De Regnis: Visualization, Meditation, Contemplation

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

Today’s selection will be on the topics of visualization, meditation, and contemplation.

On Visualization

Visualization is the act of using the imagination to form in-depth images in the mind. While this may sound like mere daydreaming, visualization is far more powerful and capable of creating whole immersive worlds. Using the imagination to create images, then, implies a greater sense of“image” than simply a mental picture, and visualizations should indeed be more than just a fleeting thought in the mind. Visualization makes use of the mind’s full range of senses and perception to create an image, both from the physical senses and the ethereal senses. Visualization is essential in picturing or working with spirits, traveling mentally to other spiritual realms, and understanding and directing the flow of cosmic forces, just as the physical senses are necessary in helping one walk around a city or engaging in conversation with a friend.

Humans interact with the world with five primary physical senses: sight, sound, touch, taste,and smell. As humans have evolved to have refined and delicate organs of sight, the sense of sight tobe the strongest and first developed imaginative faculty of the mind. The relative ease of picturing the face of a friend, guessing how something might look now based on past experiences, or recalling a vivid visual memory can attest to this. However, the most intense and immersive of memories,dreams, and visualizations generally make use of all the senses. It is by all the senses working together that people interact with the world, and when one sense is hindered, the other senses compensate by bringing more information to the mind so as to comprehend physical reality.

The mind can be thought of as a machine that processes data. It can be argued well that humans do not experience the world directly, but only through the filter of their senses. For instance, though many people might perceive an icy lake as cold, someone with nerve damage in the hands might not perceive any change from that to a blazing bonfire. Similarly, though people might perceive one apple as red and another as green, someone with colorblindness might not perceive any difference at all between the two. The senses deliver sensory data from the physical world to the brain, which processes and unites them into a more-or-less coherent perception for the mind to understand and work with. However, the mind is more capable of creating and understanding the world than the brain itself is; while the brain can only process the information that the sensory organs give it, the mind can process all that and more all simultaneously.

A simple visualization exercise begins with physically picking up a small everyday object, say, a pencil. Observe the pencil: looking at it with the eyes is not enough. See every detail of the pencil,every groove and edge, every dent and scratch, the color differentiation on the eraser, the smooth sheen on the graphite, the angle the graphite has been worn down by writing. Feel the weight of the pencil, the temperature of it when picked up and how slowly its temperature changes when held, the smoothness or roughness of its parts. Smell and taste the pencil, the thick odor of its graphite, the rubbery tang of the eraser, the skin and sweat rubbed onto it with use. Hear the pencil and listen closely as the graphite squeaks and rubs onto paper or wood, the dull quiet brush of the eraser rubbing off the marks. Completely witness the pencil using every physical sense.

Afterwards, put the pencil down and close the eyes. Recall every memory, every perceived sensation of the pencil that was obtained from witnessing it, hear how it sounded, smell how it tasted, feel how it felt, see how it seemed. Recreate the pencil in the mind from the perception of weight to the perception of smell to the perception of how light reflected off it. Hold the complete image in the mind for a minute without letting it dissipate, then let it go. Half an hour later, try it again without picking up or observing the pencil in the meanwhile. Try it the next day. If details are lost, go back to the pencil and find those details and bring them back into memory. Over the course of several days, slowly increase the time spent visualizing the pencil from one minute to five minutes.

Once the pencil can be recalled in its entirety at any moment, repeat the same process with something a little larger or a little more complex, then again with something even larger or more complex. Proceed from the pencil to a fruit, a chair, a bed, a door, an empty room, a sparsely decorated room, a fully furnished room, a house, a building, a forest. Over time, the process of visualizing increasingly complex things, places, and people will become easier and the images more in-depth, more lifelike, and more real to the mind. Experiment with more complex things, such as an instrument playing a song or a meal being eaten. Learn how to recreate or newly create whole things in the mind, and the mind will be strengthened and capable of working with the immaterial realms of spirit.

On Meditation

Meditation is the act of reflecting or measuring oneself mentally, permitting one’s own mind to come to terms with itself by itself independent of external stimuli. In a sense, it allows the mind to settle down into stability unperturbed by thoughts that arise. The mind has been described,in one sense, as a mirror: it reflects anything put in front of it, though its true nature is clear and reflective. By letting the mind be reflective instead of reflecting something, the true nature of the mind can become known instead of the constantly buzzing, chattering, thinking mind that humanity has grown accustomed to.

The breathing exercises in the previous section lay the groundwork for meditation, and indeed form a style of meditation on their own. By focusing one’s awareness on a single, repetitive, cyclical act, one begins to shake the mind free from the thoughts that cloud it. When such thoughts arise in meditation, let them arise and let them pass without clinging onto them, following them, or becoming angry at their arising. All one needs to do is return to the original act of being aware.

While the breathing exercises focus on being aware of one’s own breath, meditation begins by being aware of one’s own thoughts instead of thinking them. Sit as before, comfortably and relaxed, and begin the fourfold breath exercise for a short while. When ready, having focused the awareness on the breath and permitting thoughts to arise and pass, begin becoming aware of the arising of thoughts themselves. Note where they appear to arise in the brain and in the mind, what other string of thoughts or stimuli caused a thought to arise from simply being aware of thoughts,and let them go. If a particular thought cannot be let go, say “I will think of this and deal with it later, but now it is time to let it go” and do so; if the thought persists as in a repetitive song, permit it to continue and direct the awareness away from it. Whenever the awareness attaches itself to a thought instead of being focused on the arising of thoughts, and whenever this is realized, bring the awareness back to the arising of thoughts without anger or shame. This should be practiced for five minutes a day after breathing exercises every day, working up to ten, then twenty, then indefinitely.

After this has been established with some level of repeatable skill, turn the awareness onto the act of being aware itself. Though perhaps recursively confusing, this focuses the mind on its own reflective nature without being reflective of anything; in this state, the mind is free of thoughts and can enter into deeper levels of trance or spiritual states suitable for magical working. Begin as before with the fourfold breath, then being aware of the arising of thoughts. After being aware of how thoughts arise in the mind, become aware of the mind and the act of awareness, of awareness itself. Hold that awareness, not letting other thoughts intrude as usual. Maintain this for as long as one can, and repeat the process every day. This may sound and seem difficult, but once attained can be repeated with ease.

On Contemplation

While meditation allows the mind to focus and explore itself on its own terms, letting other thoughts arise on their own as they will until they arise no more, this same focus and single-mindedness can be applied towards a thought to greatly expand its ability to be understood. As opposed to merely thinking a thought, focusing one’s awareness on a thought, topic, or concept allows the mind to fully enter into and explore it. This style of meditation is called contemplation, and in contemplation one comes to understand and support something from its fundamental axioms to its furthest implications.

Before beginning contemplation of an idea or thought, it helps to be intimately familiar with that idea or thought. Precede the contemplation with extensive reading, note-taking, discussion,and even idle banter involving the concept. Learn about its history, its development, its uses, its origins, its risks, its benefits, its correspondences, its associations, its causes, and its conditions.Whatever can be learned about it ahead of time will help in contemplation.

As before, begin by sitting comfortably, beginning breathing exercises, and enter into a meditative state. Consciously call up the idea or thought to be contemplated, then focus all awareness on that, exploring every thought that arises based on that original thought. If other completely unrelated thoughts arise, let them arise on and out on their own as before; if a thought can be made to fit or be associated with the contemplation, explore why.

As opposed to meditation before, where one wants to abstain from thinking consciously with a part of a distracted mind, contemplation seeks to completely absorb the mind in consciously thinking with its entire force.As opposed to meditation, where the mind is kept from wandering to focus on itself, contemplation allows the mind to wander down paths and avenues of thought related to the topic. Images,smells, sounds, memories, colors, and related thoughts that arise during contemplation, unless the mind is truly wandering off the path into distraction, help illumine or offer details or nuances or meanings to the topic being contemplated. Thoughts that seem to come from “outside” the mind,especially when contemplating the seal of a spirit, may also be indicative of the topic.Contemplation is not simply thinking about a thing.

Contemplation is completely absorbing the mind into a thing, deconstructing it, inspecting every aspect of it from every angle, discovering new angles and new aspects, using different techniques of thought to understand and comprehend it, and relating the meaning of it to one’s own experience: physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and eternally.

Meditation Exercise on the Tetractys

I’m sure most of us have heard, at least at one point when we were growing up, that when we’re angry and about to fly off the handle, that we should calm down before we act rashly.  One common way to cool off when we’re emotionally heated is to count to ten: take a deep breath, count from 1 to 2 to 3 all the way up to 10, then breathe deeply again, and by that point we should have calmed down enough to act at least a little more rationally and reasonably instead of like the geomantic figure Puer on caffeine.  Turns out that this little counting trick is good for other things, too, and I’ve adopted it as a basis for a short but powerful mathetic meditation exercise.  We’ve already described at least one method of mathetic meditation before by meditating on the letters by means of sound and by means of symbol, and we’ve alluded to meditating on the structure of the Tetractys, but now I’d like to make that latter part more specific.

First, let’s talk about breathing.  Breathing is the ultimate means of meditation for the vast majority of us: by simple awareness of breathing, we calm the mind, we cool the body down, and we take control of our spirit for deeper contemplation.  It’s hard to overestimate the full power of the breath, since with the breath we control our bodies and selves in a deep way; Jason Miller even says that a magician who can’t control their breath is no magician at all.  What I like to use as the basis for breathing in meditation is something that’s called the fourfold breath.  While sitting with the back straight but relaxed, such as in a chair, lotus position, or seiza position, close or relax the eyes and proceed with the following:

  1. Exhale completely, breathing out from your center.  This is the preliminary emptying breath; it might help to make a soft popping noise with the mouth (“peh peh peh peh peh”) to completely empty the lungs.
  2. Inhale into the center deeply, filling your lungs from the bottom up.  Count to four at a slow and natural rhythm.
  3. Hold the breath without closing the throat.  Count to four.
  4. Exhale completely, emptying your lungs from the top down from your center.  Count to four.
  5. Hold the lungs empty without closing the throat.  Count to four.
  6. Repeat from #1 as necessary.

This is the basis of the fourfold breath that other authors, such as John Michael Greer and Jason Miller, have used in their meditative and contemplative work, and I’ve used it before in my meditations on the geomantic figures as well as for devotional meditations using the Trisagion prayer.  It’s a great way to start off any meditation session, and a great meditative tool in its own right which can lead to deep insights, if not complete enlightenment a la the vipassana tradition in Buddhism.  Before proceeding with the actual mathetic meditation below, give this a try for a few sessions lasting at least five minutes each.

Once you’ve got the hang of this simple breathing meditation, let’s proceed with the actual meditation exercise.  When you’re relaxed and rested, recite an old Pythagorean prayer called the Invocation of the Tetractys.  I plan to use this prayer before any mathetic exercise, so it’s a good and short prayer to memorize and keep handy for all such meditations.  I’ve adapted the prayer from an older form, and the one I use is this:

Bless us, divine Number, you who enform gods and men!  O holy, holy Tetractys, you who contain the root and the source of all eternal and eternally flowing creation! For the divine Number begins with the profound, pure Monad until it comes to the holy Tetrad, then it begets the mother of all, the all-comprising, all-bounding, first-born, never-swerving, never-tiring, holy Decad, the keyholder of all!

Perform ten fourfold breaths as above to calm the mind and settle the body and spirit.  Next, perform another ten fourfold breaths, but this time we’re going to do something different on the exhale:

  1. On the first breath, intone the number “One” in your native language, breathing out from your center (or vibrate it, if you’re into that).  Visualize a single point in your mind and hold the image.
  2. On the second breath, intone the number “Two”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a second point beneath and to the left of the first with a single path linking the two.  Hold the image.
  3. On the third breath, intone the number “Three”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a third point to the right of the second, with two new paths linking this third point to the prior two.  Hold the image.
  4. On the fourth breath, intone the number “Four”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a fourth point beneath and to the left of the second, with two new paths linking this fourth point to the second and third points.  Hold the image.
  5. On the fifth breath, intone the number “Five”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a fifth point to the right of the fourth, with two new paths linking this fifth point to the fourth, second, and third points.  Hold the image.
  6. On the sixth breath, intone the number “Six”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a sixth point to the right of the fifth, with three new paths linking this sixth point to the fifth, second, and third.  Hold the image.
  7. On the seventh breath, intone the number “Seven”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a seventh point beneath and to the left of the fourth, with one new path linking this seventh point to the fifth point.  Hold the image.
  8. On the eighth breath, intone the number “Eight”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a eighth point to the right of the seventh, with five new paths linking this third point to the seventh, fourth, second, fifth, and sixth points.  Hold the image.
  9. On the ninth breath, intone the number “Nine”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a ninth point to the right of the eighth, with five new paths linking this third point to the eighth, fourth, fifth, third, and sixth points.  Hold the image.
  10. On the tenth breath, intone the number “Ten”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a tenth point to the right of the ninth, with two new paths linking this third point to the ninth and sixth points.  Hold the image.

So, each breath is associated with a particular stage of construction of the Tetractys of Life, proceeding in the order of the images below:

In your mind, you’ll’ve constructed the structure of the Tetractys of Life, all ten sphairai with all 24 paths between them.  After the ten constructing breaths, perform another ten fourfold breaths intoning nothing, just holding the image of the Tetractys in your mind, letting yourself become absorbed in its structure.  Once the tenth breath is complete, perform one last fourfold breath.  On this last breath, let the image dissolve into your breath on the inhale, disseminating throughout your body on the exhale, and exhaling a clean, pure breath at the end.  The meditation is complete.

I like the idea of using one’s own native language to count; it’s a linguistic curiosity that thinking of numbers and using them in speech takes place in a different part of the brain than other types of prose or poesy, and it’s a mark of innate fluency when you can instinctively count in a different language other than your native one.  In using your native language’s words for the numbers, the meditation becomes a little easier on the mind and makes the whole experience more natural and intuitive.  However, if you want to be a little more mystical, you could also use “Monad”, “Dyad”, “Triad”, “Tetrad”, and so on up to “Decad”, so it’s up to you.  I prefer the use of the simple native counting numbers, personally.

Now, the above meditation process is fairly straightforward, and I find it good for people who haven’t yet gone through the ritual of initiation into mathesis, a kind of “outsider” meditation that anyone can use who may want to begin work with the Tetractys.  It’s simple and clean, and it works.  However, I don’t particularly care for the order of how we visualize the sphairai above, since it feels a little awkward, especially in light of how we traverse the paths on the Gnosis Schema of the Tetractys, so more advanced mathetists may want to try a slightly different visualization.  The process is overall the same and starts off with the Invocation of the Tetractys and the initial ten breaths, but there are a few changes once we get to the construction breaths, where we use twelve breaths instead of ten:

  1. On the first breath, intone the number “One”, breathing out from your center.  Visualize a single point in your mind and hold the image.
  2. On the second breath, intone nothing.  Hold the image.
  3. On the third breath, intone the number “Two”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a second point beneath and to the right of the first with a single path linking the two.  Hold the image.
  4. On the fourth breath, intone the number “Three”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a third point to the right of the second with a single path linking this to the second point.  Hold the image.
  5. On the fifth breath, intone the number “Four”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a fourth point to the right of the first with three paths connecting this to the first, second, and third points. Hold the image.
  6. On the sixth breath, intone nothing.  Hold the image.
  7. On the seventh breath, intone the number “Five”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a fifth point to the left of the first with two paths connecting this to the first and second points. Hold the image.
  8. On the eighth breath, intone the number “Six”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a sixth point beneath and to the left of the fifth with a single path connecting this to the fifth. Hold the image.
  9. On the ninth breath, intone the number “Seven”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a seventh point between the sixth and second points with five paths connecting this to the sixth, fifth, first, fourth, and second points. Hold the image.
  10. On the tenth breath, intone nothing.  Hold the image.
  11. On the eleventh breath, intone the number “Eight”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a eighth point above and to the right of the first with four paths connecting this to the fifth, first, second, and fourth points. Hold the image.
  12. On the twelfth breath, intone the number “Nine”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a ninth point above and to the left of the eighth with a single path connecting this to the eighth point. Hold the image.
  13. On the thirteenth breath, intone the number “Ten”, breathing out as above.  Visualize a tenth point to the left of the eighth point with six paths connecting this to the ninth, eighth, fourth, fifth, seventh, and fifth points. Hold the image.
  14. On the fourteenth breath, intone nothing.  Hold the image.

Although we have ten points to construct as before, there are twelve stages total in the Gnosis Schema, where we cross over the central sphaira of Mercury multiple times.  Once we complete a system of three points on the Tetractys around the sphaira of Mercury, we return to the central sphaira and prepare ourselves for the next system.  Thus, once we complete a system and return to the first central sphaira of Mercury, we spend an extra breath just focusing on what we’ve constructed so far.  After this, we do another ten fourfold breaths to hold the whole completed Tetractys of Life in mind, dissolving the image on a final, eleventh breath.

I think this meditation exercise, the latter Gnostic Schema form of which I used during the ten days of my ritual of self-initiation, helps in developing an intuitive and innate understanding of the Tetractys, or at least plants a seed for the further growth of which as one develops in the study and practice of mathesis.  With the Gnosis Schema variant of the meditation, it’s interesting to see how the paths develop along with the sphairai, which itself can help one with seeing how the Gnosis Schema develops a full understanding based on earlier foundations of practice as one traverses the Tetractys in this manner.  It can help to use this meditation before any work in mathesis as a preliminary preparation, perhaps starting not with the sphaira of Mercury but the sphaira one is currently “at”, such as if one has progressed to the sphaira of Salt, one begins with constructing the Tetractys there and proceeding to the “second” sphaira of Earth, then the “third” sphaira of Water, and so forth, again pausing whenever one reaches the sphaira of Mercury.  One can further enhance this meditation by adding on the letters, numbers, and stoicheia of the paths into the meditation, perhaps spending another breath per each path that develops as one constructs a new sphaira in the visualization.