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.

49 Days of Definitions: Part V, Definition 2

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 nineteenth definition, part V, number 2 of 3:

To Nous nothing is incomprehensible, to speech nothing ineffable: when you keep silent, you understand; when you talk, you (just) talk.  Since Nous conceives speech in silence, only (that) speech (which comes) from silence and Nous (is) salvation.  (But that) speech (which comes) from speech (is) only perdition; for by (his) body man is mortal, but by speech (he is) immortal.

Speech with reason is Logos; speech without reason is voice (V.1).  Among all the creatures with voice, Man is the only one with Nous, which enables him to reason (I.1, IV.1).  Logos, which is “reasonable speech”, is the servant of Nous, allowing for the gap between that which is only intelligible and that which is both sensible and intelligible (or, said another way, that which is sensible and that which is insensible) to be bridged.  Voice is sensible; reason is intelligible only; by combining the two, we get reasonable speech, which allows for the intelligible to become sensible.  Now we start to see how the Logos works with the Nous, and how Man works with both of these in its own manner.

First, we read that “to Nous nothing is incomprehensible”; this follows from V.1, where “Nous sees everything”, and from III.1, where “nothing is uninhabited by God”.  Nous is Mind, and more than that, the Mind of All as well as the All.  After this, we learn that “to speech nothing [is] ineffable”; thus, there is nothing that cannot be intelligible nor reasoned about.  Consider that it is impossible for anything to exist outside of God; all things must be a part of God, and all of God is intelligible.  Add to it, where the Mind is, so too is the Word, so the Word is with the Mind in all places at all times and is a servant to Mind.  The Word, the Logos, allows things to be reasoned and reasonable; thus, where Logos goes, so too does reason.  Whatever can be reasoned can be spoken of; thus, “nothing is ineffable” to Logos, which can reason about literally everything that exists and can possibly exist within God.

However, while nothing is ineffable to the Word itself, this is a far cry from the words we humans use.  “When you keep silent, you understand; when you talk, you just talk” suggests that the real reason within us is not connected to sensibility, since silence is not sensible.  Sensing a lack of talking is not the same thing as sensing silence, since we can sense the absence of something but not something that is truly insensible, as Logos is.  Reason allows us to bridge the gap between the sensible and the insensible, but is not itself sensible.  Consider the beginning of Hermes Trismegistus’ prayer from the Poemander (chapter I, parts 30 through 32):

Accept my reason’s offerings pure, from soul and heart for aye stretched up to Thee, O Thou unutterable, unspeakable, Whose Name naught but the Silence can express.

We know that “to speech nothing [is] ineffable”, though we also know that God is ineffable (I.4); this would appear to be a contradiction, but remember that speech is not the same thing as reasonable speech.  Reasonable speech allows us to learn about the intelligible through sensible means, but does not allow us to bring the intelligible into sensibility, much as “Nous does not become an observer for the eyes, but the eyes for Nous” when it comes to sight (V.1).  True understanding through reasonable speech requires us to abandon voice; I’m reminded of the parable of the raft to explain this point:

A man is trapped on one side of a fast-flowing river. Where he stands, there is great danger and uncertainty – but on the far side of the river, there is safety. But there is no bridge or ferry for crossing. So the man gathers logs, leaves, twigs, and vines and is able to fashion a raft, sturdy enough to carry him to the other shore. By lying on the raft and using his arms to paddle, he crosses the river to safety.

The Buddha then asks the listeners a question: “What would you think if the man, having crossed over the river, then said to himself, ‘Oh, this raft has served me so well, I should strap it on to my back and carry it over land now?'”

The monks replied that it would not be very sensible to cling to the raft in such a way.

The Buddha continues: “What if he lay the raft down gratefully, thinking that this raft has served him well, but is no longer of use and can thus be laid down upon the shore?”

The monks replied that this would be the proper attitude.

The Buddha concluded by saying, “So it is with my teachings, which are like a raft, and are for crossing over with — not for seizing hold of.”

Reasonable speech serves the Nous by bringing us closer to understanding, that which the Nous does, but this is done through speech which serves reasonable speech which serves Nous.  Once we reach understanding, we no longer have need of speech, since we are enjoined with Logos, and once we are brought by Logos to Nous, we no longer have need of even that.  And, much as the innate Buddha-nature within us all according to several kinds of Buddhist thought, Man already has Nous, and nothing really stops us from understanding things as we are immediately.  To talk for any purpose besides reason, and only then when understanding is not yet obtained through it, is talking simply for the sake of talking.  Speech just becomes voice, and Man acts as animals with only voice and no Nous.

“Nous conceived speech in silence”; it’s easier to understand this as “Logos” rather than “speech”, since speech implies sensibility, but Logos was not conceived in the realm of sense.  Logos is intelligible; voice is sensible; reasonable speech is the cross between the two.  Thus, reason abides in silence, not merely a lack of talking, but silence as intelligibility can only be.  Because of this, “only that [Logos] which comes from silence and Nous is salvation”.  This is making the case that simply reasoning about things out loud, using sensibility as the primary and only means of understanding creation, is not the way to go; silent contemplation, reasoning from reasoning itself, is the way to approach the Nous.  This itself is directed by the Nous, who conceived Logos in silence; similarly, as Man is made in the image of Nous, we too must conceive within ourselves Logos in silence and not jabbering about.

Contrasted to this, “speech which comes from speech is only perdition”.  Remember that all living beings with voice are earthly; although the immortal, heavenly beings made of fire and air have soul and body, it’s only the earthy mortal beings that have soul and breath as well as voice (IV.1, IV.2).  And, since earthy living beings are mortal, they must die.  Speech-from-speech is part and parcel of this; this is an aspect of animalian, mortal, worldly speech, which limits one’s understanding of things only to that which is sensible.  Speech-from-speech binds Man to the world just as it does for animals, who can only ever use speech-from-speech.  This is not the way to “salvation”, to Nous, which requires speech-from-silence.

The last part of this definition clarifies something about Man: “by his body man is mortal, but by speech he is immortal”.  Now we start to pick up on the last part from definition I.V, where it said that “man is mortal although he is ever-living”.  Speech-from-speech represents the animalian, inferior part of Man; speech-from-silence represents the spiritual, superior part of Man.  The former is a creation of the world; the latter is the Nous and Logos itself.  Creations of the world die, while the Nous and Logos are eternal and undying.  It’s by reasonable speech, Logos, speech-from-silence that Man can attain salvation and immortality; in other words, we talked ourselves into this mess, and now we have to understand it to get back out.  Merely keeping on talking will only serve to get us further entrenched in the mess of the world, so that’s not the route we need to take.  We need to understand what’s going on, how the higher affects the lower and vice versa, and what reason itself is to get back on our immortal legs; in order to become immortal, we need to be silent.

We have to understand that Man is not merely a creature of this sensible world; Man is something made from both above and below, from God as well as from Heaven.  Man is made in the image of God because Man was given Nous; Man was also made in the image of Heaven being made from the four elements with an animalian body.  We’re a weird syncresis of purely-divine and impurely-divine parts, or directly-divine and indirectly-divine, that gives us both death and immortality at once.  The Poemander describes this weird amalgamation of Mankind and how we came to be (chapter I, parts 14 and 15):

So he who hath the whole authority o’er [all] the mortals in the cosmos and o’er its lives irrational, bent his face downwards through the Harmony, breaking right through its strength, and showed to downward Nature God’s fair Form.  And when she saw that Form of beauty which can never satiate, and him who [now] possessed within himself each single energy of [all seven] Rulers as well as God’s [own] Form, she smiled with love; for ’twas as though she’d seen the image of Man’s fairest form upon her Water, his shadow on her Earth.  He in his turn beholding the form like to himself, existing in her, in her Water, loved it and willed to live in it; and with the will came act, and [so] he vivified the form devoid of reason.  And Nature took the object of her love and wound herself completely round him, and they were intermingled, for they were lovers.

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

So, where does that leave me with all this writing and talking about the Definitions, or any of my magic and philosophical work?  If talking only serves to keep talking, and if silence is the only means to real understanding, why am I bothering with all of this?  We have to remember that, being made from two parts, we must be able to act as One, just as God is One from the All.  God conceived Logos in silence, which is the realm of God.  Thus, to do the same for us, we must conceive Logos in a lack of talking, which is the correspondence in our realm to that of silence in God’s.  However, God not only conceived the Word but spoke it, creating the rest of the cosmos; Man must, then, not only conceive the Word in a lack of talking but speak it.  Understanding is silence, but salvation is reason, and reason and speech go together as one in Man; just as Man is a combination of the intelligible (Nous) and sensible (body), so too is reasonable speech a combination of the intelligible (Logos) and sensible (voice).  Speech borne from silent understanding allows Logos to enter more into the world; speech borne from speech brings more of the world into itself.

In other words, we have to use speech to sensibly approach Logos, which is the first step to salvation in the Definitions.  This leads us from talking to a lack of talking, which produces silence within ourselves.  Once we approach and obtain Logos, and thus reason and Nous within ourselves, we must use Logos instead of speech to approach the Nous itself.  After all, why else would Hermes Trismegistus have spoken and taught, if not to bring others to Logos and Nous when he himself had already accomplished it?  For that matter, why else would Jesus have taught his disciples, or Buddha Shakyamuni the arhats?  Because they wanted to bring others to truth.  Because they saw the need for more people to obtain understanding.  Because reasonable speech is the servant of Nous.  “For what Nous wants, speech interprets it” (V.1); and if those who understand Nous speak from their (silent) understanding, then it’s not speech-from-speech they’re saying, but speech-from-silence, and it’s only speech-from-silence that shows the way to salvation, to nirvana, to enlightenment, to immortality, to God, to Nous.  We can then derive from this, then, that Nous wants Man to join itself through Logos.

I’ll let Hermes finish this post off, with his own explanation of his own spoken words to his student Asclepius, from the Corpus Hermeticum (chapter IX, part 10):

These things should seem to thee, Asclepius, if thou dost understand them, true; but if thou dost not understand, things not to be believed.  To understand is to believe, to not believe is not to understand.

My word (logos) doth go before [thee] to the truth. But mighty is the mind, and when it hath been led by word up to a certain point, it hath the power to come before [thee] to the truth.  And having thought o’er all these things, and found them consonant with those which have already been translated by the reason, it hath [e’en now] believed, and found its rest in that Fair Faith.

To those, then, who by God[’s good aid] do understand the things that have been said [by us] above, they’re credible; but unto those who understand them not, incredible.

Let so much, then, suffice on thought-and-sense.

49 Days of Definitions: Part V, Definition 1

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

Today, let’s discuss the eighteenth definition, part V, number 1 of 3:

(Reasonable) speech is the servant of Nous.  For what Nous wants, speech in turn interprets.  Nous sees everything, and eyes all corporeal (things).  And yet Nous does not become an observer for the eyes, but the eyes for Nous.

The last set of definitions investigated the different types of living beings, and most significant among them is Man.  Man has a body, so Man is a living being.  Further, Man has soul and spirit, enabling Man to grow and move of its own accord.  Because it increases and decreases according to the element of earth within its body, Man can die, so it is mortal and not immortal.  We know that living beings with body, soul, and spirit also have voice, but Man has this in addition to Nous.  This distinction from IV.1 is important, and the clarification between living beings with voice with Nous and living beings with voice without Nous now becomes apparent.

For one, “reasonable speech is the servant of Nous”.  Thus, Nous as God or Nous as possessed by Man enables any living being or entity or non-entity to be reasonable; Man is, after all, a reasonable entity (I.1, IV.1).  Now we find that speech, which is made possible by voice that animals and Man possess, serves Nous, and above all reasonable speech.  This is made a little more clear in the Greek word logos, meaning many things, but among them speech, reason, discourse, order, logic, science, knowing, and many other things.  The concept of logos is pretty complex and has been used in many traditions and philosophies, but suffice to say that here it refers to the power of languge and utterance.

However, not all utterance is reasonable.  Animals, for instance, utter many different kinds of sounds and patterns of sounds in a way that modern biologists and zoologists would classify as language, but this is a pretty far cry from how humans communicate using their utterances.  We can get by using grunts and cries, it’s true, but that’s still a marked change from the language used to describe, say, Hermetic philosophy.  It’s by this sort of high-minded “reasonable” speech that Man makes use of when he uses Nous, since reasonable speech serves Nous and not Man.  This also implies that all reasonable speech, used everywhere and by any human, also serves Nous; after all, Nous is with each member and entity belong to Man, which connects all of us to the Nous itself that is God.

Continuing the definition, this makes sense: “what Nous wants, speech in turn interprets”.  Thus, whatever Nous desires to happen, this is made clear and reasonable (and, thus, intelligible in a way unique to humanity) by the power of reasonable speech, by the power of logos.  The idea of reasonable speech, or what we might call the Word, is what enables Nous to act.  Consider the first words of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”.  Word and Mind go together very tightly.  The relationship between Nous and Logos was clarified by Hermes in the Corpus Hermeticum (chapter 9, part 1):

Now sense and thought do seem to differ, in that the former has to do with matter, the latter has to do with substance. But unto me both seem to be at-one and not to differ—in men I mean. In other lives sense is at-oned with nature, but in men thought. 

Now mind doth differ just as much from thought as God doth from divinity. For that divinity by God doth come to be, and by mind thought, the sister of the word (logos) and instruments of one another. For neither doth the word (logos) find utterance without thought, nor is thought manifested without word.

When “speech in turn interprets” what Nous desires, this allows Nous to make its intelligibility known to those who can reason.  Man reasons due to the presence of Nous within Man.  Thus, Nous can communicate with Man through Logos, and vice versa.  However, this is often done by means of Logos itself, since Nous contacting Nous doesn’t really work, since Nous is Nous.  Reasonable speech is what bridges the gap between intelligibility and sensibility; it’s what allows things from outside heaven without body to communicate and interact with things inside heaven with body.  All things are part of God, but it’s impossible to sense what is not sensible.  Speech allows such a thing to happen; speech is an important intrinsic mechanic that allows the different parts of God to work in harmony with each other.  Voice is a sensible thing; reason is an intelligible thing.  Combining both to obtain reasonable speech allows both to interact, and allows the intelligible to become sensible.

The next part of the definition essentially makes a comparison to drive this point home using sight and observation.  Consider that “Nous sees everything”; after all, “God is Nous” (I.4), “nothing is uninhabited by God” (III.1), and “every move of soul is perceived by Nous” (II.2).  Thus, all things both in heaven and out of heaven are seen by Nous, or God.  However, the eyes that living beings have can only see that which is “corporeal”, i.e. sensible since sensible things possess bodies of some sort.  The set of observable things is greater than and includes the set of visible things; for instance, Nous can perceive soul, which is invisible (I.3), but living beings cannot see soul.  This is made extra powerful by the fact that light is what reveals visible things (II.6), and the eyes react to light in order to witness or observe a visible thing; however, being visible requires something to be sensible, and that which is only intelligible cannot be seen, i.e. the bodiless and intelligible God.  Thus, in this sense, Nooic observation is to corporeal sight what reasonable speech is to utterance: that which involves Nous is broader and more transcendent, and that which serves to aid Nous.

However, the definition clarifies that “Nous does not become an observer for the eyes, but the eyes for Nous”.  What this means is that Nous does not exist to observe for the sake of the eyes; Nous and observation are not the result of seeing.  Intead, seeing is a means by which the Nous observes.  The eyes serve the Nous; the Nous does not serve the eyes.  In another sense, this also means that the eyes cannot see the Nous or by means of the Nous, but the Nous can see both eyes and by the means of the eyes.  Hermes said as much in the Corpus Hermeticum (chapter 7, part 2):

No ear can hear Him, nor can eye see Him, nor tongue speak of Him, but [only] mind and heart.

What this means for speech is that Nous uses speech to further the aims and desires of the Nous; Nous can use logos itself, the concept behind speech, as well speak as any word.  However, those who speak cannot do the same to Nous: those who speak cannot speak Nous for their own benefit, nor can they directly speak of the Nous, nor can they speak pure logos itself, though it manifests in reasonable speech.  Reasonable speech comes about as a result of Nous, but Nous does not come about as a result of reasonable speech, just as observation of the intelligible does not come around from sight of the visible alone.  Consider what Hermes taught Asclepius regarding his own words in the Corpus (chapter 9, part 10):

My word (logos) doth go before [thee] to the truth. But mighty is the mind, and when it hath been led by word up to a certain point, it hath the power to come before [thee] to the truth.  And having thought o’er all these things, and found them consonant with those which have already been translated by the reason, it hath [e’en now] believed, and found its rest in that Fair Faith.  To those, then, who by God[’s good aid] do understand the things that have been said [by us] above, they’re credible; but unto those who understand them not, incredible.

There, Hermes has used his reasonable speech of logos to serve the Nous in bringing Asclepius forward to it.  However, the mind (Nous) is more powerful than words, and words serve the mind only up until a certain point, when the mind is able to act and work directly instead of by servants or media such as words.  The Nous works in the world by means of Logos, just as a wealthy landowner uses his servants to work outside or even within his land; however, only when the servants bring something to his attention and presence directly does the landowner work directly.  This requires the servants to work for the landowner, and not vice versa; the landowner speaks, and things are done.  Thus, the Nous employs Logos, and things are accomplished.  Hermes was indeed employed by the Nous, through the guide of Poemander, to spread the word to guide others to Nous (chapter 1, part 27):

Why shouldst thou then delay? Must it not be, since thou hast all received, that thou shouldst to the worthy point the way, in order that through thee the race of mortal kind may by [thy] God be saved?

The comparison with sight and eyes in this definition brings up another interesting thought to my mind here.  With sight, we have two components: the act of seeing (sight) and the faculty of seeing (the eye).  The two are very tightly coupled; the eye sees, because that’s what the eye does.  In a sense, the eye is embodied sight.  Similarly, there’s Nous and Logos, the Mind and Word; the Mind makes Word because that’s what the Mind does.  Thus, the Mind is a kind of divine Word, since it is what it does.  This brings to mind the phrase “I am what I am” from Exodus, the reply of God given to Moses when asked for the divine name: “EHYEH ASHER EHYEH” (aleph-heh-yod-heh aleph-shin-resh aleph-heh-yod-heh).  However, if we change the “Y” in the second “EHYEH” from a yod to a vav, we get “EHYEH ASHER EHWEH”.  As it turns out, there’s a grammatical relationship between “EHWEH” (aleph-heh-vav-heh) and “YAHWEH” (yod-heh-vav-heh), the Tetragrammaton, the ineffable name of God in the Torah; this holy name has a meaning something similar to “I make to be” or “I create”.  Thus, the hypothetical name “EHYEH ASHER EHWEH” can be interpreted as “I am what I do” (using the obscure Hebraic root heh-vav-heh).  Thus, the One who is what it is is also what it does; this is both faculty and act at once.  The Mind spoke the Word in the beginning to create, and since the faculty and the act are one because God is what God does, the Mind is the Word.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”