The Mixing-Bowl of Mind

The usual way I’ve seen to refer to a particular book and section of the Corpus Hermeticum is CH A.B, with “A” being the book number in Roman numerals and B being a section of that book in Arabic numerals (such that CH X.15 is section 15 of the tenth book of the Corpus Hermeticum).  It’s a system I like using to cite particular extracts of Hermetic doctrine from the Corpus Hermeticum as well as the Stobaean Fragments (SH), the Definitions of Hermēs to Asclepius (DH), and other Hermetic texts, but I should also note that a number of the various books of the Corpus Hermeticum sometimes have a title of their own.  CH I, for instance, is often called “Poimandrēs” (which is why Marsilio Ficino entitled his entire translation of the Corpus Hermeticum “The Divine Pymander”, though that’s like calling the entirety of the Old Testament “The Book of Geneisis”), CH X is called “The Key”, CH III is called “The Sacred Sermon”, and so forth.

CH IV, specifically, is called “The Mixing-Bowl”.  It’s also sometimes called just “(A Discourse of) Hermēs to Tat” or “The Monad”,  with the former indicating that this is a dialogue between Hermēs and Tat and the latter bringing up the discussion of the Monad at the end of the book, but it gets the name “Mixing-Bowl” from the dialogue in CH IV.3—6 in a discussion about Mind (Νους) (Copenhaver translation, here and below):

“God shared reason among all people, O Tat, but not mind, though he begrudged it to none. Grudging envy comes not from on high; it forms below in the souls of people who do not possess mind.”

“For what reason, then, did god not share mind with all of them, my father?”

“He wanted it put between souls, my child, as a prize for them to contest.”

“And where did he put it?”

“He filled a great mixing bowl with it and sent it below, appointing a herald whom he commanded to make the following proclamation to human hearts: ‘Immerse yourself in the mixing bowl if your heart has the strength, if it believes you will rise up again to the one who sent the mixing bowl below, if it recognizes the purpose of your coming to be.’  All those who heeded the proclamation and immersed themselves in mind participated in knowledge and became perfect people because they received mind.

“But those who missed the point of the proclamation are people of reason because they did not receive (the gift of) mind as well and do not know the purpose or the agents of their coming to be.  These people have sensations much like those of unreasoning animals, and, since their temperament is willful and angry, they feel no awe of things that deserve to be admired; they divert their attention to the pleasures and appetites of their bodies; and they believe that mankind came to be for such purposes.

“But those who participate in the gift that comes from god, O Tat, are immortal rather than mortal if one compares their deeds, for in a mind of their own they have comprehended all—things on earth, things in heaven and even what lies beyond heaven. Having raised themselves so far, they have seen the good and, having seen it, they have come to regard the wasting of time here below as a calamity. They have scorned every corporeal and incorporeal thing, and they hasten toward the one and only.

“This, Tat, is the way to learn about mind, to {resolve perplexities} in divinity and to understand god. For the mixing bowl is divine.”

This is an interesting metaphor Hermēs decided to use, and it’s one that’s given me some pause for thought.  Some scholars interpret this notion of “immersing yourself in the mixing-bowl of Mind” to be evidence of a ritual baptism practiced among the classical Hermeticists, but not everyone buys it.  I like the idea of it, but it’s not a lot of evidence to go on to indicate that baptism was actually a thing for the followers of Hermēs.  One might draw parallels to early forms of Christian baptism or Jewish tvilah upon which Christian baptism was based which, given the influence Judaism had on the early development of Hermeticism, isn’t too far a stretch, but there’s little else to go on besides this reference to immersion.  Neither CH XIII, which is Tat’s rebirth and initiation into the Hymns of Silence, nor “Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth”, which is another story of Tat’s initiation and elevation into the higher spheres of the cosmos, bring up a notion of baptism or ritual immersion, and those are our strongest texts indicating such ritual works performed by the early Hermeticists from the Hermetic corpora themselves.  It’s an idea I don’t not like, at any rate, though one with not a lot of firm foundation to stand upon.

What strikes me more oddly is the use of the word “mixing-bowl” (κρατήρ).  There were obviously words for “basins” or “fonts” or “pools” or “baths” in Koiné Greek, but this text specifically uses “mixing-bowl”.  It’s not like a mixing bowl one might use for cooking, though; a kratēr was a specific type of large vessel used in Greek sumposia for mixing wine that was to be served.  A Greek sumposion (or symposium, as we’d better know it in its Latin form) was a kind of formal drinking party and a key institution to Hellenic civilization for men, sometimes to revel, sometimes to discuss and debate, sometimes to initiate boys into adulthood.  Sometimes there was entertainment, sometimes philosophy, sometimes orgiastic mystery rites reserved for initiates, but every symposium had two things in common: a kratēr—the mixing-bowl in question—and a symposiarch who oversaw its use.  The symposiarch, the “leader of the symposium”, was basically the master of ceremonies and director of the symposium, ordaining what was to be the order of the event, what sorts of activities were to be engaged in, and (most importantly) decided how strong the wine was to be.  This last aspect was the crucial and fundamental job of the symposiarch.

Wine back in ancient times was most likely different from our times, and was probably much stronger (though not necessarily fortified), so while we nowadays would just drink wine straight from the bottle, drinking undiluted wine back in ancient times was seen as a massive error in behavior, and something that was suited only for barbarians and those who were drunkards to the point of insanity.  Wine was to be diluted to an acceptable strength, and determining the proper dilution for a symposium was the symposiarch’s job.  For a more relaxed, philosophical time, the wine would be diluted to a 1:3 ratio of wine to water; for a more pleasurable and entertaining time, 1:2; for the rare orgiastic rites and revelries, 1:1.  With the wine diluted to the appropriate level, the symposiarch would send his servants or slaves around with pitchers filled from the kratēr to serve the attendees.  Wine was not drunk from the kratēr directly, because this is a pretty massive vessel we’re talking about, like a mega-punchbowl ranging from 14″ to 22″ in height, and wouldn’t have been able to easily be transported when full (if at all).  It’s this notion of the kratēr that Dionysos brings up regarding how much is proper to drink at such events from Eubulos’ Semēlē:

For sensible men I prepare only three kratērs: one for health which they drink first, the second for love and pleasure, and the third for sleep. After the third one is drained, wise men go home. The fourth kratēr is not mine any more—it belongs to bad behavior; the fifth is for shouting; the sixth is for rudeness and insults; the seventh is for fights; the eighth is for breaking the furniture; the ninth is for depression; the tenth is for madness and unconsciousness.

This instrument of symposia, the kratēr, is what Hermēs describes as God having filled with Mind for people.  The use of the image of the kratēr should not be overlooked or misconstrued as just a regular bowl or basin, for which other words exist, especially for the purposes of ablution or purification (like the word χερνιβεῖον khernibeîon used for the usual lustral water outside temples, aka khernips).  This isn’t a mere matter of purification going on here; something else is happening in this passage Hermēs is trying to describe.

Let’s back up fist a bit and consider the notion of the symposium again.  CH IV, like all of the Corpus Hermeticum, is a philosophical text, so it assumes a philosophical outlook, context, set, and setting; a symposium of the Corpus Hermeticum would be more like Plato’s Symposium rather than just a simple college party, especially when there’s plenty of negative references to and metaphors of (common especially in gnostic texts and traditions) people being drunk and sick from inebriation (like from CH VII.1, which I discussed not too long ago).  A Hermetic symposium would be one where the symposiarch would likely dilute the wine rather well, and would gather people together for an intellectual time rather than one for the sake of mere entertainment.  But there are always those who go out to any event for the sake of having fun and being social, regardless of what the wishes of the host are; some people host parties for a purpose, but some people attend such parties for the sake of partying regardless of the purpose itself, like that one uncle who shows up to their nephew’s third birthday party with a keg of beer.  Now, bearing that notion in mind, consider what Hermēs says about people of Mind versus people of Reason:

“But those who missed the point of the proclamation are people of reason because they did not receive (the gift of) mind as well and do not know the purpose or the agents of their coming to be.  These people have sensations much like those of unreasoning animals, and, since their temperament is willful and angry, they feel no awe of things that deserve to be admired; they divert their attention to the pleasures and appetites of their bodies; and they believe that mankind came to be for such purposes…”

At a Hermetic symposium, the people of Reason are like those who show up just to drink and have fun, who ignore the symposiarch’s wishes for a philosophical time to use the wine provided for conversation (“they feel no awe of things that deserve to be admired”) and instead just drink the wine to drink wine and get drunk; they “divert their attention to the pleasures and appetites of their bodies”, and in believing “that mankind came to be for such purposes”, it’s like seeing any such social event as a party to which they go just for the sake of partying.  It’s the people of Mind, rather, who participate in the symposium for the proper ends and using the means provided properly instead of improperly; they “participated in knowledge” because they “received mind”.  Mind is the drink provided, and those who use Mind appropriately and let it absorb into their being instead of letting it simply pass through them in the mouth and out the urethra is what enables them to become “perfect people”.

But Mind isn’t just the thing being drunk; no, God set the kratēr of Mind for those who could to immerse themselves within it.  God has provided Mind to fill the kratēr, but a kratēr is used to mix things together, not just to have something there as it is.  While some would interpret this immersion in the kratēr of Mind to be more like a baptism, in which one is purified and from which one is reborn, the more obvious idea here is staring at us in the face: we’re the things to be mixed with Mind.  God is the symposiarch, and we are that which is mixed with Mind.  Earlier, I might have said that Mind would be wine, but…thinking about it, I think that we ourselves are the wine, and Mind is the water that dilutes it.  After all, drinking unmixed wine, or ἄκρατος akratos, was considered to be (and to lead to) insanity.  Is that not a perfect metaphor for what Hermēs is trying to save us from?  In CH VII.1, he calls out to people to save them (my emphasis, Greek from Festugière/Nock given first to show the original wording):

Ποῖ φέρεσθε, ὧ ἄνθρωποι, μεθύοντεσ, τὸν τῆς ἀγνωσίας ἄκρατον λόγον ἐκπιόντες, δ’ν οὐδὲ φέρειν δύνασθε, ἀλλ’ ἤδη αὐτὸν καὶ ἐμεῖτε;

Where are you heading in your drunkenness, you people? Have you swallowed the doctrine of ignorance undiluted, vomiting it up already because you cannot hold it? Stop and sober yourselves up!

And in CH I.27—29, when Hermēs begins his kergyma (“you who have surrendered yourselves to drunkenness and sleep and ignorance of god, make yourselves sober and end your drunken sickness…”) and teaching to the people after being told by Poimandrēs to guide and save the human race (emphasis mine):

Some of them, who had surrendered themselves to the way of death, resumed their mocking and withdrew, while those who desired to be taught cast themselves at my feet. Having made them rise, I became guide to my race, teaching them the words—how to be saved and in what manner—and I sowed the words of wisdom among them, and they were nourished from the ambrosial water.

The mixing-bowl is not for the purpose of diluting Mind, but for the purpose of diluting us with Mind.  We are the unmixed wine of insanity and ignorance, that dark liquid that cannot be seen through and which keeps one drunk in ignorance and insanity; as CH I.20 would put it, this is “the hateful darkness, from which comes the watery nature, from which the body was constituted in the sensible cosmos, from which Death drinks”.  And it is God who wishes for us to be diluted and elevated with the “ambrosial water” of everlasting and eternal life, provided by Mind and knowledge.  In diluting wine, the wine becomes palatable and healthful, and impurities in the wine are washed away so that the goodness of wine shows through.  This is why not everyone’s “heart has the strength”, why not everyone “believes that you will rise up again”; those who are mired in their own ignorance do not wish to be diluted, do not wished to be washed out, just as a party-goer deep in their cups will forego a refreshing glass of water for another glass of booze to keep the buzz going, but those who see and recognize the ignorance and darkness in them and wish to be made into a clearer and better form will admit the necessity of diluting the wine with water.

With us being the wine to be diluted, so long as we enter into the mixing-bowl of God, God will dilute us with the water of Mind as we need to be.  The only thing we really lose in the process is our ignorance and insanity; by us (or, perhaps better, our souls) being mixed with Mind, we cease becoming insane and causing insanity, and instead “participate in knowledge” (γνώσεωςi.e. gnōsis).  Those who undergo this mixing and dilution become “perfect people”, and in so doing, we become the drink of life itself, and so participate in ourselves with ourselves.  This is, perhaps, a difficult thing to explain, and maybe it’s just the metaphor of the mixing-bowl and symposium breaking down here, but I am reminded of the exclamation of Tat in the process of his rebirth from CH XIII.11—13:

Since god has made me tranquil, father, I no longer picture things with the sight of my eyes but with the mental energy that comes through the powers. I am in heaven, in earth, in water, in air; I am in animals and in plants; in the womb, before the womb, after the womb; everywhere…

Father, I see the universe and I see myself in mind.

Tat, in the process of his rebirth, no longer sees himself as merely apart from or within the cosmos; he witness himself as the cosmos and within it.  More than that, he sees himself “in Mind”.  I’m also reminded of how Hermēs tells Asclepius in CH X.12 that:

A human soul is carried in this way: the mind is in the reason; the reason is in the soul; the soul is in the spirit; the spirit, passing through veins and arteries and blood, moves the living thing and, in a manner of speaking, bears it up.

And later on in CH X.19:

The human soul—not every soul, that is, but only the reverent—is in a sense demonic and divine. Such a soul becomes wholly mind after getting free of the body and fighting the fight of reverence. (Knowing the divine and doing wrong to no person is the fight of reverence.) The irreverent soul, however, stays in its own essence, punishing itself, seeking an earthy body to enter…

The human entity consists of Reason (λόγος), yes, which all people have, but Mind (νους) is mixed with this for those who can.  Those who have Mind in their souls mixed with Reason will, in the process of their spiritual progression along the Way, eventually become entirely Mind, and as such, as Poimandrēs tells Hermēs in CH I.26, “enter into God[; for] this is the final good for those who have received knowledge: to be made God”.  This requires us to dilute ourselves with the water of Mind in the mixing-bowl from CH IV, which, as the long night of the symposium of our earthly incarnation continues, should progress so that only the water of Mind is left, and none of the wine of our bodily selves remain.  The people of Reason, however, devoid of Mind, do not wish for this to happen due to their ignorance, and instead “stay in their own essence”, remaining undiluted and continuing in their life of ignorance, “willful and angry” (as one might be from having drunk unmixed wine, or just drinking too much wine at all, per Dionysos’ disavowal of the fourth kratēr and beyond).

This all makes the following sections of CH IV.6—7 make so much more sense to me.  Most people interpret this as a straightforward world-denying body-hating section, but in light of the notion of dilution…well, read for yourself:

“I too wish to be immersed, my father.”

“Unless you first hate your body, my child, you cannot love yourself, but when you have loved yourself, you will possess mind, and if you have mind, you will also have a share in the way to learn.”

“What do you mean by this, father?”

“My child, it is impossible to be engaged in both realms, the mortal and the divine. Since there are two kinds of entities, corporeal and incorporeal, corresponding to mortal and divine, one is left to choose one or the other, if choice is desired. One cannot {have both together when one is left to choose}, but lessening the one reveals the activity of the other.

“Choosing the stronger, then [ ], not only has splendid consequences for the one who chooses—in that it makes the human into a god—but it also shows reverence toward god. On the other hand, choosing the lesser has been mankind’s destruction, though it was no offence to god, with this single reservation: just as processions passing by in public cannot achieve anything of themselves, though they can be a hindrance to others, in the same way these people are only parading through the cosmos, led astray by pleasures of the body.”

Ignorance and death is the unmixed wine, while knowledge (from Mind) and life is the water that dilutes it in the mixing-bowl.  Hone in, specifically, on the statement “lessening the one reveals the activity of the other”: by diluting the wine, the water begins to come to the fore.  As we begin the process of moving from a focus in living from the corporeal to the incorporeal, the wine of our ignorance and death becomes further diluted, until eventually there is no wine left, only the water of Mind.  Doing this admits that the undiluted wine of ignorance we possess cannot remain as such; we cannot love being so undiluted, but instead must seek to destroy that state through dilution (“unless you first hate your body, my child, you cannot love yourself, but when you have loved yourself, you will possess mind”).  Those who insist on remaining undiluted in their ignorance, however, ignore the importance of the incorporeal, of Mind and knowledge and God, and continue in their own destruction, and in so doing, cause a “hindrance to others…parading through the cosmos, led astray by pleasures of the body” as one would in a reckless and drunken revel.

Something still bothers me about all this, though.  When Tat asks Hermēs why God did not share Mind with all people from the get-go, Hermēs responds that God “wanted it put between souls…as a prize for them to contest” (ἠθέλησεν, ὧ τέκνον, τοῦτον ἐν μέσῳ ταῖς ψυχαῖς ὥσπερ ἄθλον ἱδρῦσθαι with a rough translation of “he willed, my son, this in the midst of these souls just as a prize of contest to be found”).  This notion of “contest” for one to strive towards is a weird one, but it’s not wholly unfamiliar; there is a notion of intentful striving throughout the corpora Hermetica that leads to divinity: CH I.21 has Poimandrēs telling Hermēs that “if you learn you are from light and life and that you happen to come from them, you shall advance to life once again”, after recounting God’s counsel to all of creation in CH I.18 that “let him who is mindful recognize that he is immortal, that desire is the cause of death, and let him recognize all that exists”.  I interpret this notion of a “prize for a contest” to mean that we are not necessarily striving against one another, though it may feel that way, but it’s more of our souls striving against our bodies, the divine and immortal part of ourselves striving against the corporeal and mortal part of ourselves.    I suppose one could make a game of it with others, of course, which would be appropriate at a symposium, and depending on how long the symposium of God goes on, more and more wine will need to be drawn upon and mixed one way or another so that everyone, in the end, gets mixed with the water of Mind.  I’m not entirely settled on the meaning of the wording of this, and I think this part is definitely worthy of more contemplation and consideration.

Likewise, Hermēs mentions that God appointed “a herald whom he commanded to make the following proclamation to human hearts” regarding immersing ourselves in the mixing-bowl.  Who or what might this herald be?  Given Hermēs’ commission from Poimandrēs to teach and guide humanity so that they might be saved, he may well be referencing himself, but there is also the possibility of this being one of the personified forces of the cosmos, of which there are no small number: Providence, Necessity, and Fate have been personified at times in the Stobaean Fragments, and SH XXVI.3 (from the last part of the Korē Kosmou excerpts) mentions that Providence has “two ministers”: a Steward of Souls and an Escort of Souls.  We also shouldn’t forget Poimandrēs himself, of course, too, an emanation from Mind who (depending on your perspective and analysis of the name) could be Ra, Thoth, or the XIIth Dynasty pharaoh Amenemhat III (I swear at least one scholar thinks this).  Whether this herald is a cosmic entity or not, whether it’s an oblique reference by Hermēs to himself or not, the identity of the herald isn’t the focus of this book from the Corpus Hermeticum, and it’s certainly less important than the fact that a message was given to humanity: “immerse yourselves in the mixing-bowl if your heart has the strength”.  Fittingly, this message does bear much in similarity with what Hermēs calls out to people in CH I.27—29 and in CH VII, but that alone doesn’t make this particular topic particularly clear, either.

At any rate, Hermēs goes on to say in CH IV.9 that “knowledge is not a beginning of the good, but it furnishes us the beginning of the good that will be known”.  If knowledge is produced from Mind, and our immersion in the mixing-bowl and our first dilution with the water of Mind is just the start of it all on our way to become wholly Mind (as in CH X.19), then this is just the beginning of a long party, indeed.  But even if the Way is long, we won’t be thirsty along the way, so long as we keep listening to and following the Leader who keeps us nourished with what is right for us.

Foundations of Ritual

I’ve gotten a few requests from people for me to teach them magic and ritual.  This is fantastic;  I’m glad people are eager to learn more about themselves, their place in the cosmos, their innate godhood, and everything like that.  In fact, that’s one of the reasons why I started writing this blog, not just to vent and show people the things I do and how easy(?) putting Hermetics to use is.  That said, I’m hesitant to teach, not only because I find myself as-yet unworthy of having students, but also because I don’t consider it possible to teach anyone magic as an isolated subject; one doesn’t “just learn” magic, just as one cannot “just learn” how to build a spaceship or “just learn” protein synthesis.  Before I even consider taking up anyone as a student of mine, I insist that they have the proper foundations that provide the context in which ritual magic can be done.

For anyone to learn anything, they need to have a strong foundation upon which they can build.  For ritual magic, indeed, any life that involves ritual, those foundations are myth, technology, and reason.  Above the others, however, myth is the single-most important factor in any magician’s knowledge.

It’s important to understand what I mean when I say “myth”.  I don’t mean a set of fanciful stories about primitive worldviews or pre-scientific notions of how things work.  I mean “myth” in the classical sense: the overarching backstory to the world, the legends that fuel our lives, and the causes for things.  Myth has been described as “ideology in narrative form” and, to a large extent, I agree with this.  Instead of understanding it as a collection of stories, you might interpret myth as “theory” or “philosophy”; myth provides the reason for us to live our lives in the world we happen to live in.  If your worldview includes gods, then the mythos you should learn will involve those gods, their natures, their stories, their likes and dislikes, and their adventures and pleasures and wraths.  If your worldview is atheistic and focused on energies, then the mythos you should learn will involve the background of energy, how it works, how it flows, and how it affects and is affected by other things in the cosmos.  If your worldview is based around emanationist Qabbalah, then the mythos you should learn will involve the sephiroth, the planets, the elements, the angels, God and his different names and forms, and how events in any sphere of existence are reflected, affected, and effected by other spheres.  Myth provides the theoretical framework upon which myth is based upon; it can be as terse as tables of correspondences, or it can be as flowery as ancient histories and stories passed down by mouth from one generation to the next.

Technology, on the other hand, might be considered the opposite of myth.  Technology is the study of useful skills, arts, and crafts.  Knowing how things should be in the ideal world is one thing, but knowing how to accomplish things in the real world is quite another.  While technology can involve any sort of tool usage, it can also include methodologies such as procedures to make something, from food to clothing to houses to jewelry.  Anything you do down in this world involves technology in some way; learning how to use technology efficiently and powerfully is important in being successful in the world.  Something doesn’t have to be hi-tech to be considered technology here; writing systems, calendars, proper usage of heat to cook food, and eloquent speaking can all be considered technologies, as can building windmills, solar panels, computers, jewelry, or orgone accelerators.  Technology uses the world around us to make or change something for a particular end with a particular method and process.  If you’re a computer scientist, then your technology should consist of programming languages, setting up computers, managing RAID storage systems, and the like.  If you’re a chef, then your technology should consist of knives and other implements, cutting foodstuffs for preparation, using ovens and stoves and grills, and presentation of food for aesthetic pleasure, and the like.  If you’re a masseuse, then your technology should consist of strong hands and arms, energy manipulation, proper oils for lubrication and sensuality, and the like.  Technology is what we do down here to do stuff.

Reason is the bridge that combines mythos with technology for a higher aim.  This is essentially logic, but not necessarily the formal logic of mathematicians and legalists.  Logic here can consist of that, but it can also consist of emotions (how to feel better), survival (how to keep living), economics (how to become wealthier), or philosophy (how to live better), and other styles.  Reason uses myth as its values and axioms, upon which all arguments and actions can be based; everything else that follows is either a logical derivative of myth (e.g. if Aphrodite dislikes Helios for revealing her tryst with Ares, it follows that involving the powers of Venus and the Sun in the same place may not end up well) or an application of mythos with technology (e.g. if Aphrodite likes apples due to the whole Paris-Helen thing, one should probably sacrifice apples to Aphrodite).  Reason is what allows myths, tables of correspondences, divine preferences, and stories to be effected in the world using technology, as well as being what allows technological results to form more myths.  Understanding the causes and effects of things in a strictly material sense, strictly spiritual sense, and some combination of material and spiritual senses involves reason all around.  Figuring out “how things work” in a technological sense within a mythological framework involves reason every step of the way.

So, consider the case where someone wants to build a spaceship.  First, they need to understand the mythos of spaceships: the physical theory behind flight both in air and in space, the mathematical knowledge of arithmetic and calculus, the material properties of steel and aluminum, the theoretical programming of spaceship software, gravity, meteorology, and the like.  They also need to have a solid technological footing to build spaceships: how to cut metal apart and rivet it back together, how to wire computers together, how to set up an air ventilation and water filtration system, where to purchase fuel from, where and when to launch from, and the like.  They also need to have reason: how will the dynamics of space travel affect the integrity of the ship, how will high-acceleration and low-gravity environments affect the human body, where it might be legal to build and launch a spaceship, whether it’s a good idea given one’s finances and health to build and launch a spaceship, and the like.  No matter what, though, the theoretical knowledge (the “myth”) behind building spaceships is most important, because one cannot figure out whether a spaceship will work without knowing the mathematics and physics behind spaceships.

All these same things come into play when working with magic, just with different mythos, technology, and reason.  This is why I insist that, for people who want to learn my style of magic and Hermetics, someone have an exceptionally strong footing in the classical stories of European literature, such as the Homeric Cycle, the Bible, apocryphal and philosophical texts from different European and Mediterranean religions, tables of correspondences and qualities of the elements and planets and zodiac signs and lunar mansions, astrology and astrological timing, etc. Beyond the others, myth is the single most important foundation someone can and must have in order to learn magic and ritual.  All ritual takes place within mythology, whether it’s building a spaceship within the mythos of physics, making a talisman within the mythos of astrology, or making sacrifices within the mythos of a particular deity.  The technology can be picked up as one learns and grows, and the reason to link mythos with technology can be cultivated over time to produce new and hitherto-unknown ritual, but myth is that which guides and directs us to pick up either the needed technologies to implement it or the reason to bind it and bridge the gap between technology and myth.

Myth should never be dismissed as something that is merely primitive.  Myth is the foundation for our lives, and if all ritual is an extrapolation or extension of life itself, then ritual is even more based on myth than our lives.  Ritual brings myth into our lives and makes our lives into living myths; if one has no myth, one will necessarily have no ritual.

49 Days of Definitions: Part X, Definition 7

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

Today, let’s discuss the forty-ninth and final definition, part X, number 7 of 7:

Therefore soul is an immortal essence, eternal, intellective, having, as an intellectual (thought), its reason endowed with Nous.  By understanding nature, it attracts to itself the intellect of (the planetary) harmony; then, once it is freed from this natural body, it remains alone with itself (and) is grieved, belonging only to itself in the intelligible world.  It rules on its reason.

After the last few definitions, which I feel were getting a little dramatic in how they were presenting the interaction between mortals on earth and immortals in heaven and how us who are Man should act, we wrap things up with this definition, which talks about the soul, which really is the centerpiece and focus of the entire Definitions.

First, we start of with a list of attributions of the soul, and here specifically that of Man.  It’s an essence, an underlying quality, which helps to define that which we are.  It is immortal; it does not die, nor is it born; while it may have been made by Nous (X.3), it was not generated in the same way bodies are (V.5).  The soul is eternal, which only confirms that it has always existed outside of time itself and experiences time only as much as God does or allows us to in our bodies; the soul truly is unbegotten, just as matter is (X.5).  It is intellective, able to think and reason with Nous, since that is what makes Man distinct from other creatures (IV.1, V.3).  Because of this, we can reason and understand the cosmos in a way that only God can, but it takes time, practice, skill, dedication, and perseverance to do so.  We can similarly choose to do none of those things and remain as, essentially, animals are; we can let our reason and minds stay catatonic and remain as animals do, or we can use reason just enough to get things done but in nowhere a complete way as we ought.

The way we understand things as we ought to is obtained by acting reasonably with the soul in the body (V.3).  This produces knowledge, true honest knowledge, which when obtained enough yields knowledge of everything: ourselves, all other things, and God itself (VII.5).  By understanding that which goes on around us, we understand everything as it works together: how bodies increase and decrease, by what means, and why they do this.  We understand the intelligible things that cannot be seen but we can still yet know, all the same.  However, we must continue to choose to do this, lest influences from the heavenly beings above sway us to do otherwise.  But even then, once we understand even a little bit of nature and the natural world, Man “attracts to itself the intellect of the planetary harmony”.  We begin to associate ourselves with the planets and other gods, and we begin to raise ourselves up into knowledge of systems far beyond that of the material plane of the earth.  As we attract ourselves to “the intellect of the planetary harmony”, we ascend into godhood, coming to know how all things work.  This is not the final stage of gnosis or perfection, but it’s certainly getting there.

After all, the soul stays in the body only as long as it needs to; then, once the soul reaches perfection, the soul leaves the body to die (VI.2, VI.3).  At this point, the soul is “freed from this natural body”, and, without a body, the soul becomes inert once more as it was beforehand.  Thus, it “remains alone with itself”, but it is also “grieved”.  After all, it has all the knowledge of the cosmos and of God at this point, yet it sheds its old skin, its old world, everything it had grown up knowing, and “grieves”.  This is an interesting point, since why should we grieve?  Sadness, after all, is an illness of the soul; without anything to expose itself to, how can the soul obtain anything?  After all, it remains “belonging only to itself in the intelligible world”.  It is without body, and it is now independent as a truly immortal being, a god, free from the sensible world in the infinity of God.  It rules, on its own and by its own, according to “its reason”, it’s Logos.

So why should there be grief?  All this work and perfection and godhood for…grief?  It doesn’t make much sense, I’ll agree, so there’s something missing, I’d think.  Jean-Pierre Mahé notes that the text is not only incomplete at this point, but that the rest of the text in several versions of the Definitions is spurious and an add-in from some other text dealing with astrological influences.  It’s kind of a let-down for the final definition, but let’s assume that the text is complete, and that this is the final and definitory definition of them all.  What follows is pretty much my interpretation, but this is going to be less logical and less based on the rest of the text than the other definitions.

The perfect soul, freed from the body,  rules on its reason in the intelligible world of God.  It, already possessing soul-Nous (VIII.4), has now also obtained divine Nous in its entirety, and thus becomes one with the knowledge of God and, thus, God.  By knowing all the beings, by knowing the self, by knowing Man, by knowing God, the soul becomes everywhere God is.  By ruling on its reason, which is now the Logos of the Nous, the soul acts according to the will of God without any external influence to sway it, and no unreasonable things to change its opinions or desires.  It belongs only to itself, but since itself is now effectively God, then it belongs to and exists within God perfectly in harmony.

The grief mentioned in this definition refers to it being separated from the material sensible world, which is odd when you consider the etymological root of “grief” to mean “weighty” in Latin.  The process of shedding the body for the soul may not be a very peaceful process, just as the process of birth for a human being is by no means easy or painless.  Perhaps, then, the grief of the soul is the final removal of its illnesses of sadness and joy, or the experiences it can no longer experience as a moving soul in a sensing and sensible body.  Yet, being joined in the knowledge of God, it already knows these things and experiences them intelligibly.  But it also knows that there are others that have not yet experienced this, and that they suffer in envy and jealousy and death when they don’t have to.  Why should they suffer?  God loves Man, after all, and Man loves God; if you saw a loved one in pain, you might also do what you could to relieve it.  As God, since that’s effectively what the soul is now, why wouldn’t you try to help out those who are suffering so that they wouldn’t need to suffer anymore?  If that’s what reason dictates, after all, why couldn’t you return to animate a new body, speak reasonably, act reasonably, lead others to act and speak reasonably, lead others to knowledge, and help perfect the souls of others that they too might be free?

Maybe this is an indication that the soul, ruling on its reason, may reason to return to the world; after all, since this soul is now God, we know that “God changes and turns into the form of man” for the sake of Man, so that others may become God as well.   In other words, to quote one of my favorite stories, perhaps the ending has not yet been written.

49 Days of Definitions: Part V, Definition 3

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

Today, let’s discuss the twentieth definition, part V, number 3 of 3:

Who does not understand speech has no Nous, who talks without Nous says nothing: since he understands nothing, he has no Nous and he talks, for his talk is a crowd and a crowd has neither Nous nor (reasonable) speech.  Speech endowed with Nous is a gift of God; speech without Nous is a finding of man.  Nobody sees heaven and what (is) therein, but only man.  Only man has Nous and speech.

This definition continues the theme from the prior one, which started the idea that there are two kinds of speech that Man is possible of making: speech-from-speech and speech-from-silence.  Speech-from-speech is the use of voice for worldly ends from worldly purposes; it is not oriented towards the Nous, nor does it accomplish anything spiritual.  In fact, speech-from-speech is “perdition”, the ruin of spirit and soul, because it keeps Man focused on and bound into the world.  Speech-from-speech is sensibile speech for the sake of the sensible and produced to further the sensible in the sensible world.  On the other hand, there’s speech-from-silence, which is the exact opposite; speech-from-silence comes from understanding of the intelligible God, which is Nous, which is given to Man through Man’s own Nous.  This reasonable speech is produced through silence because in silence do we understand the intelligible by means of the Logos; this can be communicated to others through reasonable speech to bring others to Logos.  However, only further silence and direct communion with Nous is possible once one can silently understand things; speech beyond this point is merely speech-from-speech.  Only Man is capable of speech-from-silence, although he is also capable of speech-from-speech as animals are.

We know that Man has Nous (IV.1); this makes Man a “reasonable world” (I.1), and is alone among the living creatures with Nous (IV.2).  However, this is talking in the abstract; in general, Man is reasonable.  This new definition, however, states that not all have Nous: “who does not understand speech has no Nous, who talks without Nous says nothing”.  So now we have a problem: there are people that don’t have the capability of reason, either through a lack of sensible understanding or intelligible understanding.  If one does not understand speech (which, here, I would say is more properly meaning Logos), then one is unable to come to terms with the Nous, since the Logos is the means by which we approach the Nous.  This is kind of a bad thing, since Nous is the only thing that distinguishes us among the living beings as Man; we become fully worldly without our connection to the intelligible Nous, which ends in perdition.

Thus, one who does not understand Logos has no Nous; one without Nous “says nothing”.  This is meant in the sense that nothing reasonable is said; one does nothing divine, one does not serve Nous, one does not speak intelligibly about creation without Nous.  Without Nous, one cannot have Logos; without Logos, one cannot have reason; without reason, one cannot have understanding.  “Since he understands nothing, he has no Nous and he talks”; without understanding, one cannot have silence, so one talks without a divine purpose; one talks using speech-from-speech, which only serves to perpetuate itself.  It, like fire, perpetuates while destroying the mortal; it builds up without providing for growth or fertility.  Fire is the ruin of mortal beings, and speech-from-speech is the ruin of Man; the two have a strong parallel here.

Because speech-from-speech builds itself and spreads itself like fire, “[speech-from-speech] is a crowd and a crowd has neither Nous nor reasonable speech”.  Now we know that not only do some humans lack Nous, but whole groups of people lack it, as well.  If not a single person in a crowd has Nous, then the entire group is without it; they cannot bring Nous into themselves without there already being Nous, and without Nous, they cannot have reasonable speech or Logos, and so they continue talking amongst themselves, spreading speech-from-speech since it’s the only kind of speech they’re capable of.  Crowds are driven by inertia or according to some outside force; much like the geomantic figure Populus, it is entirely passive, and is incapable of doing anything on its own for the larger scheme of things.  Crowds can be extrapolated to mean the groups of the world that have no Nous, for if at least one person has no Nous, then we know that there are many people that also have no Nous.  Hermes Trismegistus laments this in the Corpus Hermeticum (chapter IX, part 4):

The seeds of God, ’tis true, are few, but vast and fair, and good—virtue and self-control, devotion. Devotion is God-gnosis; and he who knoweth God, being filled with all good things, thinks godly thoughts and not thoughts like the many [think].  For this cause they who Gnostic are, please not the many, nor the many them. They are thought mad and laughed at; they’re hated and despised, and sometimes even put to death.

Things of the world bring death; death begets death, as all living beings that increase and decrease with worldly bodies must suffer.  Thus, a crowd of people is only a thing of the world; if they despise those who understand, they not only lack Nous but are completely ignorant of it.  If they kill those who understand, they only kill the bodies while the Nous of those killed goes to the Nous, while they themselves will die and remain in the world, accomplishing nothing except the continuation of the world for the sake of the world by the world.  And all because of a lack of Nous, which results in speech-from-speech.  It’s a vicious circle.

If reasonable speech is the servant of Nous, and if one is without Nous, one cannot serve Nous since one is incapable of reasonable speech with which to serve Nous.  This forms a kind of chicken-and-egg problem; if one wants to serve Nous but has no Nous, and if Nous is required to serve Nous, where does one start?  Nous is not an inherent part of humanity, though it is an inherent part of Man; there’s a distinction to be drawn here, that just as speech can be imbued with Logos or denied it, so too can someone be imbued with Nous or denied it.  Thus, Nous has to come from somewhere, and “speech endowed with Nous is a gift of God”.  The Nous decides whom the Nous should accept, and does so freely and gladly (it is a gift, after all).  Once bestowed with the reasoning capacity, the animalian human becomes spiritual Man, which allows for reasonable speech and all the rest.

However, speech without Nous is a “finding of man”, no gift from God.  Findings of humanity indicate things that are derived from or made by humanity for the purpose of humanity.  It is entirely worldly, having come from the world, and thus is completely sensible.  While the sensible world is not independent of or lacking intelligibility, without being at least aware of something insensible, nothing outside the sensible world can be known or understood.  Basically, this is where atheism and materialism come under fire in Hermetic thought; if only that which is sensible is thought to be real, then anything insensible and only intelligible is thought to be unreal and without existence.  Anything found by man, created by man, and given worldly sensible form is only ever going to remain in the world; it will never exceed it or go past it.  Thus, speech without Nous does nothing reasonable or useful in terms of spiritual capacity, but it can go so far as denying the existence of intelligible things without sense.

Humanity needs Nous to become more than simply animal, and Nous gives itself to humanity so that they can become Man.  However, Nous is only intelligible, and Man is sensible; the gap between the two is bridged by Logos, the Word, which manifests as reasonable speech in the world.  Logos brings humanity to Reason to become Man, since upon being able to reason humanity receives Nous; upon becoming Man, one proceeds from Logos to Nous.  All humanity is capable of Logos as they are; they may lack it or the use of it, but they are at least capable of it.  Otherwise, speaking reasonably to one without Nous would accomplish nothing, and Hermes Trismegistus would never have taught others except to those who wouldn’t need it.  Unlike the capability for Logos, however, one is without Nous until one receives it through the active use and reception of Logos.  This is explained by Hermes to Tat in the Corpus Hermeticum (chapter IV, parts 2 through 6):

Her. So down [to Earth] He sent the Cosmos of this Frame Divine,—man, a life that cannot die, and yet a life that dies. And o’er [all other] lives and over Cosmos [too], did man excel by reason of the Reason (Logos) and the Mind. For contemplator of God’s works did man become; he marvelled and did strive to know their Author.  Reason (Logos) indeed, O Tat, among all men hath He distributed, but Mind not yet; not that He grudgeth any, for grudging cometh not from Him, but hath its place below, within the souls of men who have no Mind.

Tat. Why then did God, O father, not on all bestow a share of Mind?

Her. He willed, my son, to have it set up in the midst for souls, just as it were a prize.

Tat. And where hath He had it set up?

Her. He tilled a mighty Cup with it, and sent it down, joining a Herald [to it], to whom He gave command to make this proclamation to the hearts of men: Baptize thyself with this Cup’s baptism, what heart can do so, thou that hast faith thou canst ascend to Him that hath sent down the Cup, thou that dost know for what thou didst come into being!  As many then as understood the Herald’s tidings and doused themselves in Mind, became partakers in the Gnosis; and when they had “received the Mind” they were made “perfect men.”  But they who do not understand the tidings,these, since they possess the aid of Reason [only] and not Mind, are ignorant wherefor they have come into being and whereby.  The senses of such men are like irrational creatures’; and as their [whole] make-up is in their feelings and their impulses, they fail in all appreciation of those things which really are worth contemplation. These centre all their thought upon the pleasures of the body and its appetites, in the belief that for its sake man hath come into being.  But they who have received some portion of God’s gift, these, Tat, if we judge by their deeds, have from Death’s bonds won their release; for they embrace in their own Mind all things, things on the earth, things in the heaven, and things above the heaven,—if there be aught.  And having raised themselves so far they sight the Good; and having sighted It, they look upon their sojourn here as a mischance; and in disdain of all, both things in body and the bodiless, they speed their way unto that One and Only One.  This is, O Tat, the Gnosis of the Mind, Vision of things Divine; God-knowledge is it, for the Cup is God’s.

Tat. Father, I, too, would be baptized.

Her. Unless thou first shalt hate thy Body, son, thou canst not love thy Self. But if thou lov’st thy Self thou shalt have Mind, and having Mind thou shalt share in the Gnosis.

Tat. Father, what dost thou mean?

Her. It is not possible, my son, to give thyself to both,—I mean to things that perish and to things divine. For seeing that existing things are twain, Body and Bodiless, in which the perishing and the divine are understood, the man who hath the will to choose is left the choice of one or other; for it can never be the twain should meet. And in those souls to whom the choice is left, the waning of the one causes the other’s growth to show itself.

Notice the distinction between chasing after the embodied and the bodiless; just as the body is sensible, so to is speech, and just as the bodiless is intelligible, so too is silence.  Speech-from-speech is produced by the sensible for the sensible to produce the sensible.  Speech-from-silence is produced by the intelligible for the intelligible to produce the intelligible.  The two cannot mix.  Speech-from-silence encourages one not only to understand, but to strive for Nous, which they then receive into themselves.  Nous is a gift freely given, but humanity has to work to actually take hold of it.  If we’re not ready for it, we won’t have it; if we strive for it, we’ll get it; if we are at one with our Nous, then we have already laid claim upon it.

So much for how one obtains Nous.  The definition, and the whole section, ends with a final discussion on the Nous-able quality of Man: “nobody sees heaven and what is therein, but only man”.  This means that, of all the creatures, only Man is able to see into heaven and to the places beyond it; only Man can see the immortal living creatures made of fire and air.  Why?  Because “only man has Nous and speech”.  Man has both worldly, earthy, and earthly parts to him that give him life and death; however, he also has a divine, eternal, and reasonable part to him that gives him immortality and holiness.  By means of this, Man is capable of seeing and understanding, of listening and keeping silent, of reasoning and knowing.  Man, by virtue of having Nous and Logos, is capable of being God, just as God is Nous and Logos.  Hermes explains this in the Corpus (chapter X, part 25):

For no one of the gods in heaven shall come down on the earth, o’er-stepping heaven’s limit; whereas man doth mount up to heaven and measure it; he knows what things of it are high, what things are low, and learns precisely all things else besides. And greater thing than all; without e’en quitting earth, he doth ascend above. So vast a sweep doth he possess of ecstasy.

For this cause can a man dare say that man on earth is god subject to death, while god in heaven is man from death immune.

Man is able to use his body for the sake of the Nous, instead of using his body for the sake of his body.  We have that choice, of course: to be animal or to be divine.  However, one path leads to endless worldliness and perdition, while the other leads to eternal holiness and salvation.  The difference is a matter of speech: reasonable speech serves the Nous, while unreasonable speech serves the body.  Logos is the combination of Nous and speech for us, and since we have both, only Man is capable of Logos.  Other living creatures only have voice without Nous, and so understand nothing and are capable of only worldly things.  Speech is the means by which Nous accomplishes its will, and is also the means by which we approach the Nous when we speak from silence and understanding of Reason and reasonable things.  By these things, Man is unique in being able to look up into heaven and to find out things that are not only not earthy, but even not sensible; Man is unique in his capability of understanding the purely intelligible.  And by that, Man is unique in his capability to not only have Nous but to become Nous.  Man is unique in his capability to become God.