49 Days of Definitions: Review

This post is the final recap of the series “49 Days of Definitions” that discussed and explained some of my thoughts 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.  I sought to afford people some food for thought with my meditations on each aphorism in a series of blog posts, one aphorism per day, and while I know I didn’t plumb the entire depths of each one, I also didn’t try to do that.  Still, it was a blast to write, and I hope it helps in explaining some of the philosophy involved when dealing with Hermetic work.

For convenience, here are links to the posts for each aphorism, along with a very brief summary of each section:

  1. Part I: one, two, three, four, five
    The three worlds of creation: God, the world, and Man.
  2. Part II: one, two, three, four, five, six
    The elements of the world and light which enables the world to be known.
  3. Part III: one, two, three, four
    The ubiquity of God, the place of Man in the world, and of the world in God.
  4. Part IV: one, two
    The different types of living beings and what they’re composed of.
  5. Part V: one, two, three
    Nous and Logos, God and reasonable speech.
  6. Part VI: one, two, three
    The development towards perfection of the soul of Man in the body of humans.
  7. Part VII: one, two, three, four, five
    The immortality of Man afforded by God, and the mortality of humans mandated by the world.
  8. Part VIII: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven
    Knowledge or ignorance of God/world/Man/self, and the power of Man as God.
  9. Part IX: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven
    The place of Man in the cosmos, the nature of the soul in Man, what perfect knowledge is.
  10. Part X: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven
    The natures and realization of good and evil, how the parts of the world work together.

So, what are some of the takeaways from the Definitions?

  • God is both the end result of spiritual development and the ultimate source of all things that exist, don’t exist, might exist, etc.  Everything else that exists does so within God as part of God.  There is nothing that is not within God.  God is greater than anything conceivable, and is exemplified by and is knowledge.  God is intelligible, able to be known, by those who are able to understand the intelligible.
  • The material world is a part of God, but also hides God from those within, since the world is sensible, able to be directly perceived according to material senses, but things that are intelligible are invisible and unsensable within the world.  The material world is populated with bodies, composed of matter, and different bodies have different components of elements as well as of living essences: souls, spirits, and minds.
  • We as humans are composed of different parts: a material body that dies, an immortal soul that moves the body, spirit that performs the movement within the body according to soul, and mind which is our connection to God.  We contain the nature of all things of the sensible and intelligible worlds, and rule over the sensible world as God rules over the entirety of creation.  No other creature has this distinction, since only human beings are given a special connection to God through our souls.  We are both of the sensible world and of intelligible God, God made us in its image, and God loves us and we love God as spouses or children of each other.
  • The way to salvation (immortality, freedom from death, freedom from evil) is knowledge.  Knowledge of the self is the same as knowledge of creation which is the same as knowledge of God.  Knowledge is possible due to the presence of Nous/divine Mind within our human souls and the ability to use Logos/reasonable speech.  Perfection of the soul is knowledge obtained by attaining Nous itself, joining ourselves with God in the process, and in the process we obtain the power to help others free themselves from suffering, ignorance, and evil.
  • The way to obtain knowledge is through silent contemplation, the use of pure Logos without need to further anything of this world.  Logos is the servant of the Nous, pure Reason working for and under pure Mind, and through reasonable thoughts, meditation, speech, and action can we obtain knowledge.  This must be aimed toward divinity, however, and all actions as well; the use of speech or action to further worldly, animal, or material goals does not fulfill this.  Much as one should treat the body well so much as only to keep the soul on its way to perfection, so should all actions in this world be done with an eye on the goal of divinity.

Despite the area covered by these definitions, there are some questions leftover that I’m sure are ringing in the minds of my readers; there are some I have, as well.  Some of the questions that are left unanswered wholly or in part by the Definitions that I came up with, details and minor things as they might be:

  • The many gods that exist are not God, this much is clear; I never claimed to think otherwise, since God and gods operate and exist on two wholly different levels.  That said, there are experiences of people who encounter gods made flesh, though the Definitions preclude such a thing, relegating the gods to the heavens and out of earthy existence.  What of the many myths, stories, and experiences of those who experience gods made men, not God made Man?  What about the underworld gods that are immortal?
  • Is it possible to reconcile worship of God with that of other gods, even if we recognize the difference in nature between the two?  What is the proper method of worship to God, when God is without attributes and is divinely simple and without comparison?
  • The Gnostic/Neoplatonic aspects of the text make the material world we live in to be evil, with the immortal and eternal intelligible world beyond good.  Why is this the case?  It makes sense that denying the soul is bad for it, but why should all material actions done for material purposes and aims automatically neglect the soul?  Is it impossible for a combination of Nous, soul, and immortality to exist from the outset?
  • God made the world for Man; everything exists within and for Man.  Without Man, the world may as well not exist, and likely wouldn’t.  So why did God make Man?  Why is Man desirable and loved by God, and vice versa?  What’s the whole point, and why should we have to strive for Nous in the first place?  Why does Man have to be mortal to strive for immortality?
  • What exactly does it mean that we are made in the species of Man after God?  I’ve been using the phrase “Man is made in the image of God” from the Bible, but what does that entail?  Is it physical form?  Is it our ability for Nous?  What is the nature of an essence, idea, or species that makes us so different from other creatures?
  • God is said to have conceived Logos in silence, and that we should do the same.  But what is silence?  Is it meditation and contemplation of reason, direct use of Logos without speech?
  • Because of our connection to Nous and God, we have as much power as the gods.  What is this power, exactly?  Just the choice of choosing knowledge or ignorance according to our soul-based passions?  What does it mean that we can become gods in our own right?  Gods as in the Olympians, gods as in heroes, gods as in planets or stars, gods as in God?  Or just immortal, pure Man?
  • The text hints at but never directly states that the soul may require multiple iterations of lives in order to be perfected, i.e. the soul may undergo reincarnation or transmigration.  What is the nature of death and birth, and how do souls go between one or the other?  What happens to a soul that is not yet perfect when the body dies?  What about humans who are born without soul-Nous/the Nous-based connection to God?  What about humans who are unable to use Logos/reasonable speech?
  • What about the spiritual lives, if any, of animals or the gods themselves?  These beings have soul, but lack Nous.  Is there a possibility for them to understand God and the cosmos as well?  Does reincarnation have any role to play in this, or transmigration of the soul?  What about plants or stones?  Many magicians work with the spirits or genii of individual places or bodies that are said to lack souls and Nous or even spirit, so how are they taken into account?

Alright!  That’s it for this blog project.  I really thank you guys for sticking through with me through this phase of philosophy, and I hope you got as much out of it as I did.  I had read the Definitions before, but I was honestly surprised at how much I got out of it this time by going through each with analysis and writing my thoughts down.  The past seven weeks really helped me put myself on a more solid Hermetic footing in my work, and I hope all you guys who stuck around got something out of this as well.  If you have any questions, feel free to post in the comments and help polish and refine some of my analyses further.  While the Definitions lay out the basics of Hermetic philosophy, there’s a lot that was left unsaid or unclear.  That’s kind of the point of any introductory text, of course, since it serves as an introduction, so I hope you’ll investigate more of this with me, with friends, or on your own and dig deeper into the philosophy and worldview of Hermes Trismegistus.

The past 49 days have been full of writing, and would you look at that, it’s suddenly the end of 2013!  I hope you guys had a fantastic winter solstice, however you may have spent it, and I hope you have an even better New Year and start to 2014!  Now let’s stop talking about spirits of God and soul and let’s start talking about the spirits we’ll be drinking and enjoying tonight.  Happy New Year, my fellow amblers and dear readers!  You guys made this a truly awesome year, and I look forward to what next year will bring to all of us.

Open Thread on Geomancy, so ask away!

I know a lot about geomancy.  Not a lot of people do, though that’s very slowly changing.  Just as an experiment in reader involvement with my blog, let’s try something new: ask me questions on geomancy, right down in the comments!  I’ll reply as best I can, given the comment space, but let’s see what questions you all may have.

Just a few things before we begin:

  • If you’re curious about the symbols of geomancy, you might do well to look up my posts from the De Geomanteia series I did a while back.  Try reading those and see if those answer your question.
  • This is not a place to ask me for readings; if you want one of those, you can always hire me as a reader through my Services page.
  • This is specifically for divinatory geomancy as practiced in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.  This is not for the I Ching, feng shui, or Final Fantasy-esque earth-shaking magickqsz.  I’m barely familiar with ifa, so try to steer questions away from that.
  • Please don’t ask for full chart interpretations here. General questions about technique and symbolism are awesome, but giving me a full chart and asking me to interpret it for a particular question isn’t.

And with that, have at!  I’ll stop replying to questions one week from today, so get your questions in soon and I’ll answer them as they come in.

Questions from Me to You, Dear Reader

Being an active blogger, apparently, and who gets a decent amount of daily traffic (who recently passed the 100K hit count, thank you guys so much!), I like to amuse and confuse myself at what you guys actually like to read here.  I mean, seeing how I blog on everything from orgone technology to angelic conjurations and religious politics, I’ve got a fair bit of knowledge built up and a good number of posts to help share it.  Still, every so often I wonder why people read my blog, and what they might be interested in reading.  After all, feedback is one way to fine-tune writing, and you, dearest readers, are just the ones to give it!  So, here are a few questions for you to consider and answer down in the comments below:

  1. What drew you to my blog in the first place?  How’d you hear about it, and how do you tend to read it (RSS feed, WordPress Reader, links from Twitter or Facebook, etc.)?  Do you ever bother to check out the comments on the posts?  Do you ever bother to comment on the posts?
  2. I’ve made a fair number of designs for Tables of Practices, talismans, lamens, and the like.  Have you found any of them to be useful in your own work?  Have you made anything incorporating or based off of the designs you’ve found here?  Are there any designs in particular you’d like to see me create, improve, or focus on in the future?  Are there any seals, images, sigils, or pictures from magical texts you’d like to see me redraw or remake for a new age?
  3. I really enjoyed doing my series of posts on geomancy, De Geomanteia, since it’s a large topic that I know a lot about and enjoy talking about.  Are there any other series you’d like me to consider doing in the future?  Any other large topics you’d like me to delve into more thoroughly, both for my benefit and yours?  What would you like me to talk about, generally and specifically?  One series I thought about doing would be a modern reinterpretation of images of the Zodiac (e.g. Virgo as the Robot Bitch, Aquarius as the Internet-Addicted Jihadi, etc.); would you all be interested in things like this?
  4. One of the most-viewed pages on my blog is my post on the shorthand I developed for personal use.  I never expected this to be so popular a thing, but I guess a lot more people are interested in stenography than occultism.  Do any of you actually use this shorthand?  If so, have you used it for sigilization, simple writing, calligraphy, or just as an exercise in bored creativity?  Are there any other posts you come here specifically to reference (the page on Planetary Conjurations from the Munich Manual is another popular one)?
  5. I hear tell that a lot of people are impressed with the vast knowledge and intellect I display here on my blog (I disagree with the qualifications and adjectives used), but some readers have expressed interest in simpler, introductory-level posts every so often for the beginner or less bored.  What kinds of introductions, 100-style topics would you like to see me discuss?  Or would you rather me stick to the higher-level, philosophical stuff?  Would you rather me put things in terms of theory and back-end occult mechanics, or actual ritual and real-world experiences, or some mix of the two?
  6. Are there any other blogs you know of similar to this one as far as topics, philosophy, magic, and the like go that you’d suggest (and aren’t already in the blogroll to the right)?  I’m always on the lookout to expand my blogosphere and knowledge by observing the work of others who actually do the Work.
  7. What are some of your interests in the occult?  Are you more into hearth- or kitchen-witchery?  Do you dig Western ceremonial, grimoire, or Solomonic magic?  Are you more of an energy worker, orgone/radionics/reiki channeler, or a psionics practitioner?  Do you read for the philosophy or the practice?  Are you here just for the lulz and passing interests, or are you here to start yourself off on your own path?  Do you have a label for yourself, or do you describe yourself by what you do?  Do you have a specific culture or racial heritage you tie yourself and your work to?
  8. I live, work, and Work in the Washington, DC area of the US, and do readings and offer classes at Sticks and Stones in Fairfax, VA.  Are any of my readers close enough to get a small get-together going for magicians and occultists?  If I were to offer classes at Sticks and Stones with a focus on Hermetic magic and the like, what would you like to see me teach, if you could come by?

If you read my blog regularly, or even if this is your first time browsing around, feel free to leave a bit of feedback in the comments below.  Help me make my blog more awesome, and everyone’ll benefit.  I don’t have much to entice you with to make you comment, but I can give you a hug through the ether if that’s okay.  This isn’t to change the focus or scope of the blog (it is still my blog, after all), but knowing what some of my readers think can help me get more ideas myself.

Grimoiric Textual Authenticity and Legitimacy

I was looking over some of the threads in /r/occult on Reddit recently and came across a perplexing, bemusing thread that…not gonna lie, it made me too angry to reply to it.  Like, not enraged Tea Party-like flaming anger, but there was just so much wrong with the OP’s views that I had a hard time knowing where to begin.  They admitted they were new, but I contented myself with downvoting and upvoting replies appropriately in the thread.  The gist of the thread was that the OP was looking for “propper [sic] grimoires”, at first for display purposes like home decor but later to actually read and investigate.  After having been suggested the Clavicula Solomonis, the OP did some searching on Amazon, but decided he didn’t want “Knock-off / Edited / Bad copies of the book”, trying to find “the acutal [sic] book itself”.  From his later replies in the thread, he didn’t necessarily want the original manuscripts, just the “original text” instead of something that had been “edited into oblivion”.

I…what is this, I don’t even.  Essentially, what he’s asking is like asking for the original Gospel of John, Dao De Jing, or something similar, the very first copy taken down by hand without any of the translation, editing, or whatnot.  None of the attached philosophy or editing, just the good ol’ original text without any of the extra embellishment.

Grumpy Cat says "NO"

This is such a bad question that I honestly don’t know how to reply except “no, stop it, you’re doing it wrong”.  Actually, no, it’s so bad, it’s not even wrong.  Grimoires (literally “grammars”, methods and rules for learning and applying magic that often contain exact ritual specifications in addition to magical and ritual frameworks) aren’t discrete texts that arose independently in occult vacuums.  Grimoires, then and now, were part of a thriving (and often underground) tradition of magic that was derived from older grimoires before them and helped derive newer ones after them.  They were more academic than hedgewitchy formularies or herbals, and less philosophical than outright religious tractates on angels or heresies, but were still fairly academic texts.

The big issue is that academic rigor nowadays is much different from academic rigor back then.  Combining hearsay with experimental or anecdotal data, plus plenty of appeals to authority (Plato, Aristotle, Vergil, and Solomon were some of the faves back then), as well as flawless incorporation of spiritual and material knowledge yielded sometimes awkward but applicable logical results in magic.  The primary method of transcribing this method was by manuscript and handwritten text; given the expensive nature of book publishing and the fact that vanishingly few publishers would want their names sent to the Inquisition for starting up a Renaissance Llewellyn, there was really no other choice but to copy, write, and transcribe grimoires from book to blank book.  This would by nature make the texts different through copy differences and transcription errors, sometimes in significant ways (differences in sigils, holy names, and words of power especially).

Plus, these texts were also largely written and copied by people who were actually doing the work, reading and incorporating those texts into their own occult practice, perhaps keeping the text intact with as few errors or differences as possible, sometimes adding in their own information or experiments, sometimes blending in information or technique from multiple sources.  Whether they wanted to keep to the tradition verbatim, add in their own supplements, or make changes based on their own experiments (e.g. “method X won’t work as written, use improvised method Y for expected results”), the end results gave grimoires a life of their own, growing and changing with different generations of occultists and magicians.

Another big source of edits in the grimoires was that their source information was often unintelligible or poorly understood to begin with.  Many of the oldest texts we have out there in the grimoire tradition are in Greek or Hebrew, and many European occultists simply had bad understanding of either language; the phrase “it’s Greek to me” came from this very situation by monks with the same problem.  Between translation to translation to copy to copy, names or nuances might have been changed or lost, especially based on the aesthetics of the transcriber’s eye when it came to magical circles, diagrams, or sigils.  This is especially bad with Hebrew, as can be seen in many manuscripts of the middle-to-late Renaissance, where any word with “Hebrew letters” is downright illegible.  There’re good arguments to be made that these illegible or overly-and-poorly stylized Hebrew letters sometimes became magical sigils in their own right, which again would undergo changes from copy to copy.

And then there’s the whole notion of “forged” grimoires.  So what if something is a “forgery”?  What would it have been forged from?  Who even cares?  Half of the texts used in the Renaissance, medieval era, and back were variously attributed to the Jewish prophets, Christian apostles, Greek philosophers, rabbinic authorities, and so forth often with no real connection between what the prophet/philosopher/apostle/etc. was known for and what the text was about (cf. Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, or the “Diadem of Moses” from the PGM, or Pietro d’Abano’s Heptameron).  The attribution of a text to a spurious author doesn’t really change the nature of the text; the real question on evaluating whether a magical text is legitimate is whether its magic is legitimate.  As Crowley said, “let success be thy proof”.  By this metric, then, even copies of the Necronomicon (a wholly and fully fictional text from Lovecraftian mythos that some authors took and ran with) are legitimate, because their magic works.  Who cares if it was made up out of whole cloth, or whether it was based on older sources?  If it works, it works; if not, trash it and start with a different text.

Asking for an “original grimoire” is…well, it’s a stupid request.  If you’re looking for an actual manuscript from the 1500s, you’d be better off trying to bribe one of the curators in the Bodleian or Ashmolean Libraries, or be willing to shell out thousands on eBay or something.  If you’re looking for the original text from which something came from, you’re on a fool’s errand.  Consider the Key of Solomon, which has some of its earliest known copies from the 1400s; we find similar information in the Grimoirum Verum and Liber Juratus, with information in Liber Juratus coming from the Hygromanteia and Sefer Razielis, which is based on the Sefer Raziel ha-Malakh, which comes from a tradition dating back to the classical Sefer ha-Razim and Greek Magical Papyri.  From Liber Juratus and the Key of Solomon, in turn, we also have material that formed the basis of the Heptameron, which is a close sibling or cousin to the planetary conjurations of the Munich Manual of Necromancy; from the Heptameron we have Trithemius’ method of drawing spirits into crystals, which itself forms the basis for much of my work.  Asking what the original source for all this stuff is, without edits or changes or translations, is like asking who the first guy who talked to angels with using a wand and circle.

I understand the want for a “critical edition” or “authoritative copy” of a text, I really do, but it’s something we take for granted in our modern age when we have Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia and people from on-high or centralized systems telling us what’s cool and what’s not.  But this is hard to do when different copies of a given text are equally useful as tried by different people or handed down in different traditions, difficult when you’re looking at centuries of living tradition and practice that introduced features rather than bugs, and impossible when there’s no authority to judge authenticity or correctness.  Magic is often seen as belonging to orthopraxy instead of orthodoxy, proper practice instead of proper doctrine; magic involves actually doing stuff more than it does simply learning it.