic, sometimes paradoxical statements.  The purpose of these kephalaía are to act as the “chapter headings”, as it were, of other discourses, the fundamental points that would need to be borne in mind in the context of other talks or topics, and each of which would be expounded in other discourses and lessons.  In many cases, many of these kephalaía are found in extant discourses (especially the Definitions), and suggests that they’re of an older date than the later Hermetic texts, with those texts written to expound on (or at least reference) those given kephalaía.  So it’s not like it has always been impossible to come up with a set of principles or axioms to bear in mind when it comes to Hermetic studies, but with about 50 such statements made each in the Definitions and in the Eleventh Stobaean Fragment, they’re not going to be as catchy or as memorable necessarily as the Kybalion’s made-up stuff.

Going back to that Christian Bull paper I linked to earlier, Bull brings up another perspective: six “central elements of esotericism” present in the Hermetic canon.  These are based on the work of the earlier scholar Antoine Faivre, who studied the various currents of Western esotericism after the 1400s CE to provide a set of themes that various Western esoteric traditions fulfill.  In a Hermetic context, only the first four are truly necessary, with the latter two being supplied as additional elements which

  1. Correspondence: everything is mystically connected, with the divine Above represented through symbols as well as emanations into the worldly Below.
  2. Living Nature: nature is animated by a central force that can be tapped into through sympathies found in the occult/hidden virtues of things and works in the world.
  3. Imagination and Mediation: the student imagines with their mind (Nous) the forces that connect the cosmos, and such imagined symbols can be used to mediate between the student, nature, and divinity, and thereby to become divine.
  4. Transmutation (Rebirth): the inner being of the student is transmuted (reborn) through rites of initiation and/or esoteric knowledge, estranging themselves from the world and the life they have known to be reborn as something new to properly “live in the world without being a part of it”, a sort of “solve et coagula” of the soul and whole of the human being.
  5. Concordance: there is a common core to all religions derived from the perennial philosophy or prisca theologica, present in all humanity due to their divine element (Logos), but which can only be fully realized through following the Way of Hermēs (by means of the Nous).  We see this in the syncretic background blending Greek and Egyptian elements with other input from other traditions, giving Hermet(ic)ism that whole “meta” quality of both religion and philosophy.
  6. Transmission: esoteric knowledge is transmitted from master to disciple in a chain going back to an authoritative source, providing a sense of continuity that allows for future generations to have the same mysteries as older generations.

There are issues with this use of principalization leading to reification of esotericism, of which Hermet(ic)ism is just one example and emanation, which Bull goes on to discuss at length.  Still, using Faivre’s model of esotericism isn’t a bad start to think of the Way of Hermēs so long as one can also understand their proper place and context.  Bull is more a fan of Hugh B. Urban’s notion of three principles that can be seen to better understand the phenomena of esotericism, instead:

  1. The creation of a private social space
  2. The claim to possess deeper insights into canonical texts than outsiders
  3. Rites of initiation designed to create a new human being, which is a prerequisite to gain access to the social space and deeper insights

For the sake of understanding what Hermet(ic)ism is, Bull prefers Urban’s model of three principles over Faivre’s model of six principles because of the difference in what they focus on: Faivre focuses on matters of doctrine, while Urban focuses on matters of strategy.  And it’s this distinction that makes all the difference between viewing Hermet(ic)ism as a destination versus as a path:

Widely dissimilar doctrines can be used as part of similar social strategies, which therefore have a more universal, cross-culturally comparative potential. By considering esotericism as a strategy for a group and its members to gain social prestige we can come closer to the lived reality of the humans behind the texts, instead of becoming lost in their (often convoluted) metaphysical speculations. This is especially so in the case of the Hermetica, where the actual authors have totally disappeared behind the pseudonym of Hermes Trismegistus and his associates; since we have little external evidence of the lived reality of Hermetism, we must try to deduce it from the social strategies we perceive to be at work in the texts.

The issue with this approach, however, is that unless you’re in an actual lodge or circle or some other thing, that first point is basically moot for us; many of us (especially me) discuss Hermet(ic)ism openly without such a secret, esoteric, restricted group to teach things in, and are largely independent of one another as individuals.  To be sure, this is far from being the case across the board, and there are definitely Hermetist/Hermeticist teachers who take people and initiate them and teach them as needed and as appropriate, but perhaps not so widely on the same level as it might have been back in classical times (or even a hundred or so years ago).  As a result, matters and rites of initiation, except for the few Golden Dawn and Thelemic lodges that survive, don’t mean much unless you’re just focused on your own personal growth and development, and that doesn’t necessarily come about through a single big ritual (and even then, a Way is still composed not only of opening the door but taking many small steps afterward, as well).

Trying to sift and sort out the issues in doctrine, as Bull pointed out, is a major problem for anyone who wants to try to “principalize” Hermet(ic)ism, because there’s rarely a unity of doctrine that one can neatly summarize without also needing to immediately get into the weeds to clarify when those principles hold and when not.  Some super high-level stuff can be said, sure, like Garth Fowden’s summary of the doctrines of the cosmos in The Egyptian Hermes:

God is one, and the creator of all things, which continue to depend on God as elements in a hierarchy of beings. Second in this hierarchy after God himself comes the intelligible world, and then the sensible world. The creative and beneficent powers of God flow through the intelligible and sensible realms to the sun, which is the demiurge around which revolve the eight spheres of the fixed stars, the planets and the earth. From these spheres depend the daemons, and from the daemons Man, who is a microcosm of creation. Thus everything is part of God, and God is in everything, his creative activity continuing unceasingly. All things are one and the pleroma of being is indestructible.

This sounds all extremely reasonable, at least until when you consider some of the Stobaean Fragments which say in no uncertain terms that “once [God] created, ceased creating, and does not create at present” (SH V.1), that there’s the ninth sphere of the decans underneath a tenth (and outermost) sphere of the Primum Mobile which exerts influence and power on all the planets including the Sun (SH VI.3—9), and so forth.  Again, we run into issues of doctrine, which could result either from working from the ideas of different Hermetic groups that may not have seen eye-to-eye on these matters, or from trying to figure out when it’s proper to actually bring up or teach about the decans and how important they really are.  Again, a general idea can be stated as an all-around principle, so long as there are plenty of asterisks to mark it with for exceptions and edge cases.

Maybe I’m just letting perfect be the enemy of the good here, and maybe I’ve lost sight of the importance of beginner’s models that are a lie but useful ones to get started with.  After all, nobody starts off in a physics 101 course trying to account for every possible variable and fluctuation, but they start with simple models with only a few terms to get an idea of the simplest base case first, and it’s only once those are fully understood is further complexity introduced.  But I also feel like that undermines the whole notion of what a principle is, a statement of truth that can guide and lead us in our ways, in the Way.  Maybe, then, it’s improper to make principles about doctrine based on the Hermetic texts, and perhaps then it’d be better to make principles about practice instead. And even then, perhaps that, too, is too changeable and changing in order to say anything concrete about.  But, I mean…if the ancients could make kephalaía-type statements about individual bits or bobs of Hermetic ideas and practice, why does it seem so hard to make one big kephálaios for it all?  There is the whole of Book III of the Corpus Hermeticum that I like, but even then…hm.  Even the Emerald Tablet, which is getting to be a bit late in the game to be representative of Hermetism (after all, “as above, so below” appears nowhere in the Corpus Hermeticum, Asclepius, Stobaean Fragments, Definitions, or other classical Hermetic texts, although similar more nuanced notions do crop up), seems too obscure and metaphorical to offer much in the way of concrete, clear principles.

More to think about, to be sure, and this is something I want to keep mulling over.  I mean, it really is the work and mark of a true master to simplify something, and I’m far from a master in this; between needing more study, meditation, and contemplation and needing more just outright experience, it’s clear even to myself that I’m not sure what a set of reasonable principles should look like, if anything at all.  If nothing else, this is where we can see the whole Hermēs-as-god influence comes in, both as guide and as trickster, ever-shifting and ever-flowing, always leading to truth in the essence without necessarily being true in the instant.

De Regnis: On Principles of Practice and Regular Practices

Although most of my writing is visible and accessible through my blog and my ebooks, there are a bunch of writing projects that I don’t necessarily intend for public release.  When I was recently going through my old documents folder on my computer, I found a writing project I had intended to be a compendium of Hermetic and Neoplatonic knowledge, guidance, and advice that would serve to document my understandings and work as a textbook unto itself, both for my benefit and any who might come after me.  This project, De Regnis or “On Kingdoms”, got pretty far along before it got abandoned, though parts of it serve as seeds or are outright cannibalized for some of my other works.  Though I have no plans to continue writing this text, I want to share some of the sections I wrote that can act as a useful introduction to some of the practices of Hermetic magic in a modern context.  My views and practices and experiences have grown considerably since then, but perhaps it can help those who are just getting started or are curious about how to fortify their own practices and views.  If you have any views, comments, suggestions, or ideas on the topics shared in this post, please feel free to share in the comments!

Today’s selection (and the last!) will be on the topics of the principles of magical practice and regular practices.

On Principles of Practice

Dealing with the raw forces of creation, the elements, the planets, the stars, and other spiritual entities is dangerous, though rewarding. By interacting with these forces, magicians risk being overwhelmed by them without proper and regular practice and maintenance. Laying the foundation of daily practice to stabilize, sanctify, and secure one’s life cannot be overstated in importance;though it may not be glamorous or immediately rewarding, and though it may take considerable time and effort all on its own, regular practice is a crucial aspect of a magician’s life. Several principles can help guide a magician to developing a regular, consistent, and strong foundation in living magically.

Sanitize. Keep your entire sphere clean and cleansed, from the basest material components to the highest intellectual and divine ones. Air out your house, vacuum your carpets, sweep the floorboards, dust the fan blades, wash the car, light the candles, burn the camphor, sprinkle the holy water, clean all the things. Asperge yourself with holy water or other cleansing agents frequently.Do regular banishing and force balancing on yourself. Recleanse and reconsecrate your tools,talismans, and ritual space every so often. The more astral dirt you accrue by tracking it in from the higher spheres, or the more dust you bring in from inviting higher ups down into your house,the more confused and imbalanced things get down here and up there alike. Keep yourself, your surroundings, your tools, and your mind clean, cleansed, and clear.

Learn. You can do nothing if you know nothing. Read any and all books you can find on magic,philosophy, religion, spirituality, mathematics, literature, mythology, archaeology, linguistics, folktraditions, fiction ancient and new, science, engineering, history, economics, crafting, and more.Take classes in whatever you have an interest in, whether related to magic or not. Talk withfriends about their hobbies, experiences, stories, advice, warnings, hopes, dreams, fears, and desires.Expanding your mind also expands the potential horizons you can explore, no matter how innocuousor trivial something may seem. Harbor no biases on what you read, study, or discuss; keep an openmind and admit anything with practical merit. Go on roadtrips to see new things. Walk in big citiesto see new faces and fashions. Read blogs with political opinions opposite yours yet are well-writtenand reasoned.

Protect. If you have one foot in the door to get into the mysteries, you also leave the door ajar for ethereal enemies to attack you. Keep yourself safe. Set up barriers, shields, or guards around your house. Make protective charms, phylacteries, or enchanted trinkets to keep on yourself. Find out what force you best resonate with and manipulate it to act as a shield around you. Always keep an eye out for anything awry or ominous. Create magical or ritual weapons to call on or call up when needed. Create magical oils or incenses to keep out bad things and keep in good things. Be mindful of barriers, boundaries, and circles that have already been erected. Leave gossip, dangerous places, and risky situations be instead of looking for bad stuff to happen.

Breathe. Breathing is the source of life down here, and aspiration shares the same root with “inspiration” and “spirit”. By knowing, feeling, and controlling the breath one can control voice level, speech and diction, blood flow, thought patterns, and ultimately the entire being tied into material reality just as one is into spiritual reality. Breathing is the crux of meditation, and meditation is the crux of knowing yourself, which is the holiest injunction humanity has. Breathing,just breathing, is magical in and of itself; breathing is what animates us, ensouls us, and keeps us alive and living. Breathing is the foundation of magic, and breathing must be known, understood,and integrated constantly with oneself in order to progress.

Pray. Humans, powerful as they are, were never meant to be alone in any sense of the word, nor can they accomplish their goals on their own. People need help, and prayer is how humans can obtain it, especially from the divine. Pray for guidance, for patience, for mercy, for compassion, for humility, for forgiveness, for health, for sight, for knowledge, for wisdom, for authority, for power, for light, and in that order. Pray the Source, the gods, the angels, the celestials, the elementals, the dead, and each other for their blessings, advice, guidance, alignment, unity, and boons. Pray to know how to use the blessings and boons given to us to the best of abilities and for the best result for all of us. Pray with praise, pray with emotion, pray with silence. Pray with your entire body,soul, spirit and mind. Pray every day, pray several times a day. Pray.

Stay healthy. Humans are amphibious, both spiritual and physical. Magic is largely focused on the spiritual, but it always needs to bring the spiritual and astral down into the material and physical. Be sure you do not neglect your body, because the body the primary and only vehicle you have to work magic, and the one tool you will always have with you in the world. Get enough sleep every night. Go to bed at the same time every night. Get enough to eat every day, but no more. Eat the proper things in the proper amounts. Shower, wash your hair, brush your hair, brush your teeth, floss your teeth, exfoliate, deodorize. Get at least half an hour of light physical activity every day. Expose yourself to the elements once every so often. Go outside and enjoy the sunlight,moonlight, starlight, wind, mist, clouds, rain, rivers, oceans, dirt, trees, and animals. “Healthy”has its roots in the same word as “whole” and “holy”, and you need to stay whole physically in order to spiritually progress wholesomely.

Get dirty. Actually go out into the world and remind yourself that you are still a physical,material being that has physical, material needs. Everything in moderation, including moderation:get sick, get drunk, get high, get rich, get poor, get happy, get sad, get angry, get lonely, get loved.You are a human being to experience human life, and without that experience you will have failed at your birth’s purpose. Getting yourself meshed in human life, living in the world while not wholly of it, helps keep things in perspective and shows the power of the cleansing, cleaning, Light-bearing work you do. Getting dirty helps us realize that even dirt is pure and holy, that nothing is truly separate from the Source from which it came.

Do it. Complain however much you like or complain not at all; magic and life are going to suck no matter what. That does not change the fact that you are a magician to do magic. Do it. Do it now. There is no other way, time, or place to do it. Just do it.

On Regular Practices

Based on these principles, a magician should develop a strict regimen of practice that is carried out each and every day. It cannot be overstated or overemphasized how important and crucial it is fora regimen and routine of regular practice to be developed; this is the beating heart of the Great Work. Just as a musician must study music theory and practice for years, or an engineer technology and science rigorously for as long, before reaching mastery, so too must regular practice be both regular and practiced. This is the way magicians refine their skills as well as themselves, both in this world and in all others.

Upon creating a regular practice, one should endeavor every day to carry it out without fail. Even though this is ideal, however, sometimes life throws the machine of practice out of balance:people get sick, family emergencies occur, mundane matters must temporarily take importance,and so forth. Sometimes a little bit more sleep is needed, or one simply and honestly forgets to carry out one’s tasks for the day. This is alright, and no cause for inflicting punishment on oneself.In such cases when a set routine is broken, all that is required is to continue it where one left off. Failure and change is destined to happen in life, and the notion of success in a system where failure is inevitable is to keep trying and keep going after every failure. This dedication and willingness to keep up one’s routine and practice is the core ethic of the Work, just as the routine itself is the praxis of it.

Further, there are limitations to regular practices that have been set. Although it is good to keep oneself to a set practice, it is not necessarily as good to keep the same practice forever.As magicians grow and evolve in their spiritual and cosmic lives, some practices cease to become useful, while others can suddenly hold more importance never before considered. Every so often,but not too frequently, one should reevaluate oneself and one’s spiritual progress, understanding which practices are of use, which were of use but no longer, and what new practices might become of use or are interesting enough to pursue. Upon investigation and conferring with resources and other advisers, one should change one’s practice, add to it, or remove unhelpful acts to keep one spiritually fresh and constantly evolving.

To illustrate the notion of regular practice, a simple routine of daily rituals might look like the following:

Daily morning practice: ablution with holy water and ritual cleansing, prayers to the Almighty (adoration, intercession, requests for guidance and power), prayers to any powers or patrons one allies with, general offering of water and incense to local spirits and ancestors, at least thirty minutes of meditation, simple energy work.

Daily evening practice: at least twenty minutes of meditation, simple energy work, reflection on the day’s events, prayers to the Almighty and other powers (confession, intercession, protection, thanksgiving).

Weekly practice: thorough banishing and cleansing of one’s sphere, offering to one’s spiritual allies, divination of any pressing questions and the coming week, contemplation of a magical symbol.

Monthly practice: thorough banishing and cleansing of one’s home and local environment, divination for the coming month, reconsecration of one’s tools, consecration of holy water and other supplies used in magical workings.

Yearly practice: special feast days or festivals, offerings to one’s dead heroes or ancestors, pilgrimages to one’s hometown or spiritual focus, analysis of one’s progress in the past year, changes to one’s practice.

In addition to regular practice, having a regular space dedicated to practice is essential. Setting up a corner of one’s bedroom to act as a spiritual center, or using a spare room or insulated large shed for the same, will suffice to set up a temple for spiritual work. At least two focuses for spiritual work should be erected: a shrine at which one can comfortably kneel for devotional work and prayers, and a waist-high altar for operations, spiritual work, and conjuration. This area should be kept clean and pure, especially if kept in a bedroom or other public space where other people visit.

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.