49 Days of Definitions: Part VII, 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 twenty-seventh definition, part VII, number 4 of 5:

Soul enters the body by necessity, Nous (enters) soul by judgment.  While being outside the body, soul (has) neither quality nor quantity; (once it is) in the body it receives, as an accident, quality and quantity as well as good and evil: for matter brings about such (things).

We know from before that “soul is a necessary movement adjusted to every kind of body” (II.1), although not all bodies have souls (IV.2).  Of those that do, however, they are animated, both in the classical sense of being “ensouled” as well as in the modern sense of having motion and movement.  Plants and stones, for instance, do not move beyond their natural tendencies to increase or decrease, and so have no souls; animals, humans, and heavenly beings move in addition to their tendencies to increase and decrease, and so have souls.  Thus, “soul enters the body by necessity”, especially the bodies of Man, since it is there that soul can develop into perfection.

However, it is only the souls with Nous that do this, and why?  Because Nous wants to: “Nous enters soul by judgment”.  This, to me, has a double meaning, because other parts of the definitions don’t seem to make complete sense.  All souls come from Nous, and are given a touch of Nous that give it impetus for motion within the body (VII.3).  However, not all creatures have Nous, since this is a gift from the Nous itself and only visits to those who serve Nous through Logos (V.3, V.1).  Trying to reconcile this gap between “all souls in bodies have Nous within” to “not all bodies have Nous” requires a bit of a reach here, at least at this point in our understanding:

  1. Nous enters soul because it wants to.  While the Nous is God and God is in all things, not all things are consciously aware of being part of God.  Nous wants us all to be aware of that, since Nous is all about knowing and awareness.  Nous gives life through soul that it inhabits because it wants the life to be made fully part of God and aware that it is God.  In other words, there’s a much bigger party going on in the intelligible world than in the sensible world, and God wants us to join it by enabling ourselves to be aware of it and how to get in.  We can call this type of Nous within the soul the “seed Nous” or “heart Nous”; it’s not much different than what other definition say about God being part of all things: since the soul is a thing, God must be part of it.
  2. Nous enters soul because the soul is ready for it.  While the Nous within the soul may be the heart of the soul, it is not the same thing as the soul, and the soul may not be in full command or contact with the Nous.  It’s like how humanity has their conscious minds as well as their subconscious, and while the subconscious can drive or influence the conscious, we’re not aware of the subconscious desires doing this to us.  By bringing the subconscious to the conscious level, we become more fully aware of ourselves and our whole being.  Likewise, the Nous is buried so deep within ourselves that we are effectively cut off consciously from it, though we still retain that divine spark within ourselves.  By coming to know Nous through Logos, we bring the Nous closer and closer to the surface in ourselves, enabling perfection of ourselves.  This is only something that is done when we are ready for it, and requires active work on our part.

Thus, what this definition is saying is basically that wherever there is a body, there must be a soul, but souls on their own may not have Nous since they may not be necessary to a body, and so may not exist if Nous does not judge there to be a need for it.  God makes things happen and gives things life, and without God nothing could happen; thus, the soul exists only as God has allowed it to exist, but even so it must continue developing.  Just as a seed takes time to grow into a full tree, a soul takes time to grow into a full perfected soul.  This is done by helping it develop within the body across the four parts of the world (VII.2)  Only when the soul is properly developed can it receive Nous into itself wholly and fully; instead, we might say that the soul returns to and is fully connected to the Nous again, regardless of whether it is contained within a body.

The soul entering into the body has more effects than simply dimming the connection between Nous and itself, too.  The soul is an invisible and insensible thing that supports the body, and “while being outside the body, soul has neither quality nor quantity”.  In other words, there are no characteristics or details about the soul that we can know while it is outside a body.  It is only ever intelligible, and so is part of God in the intelligible world.  However, when a soul enters a body, “it receives, as an accident, quality and quantity”.  The soul, by entering into a body, picks up sensible qualities, but it does not enter into the body so as to do this.  This happens “as an accident”, or a side-effect of the animation of a body.  This is because “matter brings about such things”, and all matter is based on the element of earth (II.3), without which nothing sensible could exist.

Consider any arbitrary measurement or metric you might conceive of.  Length is a property of how much matter can be arrayed in a given distance.  Volume is several lengths in different directions.  Weight is how much mass can be packed into a particular object.  Density is the proportion of weight to volume.  These are all quantities, numbers that are all based in the physical realm.  Any measurement based on these or similar metrics is also a quantity, and therefore based in the physical, material realm.  What about qualities?  As opposed to an objective measurement, a quality is a subjective measurement.  Does something feel good or bad?  Do sour foods taste better than bitter foods?  How strongly do you like a particular object?  Does a certain action cause pride or shame in the actor?  These and more are all qualities, which although not directly based on material measurements, use the body and spirit to interpret them for us, and since these things are based on the material body, qualities too become material accidents.

The soul, much like God, has none of these to start with.   We cannot describe any quality or quantity of the soul without a body; it is, in a sense, ineffable, much as God is (I.4).  Moreover, the soul has no notion of these things either until it gains a body, since the soul is separated from the body, and as we puzzled out before in VI.2, without having a body we cannot sense the sensible or visible things, which are measured and interpreted according to their quantity and quality.  With a body, however, the soul can suddenly discern these things, as well as become these things by means of the body.  I don’t mean to say that God cannot sense things, since God senses and sees all things (V.1), but rather that God, who is Nous, who is both Mind as well as the faculties and exercise of Mind, is these things.  The soul, however, is not God, though it is a part of God, and so until it obtains Nous as given by God, it cannot similarly see, sense, or witness things in the same way as God does.  On its own, the soul cannot do much; in a body, it can act as and work as the body.

In addition to quantity and quality, however, by entering into the body the soul also picks up “good and evil”.  We know of things that are good, which we can associate with both light (II.6) and God (I.4).  Whatever evil is, we are not yet certain, but we have a few clues.  These are things that only exist where bodies exist; good and evil are not things that exist outside of the world or as part of God, but exist only as sensible things.  Hermes Trismegistus goes on about good and evil in the Corpus Hermeticum (chapter XIV, part 7):

And do not thou be chary of things made because of their variety, from fear of attribution of a low estate and lack of glory unto God.  For that His Glory’s one,—to make all things; and this is as it were God’s Body, the making [of them].  But by the Maker’s self naught is there thought or bad or base.

These things are passions which accompany the making process, as rust doth brass and filth doth body; but neither doth the brass-smith make the rust, nor the begetters of the body filth, nor God [make] evil.  It is continuance in the state of being made that makes them lose, as though it were, their bloom; and ’tis because of this God hath made change, as though it were the making clean of genesis.

Basically, good and evil exist as a special set of qualities in the sensible world, and are related to the process of increase and decrease, which only exists because of the element of earth.  Water helps to increase (“fecund essence”, II.4); fire helps to decrease (“destruction of the mortal”, II.5); air helps to join together (“heavens and earth are united with each other by the air”, II.2).  Death is a result of decrease without increase; creatures that are not heavenly and made of fire are therefore earthy and mortal (IV.1, IV.2); death prevents the soul from obtaining perfection when the soul is not yet ready (VI.3); bodies serving their own end without care for the soul serves only death (V.2).  Therefore, death, decay, and decrease that prevent the soul from fulfilling its perfection and Nous can be considered evil, and this can only be done in the material world that bodies live in.  These things on their own are not bad at all, and are necessary in the world, but when they interfere with ourselves, they become a harmful influence.  However, we must choose to let them interfere with ourselves, even if we choose inaction against them.

This is a crucial difference between the material world and the immaterial world: good and evil only exist where a chance to turn away from God exists.  Outside the material world, one is only ever part of God, and thus cannot turn away from God.  In the sensible world, it’s harder to be aware of God, and thus easier to turn away from God.  Turning towards God and rejoining with him, coming into the perfect “knowledge of the beings” and light of Nous, is therefore good; turning away from God and ignoring the impetus of Nous and the directions that would lead us to God is therefore evil.  This sort of thing is not possible outside the sensible world, where Nous can be absent from speech or action due to our own actions or speech.  Outside the sensible world, there is nothing (so far said, at least) that can distinguish us from God, therefore having us become God and God becoming us wholly, so that whatever God wills, we ourselves will, and whatever we do, God does.

This ties in tightly to notions of True Will and divine providence, too, and the ideas are similar.  When we do what God wants us to do, carrying out and serving our divine purpose, that’s our True Will, the will we are meant to fulfill which we ourselves can know once we can see ourselves clearly enough.  To do that, however, we have to carry out the Great Work, which helps us prepare ourselves across the four parts of the world and begin to hear and use Logos.  This allows our sensible, material bodies to better heed and serve our souls, which can then develop properly into a fully-knowledgeable and divine soul with Nous.  With Nous being known to ourselves, we then can carry out what it is we’re supposed to do; at that point, any distinction between what we want and what God wants is meaningless, because our wills have become God’s will and vice versa.

Will and Grace

Doing this conjuration cycle of mine keeps me busy, but it also keeps me constantly refreshed with the forces I interact with constantly.  While the major focus of the cycle is to keep me progressing through the spheres of the planets, which is one of my major focuses these days, I don’t often talk about the elements anymore like how I did in the past.  It’s not because I’m not working with them anymore, because I surely am, and it’s not because I’ve mastered them, because I surely haven’t.  But…well, they’re elements.  They’re the basic building blocks of our sphere down here, the things I was first introduced to in magic.  Simply put, they’re elementary.  As a result, my conjurations and chats with the four archangelic kings of the elements have gotten shorter and shorter; there’s less and less to talk about, since these forces are pretty reliably integrated into my own sphere, as far as I can tell.

That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to learn from them still, though.

Recently, I was talking with the angel Michael of Fire.  Taking a look at my own sphere, it was heartily and healthily ablaze with Fire, that wonderful hot and dry element that creates light and inspires one to go higher.  My own self within my sphere, though, was much darker and moister, but even within that there was still a small flame glowing brightly on its own.  I realized that this was suboptimal—what goes on within my own self should be reflected in my entire sphere, and an imbalance of without versus within indicates a lack of connection—so Michael and I worked together to forge a link between the Fire outside myself and the Fire within myself.  It was just the beginning, and much more will likely need doing, but this was still an improvement over before, when there was little Fire to speak of in my sphere at all, much less my own self within my sphere.

Michael and I discussed what we did, both elementally and symbolically (really the same thing here).  That tiny flame represents the beginning of my gnosis, my self-knowledge, the knowledge and awareness of my Will, the flame that really powers me and drives me to go on.  It’s small, but it’s beginning to grow; so long as I “keep myself hot”, quoth Michael, I’ll continue to keep that flame alive and burning more and more.  It’s going to be a long process, but the fact that I’ve gotten to this point after only this long is impressive to me.  Coming to know our Will, the thing we really need to do according to our set, setting, context, and destiny, is kinda big in a lot of occult systems nowadays, probably like how it’s always been.  And according to the progress reports and checkups I’m getting from the forces I work with, I’m on the right track.

Sure, I’m no master of fire, no more than I’ve completed the Great Work itself.  But I’ve certainly gotten the force of Fire, the force of my own Will, integrated into my own sphere, and starting to learn and know more about it.  By this process, I’ve been able to work with my Will more and more, which is a result of doing my Will, my True Will, as I should be.  By carrying out our True Wills, we follow a path that’s effectively been laid out for us, whether by accident or design; this path can be arduous at times, painful at others, and easy at yet others, but it’s this path that allows us to grow, grow stronger, grow up, and grow into ourselves.  By this process, things tend to go more and more our way, as if the path becomes straighter or more known no matter how crooked or errant it may get.

When we follow and carry out our True Wills, things generally go easier for us, since they’re increasingly tied into the things we’re doing.  We encounter fewer and fewer difficulties, since we’re effectively carrying out our roles to play in the cosmos, and “if God is for us, who can be against us”?  Sure, we might still attract haters (who will, after all, continue to hate on ‘choo), but when we work our Will on the cosmos, people who would interfere with us are either brought over to our side and begin helping us instead, or are drowned out, burned up, or otherwise silenced and made powerless to counteract or contradict us.  Plus, the more we work our True Will, the more we begin to find and associate with those who are also carrying out their Will, and since they’re doing what they must for the cosmos, it’ll naturally fall in line and correlate with what we must do for the cosmos, as two players on opposite sides of an orchestra play harmoniously in the whole.

It’s only when someone else messes up their part and trashes their Will so badly that it ends up careening into yours that can cause problems, like a planet that suddenly shifts out of orbit and collides into other planets, or a player in an orchestra that decides to start playing a march when everyone else is playing a waltz just to confuse others.  Sometimes this is out of earnest confusion and spiritual flailing, sometimes this is out of deliberate spite and (mis- or ab-)use of their power and Will.  This can certainly cause issues, and can even put a cold damper or shut down the flame of one who’s actually working their Will as they should.  All it needs is a bit of correction on both our part and the parts of others to get everything singing harmoniously again, and then we’ll all be aweseome again as we should.

In a way, the idea of True Will is starting to sound a lot like Grace to me: just as Grace is not a reward, neither is True Will, but they’re both the state and result of being doing the highest Good, of becoming properly Godly, and coming to truly know yourself, your origins, and your duty.

Two Swords

Man, time flies.  Just over five weeks ago, I conjured Kammael the angel of Mars as part of my conjuration cycle.  From then began about two weeks of constant energy, discovery, fun, and activity that left a definite impression on my life.  I can’t and won’t complain; it was all for the better, if not confusing.  Still, good times were had, and the surge of energy helped me lay claim to and determine the actual limits and content of what I consider to be “my life and self”.  It’s an ongoing process, but it was definitely a trip.

Earlier this week, I conjured Kammael again.  The familiar rush of flame and energy, of sharpness and judgment, descended and infused my sphere again, but the rush is much more tame this time around.  Indeed, Kammael seemed to want just that to happen; although last time the energy of fire was external and outgoing, it’s now time for that fire to go inwards and work on what I’ve laid claim to.  It’s a much more controlled fire, and more introspective.  It might have something to do with Mars going retrograde recently on January 23 (going direct again on April 14 and leaving its shadow on June 19, just before the summer solstice).

As part of the conjuration, I routinely ask the spirits for their advice given my current condition, progress, and state of affairs.  Kammael had this to say:

Judgment of the self: too much definition, and it becomes imprisoned; too much exploration, and it becomes lost. Use both swords wisely.

The Qabbalah sephirah associated with Mars is Geburah, “Strength”, and it’s named that for a reason: even though the fifth heaven and sphere of Mars is on red-hot fire with ever-molten pits of lava, it’s all about cold, hard judgment and strategy.  This is the place where anything unbalanced from above or impure from below gets burned out of the Tree of Life.  Anything unnecessary or excessively grandiose, nice though it may be, coming from Jupiter gets tossed.  Anything too proud or self-righteous, noble though it may be, coming from the Sun gets tossed.  This is the place of the blade that cuts and divides the good from the bad, the needed from the unneeded, the helpful from the unhelpful.  It’s why the Tarot path from Tiphareth to Geburah is Justice: it determines the proper amount and course of anything between the sixth, fifth, and fourth heavens.

In a similar way, we’re given to police ourselves and figure out what it is that our “self” is.  In order to know what we are, we need to have some sort of definition (literally “a complete boundary”) to ourselves to know what belongs to our self and what doesn’t.  At the same time, we need to know what we can be and what we can do to become what we will be in order to grow and live.  The force to restrict and the force to expand, the forces of Saturn and Jupiter, flow into Mars and have to be balanced out on the scales of the armed Lady of Justice.  Too much of either is no good, and it gets burned in the pits of Mars, and then we ourselves get burnt out by too much self-restriction or self-expansion. 

  • If we define ourselves too much, and say only “I am that and only that” without considering “I could also be that and can do this too”, we get too caught up in being in a fixed state of self, we get locked down in an unnatural petrification and stagnation, and can’t handle change when it comes. 
  • If we expand ourselves too much, and say only “I can do this and this too and I can do all other things that I want” without considering “I am also at heart this and not that”, we get too caught up in being an an changing state of self, we get lost in an unnatural diffusion and explosion, and can’t find ourselves when we look for it.

Neither of these forces are bad, and both are needed in their proper amounts.  When Saturn restricts too much, Jupiter breaks free; when Jupiter expands too much, Saturn anchors down.  Mars is where these forces, both flowing from the seventh and sixth heavens, mingle and balance each other out to form a coherent and stable form.  Mars is where the self, coming from the fourth heaven of the Sun and stripped of its emotions and ideas and fantasies and reality, can see its greater cosmic dimensions, both where it terminates and what it can contain.

Mars is not a nurturing planet.  It’s dry, hot, barren, and dark (it’s considered a nocturnal though masculine planet in astrology).  It does not engender, it does not generate, it does not create.  Even though it doesn’t give birth, however, it does give passage; it is not a mother, but a guard.  Guards that permit too much are little more than the greeters at Wal-Mart, permitting both honest customers and dishonest thieves.  Guards that permit too little block the flow of commerce, communication, and life.  Guards need to have a functional sense of judgment to know what’s permitted and what’s not, and to allow things past them as appropriate.  We need to be on guard for ourselves, knowing what we are and can be and do, and what we are not and can’t be or do.  It is by these two judgments, these two swords, that we can really understand and execute our will and carry out our lives properly as we should.

Odyssey of the Fire Wand

…or, I Like Planning Stuff and Hope to Actually Build This Shit.

Earlier I mentioned that I was building a wand from copper and brass hardware, and the brass bits would have planetary symbols engraved on them.  It’s a good idea for a wand and I like the feel of it, but since I’m hopped up on some major air influence I’ve decided to make the whole thing so much better.  I also had fun with OpenOffice Draw, so get ready for some awesome drawings with my formidable artistic skill.  I just have too much time on my hands, really, because what else am I going to do on a three-day weekend?.

So, the wand is the symbol of fire or divine Will and is related to the phallus.  It’s used to point, direct, and issue forth power and commands (lol inadvertent male chauvinism).  Having a wand that was the same on either end and flat on both ends without any actual focal point left the wand feeling, well, pointless.  The old plan of the wand looked something like this:

Simple and basic, but it has the problem of being without a point or a focus through which I’d channel energy.  I decided to rectify that by swapping one of the end caps with a flare nut that has a hole in it, through which I’d put a long thin quartz point:

Better, but there’s still something awry: the wand is hollow.  I want to empower the wand by making some kind of core inside the wand, something that would give it a real kick.  I didn’t know where to begin, though, so I turned to a few people on the Internet and returned with a flurry of ideas and suggestions.   Working with a hollow tube, I had a lot of flexibility of choice, and some of the suggestions were outlandishly wonderful.  I eventually came up with something fancy:

There’d be three gemstones inside the wand besides the quartz: two bits of obsidian at either end of the shaft pointing towards the quartz, and a ruby (uncut and small, unlike me (we’re talking about a symbolic penis, let me have my jokes)) between the two.  The obsidians and ruby would be connected by a wire, probably tungsten if I could get enough due to its association with lightbulbs and heat, which would also be connected to the quartz.  I’d loosely pack the shaft with a sort of “fire powder”, which would contain volcanic ash, sulfur, cayenne pepper, and cinnamon, all reasonably fiery substances.  The cotton fluff (or wool, if I wanted to be traditional) would be there to insulate and buffer the ends of the wand.

This is really awesome and sounds more like I’d be making a fire lightsaber than a fire wand, but there are problems with this: the extra weight of the crystals inside, the cost of the crystals, and the ability to get sufficient tungsten wire (those filaments in lightbulbs are short and hard to work with).  Plus, if I’m right in guessing about the natural power of these ingredients, I’d probably be starting off at way too high a level and might injure myself in the process.  It’d be more like a spiritual pipe-bomb, and I’m not sure I’d be too pleased with the results.

So, I decided to step back and come up with a simpler plan:

I’d omit the inside gems entirely but keep the fire powder.  Running the length of the wand, from the bottom cap to the quartz, would be iron and gold wire.  Iron and gold are metals corresponding to elemental fire due to their associations with Mars and the Sun, according to Agrippa (Book II, Chapter VII).  I’d have the wires soldered to the bottom cap, and since the cap would be touching the metal shaft, I could use the whole wand inside and outside to direct or “conduct” my energy and will to and through the quartz at the focus.  Nifty!  The use of the fire powder, though, causes a slight problem: it’s hard to loosely pack powder into a tube without messing up the balance or weight, and it’s not like it’s pumice-like chunks of powder.  To fix this, instead of using cotton fluff, I’d use cheesecloth or cotton muslin.  The fire powder gets sprinkled on top of that, then wrapped around the bundle of wires in the wand.  The wand would still have the fire powder while staying light and balanced.

After all this, I realized that I goofed on some of the parts.  The flare nut I got was the wrong size both for screwing onto the shaft and letting the quartz I already bought through the hole in the top (you’d think I’d have tested these things more thoroughly, but noooooo).  Thankfully, I have a few other crystals around, and it turns out that I have one with a small metal ring inserted into the bottom (it was once a keychain).  I could use the ring to “plug” the wires into the crystal.  Plus, since I knew in my flurry-of-ideas mood that I might want to try other caps besides the flare nut, I had a brass connector that was wide enough to fit the quartz snugly.  Just to make sure the wand was tightly sealed from both ends and the quartz sealed in for good, I’m electing to solder the crystal around the top of or inside the connector; the torch gently applied to the quartz could bathe it in the heat and energy appropriate for this kind of tool.

That’s the final plan I’ve decided on.  Getting it built has a few tricky parts, though:

  1. Getting the fire powder and wire supplies.  The local metaphysical shop doesn’t carry them, but Amazon does.
  2. The thread on the ends of the copper pipe are exposed.  Turns out that the thread is tapered slightly, so while it feels that the brass ends don’t screw on all the way, they can feasibly screw on tightly and permanently.  If I can’t muscle this, I’ll apply solder to cover the thread and seal the ends.
  3. Applying the torch to or near the quartz can shatter it.  I might be able to simply drip the solder around the quartz to seal it tight, but this might be tricky.
  4. Unclear if I want to inscribe anything on the six sides of the brass connector or the copper tube itself.  If so, this will be done first.
  5. The order of construction.  That the bottom cap to the quartz to the top cap are all connected by the wires poses a problem of sensibly arranging the assembly process.
This is no trivial project, and it’s not cheap (I’ve spent far more before my upcoming paycheck than I should).  Still, this is going to be my wand, the archetypal tool of the magus.  It better be super awesome.  I should be able to get all the supplies and assembly done before the start of Leo and get this thing consecrated when the Sun’s in a powerful fiery spot.