A Division of Studies in Mathesis

Based on the revamp of the Tetractys of Life with all its newly relettered paths, I had a thought about what the differentiation of forces between the Gnosis Schema (paths associated with the zodiac signs) and the Agnosis Schema (paths associated with the elements and planets) would mean.  From the post redoing the lettering of the paths, I commented that:

Thus, while we’re trapped in this world, we cycle chaotically and confusedly around the cosmos without real understanding of how it works, no matter how much we jive with the planetary and elemental forces.  It’s only once we recognize them for the powers that they are that we break free of them, traveling among the fixed stars themselves.  Even in agnosis, there is learning; we need to be aware of what the elements and planets do to us before we can truly break free of them and shed ourselves of their influence.  Once we know how to work them and how to get rid of their influence while remaining in control of them, we then proceed to rise above them to gnosis and understand what the whole cosmos is really about.  Planetary and elemental magic can only get us so far; they cannot get us to the most extreme parts of the cosmos (or, in this model, the outermost spheres of the Tetractys) nor can they get us to a point where we’re balanced and able to go in any direction we want (the sphere of Mercury).  It’s only by making the leap from agnosis to gnosis that we can do that, but even then, we must be on our guard; we can slip and fall back into agnosis by dwelling too much on any one energetic force, allowing it to entrap us once more.

In other words, we should only make the leap from Agnosis to Gnosis once we understand what it is we’re dealing with.  In order to fully be able to reap the benefits of the powers of the zodiacal paths and make the trips from sphaira to sphaira, we need to already have the powers of the elements and planets supporting us in a way that we control them and not the other way around, or at least on such a level where we’re at least equals with their forces.  This is no easy task; it took me several years of conjuration of the elements and planets, scrying and harmonizing and understanding the forces, before I even dared attempt a conjuration of the angel of the fixed stars to gain a glimpse into that sphere.  Without the planetary and elemental work behind me, I could not have been able to successfully parse together the new information and power I received, as well as understanding how it manifests through all the lower forces.

In that sense, perhaps this jump into scrying the odoi (paths) and sphairai (spheres) on the Tetractys isn’t meant as an introductory or novice activity.  In fact, if I were to teach mathesis as a lineage or as a school of occultism, the division between the powers of the Agnosis Schema and those of the Gnosis Schema suggest an outer circle and inner circle of students.  The outer circle would be those who have not yet made the jump from Agnosis to Gnosis, still remaining in the paths of the elements and planets.  They would be focusing on rudimentary magical skills, understanding the basics of divination and conjuration, understanding the spirits of this world in all their forms, education on the various forces of the cosmos and how to work with them, and the like.  All this would prepare them for the real work of the Gnosis Schema, the theurgy and ascension and subtle powers that they can only really understand after they have all the basics down.

In some ways, it’s a lot like martial art training.  Sure, you start with a white belt and proceed up the ranks to a black belt, and from the perception of non-black-belted people, getting your black belt is like a crowning achievement.  It is huge and a notable thing to obtain, don’t get me wrong, but it’s certainly not the be-all-end-all of the work.  In fact, all the training and testing leading up to the black belt is mere preparation; with the black belt, you finally become a real student and the real education begins, but only once you get that first rank in being a black belt.  In a similar way, being in the outer circle focused on the powers of the Agnosis Schema is a lot like working towards your black belt, just trying to learn the basic moves and motions that allow you to do more complex and natural motions and forms later on.  The initiation into the Gnosis Schema is like being presented with the black belt, but only the first degree of it; the real meat of mathesis lies in the Gnosis Schema, where the more profound power and knowledge lies.

Sure, you might have that black belt, but how good of a black belt are you?  As a black belt in a martial art, there’s always more training to do, more perfection of techniques, more refinement of motion, more fluidity and grace to be developed.  There truly is no end, and even the founder of a martial art themselves will constantly practice.  Hell, even the Buddha Shakyamuni was constantly in meditation after he achieved nirvana; yes, he was enlightened completely and utterly, but he still felt the need to meditate.  Even though he had attained the end of samsara and dependent arising, he still meditated.  Why?  Because there’s always more Work to do; he still needed better ways to teach, more things to delve into, more things to know beyond knowing or not knowing.  Even in his death and passing into paranirvana, the Buddha is thought of to have gone past all going-past into a state of gods-know-what.  It’s not an ending.  There’s never an ending.

Likewise, the process of going through the Gnosis Schema is cyclical.  You might have made one complete circuit around the Gnosis Schema, or you might have made a hundred; that hundred-first time can still get you more power, more knowledge, more gnosis that you didn’t get the first hundred times around.  And this isn’t limited to the schemata of mathetic theurgy, either; even in qabbalah with the Tree of Life, once you attained Ipsissimus and reached the sephirah of Kether, you could either keep going up into the Infinite Light and discovering more of the Infinite, or you could bring that light back down to Malkuth and start the process all over again.  It’s cyclical.  There is never truly an ending, neither in qabbalah nor in mathesis, neither in martial arts nor spiritual arts.  Trying to ascend to the gods or to the Divine Source itself is the most important and gravest undertaking, and to try to attempt it while alive is even more difficult.

So, if (on the off, distant, and unlikely chance) I were to start up a school that could teach people magic and the occult, let’s say I call it the Disciples of Hermes, or simply the Mathetai (from the Greek phrase οι Μαθηται του Ερμου, hoi Mathetai tou Hermou).  The mathetai, collectively, are those who study the occult science and philosophy under the overarching framework of mathesis.  I might actually divide it into three circles, not just two, based on the topic of study and where they are in relation to the schemata of the Tetractys, along with an extra division for people who aren’t involved at all:

  • The Agnostai (οι Αγνωσται, lit. “the unknowing”, sing. agnostes) are those who aren’t involved in mathesis, the occult, religion, or spirituality generally.  They’re on their own and are outside the reach and teachings of the Mathetai, either willingly or circumstantially, and are not initiated or educated in any sense of mathesis.
  • The Hypognostai (οι Υπογνωσται, lit. “those who are under knowledge”, sing. hypognostes) are those who have begun studying magic and the occult generally.  The focus here would be on an understanding of basic occult philosophy, the forces, spirits, and how to work with all of the above.  This covers all the basics, from conjuration of spirits and proper worship of gods to talismany and divination.  Basic meditation and prayer work would be taught as well, but only as a simple practice in simple ways to help the development of the Hypognostai in their other studies.  In this stage, one is still on the Agnosis Schema, but they begin their awareness of being caught up in it despite being prohibited from being taught about the schemata or deeper mysteries of the Tetractys.  Most of the material here can be taught from books, prepared documents, and demonstrations, usually under the direction of a teacher or more advanced student.
  • The Epignostai (οι Επιγνωσται, lit. “those who are approaching knowledge”, sing. epignostes) are those who have shown enough skill with the skills of the Hypognostai and have begun the process of synthesis and analysis (putting together and taking apart) in order to reform themselves into a proper stage of purity and self-awareness.  The focus here is on developing the skills of meditation and prayer and using them to continue the mastery of the skills of the Hypognostai, as well as developing them for their own sake to develop a firmer mastery of the mind and body itself.  Although still on the Agnosis Schema, the stage of epignosis is the process of forming the bridge from the middling sphairai around that of Mercury so as to begin the process of gnosis itself.  At the end of this stage, when the epignostes is ready, they are prepared for initiation into the Gnostai and the process of traveling the Gnosis Schema.  This stage is marked by more intense oral and practical teaching and less on books, although some research may be required for more difficult refinement of the skills of the Hypognostai.
  • The Gnostai (οι Γνωσται, lit. “the knowing”, sing. gnostes) are the ones who have entered into the mysteries of the Gnosis, having demonstrated enough mastery of the skills of the Hypognostai and Epignostai to be fit to travel along the Gnosis Schema with or without guidance.  A special connection between them and the gods, as well as of the Monad, is forged and they are allowed to penetrate into the deepest mysteries of the Tetractys.  Deeper meditation, theurgic rituals, and astral travel and inhabitation of the gods within the body is explored as well as to begin teaching other mathetai, as well as other mysteries that would never be told to anyone who hadn’t already attained a particular level of spiritual development and growth.

In a sense, the three circles are modeled after the “three parts of wisdom” as described by Hermes Trismegistus in the Emerald Tablet: the three sciences of alchemy, astrology, and theurgy.  In this instance, the science of alchemy would be given to the Hypognostai through the transformation of lower materials into higher ones, either metaphorically or actively; the science of astrology would be given to the Epignostai, who must understand the connections between above and below in order to ascend between and around the worlds while harnessing their power; the science of theurgy would be given to the Gnostai, who work towards the Source and Divinity itself by building upon both astrology and alchemy.  In a sense, though, alchemy is also given to the Gnostai, since the twelve signs of the zodiac (and, correspondingly, the twelve paths on the Gnosis Schema) are associated with twelve common processes of alchemy, and thus the cycle begins anew.  Being inducted into the Gnostai, after all, is by no means the end of the journey, but truly the start; everything before that is just preparation.

While there’d be no formal levels beyond that of the Gnostai (though a fifth and hypothetical circle could be proposed, the Metagnostai, those who are beyond knowledge, could be set up for divine or heroic entities who guide and nurture the school as a whole akin to the Secret Chiefs of the Golden Dawn), I’m sure it might arise that there’d be an Archegnostes (ο Αρχεγνωστης), a “first gnostes” or teacher of teachers in the Mathetai, or the Aristognostai (οι Αριστογνωσται), the “best gnostai” or council of senior gnostai who govern and instruct the school as a whole, both in terms of judging the capabilities of particular students as well as organizing teaching and management for the school.  Of course, parts of these responsibilities might be delegated to the Epignostai, but the teachers (bless their hearts) have to both manage spiritual and worldly responsibilities with this.

Of course, I’m letting my imagination run freer than a tabletop RPG gamer drawing up a new character sheet just before a campaign.  Mathesis is still brand new and largely unexplored as a magical system, I’m still barely into my own practice generally and mathetically, and here I am already planning on not just taking a few students but setting up a whole school for it.  I have plenty on my plate before I even try to attempt any of this sort of dissemination of wisdom to the world who so badly needs it, but at the same time, who can say what’ll happen but the gods?  Maybe in another ten or twenty years or so, secret societies and orders will be a thing again, and maybe I’ll have just enough under my belt to actually start helping others in studying this.


About polyphanes
I'm a software developer and Hermetic occultist living near Washington, DC, USA. I claim that I'm youthful, dashing, daring, and other things. I make things and chant stuff, and periodically write about them.

One Response to A Division of Studies in Mathesis

  1. astrornis says:

    Although I’m still playing a big game of catch-up regardling reading and writing blog posts, I find all this very interesting, as well as familiar, but that isn’t something I’m even going to begin to tackle here on a simple blog post. Maybe we can discuss it over drinks sometime.

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