Fire and Water: A Tool for Steam-Powered Enchantment

Admittedly, it’s weird to see the WordPress write-post screen so frequently lately after so long without writing anything.  Quoth Alan Moore’s “Promethea” issue #19: “Man, this is like city transport.  You gonna wait forever for a beautiful woman, then three gonna show up at once.”  Then again, I suppose that’s the nature of inspiration: having the time, being at the right time, and having the resources available to present themselves.

Like everyone else on Facebook, my news feed (I remember back in the days when we just called them “walls”) is filled with videos, sometimes funny, sometimes stupid, sometimes educational.  One such video demonstrated a series of eight physics tricks, often involving magnets and batteries, but there was one in particular that caught my eye because it relied on water and fire.  While I couldn’t find the original video in a way to show here, I did find another video from Grand Illusions (whose channel is full of wonderful toys, tricks, gimmicks, and projects demonstrated by an amazing wizened Brit) that shows the exact same thing with a better description and demonstration:

The presenter isn’t sure what to call the thing, but it is similar to the kind of toys known as “pop-pop boats”, which use a tiny boiler to propel a tiny boat in water, making a continuous pop-pop sound.  This, however, isn’t quite the same.  Rather, it’s better described as a steam-powered top, constructed out of a bit of copper tubing extended through some corkboard, with its ends projecting out underneath and facing opposite directions.  The copper tubing is filled with water, then the “boat” is set on top of a bowl or container of water, and a candle is set on top of the platform under the coil.  The candle, once lit, heats the water inside the coil, turning it to steam and pushing it out, and then as the vapor cools in the coil not directly heated by the flame, sucks water back in, producing a top with sudden bursts of movement followed by slow periods of inertial spinning.  In a way, it’s a neat demonstration of the same principle underlying an aeolipile, but with a different setup and arrangement.

A neat little gimmick on its own, sure, but when it comes to matters combining fire and water, my mind starts thinking about possible occult applications.  And, for this, I think the occult applications are shockingly wonderful for how simple this would be as an extra tool in my kit.  Consider: it is not uncommon for us to bless, enchant, or otherwise bespooken liquids in our work, yes?  We normally achieve this by praying over the water, adding certain ingredients, setting it out in sunlight or moonlight, or extinguishing candles in them (either by setting a candle in the water and letting it burn out into it, or lighting a candle and quenching it in the water).  Separately, we often use candles in our work, which forms the entire field of candle magic unto itself in addition to being used as integral parts of other ceremonies.  We anoint, engrave, or dress candles, set them atop petitions, or use them as a means to empower other workings.  However, it’s not common to see an explicit merging of candle magic and water magic given the intrinsic opposition between fire and water, but the steam-powered top has a way of doing precisely just that using an almost-alchemical apparatus.

My idea for combining the two is, essentially, another technique to empower or enchant an amount of water by using the candle (dressed appropriately) to transfer its power directly into the water, but in a more prolonged and directed means than simply by extinguishing a candle in the water itself.  Assuming the copper tubing is clean and the corkboard itself doesn’t disintegrate (and it might be worth it to replace the corkboard with something more stable and hardy at some point), the water isn’t contaminated by any pollutants or additions, making it perfect for an innocuous substance that only the magician would be inclined to recognize as empowered.  Plus, instead of another method where one might heat a container of water directly using enchanted fuel (such as a cauldron heated by sacred woods and incenses), this can be done on a much smaller scale with a lot less overhead.  Additionally, the steam-powered top does its own job at keeping the water mixed through its constant spinning, though different videos show it spinning in different directions; the YouTube above shows a clockwise-spinning top, but other videos show it spinning in counterclockwise motion.  Either way, the tool seems to be useful in transferring the energy and intent of a candle directly to water, in a clean and full way that doesn’t leave residue or candle remnants.

Let’s give some examples of use, shall we?  Say that a friend has contracted a prolonged sickness, and some investigation shows a possible spiritual influence.  Dress a candle with the intent for health and shaking off spiritual gunk and set it atop a small name paper of your friend on the corkboard, then use the top in a bowl of clean water.  Administer the water to your friend in the form of baths and drinks to cleanse them internally and externally.  Being “nothing more” than clean water, perhaps with a faint metallic aftertaste, such a water could be used innocuously and without notice, or for those with sensitivities to particular herbs or oils.  Instead of giving it to them to drink or bathe with, you could also use the water in a humidifier, or set it in a pot to boil, so as to fill an entire area with the water, or use it in the washing machine for a load of laundry to do the same.  Alternatively, for a more malefic use, say you want to get rid of a troublesome coworker in the workplace, but the usual methods of doing so would draw too much undue attention, such as the laying of powders, dressing with oils, or other charms or tricks.  Dress a candle with hot-foot or get-fired oil and pray over the water to do the same, then once empowered, bring the water with you to work in an otherwise-normal water bottle (that you may not want to ever drink out of again).  “Accidentally” spill the water on your coworker’s uniform, shoes, or desk; it being water, most people would think no-harm no-foul, but you know better, don’t you?  Or, if they have a habit of leaving their desk or supplies unattended, put a few drops in their coffee mug on their desk or on their chair when they’re not looking.

If you’re comfortable with doing so, of course, there’s nothing saying you have to use plain old water for this sort of tool; most herbal infusions would likely work fine, though you’d do well to make sure they don’t corrode copper or corkboard too quickly, and that you thoroughly clean the tubing before and after each use to prevent both spiritual and material contamination.  Alternatively, the water could be used as an ingredient in other recipes, with the steam-powered top enchantment providing a kind of “pre-blessing” to prime the recipe as a whole.  I’d refrain from using this tool with anything with a high alcohol content, of course, given the obvious dangers of open flame around flammable liquids, though with a different construction of such a top in a fire-safe chamber, perhaps this wouldn’t be so much an issue.  The YouTube video above links to the Grand Illusions website where you can get your own pre-made steam-powered top for a not-unreasonable price, which I’ve already done and I’m excited to put to work when such an opportunity presents itself.  However, it wouldn’t be hard to make one of these yourself, though getting the copper tubing (or some other non-corroding heat-conducting metal) fixed in just the right direction may be a challenge for some.

A Correction on Terminology: On “Omieros”

In the last post, I described my method of a general spiritual bath for purification and the removal of spiritual impurities, and in the process used the term “omiero”, which has caused a minor stir online for some people.  Let me talk about this term here, and if you’ve used it or seen it used in the past and you’re not an initiate in Santeria, then please read this.

I first encountered the term “omiero” in a post by Aaron Leitch, one of the better-known ceremonial magicians of our time.  In that post of his, he described the method of making a blood substitute for Solomonic workings for those who are unwilling or unable to obtain blood from animals for the use in certain rituals, like the consecration of the black-handled knife which calls for the blood of a black cat.  Sometimes, getting blood from animals can be a problem for one reason or another, and many people (“especially those of American WASP heritage”) disprefer the use of blood generally in ritual.  I’m not one of those people, but I know of many who are.  To get around these problems and still continue on with Solomonic ritual as traditionally as possible, Leitch talks about making a substitute using water, herbs, and prayer.  He calls this a “Solomonic ‘omiero'”:

Omiero is a liquid used in Santerian traditions, whenever an Orisha (or  god) is born into a new vessel.  (These vessels are urns, filled with consecrated items, that become the center-pieces of altars to the Orishas.)  The Orisha will quite literally live inside the vessel, and offerings and sacrifices will be made to him or her upon the altar.  However, the Orisha’s very first meal is not blood at all – it is omiero.  Because of this, omiero can be considered even more potent (in its way) than blood.

Of course, the secrets of making true omiero are a closely guarded secret. I only know it involves the ripping and tearing of sacred herbs and plants beneath running water, so that a green-tinted water is collected. And there are mystical songs that must be sung during its preparation.

Meanwhile, the concept of herbally-infused holy water is not unheard of outside of these mystery religions. We can especially find it within the practice of Hoodoo – a folk practice that originated in the American south, and was itself heavily influenced by the ATRs. In this case, the process is much simplified – usually involving little more than steeping sacred herbs in water to produce a “tea” or extracting the scent of a plant and infusing it into water (such as the very popular Florida Water – which is named for its sweet floral scent, not for the US state).

He goes on to describe how one might make such a “Solomonic omiero” with the praying of psalms and the like, which is indeed a useful substitute for ritual magic.  After all, it’s basically the same thing I did for my rituals when I can’t get blood from a certain animal.  After getting involved with several African diasporic traditions, including Palo and Santeria, I’ve encountered the term “omiero” in a proper context, though I’ve also seen this same term used in ceremonial magic and other Western traditions since.  Since it seems to be part of the lingo, I used this term in my last post to describe an herbal wash one might use after or during the process of a spiritual bath.

I’ve since amended my post to remove the term “omiero” because, in short, I was wrong to use it.

The same Tata Quimbanda I mentioned is also a Santero, an initiate in Santeria, and I noticed shortly after my post that he started a discussion on Facebook about what an omiero really is.  After reading that discussion and talking with several other Santero friends of mine, I’ve since learned that what Aaron Leitch describes as an “omiero” is no such thing.  The term is strictly relegated to the practices of Santeria and Ocha, pretty much, and it is something far more than an herbal wash or herbal water.  Even with the praying of psalms or other incantations, it’s not an omiero unless it’s done in a Santeria manner.  To call something a “Solomonic omiero” is crossing the streams too much to be correct, and it’d be like saying something is a “Tibetan rosary” (the rosary being relegated to Catholic practices) or a “European shaman” (shaman being relegated to Central Asian religions).  Yeah, you might get your point across, but it’s not a proper use of the term.

What I was describing was an herbal wash or an herbal water: water with herbs crushed into it, perhaps with prayers said over it as one might do with many things in many traditions.  An omiero isn’t just that: the process of making an omiero and the precise nature and uses of it are oathbound knowledge kept by initiates in Santeria, but it’s made in a specific manner that isn’t found outside Santeria.  Plus, while an omiero can be used as a bath for some purposes, that’s not what it’s usually made for, and can be described as a type of “amniotic fluid” for the orisha in Santeria rituals.  If you’re not an initiate in Santeria, you’re pretty much guaranteed to not know how to make an omiero and are not supposed to use it on your own.

I admit I was wrong to use this term, and I’d like to correct the use of this term in the broader occult blogosphere, much as Kalagni over at Blue Flame Magick did with the term “tulpa” (if you think you know how this term works, think again and read Kalagni’s post).  It pays to be correct, guys.  Appropriating this term isn’t really doing yourself, your work, or the original tradition it came from any favors.

Making Lustral Water for Mathesis

I use holy water a lot.  Like, a lot.  I use a shotglass’ worth to cleanse off after taking a shower, I spritz myself with a spraybottle of the stuff (sometimes mixed with Florida water) first thing in the morning before meditation and before doing any ritual, I spray it around the house to do a quick cleansing of the airs, I wash off votary gifts for my altars before giving them to the gods, I mix it into omieros and other washes to give it a good kick of holiness, I pour some into the wash for laundry; you name the purpose and I probably already use holy water for it.  About the only thing I don’t do is drink it, and even then, I’ve been known to sprinkle holy water onto large batches of food for parties to bless people with without their explicit knowing (I mean, since it’s just salt water, it’s not like it leaves much of a taste).  As a ritual tool and supply, holy water is a must-have for magicians.  As for obtaining it, you could get it any number of ways: getting it from a Catholic or Orthodox church, taking some home from the local shul’s mikvah or temple, or even making it yourself.  I make my own using a combination of Catholic, Orthodox, and Solomonic techniques, based in part on Fr. Rufus Opus’ directions from his Red Work courses.  After a lot of experimentation, I make mine with plenty of sea salt so that it can keep for a good long while, even with a dash of hyssop or basil in it so that it doesn’t get all moldy inside.

Now, while I use my Christian-Solomonic holy water for pretty much everything, even filling small wearable containers to act as an amulet for protection, its main use is that of purification and spiritual cleansing.  In that regard, another name for it would be “lustral water”, or water used for lustration.  Lustration, in ancient Roman and Greek practice, was a purification ceremony, often to remove one of evil spirits, miasma, negative influences, and the like, and the term survives in any kind of purge or forceful removal of negative or detracting forces in a group or organization.  Lustral water, on the other hand, is any water specifically blessed or consecrated in some way to aid one in spiritual lustration, and its use can be seen in most of the world’s religions and practices.  Sometimes the lustral water was taken from a holy river or spring, and sometimes the water had to be prayed over or otherwise ritually consecrated.  And, yes, the ancient Greeks and Mediterranean peoples had their own holy water variants, which I want to talk about today.

In ancient Greece, lustral water was called khernips (χερνιψ), and the use of khernips for lustration was called khernimma (χερνιμμα).  There are several guides and tutorials to making khernips on your own, including a YouTube video by the author of the Hellenic reconstructionist blog Baring the Aegis (who has written about khernips several times on her blog, since apparently this is a source of confusion for people in Hellenismos).  The general idea is that you need to combine the elements in it which makes it able to purify a person or a place, and the process is fairly simple to produce:

  1. Procure an amount of clean water and fill a vessel, known as the χερνιβειον (khernibeion).  You might mix spring water with seawater, or just use clean tap water.
  2. Light dried herbs, a stick of incense, or a torch above the water and quench it in the water.  The herb can be verbena or laurel or something else, depending on the sources I’ve seen so far.
  3. Wash the hands with the water, then the face.  You might say “Χερνιπτομαι” (“Kherniptomai”), meaning “I wash with lustral water”.
  4. Sprinkle the area and all participants in the ritual with the khernips, saying “Εκας εκας εστε βεβηλοι” (“Hekas hekas este bebēloi”), or “begone, begone ye profane!”.  Alternatively, you could say “Απο απο κακοδαιμονες” (“Apo apo kakodaimones”), or “begone, begone evil spirits!”.

That’s basically it; the simplicity beats out my Solomonic holy water by far, though there is a trade off.  I’ve noticed that my Solomonic holy water definitely keeps its charge over a long period of time; I usually only need to make a large batch once every season, and I’m good to go even using liberal amounts of it every day.  Khernips, on the other hand, wouldn’t last as long, and it’s suggested to make it every day or before every ritual as part of the preparation and setup.  I can definitely see the argument for that, even if one produces a sufficiently large enough batch just for one day’s use, though it’s certainly different from what I’m accustomed to.

So, why wash off with khernips at all?  Given the simplicity of it, it’s not about physical hygiene; a brief rinse of the hands and face in a communal basin does not make you sanitary, nor anyone else for that matter.  There’re two major thoughts on the subject, and both relate to miasma, spiritual pollution.  Spiritual pollution happens; it’s part of being mortal and living a human life on this orb we call the Earth.  Birth, death, sex, masturbation, murder, lying, breaking vows, and the like are a matter of fact for everyone, often every day, and these wear on us and collect like dust on a mirror.  The gods despise and loathe miasma, being alien to it, and will not accept offerings from one tainted by miasma (at best) and could actively harm or curse the tainted one (at worst).  The two theories are that either the miasma is an internal, mental thing and khernimma relaxes us and frees us from the cares, concerns, and fears of the world and puts us in the right state of mind to counter the gods; the other is that miasma is an external thing and is on us whether we feel good about ourselves or not.  I contend that both are at play, but miasma is definitely (and especially according to the historical record) an external thing; we incur miasma by living, end of story.   We have a naturally pure state, but so does a freshly-made clean mirror; just as the mirror collects dust over time, we collect miasma just by being in the world.  It’s a thing.  We clean off with khernips and we’re good to go.  It helps to meditate briefly on being purified and collected and calm for the ritual, but that comes as a matter of course after one cleans off the miasma that’s already collected.

I’ve been thinking of making a mathesis-specific ritual for making holy or lustral water because…well, while my Solomonic holy water certainly works, it feels a little weird to use it when it comes to mathesis, like a bit of cognitive dissonance pulling on the mind.  It works, definitely, but I decided to try something simpler and more ancient-y than my Renaissance-European-Christian-Solomonic method, and if possible to develop a specific ritual that fits within the parameters of mathesis for my practice.  The simple method above, using laurel leaves (since laurel was a plant associated with Apollo, the god par excellence of ritual purity), works quite nicely, but why not be a little more original than that?  Besides, we can tie in the creation of khernips and ablution into our daily practice, too, and since I’ve been discussing the use of holy water or lustral water without explicitly describing a method for mathetai to make the stuff, I may as well do so now.

Taking a cue from Elani at Baring the Aegis, I’ve decided to work making khernips into my daily routine, making enough to last me for one day.  I make and use khernips as preparation for invoking and meditating on the Tetractys, as well as using it just before approaching Hermes Oneirodotes as I begin my process of winding down the night for bed.  However, I make a sufficient amount in the morning (you don’t need much) to allow for another lustration in case of a mathetic ritual at some point during the day, as well as to allow enough for others to lustrate themselves in case anyone else participates.  To create a simple style of khernips to carry out the khernimma, you will need:

  • One whole bay laurel leaf
  • A small amount of salt, preferably sea or rock salt
  • A measure of clean water (tap water works fine)
  • A wide, shallow bowl, preferably white
  • A lid or cover wide enough to cover the bowl
  • A clean dishtowel, preferably white

Pour out the measure of water into the bowl, then sprinkle in a pinch of the salt.  Light the tip of the bay leaf until it’s on fire, then quench it into the water.  As you do this, say:

For the sake of purity and becoming pure, be purified!

If you have a large or high-quality bay leaf, set the bay leaf aside; otherwise, you can just drop the whole leaf into the water.  If you save the leaves, they can be reused until they’ve burned down enough to be disposed of, preferably outside.

Scoop up some water with the right hand and pour it on the palm of the left, holding the left hand above the bowl so that the water drains into the bowl, then pour some more water onto the back of the left hand, wiping the hand off from the wrist down to the fingertips.  Repeat the same process with the right hand, pouring water onto the palm and then the back with the left hand.  Then scoop up water with both hands and gently wipe them off with the khernips, again from the wrist down to the fingertips.  Scoop up some more water and wash the face from the top of the forehead down to under the chin.  With hands and face still moist, say:

In purity, I cleanse myself and free myself from defilement.

Dry off with the cloth, wiping the hands downward from the wrist to the fingertips and the face downward from the forehead to the chin.  As you wipe off your hands and face with the water and the cloth, let go of your worldly concerns, your cares outside the work to be done, your fears, and all the like.  You’re now purified and fit to approach the gods and the mysteries.

If you need to use the khernips to purify the area, which I recommend before beginning any ritual in an area where ritual is not normally done or has not been done for some time, dip the fingers of the right hand into the water and sprinkle it around the ritual area in a counterclockwise fashion four times, saying:

Begone, begone, you profane spirits, you evil spirits, begone, begone!

Dry the hand off once more with the cloth.  At this point, if there are other ritual participants present, they should wash their hands and face in the same manner as you did after the area has been purified.  Cover the khernibeion with the lid and set it aside in a high place until it can be used later that day again to wash the hands and face and, if necessary, the ritual area, being sure to cover the khernibeion afterwards.  Fold the towel loosely, placing the bay leaves within a fold of the towel, and lay it across the khernibeion lid.  At the end of the day before retiring, uncover the khernibeion and empty it outside, preferably on a patch of earth or grass, but if this is not possible, dumping it in the sink respectfully will do.  The khernibeion and the towel for drying off should be washed at least once a month, preferably on unlettered days of the month.

To be fair, the use of bay leaves specifically isn’t something required here.  What makes khernips khernips is the use of three elements: salt, water, and fire, perhaps to represent the three realms of Earth, Sea, and Sky, or perhaps the three of the four elements (the fourth, Air, being represented by the actual words spoken in lustration).  If using up bay leaves isn’t to your taste, you might experiment using a cotton ball soaked in grain alcohol or wine, or better yet, a tincture made with purifying herbs.  Such a tincture (alcohol-based herbal solution) might be made from frankincense, bay laurel, hyssop, basil, and mint, all soaked in grain alcohol or high alcohol content rubbing alcohol; mine is made from basil, hyssop, and frankincense.  I take a cotton ball on some forceps or long tweezers, briefly touch it in the tincture, light it on fire,  gently waft ir above the surface of the water, quench it in the water, press all the remaining alcohol out against the bottom of the khernibeion, and boom.  The specific herbs used is icing on the cake at this point, I believe, so long as you have something on fire you can quench into the water.  If making such a tincture isn’t in your ability and you don’t like burning bay leaves, you might consecrate a batch of cotton balls and rubbing alcohol under Apollo just for this purpose and use those as a sort of sacred torch.

All told, even though I’ve made my khernips ritual a little more complicated than Elani’s or other Hellenists’, it’s still far simpler than my Solomonic holy water, and much more in tune with the general feel of mathesis.  I wouldn’t push the use of khernips for a heavy purification or cleansing ritual except as a preliminary to loosen what really needs to be scoured or blasted away; for that, I’d still rely on something stronger, like my Solomonic holy water.  Still, for basic meditation and approaching the mysteries, this mathesis-specific lustral water is definitely a tool I plan on using in the future.  Not to the extent of my Solomonic water, perhaps, but definitely for mathetic rituals.  Speaking of, if we tie in the use of khernips into our daily practice, then I expect it’d look something like this:

  1. Consecration of khernips and morning khernimma
  2. Invocation of the Tetractys and Tetractean meditation
  3. Meditation on the letter of the lunar date
  4. Daily grammatomantic divination
  5. Offering to the god of the lunar date
  6. Evening khernimma and disposal of khernips
  7. Invocation of Hermes for sleep and dreams
  8. Recollection of the day’s activities

However, given the simplicity and speed of making khernips (though it should be done thoughtfully and slowly enough for it to count whenever possible), then it’s not like one’s burdens are substantially added to.  I was already in the habit of purifying myself with a spritz of holy water perhaps mixed with Florida water, even just washing my hands and face in a similar way with khernips; I’ve noticed that some gods candles wouldn’t light until after I had cleansed myself accordingly.  Using khernips instead of my Solomonic holy water is a much better match for them, anyway, so I recommend its use for mathetic work.  Eventually, I may change the short prayers said over the khernips to using Greek or using barbarous words of power, but to start with, simple mystical commands work fine.


Also, just one final note I’d like to tack on.  When I prepare a ritual bowl or vessel for something, like the khernibeion bowl for the khernipsI like to specially cleanse it out first.  It’s pretty simple, and it blasts everything out of it for use for pretty much anything, especially if it’s been used for another ritual and needs to be thoroughly “reset”:

  1. Take off all stickers, gunk, markings, etc. as much as possible.  Rubbing alcohol is your friend here, just make sure not to damage the vessel itself.
  2. Wipe it out with holy water (not khernips, but something stronger).
  3. If the vessel is sturdy and heatproof enough (i.e. metal, ceramic, etc.), pour in a small amount of 99% grain alcohol or denatured alcohol and set it alight.  If it’s not heatproof or sturdy for that, light a cotton ball soaked in the stuff and wave it around inside the container with a pair of pincers.
  4. Once the vessel cools down, turn it upside down and set a candle on top, then light it.  A tealight is fine, you don’t need anything bigger.
  5. Once the candle goes out, the vessel is ready for ritual use and further consecration if needed.

49 Days of Definitions: Part X, 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 forty-fourth definition, part X, number 2 of 7:

Nature in man is omniform, and (it is) an energy endowed with all qualities (whose) force (is) invisible and effects (are) conspicuous.  An energy is a movement.  Matter is a wet essence; a body is a agglomeration of matter.

In the last definition, we talked about four terms: good, evil, female, and male.  Of these, that which is Good is, basically, God; anything that is not God is within God, but not everything that is not God is evil.  That which hides the Good, which is knowledge, is evil, which is ignorance, and evil resides in the material world, since this is the world of nature.  Nature is a reflection of truth, but is not truth itself; nature generates within itself as God generates within itself, but that which is God stays God, while nature keeps to itself.  Nature generates within itself according to two principles, the female or passive principle which allows things to be changed, and the male or active principle which allows change to happen.  These are not elements, but forces present in all things; moreover, they are “fluidities”, implying constant change, motion, and mobility that constantly shifts every passing moment.

We know that everything that exists is within Man (IX.4), and that Man understands all of creation (VI.1), not least because Man is the sole creature capable of possessing Nous, but also because wherever Man is, so is God (IX.6).  Since God is literally everything that exists and does not exist and all that stuff (IX.1), God is greater than Man, but because God is Nous and Nous is within Man (or at least some of Man), Man has the capability and the understanding of all things.  How can this be, though?  God knows all things because God is all things.  If we follow that same logic, we can construct a parallel statement that also holds under what we’ve discussed so far: Man understands all nature because Man is all nature.  Indeed, this definition says as much: “nature in man is omniform”.  All natures and all of nature is within Man; after all, Man is a microcosm or “small world” (I.4).  Within Man (properly, the essence of Man), there are all qualities, all quantities, all good, all evil, all female, all male, and all other states of nature, including light, darkness, honesty, lies, ugliness, beauty, and everything else.  Every member of Man contains all natures, which allows every member of Man to be capable of experiencing and understanding all natures, much as how Man contains Nous and so is capable of receiving and understanding Nous.

Moreover, this omniform nature within Man is “an energy endowed with all qualities whose force is invisible and effects are conspicuous”.  We can see nature, since “nature is the mirror of truth” (VIII.5) and since truth is invisible, but the forces of nature are not necessarily visible.  We cannot see pure qualities or quantities; we cannot see maleness or femaleness, abstract number, or the like.  We understand them, though they may be invisible; we can certainly see their effects in the world where truth and nature are realized and materialized.  But note how these things are described: the force of nature is “invisible” and its effects are “conspicuous”.  These are the same words used to describe good and evil, respectively, in the previous definition.  Thus, the forces of nature can be likened to or are good and thus truths, while the effects of nature can be likened to or are evil.  Again, this leads us to say that the material world, being conspicuous and able to be seen, is evil, as opposed to the invisible and intelligible truths that are God.

But there’s one term in that statement that’s confusing, since we haven’t encountered it before and which carries a fair amount of baggage in modern parlance: “energy”.  Throw out all your notions of prana, qi/chi/ki, orgone, nuclear/quantum physics, or what have you; we’re not talking about those here.  According to this definition, energy “is a movement”.  Movement, as we know, is provided by soul (II.1), and which is seen by Nous and performed by breath (II.6).  Any motion, any movement, any act of nature is energy.  This is what allows plants, though they have no soul, to still yet move by breath/spirit (hypothesized from IV.2); movement is performed by breath, which plants have though they have no animating soul.  Thus, they can still experience forces of nature in a way that rocks and stones cannot, but cannot move around or act as animals, humans, or heavenly beings can.  Motions provided by nature are energies that work within nature, so long as there exists the forces of nature to provide them and matter to be moved by them.

Then again, what is matter?  All this talk about nature and bodies and elements and forces, and yet we’re not quite clear on what matter is.  This definition says that matter “is a wet essence”.  Looking back, we see that water is one of the qualities which is wetness (II.1), and that water is a “fecund essence, the support of earth, as a nutritive essence” (II.4).  Thus, matter is essentially watery, though no matter could exist materially without earth and vice versa.  The heavens are fire (II.5), the low world is earth (II.3), and air is the medium between heaven and earth (II.2), but water is what supports earth.  Water and earth are opposite qualities according to II.1, where water is wet and earth is dry; however, matter is primarily watery, which allows it to grow instead of just exist statically.  Fire can inhibit or remove growth, air can link growths together, and earth is that which is grown, but water provides the growth.  The world is essentially characterized by growth.  Moreover, the world is essentially characterized by life; not immortality or mortality, but life, bios, living.  All things that die provide life for other things, so life always continues in the world in some way.  A body may die by cancer, but cancer is merely the growth of something else that takes over an existing body; a body may die by being slaughtered, but provides food for other bodies to grow; life is death, death is life.  Both are wet.  Thus, material reality is wet.

So what about bodies in terms of matter?  A body is “an agglomeration of matter”, or matter piled on and stuck to matter.  Different matters combined form a body.  This is pretty straightfoward; every body is more than “a matter”, but which is why the phrase is so awkward to say when referring to physical objects.  Instead, we say that every body is “matter”, using a collective noun instead of a singular.  Even single atoms are compounds of smaller things, and a cloud of gas is a collection of, you guessed it, matter.  And, because matter is primarily wet, all bodies are primarily wet, too, unless they have a huge imbalance of one element or the other.  Dry sand, for instance, though it has some water in it, has an abundance of earth; pure water is mostly water with very little earth. While different bodies are composed of different elements (II.1), the basis for them is still matter, with the elements and fluidities of maleness and femaleness taking effect upon them.

And, because they’re material and worldly, they’re still evil.  Apparently.

49 Days of Definitions: Part III, 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 thirteenth definition, part III, number 2 of 4:

Many (places) are uninhabited by humans; for where the world is, the earth (is) too, but man is not on every earth.  The sea is large as well as the earth, but heaven by itself (is as much as) both the sea and the earth.  [And he wanted to say that, by its magnitude, heaven is (as much as) both the earth and the sea, so large as the two of them may be, since by taking everything into (itself), it encompassed it and it contains it enclosed within (itself).]

Now that we know that all things are within God and that God is in all things and beyond them, we have a more-or-less panentheistic notion of creation: God is both immanent (within creation) and transcendent (beyond creation).  Just to make this clear, this is distinct from pantheism, where God is in creation and creation is God; the two are synonymous in pantheism.  However, we have good evidence from earlier definitions that Hermetic philosophy is panentheistic, not pantheistic.  Panentheism is common in much of tribal, primal, or primitive religions, though it tends to be relegated to fringe or mystic movements in some of the more common religions known nowadays.  However, this definition helps build the case for a Hermetic panentheistic worldview.

We can kinda continue the definition from before by including mankind: wherever there is heaven, there is God; wherever there is the world, there is heaven, thus there is God; wherever there are humans, there is world, thus there is heaven, thus there is God.  However, this definition makes it clear that there are places that are in the world where no human lives: “many places are uninhabited by humans”.  Yes, it is true that humans live in the world, but there are places where there are no humans: either places too far out of reach for us, or places inhospitable to us.  After all, “where the world is, the earth is too, but man is not on every [all] earth”.  In other words, although there is the potential for human inhabitation in any given place where there is a foundation for it, such potential is not always realized for one reason or another. 

Thus, the world is strictly greater than the inhabited world; phrased another way, the world is greater than humanity.  Not only that, but heaven is greater than the world: “the sea is large as well as the earth, but heaven by itself is as much as both the sea and the earth”.  Thus, there are places where humanity (such as it is physically) cannot even possibly go that aren’t even of this world.  Thus, we now know that heaven is definitely greater than the world, and the world greater than humanity.  This is evidence for there being multiple levels of reality, multiple worlds that are nested in some way with some worlds inside other, bigger worlds.  However, this isn’t something necessarily strict, however; though we know that humanity is less than the world, we don’t have anything quite equating humanity with Man yet.  In other words, there may be more to Man than just what we know of as human beings, but that’s as yet undecided.

The next part is another probable gloss of the compiler, much as the “I think that…” sentence in III.1 was; in other words, somewhere at some point added a bit more commentary to the Definitions.  Here, the commentor seems to rephrase the rest of this definition: “by its magnitude, heaven is as much as both the earth and the sea, so large as the two of them may be, since by taking everything into itself, it encompassed it and it contains it enclosed within itself”.  In other words, this seems to be a conjecture that because “heaven by itself is as much as both the sea and the earth”, heaven is the same magnitude as the world in terms of size and location.  What this means in terms of magnitude for something without a body and cannot be measured in the same way, however, is unknown to me; trying to measure a body against something without a physical basis isn’t very helpful.  However, by comparing them in essence, we might say that the heavens are as varied, as multiformed, as complex as the world, while still being one whole as much as the world is one whole and is full of things.  Still knowing so little about the world and heaven yet, it’s hard to draw many comparisons between the two, much less equivalences while knowing they cannot be identical.

However, the addendum goes on a little further to say that “by taking everything into itself, [heaven] encompassed [the world] and [heaven] contains [the world] enclosed within itself”.  This is more evidence for the notion that the world is contained within heaven, not partially but entirely; there are no places in the world that are not also part of heaven, but there are places in heaven that are not part of the world.  The world is fully contained within heaven, since the world was “taken into” heaven.  This phrasing makes it sound like the heavens kinda absorbed another realm within God but not within heaven, as an amoeba might eat something else; I’m unsure.  I don’t think the verb “take” indicates quite this, but that heaven absorbed the influences given to it to form something inside itself; this is somewhat corroborated by the account of Hermes as given in the Corpus Hermeticum by Poemandres (chapter 1, part 8):

And I say: Whence then have Nature’s elements their being?

To this He answer gives: From Will of God.  [Nature] received the Word (Logos), and gazing on the Cosmos Beautiful did copy it, making herself into a cosmos, by means of her own elements and by the births of souls.

49 Days of Definitions: Part II, Definition 5

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 tenth definition, part II, number 5 of 6:

Fire is a sterile essence, the duration of the immortal bodies and the destruction of the mortal: an infertile substance, in as much (it belongs to) the destructive fire which makes (things) disappear; and the perpetuation of the immortal (beings), since what cannot be consumed by fire is immortal and indestructible, but the mortal can be destroyed by fire.

While definition II.2 described air, II.3 earth, and II.4 water, definition II.5 describes fire, the last but certainly not the least element to be discussed.  Air is the conjoining element that binds other things together; earth is the foundation of matter for other elements to act upon it; water nurtures and nourishes and allows for growth.  Air and earth can be seen as opposites in a way: while earth allows for distinct bodies to be formed, air helps bind them together again.  Thus, water and fire can also be seen as a pair of opposites; if water helps to nourish, fire then must help to destroy.

Fire is the “sterile essence”; fire prohibits things from growing or producing things, unlike water which helps things to grow or produce.  Sterility is something that we might attribute to bare earth, as well, earth unmixed with water.  However, as seen from earlier definitions, water and earth are both the support of the cosmos, and are inextricably linked together; they are going to be combined together in all cosmic things (at least down here on the Earth).  Fire, however, is something different; fire is hot, it is heat, it is burning, it is active.  And these things are not conducive to life for mortals.

Fire is also the “duration of the immortal bodies and the destruction of the mortal”.  This is a pair of opposites that contrasts that which is immortal (like gods or planets) and that which is mortal (like human bodies or animals).  In the first part of this statement, fire is the “duration of the immortal”, or that fire is that which maintains, empowers, and sustains immortal bodies.  In a way, immortal bodies are primarily fire, and fire is what enables them to “live”.  I use quotes around “live” here because fire is inherently antithetical to life, or at least life as we know it: mortal life.  Immortal beings live in a way that is distinct from mortal beings, and based on what we know about fire, I think one of the qualities of immortal beings is that they cannot give birth.  After all, if fire is the “duration of the immortal”, and if fire is also a “sterile essence”, then beings who are primarily fire cannot give birth due to their sterility. 

That said, anyone who’s lit a fire before can attest to how quickly it can spread from tinder to tinder, twig to twig, log to log.  Fire expands and catches other things on fire, so it doesn’t just burn out immediately; in a way, fire “lives” on its own, but in a way distinct from other bodies that are composed of water and earth (e.g. human bodies).  Because of how fire catches, immortal beings can definitely reproduce or spread their influence by means of their fire, but this is simply an effect of fire on the earth of a body.  And, because fire is sterile and hot, fire also desiccates and burns up; fire destroys any body that is not immortal.  Thus, fire is “the destruction of the mortal”; fire corrupts, decreases, and burns up anything that is not also fire.  The ability to be destroyed and undergo decrease back into basic components is a characteristic of mortal beings, and now we know that these actions are caused (at least in part) by fire.

Fire, as well as being sterile (inhibiting life), is also an “infertile substance”, meaning that it cannot be the growth of anything, nor can it help to produce anything.  Then again, the text continues this to qualify that fire is infertile insofar as “it belongs to the destructive fire which makes things disappear”.  This suggests that there are multiple types of fire: a destructive fire is that which decreases, desiccates, and the like on bodies that are capable of undergoing that function (mortal bodies).  When we get to immortal bodies, however, not only is fire their primary life-giving substance, but fire is “the perpetuation of the immortal beings”.  Just as fire spreads and catches onto other things, so too do immortal beings “catch onto” and spread their influence across other bodies.

Immortal beings don’t simply catch on fire; they themselves already are fire, and they are not harmed by it or by the fire of other immortals.  After all, immortal beings cannot undergo destruction or desiccation, and so are an ever-living fire on their own; their fires may combine to form a bigger fire, or their fire may ignite elsewhere to “perpetuate” themselves.  In any case, because they cannot be consumed by fire, they are “immortal and indestructible”.  However, mortal beings “can be destroyed by fire”.  So now we know that fire is something that acts fundamentally different for mortal beings and immortal beings: immortal beings are perpetuated by the use and spread of fire, while mortal beings are destroyed and consumed by fire.

49 Days of Definitions: Part II, Definition 4

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 ninth definition, part II, number 4 of 6:

Water is a fecund essence, the support of earth, as a nutritive essence.

Delightfully short!  While definition II.2 described air and II.3 described earth, II.4 describes water, and unlike the others, it’s pretty straightforward.  Water is “fecund”, so it helps nurture and produce; water is the essence of fertility.  Without water, nothing can grow; although earth is the nurse of the living, it’s water that helps them thrive, it’s water that helps nourish and provide nutrition.  Dry earth alone can do nothing, but with water, earth can be made into clay or loam, and be made to grow.  Water is that which provides and builds upon the earth.

The middle part of this definition, though, says that water is “the support of earth”.  We’ve encountered this type of phrase before in II.3, where “earth is the support of the world”.  In II.3, we understood that to mean that the cosmos is made material and sensible because of the quality of earth, that all things with any mass or matter in them owe it to their component of the earthy element.  Thus, just as the soul “keeps up the figure while being within the body” (I.3) and so is the support of the body, earth is the support of the world.  In II.4, however, we find that earth itself is supported by water.  Does that mean that earth owes its earthiness to water?  In a sense, yes, though it’s a little hard to discern.

In the cosmogony of the Poemander (chapter I, part 5), we find a basic layout of the four elements in the cosmos:

Thereon out of the Light . . . a Holy Word (Logos) descended on that Nature. And upwards to the height from the Moist Nature leaped forth pure Fire; light was it, swift and active too.

The Air, too, being light, followed after the Fire; from out the Earth-and-Water rising up to Fire so that it seemed to hang therefrom.

But Earth-and-Water stayed so mingled each with other, that Earth from Water no one could discern. Yet were they moved to hear by reason of the Spirit-Word (Logos) pervading them.

Here, while fire flies to the top (upper heavens) and air follows it (the conjunction between the heavens and the earth), earth and water are mingled together as a single mass or body, just as the cosmos itself is composed of many parts but is still one whole body.  In this sense, we start to find yet another microcosm: just as Man as a “small world” (I.4) reflects the cosmos and God because of “soul and breath” in addition to his body, the Earth (not just the element, but the planet) is a microcosm in itself of the macrocosm.  However, the combination of earth and water in the beginning was at first chaotic: as in Genesis 1:2, “and the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”  However, as in the Poemander, “by reason of the Logos”, they were moved and made into form, just as God in Genesis spoke and gave form to the heaven and the earth.

Thus, while earth is the support of the world, water is the support of earth, and since water and earth both come from the cosmos, water is also the support of the world.  For anything in the cosmos to grow or nourish, water must be present, just as earth must be present for anything to be sensible or material in the cosmos.  Water is the essence of growth and production, just as earth is the essence of matter and sensibility.  However, earth can also be the foundation for any measure of increase or decrease, the growth and destruction of anything in the cosmos.  Starting with earth, if one adds water, the matter inceases; if one removes water, the matter decreases.  This is similar to dehydration of foods; anything plump and juicy when dried will shrivel and desiccate.  Continue this long enough by removing enough water, and only earth will remain.  Add water again, however, and you’ll make the earth fertile again to grow new things from it.

Earth and water are necessary for anything in the cosmos to live; it’s not enough to merely exist as an inanimate object (and, indeed, no such thing truly exists since all bodies in the cosmos have a soul).  Earth enables a body to be material and sensible, as well as allowing for other elements to act upon it and move it.  Water enables a body to grow, produce, nurture, and increase.  Both of these elements work together as part of the low cosmos (or the Earth) in conjunction with air and fire.