Not Everyone Needs to be Spiritual

It’s not often that I partake in Twitter or Facebook memes of the “let me divulge trivia about myself!” type, but recently, I found one that was actually kind of fun:

After all, as I see it, there’s no better way to get to know each other than by your shared dislikes or hatreds or by the things that really set you apart from others.  Anyway, I got a fair number of likes, and so I shared a fair number of strongly-held opinions, ranging from how I prefer the dishwasher to be set up to musing on spiritual practices.

One of the things I mentioned as part of this memes I actually had to expand on, because it’s actually a pretty important topic for me in general to consider as a magician and priest who takes on client work and who works with others for their own spiritual benefit, either for them to build up their own practices or to handle the load for them so that they can focus on their lives better.  I broke it down into two separate tweets:

I don’t think everyone has the capacity to live a spiritual life, nor is everyone meant to. Some people should (or must) focus on being worldly without incorporating spirituality, magic, or religion. And there’s not a damn thing wrong with that.

To build on this: not everyone is meant to be a priest/magician/shaman/etc. Some need religion just to have religion in their lives without becoming a master of it, just like how some people need to know just enough math to shop for groceries without becoming a mathematician.

I touched on this same topic tangentially in my recent post about divination versus counseling, when the notion of getting frustrated with clients who don’t use divination for their spiritual evolution came up and my annoyance that this frustration would be a thing for some people:

Why do I feel so negatively about this stance?  Simply put, you’re not God.  You don’t get to establish the morals, ethics, and goals of other people according to your own, no more than you get to say what divinities I worship or what practices I perform.  If you think all spiritual work should be done in the name of elevation, development, and growth, then I would say that you’re wrong; people have been using magic for getting laid and getting paid since the first days of our awareness of spiritual dimensions of the cosmos and of human existence, and I find nothing wrong with doing so.  I don’t disagree one jot that spiritual development is a good thing, but I’m not going to knock the physical pleasures of the world, either, which are also good to have and to strive for.  And, quite simply, not everyone is going to be playing on the same playing field as you are, nor will they be playing the same games you play.  You don’t know the purpose of why someone acts the way they do, nor do you know their reasoning for it, nor do you know whether it’s fate or divinely ordained for them to do so.  All you know is that they’re coming to you for help with their purposes; if you find that you react so negatively to their aims, then you should simply decline the to do the reading and move on.

After all, there are indeed people whose jobs and roles in this incarnation aren’t to be spiritual, but still recognize that there’s power in it and want to employ those who interact with spiritual forces.  That’s pretty reasonable to me; while I’d like more people to be magicians or spirit-workers, some people have no interest in doing so, or some don’t care about it or just want me to handle the dirty work for them.  I cannot bring myself to judge others for where they are in their lives or what they’re doing with their life; as another commenter on Facebook said, “we all have our hoe to row”.  I’d recommend staying in your lane on this one; give your advice on being more respectful, worshipful, spiritual, or magical, but at the same time, don’t expect it of or force it onto your clients or querents.

I think you all can see where I’m going with this.

Let us assume, at least for the sake of argument, that God (or whatever sort of ultimate-divinity fate-issuing word you want to use for such a concept) has in mind for each incarnate human a path, a plan, a destination.  You might call this your fate, you might call this your True Will, whatever, the idea still stands.  Such a path is unique for each person in this lifetime of theirs, and fulfills a particular goal of God.  It’s a lot like what one of my favorite bands, the Crüxshadows, expresses in their song Elissa:

Everyone has a purpose
Hidden within our lives
Something we were meant to do
Or feel before we die

I don’t think I’m saying anything offensive here by proclaiming that this could be (and, in my opinion, is) correct.  But let us continue!  There’s a purpose for everyone, and that all depends on the person for whom the purpose has been established.  Such a purpose is, in general, known to the mind of God and, on very rare occasions, to the person themselves mediated by their guardian angel or priests who deal directly in describing to people their fate.  It is up for that person to work with their fate, and hopefully to rely on the aid of others who can and are willing to give it to them to accomplish it.  That’s about it, right?  Besides being incidentals towards helping another towards their fate, nobody has any kind of right to tell them that their fate is wrong, mislead, or misguided in any sense.  To say so is to be judgmental of that person and for the path that God has laid out for them, which means being judgmental of God, which typically ends poorly for all those involved.

It doesn’t take that big a jump to say that, if everyone has a purpose, some of those purposes may not lie in the spiritual realm or in working with reality in a spiritual way.  Consider some of the greatest academic and scientific minds of the past several centuries or before who, for all their accomplishments, were atheists or had only nominal ties to a given religion.  Having attained their works, would you feel comfortable in saying that they wasted their time?  Would you say that their revolutionary ideas, theories, and inventions which give us today health and wealth weren’t enough and that, nice as they were, they should have instead focused on other things of a more spiritual nature?  Divinity is as much present in matter as it is in spirit, at least in the Hermetic view of things, but you don’t have to call it “God” to be respectful and inquisitive about it.  There are other mysteries in the world than just those kept for initiates in temples, after all.

To phrase it another way, I’m sure that some of us have noted people in our spiritual communities that just don’t seem to “get it”, whether “it” is a particular method of divination, a particular vibe from sensing objects, a particular insight from dreams or omens, or whatever.  Some people don’t seem to click with a variety of spiritual practices, and, to me, it’s not unreasonable that there are people who don’t click with any spiritual practices at all.  It’s not necessarily that they’re having a hard time finding “the right system” of divination or worship or sacrifice or magic; it could very well be that there is no system for them to find, because they’re not meant to be a spiritual person.  No matter how much pressure we might put on them because we feel it might do them good, no matter how many alternatives we present to them for them to try out, it could simply be the fact that they’re not suited for any of them, because their talents, strengths, and abilities lie elsewhere.  Sure, training and practicing something might get them somewhere, and faking it ’til you make it can help a little, but let’s be honest: just like some people are naturally terrible cooks or authors, some people just aren’t cut out to be spiritual practitioners.

And that’s fine.  And you don’t get to judge them negatively for it.

Before people misconstrue some of the nuances here, let me clarify a few points.  For one, one main thing I can see being a major impediment to people being spiritual practitioners of some kind is conditioning.  Conditioning is a real thing that goes on for many people in many cultures, and there are people who, even if they should be spiritual practitioners, have been conditioned out of any such inclination.  If it’s part of their path that they should be spiritual people, then the conditioning will be broken one way or another, and it’s just a matter of time and dedication for them.  Don’t judge them for where they are on their path; give them the time they need, and welcome them when they get to where they need to be.  Sometimes, they just need to know that the door is left open for them, because they got held up in the commute.

Another thing to be aware of is, simply, life circumstances.  I would love to dedicate my entire life to spiritual endeavors and pursuits, but let’s be real: I have a mortgage, credit card bills, and a distinct reliance on food that I can’t seem to break myself of, and I need to work to pay my bills.  While I’d love to spend my days in meditation and astral travel and client work and tending to the spiritual needs of myself and people, I don’t have the time or energy for it on top of my full-time job with a nontrivial commute, dealing with my family, keeping my household in order, and so forth.  And, despite my complaints, I know that I have it damned easy compared to others I know who are bogged down with overtime all the damn time, have children with their own after-school activities, stressful marriages or family situations, chronic health conditions, and the like where they have, maybe, at best, an hour a week to practice that they could still better dedicate to tending to their worldly needs.  It sucks, it absolutely does, and I feel bad for these people who want to get deeper into practice but simply don’t have the time for it.  Still, I can’t judge these people for, perhaps, falling short of some sort of spiritual benchmark I’ve artificially and arbitrarily established for them.  They’ll get to it when they can get to it, and in the meantime, they should focus on what keeps them living and breathing.  After all, it’s hard to do breathing exercises if you’ve already expired.

Beyond those, what about the people who can be spiritual and want to be, but aren’t up for being actual practitioners or priests?  I mean, for me, that’s fine, too!  Just as not everyone can be spiritual, not everyone can be a priest.  After all, what is a priest?  Setting aside tradition- or religion-specific classifications for a moment, a good general definition of a priest is someone who is an expert in ceremonial and spiritual needs.  Not everyone who cooks needs to be a chef; not everyone who writes needs to be a critically-acclaimed author or a calligrapher or a court-ready stenographer; you don’t need professional training to do something good enough for yourself, or maybe even for a few people who trust you within your limits of ability.  Likewise, you don’t need to be a chef to enjoy good food, you don’t need to be an author to enjoy a good book, you don’t need to be an artist to appreciate art; you don’t need to be a plumber to poop in a toilet.  You can derive satisfaction and fulfillment from something without being able to do it yourself; that’s why we have and hire experts to do work and labor for us.  Sure, there are some things that you must be able to do for yourself, but if your needs within a particular domain can be met by the expertise of someone else, and if it’s more convenient and logical for you to hire them for that rather than for you to spend the time, money, and effort in attaining that same level of expertise, then why not simply outsource it?  That’s why we have experts, after all.

In a spiritual sense, this is why priests have congregations to tend to: not everyone out there is cut out for learning liturgy, ceremony, ritual, and spiritual practices, but they still want or need to derive benefit from them.  That’s why we have priests: to be experts in a domain where not everyone is cut out to be an expert.  Many people out there may not be spiritual practitioners but are still, in some sense, spiritual; they just need someone else to do the ceremonial lifting for them, and that’s fine!  They have their reasons for it, and they know that this is the best option for them.  Good for them!  Not everyone needs to be a priest, after all, whether that’s because of their life path or their life situations.  As I’m coming to terms with more and more, being a priest isn’t just about one’s devotion to the gods, but also about one’s devotion to the people who worship them as well.

Then I look around at occulture, and it seems like you can’t swing a cat without hitting a priest of this or a priest of that.  I mean, it’s not like this is a new or recent issue (it most certainly isn’t), but I do notice something of a trend for many people trying to become a priest in this tradition or that practice when it may not be the best choice for them.  After all, when everyone around you seems to be a priest, what’s your deal that you aren’t?  Sometimes people take the title of “priest” too whimsically when it really does have a factor of experience, education, training, and sometimes initiated lineage playing into it that, about as often as not, they tend to lack.  Then there’s also the social component of being a priest: you can’t be a priest if nobody accepts you as one or turns to you as one.  Priesthood is necessarily about involving people, whether that’s a community of non-priests or another community of priests who turn to you as their priest (like a bishop to priests, or a high priest to lower priests).  Of course, at this point, this is where my own internal definitions of priesthood conflict with others in a variety of contexts, so I’m getting off-track here.

My point is that, if you’re spiritually-inclined, do your best to explore it and see how far it takes you.  If you’re not, don’t worry!  If you think you’re not spiritual but feel some sort of tug towards it, explore it both ways: it might be a matter of conditioning that has rendered you spiritually incapable of working, or it might be a matter of peer pressure that you feel you ought to be spiritual when you’re not supposed to be.  If you’re not spiritual, then revel in worldliness and material, manifest reality, and explore the mysteries and wonders and pleasures thereof!  If you are spiritual, then revel in both, or at least the realm of spirit!  And, if you are spiritual, don’t worry if you can’t dedicate the time to being an expert magician or high priest or other grand muckety-muck; if all you need is some light sermon-serenading or some meditation, maybe alone or maybe in a group of like-minded spiritual people, then enjoy and use what you can do as far as you can take it!  If you are spiritually-inclined and have the time, energy, and desire to plumb the depths of spiritual reality and practices, then by all means, be an expert magician or priest!

Just know that your path isn’t the same as others, nor are your capabilities.  Do what you need; do what you Want.  Don’t judge others for living their lives as they need to or as they Want to, but support them all the same as best you can and as best you should.

On Geomancy as Actually Being Earthy

I’ll be honest with you.  I don’t actually think geomancy is nearly as earthy as people make it out to be.

Yes, the word “geomancy” comes from Greek γεωμαντεια, literally “earth-seeing”.  Yes, St. Isidore of Seville and Hugh of St. Victor, two philologists and academics of the medieval era, list geomancy as a form of divination alongside other elemental forms of divination (although St. Isidore lived and wrote about geomancy several centuries before we have records of it ever being practiced).  However, I think this is glossing over something very important.  If you look at the history of the word geomancy, the Greek word was a calque (literal word-for-word translation) from the Arabic term for it, `ilm al-raml, which literally means “science of the sand”.  This is in reference to the way the first geomancers practiced their art, by drawing out the figures and dots and lines in sand or loose, fine soil as would have been done by shepherds and holy men in the desert climates of the Sahara.  Thus, sand being the “earth” of the Arabs, I suppose it’s reasonable to translate `ilm alm-raml literally as “earth-seeing”.

The problem with this is that people have taken the word and gone into some pretty crazy directions with it.  For one, the word “geomancy” is haphazardly applied to such varied things as the Chinese art of feng shui (literally “wind and water”, probably more accurately translated as “auspicious designing”) as well as the more modern art of plotting ley lines and places of natural power, which might better be termed “spiritual/occult geography”.  Modern fantasy stories and role-playing games haven’t helped matters any, for that matter, by badly applying any word ending in “-mancy” to a field of magic, such as pyromancy to bending the forces of Fire or geomancy to bending the forces of Earth to cause harm or help with the wave of a wand or utterance of a word of power.  (Alas that I can’t do that…yet.)

Then again, maybe “geomancy” isn’t the best name for this art of divination I practice, either.  In its deepest, oldest, and most tried-and-true sense, geomancy should be just that: earth-seeing, scrying using dirt or rocks or crystal formations in and upon the Earth itself, just as pyromancy is scrying flames or just as hydromancy is scrying the patterns and images that appear in bodies of water.  To use the word “geomancy” implies a strong connection using the natural resources of the Earth that express the element of Earth, and, well…that’s simply not the case with the art called “geomancy”.

To put it simply, geomancy is not based on Earth, but based on the Earth; it’s not about γη the element, but Γη the place we live.  There is, quite literally, a world of difference between the two.

Consider, if you will, a bit of Qabbalah.  The sephirah associated with the Earth is Malkuth, sephirah #10 at the bottom of the Tree of Life.  This sephirah is seen as the distillation and combination, the entire purpose and the entire root of the Tree of Life.  However, while each of the other sephirah are presented as just one color (e.g. red for Geburah, yellow for Tiphareth, green for Netzach), Malkuth is unusual in that it’s presented as four colors all at once: citrine, olive, russet, and black.  This is because Malkuth isn’t a single atomic force, but a combination of the four elements that are Air, Water, Fire, and Earth.  Older European Hermetic depictions of the cosmos as a series of nested spheres often show the Earth as within four spheres of the elements Earth, Water, Air, and Fire all nested within the sphere of the Moon.

Thus, the Earth is the combination of the four elements Fire, Air, Water, and Earth that together make up our world; the Earth is not synonymous with the element Earth.  Similarly, the art called geomancy uses 16 figures that are themselves amalgamations of the four elements, and manipulates them using binary algorithms to figure out what’s going on in the world we live in.  Geomancy doesn’t just deal with the element of Earth, but it deals with those of Fire, Air, and Water equally as much to figure out what’s going on in the world we live in.  Geomancy isn’t about divination with the element of Earth; geomancy is about divination to understand the Earth and what’s going on in this sphere we call “the World”.  Perhaps another, more appropriate word for this art might be κοσμομαντεια, cosmomancy or “cosmos-seeing”.  It’s more inclusive than just using the element of Earth, since we geomancers actually use all four elements in all their combinations, just as the world, or the κοσμος, we live in expresses all the elements in all their combinations.  Alternatively, seeing how we use the four elements in divination, we might also call it στοιχειομαντεια, stoicheiomancy or “element-seeing”, perhaps which can be translated “theoretical alchemical divination”, which isn’t a bad way to summarize the art of geomancy generally.

However, I doubt I’ll be able to shift to using these alternate terms anytime soon, or encourage others to do the same; the word “geomancy” is simply too entrenched into the art over its millennium-long history, and I’m a little fond of how it rolls off the tongue.  Still, I think it’d do the geomantic community well to take another look at the term “geomancy” and remember that it’s not the element of Earth that we focus on, but the world we call the Earth that geomancy relies upon.  Geomancy can be considered “terrestrial astrology”, as Stephen Skinner famously called it; while it does injustice towards the arts of geomancy and astrology alike, it makes sense from an outsider’s point of view.  Astrology is the understanding of the heavens using heavenly bodies and how they affect us; geomancy is the understanding of the World using worldly elements and how they affect us.

Consider this another way, too: when we read the geomantic chart, we start with the Judge and work our way up.  We literally begin at the bottom and look upward.  That’s basically the perspective of everything from the Earth’s point of view; it looks upward from beneath everything, seeing everything from below.  This ties in elegantly with late Renaissance theories of how geomancy “works”; while most geomancers agreed that it was an act of the soul within humans that allowed it to reach out and contact the divine for guidance, it was also played in part by the anima Mundi, or the soul of the world, that gave us the answers.  In contacting the Earth, we learn pretty much everything that happens, has happened, and will happen, and get a pretty down-to-earth (boo) and objective answer.

So, I think I’ll disagree with how the estimable John Michael Greer labeled the art when he titled his first book on geomancy “Earth Divination: Earth Magic”.  Geomancy is far from being divination-by-earth, but should be seen rather as divination-of-the-Earth.  The distinction in nuance here is pretty big, and I think it’d pay off well for us geomancers to reconsider how our art came to be and the forces we’re calling on.  If we’re just calling on the powers and spirits of the element of Earth to help us in geomantic divination and works, then we’re effectively forgetting the other three-quarters of the art that involve the powers and spirits of Fire, Air, and Water.  I think a healthy spiritual approach to this art should remember that fact, and model itself accordingly.

Get Off Your Ass and Work: Magic and Politics

One of my colleagues on Twitter, Joseph Magnuson of Candlesmoke Chapel, made a few tweets over the past few hours that struck a nerve with me describing a general reluctance for magicians and spiritually-minded people to get involved with politics, legal affairs, and current events:

  • “I wish you’d just tweet about magic.” Well, laws are Big Magic/rights are Big Magic. Invisible ideas everyone follows. Words made manifest.
  • Magic isn’t just reading a book and collecting Supernatural DVDs. It’s all around us in most all movement. Do you not see this?
  • Magic shouldn’t be safe and silent/not seen and not heard…especially by “witches” and “magicians.” It is not a special effect.
  • So tired of this: “Politics? Not for me. They never got political on The Craft or Charmed. Besides I don’t want to hurt my witchy brand.”

I mean, it’s kinda true.  Spiritual people, especially those of a new age bent, tend to be reluctant to watch televised news or read news articles (excepting things like the Wild Hunt or a variety of Patheos blogs), and even more reluctant to even get involved with politics or current events.  They see it as beneath them, considering the news to be “a set up to keep us from manifesting the best reality for us”, and that “spiritual people know better than to get caught up in the illusions” (courtesy of Ernesto Mercer for that quote from one of his own conversations with someone he didn’t think highly of).  And you know what?  Some people aren’t meant to be worldly or get involved in worldly affairs.  Some people are meant to be hermits or monks or recluses that shut themselves out from the world, whose arms are no longer fit for the work of the world, who are here for purely spiritual experiences.  That’s okay.

You, dear reader, aren’t one of them.

Chances are good that you’re of a spiritual bent, dear reader, and chances are also good that you’re a magician in some regard.  You’ve read me talk about rituals for this and that, sometimes on thaumaturgy and sometimes on theurgy, sometimes on conjuration and sometimes on oils.  You have the whole internet at your disposal, and a cascade of links, even on this very blog, to direct you to awesome resources for magic and supplies beyond your dreams.  You’re educated enough and powerful enough to do some magic.  The only thing you really lack is awareness of the world around you, because if you were that spiritual enough to have the capacity for magic, you’d have the compassion to use it for the betterment of the world.  So read the fucking news and do some fucking magic, dear reader, because the world around you needs it.

I’ve been chatting more and more with my gnostic friends lately, learning more about the Apostolic Johannite Church and Gnostic Christianity.  I come from my Neoplatonic and Hermetic background, but my background philosophies and those of Gnosticism share much in common.  One thing that we kinda agree-disagree on is the nature of the world around us.  In some ways, the world we live in is the crowning pinnacle of all creation, the final and most glorious stage where everything is brought into completion and can play out the mind of God in all its finery and accoutrement.  On the other hand, the world we live in is also the Auschwitz ass-end of the garbage heap tossed unceremoniously into the night outside the walls of the real Kingdom; we’re just the refuse that couldn’t make it any better.  The Hermeticist view balances the two viewpoints, though modern Hermeticists tend to be biased towards the former; the Gnostic view has always been solidly focused the latter argument.  Both are true, really; the world is an amazing place, a place that feels good, a place where we get to learn and experience so much.  It’s a lot like going to college, really, and there are good points and bad points to the world here.  That said, we’re here for a purpose, a worldly purpose.  If we didn’t have a worldly purpose for being born into the world, we wouldn’t be born here at all.  And if the world is broken and requires us to act our parts and make the world a better place, bringing the kingdom of Christ into existence in the here and now or opening the 32nd path or what-have-you, then what excuse do you have to not do this?

People are dying from being oppressed and discriminated against.  Whole governments are broken and corrupt.  Countries die of famine and plague and war.  Families are torn apart and grieve and tremble in fear because of murder and intimidation.  There is a litany of things wrong with the world.  Surely you must be aware that these things happen literally all the time across the entire world.  Or do you feel nothing?  Are you so apathetic that all you can do is shrug and say “we have to rise above it” because your new age spiritual avoidance of current events prevents you from getting your hands dirty?  Are you imprisoning yourself into a hermitage of your own making where you can wash your hands of interacting with the world while still being delivered its goods for as long as you’re here?  Are you so numb to the pain of others who allow you to benefit from the world while keeping yourself from being a benefit to the world?  Are you so wrapped up in your own white-light illusions that you’d rather commit spiritual suicide to avoid any responsibility or call to action in the world?

Please tell me that I’m wrong.

Better yet, show me that I’m wrong.

We’re fucking magicians, the successors to the priest-astrologer-philosopher-kings of the ancients.  We wield celestial and infernal powers; the gods hear our calls and walk with us; we name the ineffable itself; we understand the mechanics of cosmic systems; we light candles, lay tricks, wave a stick in the air, spin in a circle, splash some rum on a rock, mumble some incomprehensible moonspeak and shit just happens.  We have known for millennia what hackers have known for only a few decades, that any complex system can be broken into and manipulated.  The archonic owners of those systems do the same every day those systems have been around, every day the mere ideas of those systems have been around.  And we, better than anyone, have known that when the systems have exiled us, made us powerless, and stripped us of all legitimate access, we will always be able to act upon the system itself and topple it down from the outside and from the inside-out.  We only let the archons win when we let them strip us of our will to get up and fight back and succeed.  We only let the archons win when we let them make us resign ourselves to spiritual impotency and kill ourselves.  We cannot afford to do that; humanity cannot afford to let them do that.

Magic has always been regarded as the means of last resort by the respectable communities of the world and all its systems.  The world is the last part of the cosmos.  We are the last thing created.  There has never been a last war, last plague, last famine, last death; these things are lasting.  Magic is not the means of last resort to action, it is the lasting means of action that has enabled us to cope with, fix, and make better the world.  You have better things to do than claim you’re better than the people down on the ground fighting; you’re already down here with us, and we’d really appreciate it if you got off your ass and gave us a hand with the burden.  We’ve asked too long what we can get out of the world; ask now what we can do for the world and for each other.

Read the news.  Fix the world.  Do some fucking magic.

Gaza and Palestine.  Syria.  Greece.  Turkey.  Iraq.  Ferguson, Missouri.  Los Angeles, California.  Gang wars.  Police brutality.  ISIS.  Hamas.  Chrysi Augi.  Racial oppression.  Sexual oppression.  LGBT oppression.  Political oppression.  Religious oppression.  Ebola.  Measles.  HIV/AIDS.  Floods.  Earthquakes.  Fukushima Daiichi.  Fracking.  The list is long and getting longer, and every time someone says that they want to abstain from the political aspect of these things it gets harder for everyone else in the world.

Everything is politics; it’s a system.  You can’t just decide to abstain from it, because you’re already in it.  It’s your duty to do your part either as part of the system or as an infiltrator into it.  Do not be idle; you have work to do.

49 Days of Definitions: Part IX, Definition 7

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

Today, let’s discuss the forty-second definition, part IX, number 7 of 7:

Humans work the land, (and) stars adorn heaven.  The gods have heaven; humans, heaven, earth, and sea; but the air is common to gods and humans.

Finally, a short definition to close out this penultimate section!  It’s a little hard to pin down, given what we’ve mentioned in the other definitions of this section, ranging from what knowledge of God entails to that God loves us and is always with us to the special place Man has in the cosmos to the means by which we can join with God through the development of the soul.  And then we have this almost wistful statement about the structure of the lower earthy world and higher heavenly world.  For this, rereading the definitions in section II would be helpful, but also recall that of VII.2: “and the species of every living being is only in one part of the world, but the sole species of man is at once in heaven, on earth, in the water and in the air”.

“Humans work the land, and stars adorn heaven”.  There are two parts to the world, the lower world of the land and the higher world of heaven.  On land, humans (not Man, but humans!) work the land, plowing it, making everything work down here, and making the land beautiful.  Down here, we express our own natures and live our own lives, subject to the fate and destiny and nature we’re surrounded by.  On the other hand, high above, the “stars adorn heaven”; this is a comparatively lax statement, indicating that the natures of the stars (heavenly beings, and also gods) are less than active, and certainly less active than humans.  Humans scurry about hither and thither, while stars rotate and glide on through the heavens.  Humans come and go; the stars burn forever.  But realize that this statement also indicates something of management: humans manage, work, and cultivate the world below, while the gods manage, adorn, and cultivate the world above.

Just as fish have the sea and salamanders the fire, “the gods have heaven” and “humans [have] heaven, earth, and sea”.  Remember that “man’s possession is the world” (VI.1), without distinction as to what parts.  Everything belongs to Man, is created for Man, and exists within Man.  While the gods live in and have heaven, that’s all they have; they do not own what happens below.  Man, however, rules over and is involved with all parts of the cosmos.  This includes the air, which is “common to gods and humans”, since it’s the medium that joins heaven and earth and through which the gods above can come down and interact with us below, and through which Man can rise up and become gods on their own.  Plus, if you throw in the influence of astrology, then that adds even more power to this statement, where the gods above (stars, planets, etc.) influence us down below by means of the air, and from whom we can interact and pull power from again by means of the air.

While the gods are to be respected, at the very least, we know that Man “is worthy of admiration” and God “is worthy of worship” from the last definition.  God, after all, is bigger than all things and includes all things within itself (III.1), and Man is the only creature able to know God and within whom all things are represented within.  We are the distillation of the entire cosmos, and within us we contain all things.  Perhaps this is why God loves us, because God sees itself in us just as we see ourselves within God.  And God made all this, all the gods and animals and elements and worlds for us.  We have our place, and though it may not appear to be the grandest or the most luxurious, that wouldn’t suit us as gods subject to death or Man made into gods.  To fully encapsulate all the things in the cosmos, we must know and be part of the entire cosmos, which includes all phenomena: life, increase, decrease, death, birth, rebirth, pain, pleasure, sadness, joy, desire, opinion, reason, unreason, good, evil, and all other qualities and quantities.  In this, we have our place in the grand harmony of the spheres, the unity of the Whole, the Good.  And just as the stars adorn heaven in their cyclic manner according to the will of God that directs their pure souls, so too do we carry out the will of God by becoming knowledgeable of God.

49 Days of Definitions: Part VIII, Definition 6

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 thirty-fourth definition, part VIII, number 6 of 7:

You have the power of getting free since you have been given everything.  Nobody envies you.  Everything came into being for you, so that by means of either one (being) or of the whole, you may understand the craftsman.  For you have the power of not understanding with your (own) will; you have the power of lacking faith and being misled, so that you will understand the contrary of the (real) beings.  Man has as much power as the gods.  Only man (is) a free living (being), only he has the power of good and evil.

At last, Hermes takes on the role of Captain Planet and tells us definitively that the power is ours!  What power is that?  That of “getting [ourselves] free”.  But free from what?  That’s something that’s only been hinted at before: lack of divine-Nous (VIII.4, V.2), which is that which we seek in order to perfect ourselves by means of perfecting our souls (VI.3).  After all, our deficiency or evil is ignorance of God, since our grace and good is in knowledge (VII.5) of the world (VI.3, VIII.4).  We free ourselves from being deprived of and separated consciously from God to rejoin God as God, while those who are not (yet) free are those who “have gone astray” and worship human opinion (VIII.1, VIII.3) instead of worshiping truth and God reasonably (V.2, V.3, VIII.3).  By being in our current body-soul state, we end up with good and evil (VII.4), and having to choose between them.  While this choice is apparent down here, it’s only a reflection of true existence of God (VIII.5), and it’s ultimately a false choice, since such things only exist down here in this material realm.  By freeing ourselves of this false choice, we return to the original grace and plenitude of real knowledge, of harmony with the divine.

But how can this be accomplished? We must strive to become godly by emulating and becoming close to God because we “have been given everything”; after all, our possession “is the world” (VI.1), and it’s our duty to fully explore and understand the world to complete ourselves (VII.2), by means of which we understand our body, thence our soul, thence God (VIII.4).  Literally everything that exists, especially within the world but also beyond it, exists for our own sake (VIII.5), because Nous dwells within us and wants us to rejoin fully with Nous.  See how all these definitions are to building upon itself into a cohesive philosophy and guide to salvation?  It’s been taking some time, but now we start to see how we’re able and meant to do the Work we’re called to do.

Does that make us, as humans and part of Man, special?  After all, we’re the only beings capable of being endowed with Nous.  In a sense, yes, but not in the sense that we have to jealously guard our specialness.  “Nobody envies [us]”, but what does that mean, really?  People often confuse jealousy and envy, but the two are subtly different: jealousy is desire to keep others from possessing something of our own, while envy is desire to obtain something that someone else has that we lack.  Thus, if someone were to envy us, they’d envy us for either our capability of having Nous or our actual obtaining of Nous, but Hermes tells us that nobody envies us for that.  Why?  Well, other beings without the capability of Nous don’t know any better.  Of the animate creatures, animals only concern themselves with themselves and don’t process death or birth like we do, and the heavenly beings are already immortal and detached from the material realm; while they are part of God, they are without the reason that enables them to realize it or perform acts that only humans can.  Of the inanimate creatures, plants and stones…well, they’re plants and stones.  They don’t do much of anything in terms of motion, since they have no animating soul.

But what about other humans?  Well, other humans are similarly capable of possessing Nous and themselves have soul-Nous to link them back to the divine Nous/God, so they can’t envy anyone else for something they already have.  (The humans who lack soul-Nous, like those mentioned in VIII.4, are basically relegated to the realm of animals, which sounds cruel, but that’s just a result of the maldevelopment of body and soul.)  We’re all given the starting chance, capability, and resources to apply ourselves to our goal and to our Work, so we’re all on the same starting line, more or less.  The only thing that some of us might envy others is the possession of divine-Nous within ourselves, those who have been bestowed Nous through their use of reason.  But then, they worked for it.  They used the chances and resources they had that everyone has.  They earned what they did and completed their objective.

Why should other people who strive for obtaining divine-Nous envy those who have already obtained it?  They shouldn’t; to do so is unreasonable, and inhibits their progress towards obtaining divine-Nous through reasonable work.  Thus, if they do, they’re not really striving for divine-Nous as they ought, and end up going astray and ending up content in their own world of human opinion and unreasonable speech.  What about those who don’t bother striving for divine-Nous?  These people (and I have materialist atheists who call all religion and spirituality hokum in mind) don’t see the point in any such endeavor, and thus mock those who strive and have striven for divine-Nous; they find that the Nous-strivers and their worldview are mockeries, and they “will be mocked at” in turn (VIII.5).  These, too, end up in a world of human opinion and unreasonable speech (as far as Hermes is concerned), and they will have their own rewards in time; they don’t care nor work towards Nous, so they don’t envy the Nous-strivers anyway.  Thus, nobody can really envy those who strive for Nous, either for their starting point or their destination.

Again, we humans have the power to free ourselves from mortality and lack of God.  Everything that exists exists, in effect, for us: “everything came into being for you, so that by means of either one being or of the whole, you may understand the craftsman”.  Nothing in this cosmos or Creation was created in vain or for uselessness, because “whatever God does, he does it for man” (VIII.2).  Further, by inspecting the nature of the world, we come to know truth, and truth is the existence and body of the intelligible without body.  Truth is God, and truth was made by God; God is the “craftsman” (VIII.5), and by understanding God’s work, we understand God.  This, again, is both “knowledge of the beings” (VI.3) and knowledge of God (VII.5), and this is the perfection of the soul, our aim and directive.  We can either inspect just one thing that exists, such as ourselves or the nature of a particular function of the world, or we inspect all things that operate as a whole, but either way it leads to God.  Inspecting any nature leads to truth (VIII.5), and since truth is intelligible, truth has no body, no quantity nor quality as bodies do.  Truth is, in effect, divinely simple: there are no parts to Truth, but there is only Truth.  It’s like understanding the entirety of the human body to understand how it develops, or a single cell and its DNA which represents all of it in a compressed manner; both represent human nature in their own ways at different levels.  All of the things that exist are not really distinguished from each other except in appearance, since all things are part of and within God, and also God itself.  So long as we actually do the work of understanding, we’ll get to our goal.

Of course, we have the choice to do the opposite, as well: “for you have the power of not understanding with your own will”.  Remember that as a soul descends into the body, it gains good and evil as well as quantity and quality (VII.4), and we can be good and choose knowledge or we can be evil and choose ignorance (VII.5).  Further, we have the “faculty of killing”, which is to say that we have the ability to continue death and mortality for ourselves or we can shed it by returning to our immortal natures.  It’s all up to us, really, and goes hand-in-hand with what we understand and what we choose to understand: “you have the power of lacking faith and being mislead, so that you understand the contrary of the real beings”.  If the perfection of the soul is knowledge of the beings, then the imperfection of the soul is the lack of knowledge of beings, or believing other things that aren’t real or true.  In either case, we unreasonably distance ourselves from knowledge, and therefore lengthen our path to perfection or shut it down entirely into perdition (V.2).

We can choose salvation and knowledge or perdition and ignorance; we can choose Heaven or Hell for ourselves; we can choose Life or Death.  This is no trivial thing; these are things that were only ascribed to major powers before Hermeticism, and indeed, Hermes says that “man has as much power as the gods”.  We are powerful in similar, though not the same, ways as the gods are; we own and use and work with and live in the world because it is our possession, just as we and the gods are God’s possession.  The world is the lot of Man, and we essentially rule it and manage it.  Our powers are vast, and incredibly potent, though they should not be confused with that of the other gods or heavenly beings.  For instance, Venus is the goddess of love, lust, beauty, and luxury; she bestows these things, because she is these things.  She does what she is, and thus acts according to her nature.  We have our own natures and our own powers, and we use them in similar ways on our own targets.

However, unlike gods, Man is different in that we don’t always act for the Good like other living creatures do: “only man is a free living being, only he has the power of good and evil”.  Venus does what she does because that’s what she is; she can do no other, and she can choose no other thing to do.  She has her own mode of operation, her own directive, and nothing that inhibits her from doing it.  Man, however, doesn’t have to follow his nature and soul-Nous; we can choose good and evil, knowledge or ignorance, life or death.  In that sense, Man is given free will in a manner utterly unlike other living creatures.  Plants can only grow and synthesize energy; animals can only act according to instinct; gods can only act according to their divine natures.  Man, however, can act according to or against his nature, for better or for worse.  And it’s pretty clear at this point what those choices are and manifest as, and which of those choices we should be picking.

49 Days of Definitions: Part VIII, 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 thirty-third definition, part VIII, number 5 of 7:

Nature is the mirror of truth; the latter is at once the body of the incorporeal (things) and the light of the invisible.  The generous nature of this (world) teaches all (the beings).  If it seems to you that nothing is a vain work, you will find the work and the craftsman, if it seems to you (like) a mockery, you will be mocked at.

We’ve been having a hard time defining the word “nature” in a Hermetic sense since it popped up a few definitions ago.  There, we read that “nature is everyone of the beings of this world” or that “every being in this world has a nature”, and also that “the body increases and reaches perfection due to nature”.  But what is nature?  Nature is the whole of increase and decrease, the four elements, sense and vision, and all the bodies here.  Nature is the restrictions, capacities, and abilities that we have.  Nature is, in effect, everything that sensibly exists and each of their qualities along with it.  Nature is, in a way, fate and destiny.

But beyond all that, in this definition we get an actual explanation, or about as much as one as we’re likely to get: nature is “the mirror of truth”.  Nature reflects true things.  It is not itself true things, but it shows them to those who look and observe.  Consider your reflection in a mirror: the mirror is not you, but it shows how you are.  It shows your form, your age, your condition; it shows you.  Likewise, nature shows all these things, but it is not these things on its own.  Nature is a reflection, a microcosm of something greater, and what’s greater than the cosmos we find ourselves in?  God is bigger than the world, after all; is God truth?  (Well, duh.)  What is truth?  Truth is “the body of the incorporeal and the light of the invisible”.  These statements must be meant metaphorically, because they on their own don’t make sense.

  • What are bodies?  Bodies are corporeal masses, things with form and length and breadth and depth, things with “quality and quantity” (VII.4).  These things do not belong to incorporeal things, since quality and quantity are sensible just as bodies are.  The solely intelligible, however, are without bodies, and as such cannot be sensed.  However, they can be known.  They have some sort of substance, but it is not material substance.  The concepts, the words, the knowledge itself has a form, and that form is the “body” of the incorporeal.  What they are is truth; a truth is something intelligible that exists.
  • What is light?  Light is “a clear vision which makes appear all of the visible things” (II.6).  However, the invisible cannot be seen, so light does it no good.  However, light can be used to see visible things in the darkness, clearing away ignorance of the physical world around ourselves.  Likewise, truth can be used in the same way to know the invisible things in ignorance.  Truth is the means by which we come to know the things that are invisible without seeing them.

Nature, then, is the reflection of things that are.  Nature is the material, corporeal result of the intelligible and incorporeal; just as software code is the reflection of its design, or a constructed building the reflection of its blueprints, nature is the reflection of truth.  If what is intelligible is truth, then God is also truth.

Just as “whatever God does, he does it for man” is a truth (VIII.2), so too does the world reflect that: “the generous nature of this world teaches all the beings”.  If perfection of the soul is knowledge of the beings (VI.3), and it is our soul’s directive to come to know God by knowing all the beings (VII.3, VIII.4), then the world exists to help us do that.  The soul works within the body to learn; the world offers itself to learn from.  Again, “man’s possession is the world” (VI.1), so it would almost (maybe not quite?) be tautological to say that it’s for our benefit.  Further, Man’s job is to experience the entire world in all its parts for the benefit of the soul and body (VII.2), so we must fully experience and learn from the world in all that it has to teach us and offer us.  Every part of the world is necessary to experience and know for ourselves to be perfected in body, soul, and Nous.  Add to it, if we make use of the Hermetic maxim “as above, so below”, then we might also say that because everything God does is for Man, then everything the World does is also for Man, since the World is a microcosm reflecting the macrocosmic God.  This makes sense because “nature is the mirror of truth”, so whatever is done above is done below; that which is below represents, reflects, and indicates that which is above; if the nature of God is to act for Man, then the nature of the world is to do the same, as is the nature of Man (which gives the actions of Man a dual meaning here, both for himself as well as for soul/soul-Nous/God).

Since nothing God does is not for Man, then nothing the World is or does is not for Man.  Thus, nothing is made, done, or created in vain; this is similar to the statement in VI.1, where “if there were nobody to see [the world], what would be seen would not even exist”.  All things exist for a purpose and that is to act by God within God for Man and God.  Further, by properly seeking to learn what the world generously teaches us, we come to fully experience the world, perfecting our bodies and our souls in the process, coming to the perfection of the soul, which is the knowledge of beings as well as of God.  Thus, “if it seems to you that nothing is a vain work, you will find the work and the craftsman”, where the work is the body, soul, world, and beings and where the craftsman is God.  Neglecting this, however, yields the opposite result: “to you like a mockery, you will be mocked at”.  This is another thinly-veiled warning, much as from VI.3: “just as you will behave towards the soul when it is in this body, likewise it will behave towards you when it has gone out of the body”.

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

God is within himself, the world is in God, and man in the world.  His (i.e. man’s) deficiency is ignorance, his plenitude in the knowledge of God.  ※ He says that evil (consists) in ignorance and good in knowledge ⍜.

A short definition to finish up this section!  The first part of this definition sounds awfully like the first definition from the third set, which said that “where heaven is, God is too, and where the world is, heaven is too”, and also that “God is in heaven, and heaven in the world”.  Here, we have some more relationships between God and the world: namely, that God is within himself, that the world is in God, and that Man is in the world.

That God is within himself should come as no surprise.  We already know that “nothing is uninhabited by God” (III.1), and that God is “the father of the intelligible” (III.4) while being intelligible himself (I.1).  In other words, God is God, all things are within God, and God is in all things; everything is a complete Whole, and that Whole is the All, the One, or God.  If you want to translate this into set theory of mathematics, we can say that God is a set that includes all things including itself.  From this, it logically follows that the world, which is a thing that exists, exists within God.  Man exists in the world, or at least the physical bodies of Man and the idea of Man; since these things exist in the world, and since they exist, and since the world exists within God, Man also exists within God.  This basically rephrases III.1 using some more terms about Man now that we’ve been talking about Man for some time.

As for Man, however, we have some more talking to do.  The last definition brought up the terms “good” and “evil”, and we said this about the two terms:

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.

The current definition talks about the deficiency and the plentitude of Man, or rather, wherein he is evil and wherein he is good.  “His plentitude is the knowledge of God”; this accords with what we said before.  We can tie this back further with the perfection of the soul, which is “the knowledge of beings” (VI.3), and this is effectively the knowledge of God.  After all, to know God is to know all the things within God, all the gods, all the worlds, and ourselves, and “know thyself” is among the most holy maxims ever uttered or written.  This is what is good for us to do.

If knowledge of God is good, and evil is the opposite of good, then the opposite of knowledge of God must be evil.  The opposite of knowledge is ignorance, and that is indeed what this definition says: “[Man’s] deficiency is ignorance”.  To not know God is evil, then, yet this is the state of us as we are; to know God, we must have Nous, and not all beings are accorded Nous consciously.  Does that mean we were born evil?  Not really, but kinda?  This is where the Gnostic and Neoplatonic strains of thought shows itself within Hermeticism: because we have a material body, we are at least in some way cut off from God.  Indeed, the past few definitions have talked about this, and it’s hard to come in contact with God while being in body.  Moreover, because we have a body, we have the capacity for good and evil, which simply don’t exist outside the physical, material realm of bodies and matter.  We can choose evil and thus choose to be ignorant; we can likewise choose good and thus choose to be knowledgeable of God.

But what about as we are in the world, as we were born?  When we were born, we didn’t know how to walk or control our poop, much less high philosophy and God.  But that’s okay, because we were still in possession of souls made in the idea of Man, and those souls we have provide us with the actions and movement to move us towards knowledge of God, so long as we listen and act accordingly.  Soul is movement, and even more than that, a “necessary movement” (II.1); we cannot help but act.  The soul can often be considered like water, which is always in motion; it will take the path of least resistance, one way or another.  If water is dammed up or blocked off, it will find a new path or simply overflow it.  There is no way to completely stop water without turning it into something else.  Likewise, with the soul, we are always compelled to act, though how we act is determined by our own conscious choices and may not always be what the soul would ideally prefer.

The last part of this definition basically says the same thing as the second sentence here, but makes it explicit that ignorance is evil, not just the deficiency of Man, and that knowledge is good, not just the plentitude of Man.  However, this is made awkward by the inclusion of two symbols, which I cannot replicate well on a computer.  I tried to find similar Unicode characters to represent them, and they indicate common concepts or abbreviations in medieval Armenian manuscripts: ※ means “star”, while ⍜ means “sinner”.  The footnotes provided by Jean-Pierre Mahé to the Definitions say that these are glosses provided by the scribe, and suggest some sort of connection between sin and stars.  The Corpus Hermeticum talks about such connections, and suggests that sins and evil come from the stars high up in the heavenly part of the world (chapter XVI, parts 13 through 16), though I won’t get into it here.  Suffice it to say that, because we have material bodies, we are at the whim of various influences that affect our bodies and, therefore, our souls.  Many of these influences come from the stars, the “living beings in heaven”, and cause us or lead us to act in certain ways.  Not all of these influences agree with what the Nous within our souls desires, and so may lead us into ignorant and evil actions.  This complicates our role and job down here, but it’s also part and parcel of living within a large and complex system.

By acting in a good manner and striving to know God, ourselves, and all other things, we can attain our “plenitude”, our fullness and grace, that allows us to achieve perfection.  Perfection is this very thing, and is moreover marked by the awareness of and reception of Nous into our bodies and souls, enabling us to be made closer to God as well as to the ideal humanity we should be anyway.  This is what we’re supposed to do, and it’s difficult, but it’s worth it; moreover, it’s what we’re driven to do when left to our own devices and free from detrimental influences that would cause us to act otherwise.  However, to attain our fullness of knowledge, we also have to use the full range of human experience and power; although different living creatures can only experience one type of world, humanity can explore all worlds, including those which are immaterial.  To know all things, we must know all the worlds, and transcend them to become more and better than we are in any one world.