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 thirtieth definition, part VIII, number 2 of 7:
Divine bodies do not have access paths for sensations, for they have sensations within themselves, and (what is more) they are themselves their own sensations. What God does, man does not do it; and whatever God does, he does it for man; but what man does, he does it for soul.
This definition shifts gears a bit from the previous one, but it helps to form an overall thesis with the rest of the definitions in set VIII. In the last definition, Hermes mentioned that there “is a god who has come into being according to human opinion”: much as we have set up laws and regulations for ourselves in our endeavor to be human, we have also set up religions and gods for ourselves for the same endeavor. This need not be any one god or pantheon of gods, but any concept of divinity that we have is an artifice like our own laws. However, these are just gods that have arisen out of human opinion, not by Divinity itself, and our own knowledge of Divinity is stunted to say little, so how can we make something comparable?
Basically, we can’t. This definition describes some of the qualities of divinity by talking about “divine bodies”, which is a term I understand to be a synonym for the Whole of creation itself, which is God. We read that “divine bodies do not have access paths for sensations, for they have sensations within themselves”. Basically, God himself does not sense though he has sensations inside. The use of a sense to sense sensations (sorry for the unfortunate phrasing) implies that there is something that senses and that there is another thing that is sensed. In other words, there is a duality set up here: sensor and sensed. The sensed has to be external to the sensor in order for the sensor to sense the sensed; otherwise, there’s nothing to sense.
Consider humans: humans exist in the world, and there are lots of things in the world that humans are not. Humans can sense these things because they themselves are external of other things, just as those other things are external of humans. We can sense cold water, because cold water exists outside ourselves. We can sense material processes going on inside us, too, like the passage of gas and food waste through the intestines or the pressure of blood in our heads, but that’s because the actual sensory organs that deliver this information to the brain are separate from the things that produce these sensations. In other words, human bodies are not one cohesive undifferentiated unit, but a mass and combination of many different parts that interact with each other to form something resembling a whole.
God, however, is much different. God himself does not sense things; what would there be to sense? “Nothing is uninhabited by God” (III.1); “God is within himself [and] the world is in God” (VII.5). There is nothing external to God, because God is literally everything that is and could be, everything actual and everything potential. Because there is nothing external to God, there is nothing that God can sense externally; there is no means by which God can sense something else, because there is no “something else”, and therefore no means by which he can sense (my interpretation of “access paths”). However, on the other hand, everything that exists exists within God, including things with sense. All possible sensations, all sensors, all the sensed things, every means of sensation exists within God. Add to it, God “sees everything” (V.1), and to God “nothing is incomprehensible” (V.2). However, everything that exists is only part of God, thus God only sees, comprehends, and knows itself. Because of that, God is constantly experiencing and knowing itself; thus, it can be said that God senses himself, and therefore God is God’s own sensations. Everything exists in God to be experienced by God; it’s like a weird bird’s-eye recursive exploration of all possible configurations of matter and energy and thought.
So, that which is God only ever experiences itself, since there’s nothing else that can be experienced by anything. However, the gods that have come into being “according to human opinion” aren’t presented that way at all; they fight amongst each other, they listen to other things, they’re swayed by drink and dance and sex and war, they live in only one part of the world. The gods of humanity are much closer to humanity than they are to God, and do many of the same things as humans do. In this way, then, according to the definition of “divine bodies” given above, the gods of humanity aren’t truly divine, not in the same sense that God is. I don’t intend for this to be a discouragement or refutation of non-Abrahamic or pagan gods in any way. Any god that does not act and have the qualities of God according to the Definitions is, simply, not God. They’re still gods and heavenly beings with bodies, sensations, and the rest, but are not God. Thus, Dionysus, Osiris, IHVH, and all the rest of the gods invented and named by humanity are all gods but are not God, though they exist within him and as a means to him. God is something far bigger and far more encompassing than any one concept, entity, name, or act.
It is the acts of God that transcend all other acts; God literally does everything all the time, across all of creation. There’s a lot more that God does that Man cannot do: we cannot move the stars, nor create the weather (no matter how much technology we try to throw into faking it), nor absolutely control nature. These things are not in the realm of Man to do; thus, “what God does, man does not do it”. Moreover, “whatever God does, he does it for man”; this is a profound statement, and is one of the clearest pointers to the fact that all of the cosmos, all of creation is geared…for us. For humanity. For Man. We are alone in the cosmos to be made in the image of God, we alone given Nous, we who can be both mortal and immortal. And God favors us with this, and with the rest of the cosmos as well. After all, we are alone among the living creatures to belong to all the parts of the world (VII.2), and it is our job to perfect ourselves by living as such and coming to know all the things that are, i.e. God. And, since God knows everything inside itself, God therefore knows (only) God; God helps us to know God by giving us Nous, which is also God, thus making us into God. Though it seems cyclical, what this all boils down to is this: God wants us to excel and works everything in the cosmos toward that end because we are, in effect, God. God experiences itself, after all; why wouldn’t God also work for itself to benefit itself? By benefitting Man, God benefits God. God wants us to become God.
However, we humans don’t always see it that way. While God acts and does everything for humanity, “what man does, he does it for soul”. That last part, “for soul”, can also be translated “for himself”; in either case, the gist is that we humans act for ourselves and for our own good, whatever we think that good might be (which might be good or bad towards our souls, depending on whether we listen more to our souls and Logos than to external humans). We don’t often consider the bigger picture, generally because we lack the sense to know what the bigger picture holds. We don’t necessarily act for God, because we lack knowledge of what God is, though we have some ideas and opinions about it (the “god who has come into being according to human opinion”). Because we’re so individualized and seemingly separated, and because we have such an external-centric view of the world (“I am not that”) rather than a cohesive unified Whole (“tat tvam asi“), we think in terms of me-first and not All-first. Thus, what we do, we “do it for [ourselves]”.
Keep in mind that what we said about the divinity of God not sensing but having sense doesn’t just contrast with what we consider to be gods. It also contrasts with humanity ourselves. We sense other things that we perceive to be not-us; God has no such means since there is nothing not-God. Sense is important here, because it’s sense that helps to direct our actions. Because we sense things to be external to us, we perceive it better to act for ourselves than for others for various reasons (avarice, gluttony, self-preservation, etc.). Likewise, we act for our own opinions of the gods, rather than God itself. God, however, has all sensations in itself, and so is not able to act for itself in opposition to anything else; God acts for God, because that’s all there is. Because Man is made in the image of God and bestowed with the Mind of God, God can be said to act for God by means of acting for Man; thus, “whatever God does, he does it for man”.