A Mathetic Understanding of Energy

To go along with our daily practices of meditation on the Tetractys, meditation on the letter of the day, daily divination, honoring the gods, and the like, I’ve considered also adding in a daily energy work ritual specifically tuned to mathesis.  I mean, it makes sense for mathetic work to round one out in many ways, especially as one prepares oneself to make the leap from Hypognostes to Gnostes, from simple magician getting acquainted with the forces of the world to a theurgist becoming powerful within and above the world.  I currently use a mish-mash of energy works put together, involving a form of the Qabbalistic Cross, the AL-KT banishing ritual, some PGM stuff, this and that; it’d be nice to have something more coherent that could fit nicer with mathesis, but that got me to thinking: how do we explain energy in mathetic terms, and moreover, what even is spiritual energy?

Energy in its basic scientific definition means a property of objects that can be transferred between them, such as motion, heat, electromagnetic radiation, and the like, but when we start talking about spiritual energy…well, I’ve never really seen a good definition of spiritual energy.  Everyone seems to vaguely know what it is, even though it wasn’t a word we used before two hundred years or so ago; the energy model of magic is a relative infant compared to the spiritual model, and we wouldn’t “charge” a talisman (like a cell phone) so much as we’d “ensoul” it (with a spirit or blessing of a spirit).  We might call those blessings or presence of a spirit a type of energy, but that doesn’t really account for other forms like qi/ki/chi or prana, nor does it reflect the energies of the elements or planets (unless you revert back to the spirit model of magic and consider the energies to be manifestations of the presence of the spirits of those elements and planets).  It gets real confusing real fast.

So, as we often like to do around these parts when we come across definition confusion, let’s go back to our etymological roots.  Energy comes from the Greek ενεργεια, “activity, action, operation”, ultimately from εν+εργον, or “at-work”.  The term was coined by Aristotle, and used in contrast to δυναμις, dynamis.  Dynamis has a variety of meanings, but Aristotle used it to refer to potentiality or power.  Dynamis here refers to the innate ability or tendency of something to change or act, something that is not yet real or accomplished but what could be real or accomplished.  Energeia, on the other hand, is the actual change or work something does when it pulls upon its dynamis; dynamis is anything that can happen, energeia is anything that is currently happening at a given point in time.  Energeia is the process of actualization of dynamis into something that exists, but it is not something that exists on its own.  As energeia emerges from or pulls upon dynamis, we develop what Aristotle called εντεληχια, or “being-at-an-end”, a continuous energeia that completely realizes the complete dynamis to result in a complete being.

So we have three terms we should inspect for a better understanding of energy from its older, original senses:

  • Dynamis, the potency or potential something has to accomplish something
  • Energeia, the realization of something’s potential
  • Entelechia, the full realization of something’s potential which makes something what it is and which is the end result or perfection of something by its realization

One common example Aristotle and others gives is when Aristotle talks about motion, κινησις or kinesis, which is defined as the entelechia of dynamis of something as that something.  Consider a pile of building materials; they all have different potentials, different dynames, and one of those is that they can be built with; that which is buildable is present in the building materials as a dynamis.  The action of building is a kinesis or motion that had been potential or inherent within the building materials, so the energeia of the building materials is putting them into use to build as building materials.  Once the kinesis of building is complete, we have (say) a house, which was inherent in the original building materials as dynamis and is the persistent energeia of the building materials having been actualized into something built.

I think.

Anyway, so how does this all relate to spiritual energy?  Well, I’m not a big fan of the energetic model of magic, where things are accomplished spiritually by means of directing and manipulating subtle energies from one form to another or from one entity to another.  However, I do use a little bit of that idea in my spirit model that forms the basis of much of my understanding and magical theory; the action of a spirit or entity and how it works as an agent is what generally I mean by accomplishing spiritual work.  So, for example, when I consecrate a planetary talisman, I don’t charge it with the energy (in a modern sense) of that planet, as if the planet is some nuclear reactor emanating cosmic radiation that can be harnessed by a wand and some crazy words, which can then be directed like a flashlight or hose to change the energy or motion of other things.  Rather, I call upon the spirit of the planet to take residence within the talisman so that, by using the talisman, I have the spirit within it accomplish work for me.  When I want to make use of the element of Fire for, say, warming myself up, then my model gets a little hazy; I use a certain word and I focus on the element of Fire, and either the power of fire inherent within me comes up as spiritual energy manifesting “hot”, or I call upon the primal spirit of Fire to be present and, by its presence and activity, warm myself.  Ultimately, the end result is the same but the explanatory theory behind it differs in a few ways; whether we call magic the activity of spirits or manipulation of energy doesn’t matter so long as the Work gets done.

So where does that leave us?  Let’s take a high-level look at the Tetractys, first:

Planetary Alchemical Tetractys

At the top, the Source of All, is the Monad, where nothing is actualized, only potential; the Monad is dynamis in its basest, rawest, most vague state, the dynamis of existence itself.  Nothing yet exists; there is neither Creator nor Creature (which is the Dyad), nor is there anything yet to exist.  This is the level before even the Unmoved Mover, because a Mover (energeia) can only exist if there’s something to move.  Thus, energeia is not a property of the Monad; it is a property of the Dyad and, by extension, all the other numbers.  Energeia is that which combines two Monads (individual potentialities) into a Dyad; just as building materials have the buildable as a dynamis but only realize the buildable by the energeia building, individual Monads have greater numbers as a dynamis but only realize them by the energeia of the connection between them.  The other numbers (Dyad, Triad, etc.) may be both energeiai and dynames in their own rights, but only the Monad is pure dynamis.  The other numbers are both potentials in their own right (since any number can be combined with another number as dynames by means of energeia to make a larger number) as well as energies (since they realize the power of the lesser numbers combined).

When we consider the Tetractys as sphairai with odoi between them, we can simplistically consider each sphaira to be a dynamis, and each odos linking the sphairai to be an energeia.  The dynamis, in this instance, is the possibility of the substance of the sphaira becoming something else (a number becoming another by means of addition or subtraction), and the odos the realization of the substance of the sphaira becoming something else (the process of addition or subtraction as applied to the number).  Each sphaira, however, with the exception of the Monad, is already a realization of the other numbers, and so contains within itself an energeia, but when viewed from the outside, each sphaira is “just” a dynamis.  While we are present within a particular sphaira, we explore what the dynamis is of that sphaira, but it’s on the odos that we actually realize the changes between the sphaira and the changes that we ourselves must go through to understand how those dynames can be effected.  The odoi cannot exist on their own; they can only exist as relationships, as processes, between the sphairai.  The Monad is pure dynamis, and the other sphairai may be both dynamis and energeia, but the odoi are pure energeiai.


While that’s all well and good for a theurgic and theoretical understanding of the framework of mathesis, how can this all be applied?  Well, like I said, this is where the difference between magical models becomes moot: whether you consider spiritual work to be accomplished from the activity of spiritual entities or the manipulation of spiritual substance doesn’t matter so long as the work gets done all the same.  However, we know that the Tetractys is the “root and the source of all eternal and eternally flowing creation”, that which “enforms gods and men”; all dynames and all energeiai are present within all of us, as they are within all other things.  However, how we effect the dynames within us as we live our lives is important; some of us never pull upon all our potentials.  That’s the distinction between the Gnosis and Agnosis schemata: by working and living on the Gnosis Schema, we are able to pull upon all our potentials and achieve what we might call our real entelechiai through the energeia of the zodiac, but most of us reside on the Agnosis Schema, where we’re limited to only a subset of the things we do and the things we can do.  It is only by exploring all our potentials that we obtain gnosis and, if we so choose, escape from domination by the forces in the cosmos.

In mathesis, we make use of the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet, each of which is associated with a particular force: the 12 zodiac signs, seven planets, four elements, and the quintessence of spirit.  Each of these letters is associated with an odos on the Tetractys that links two sphairai together.  Thus, each force is an energeia, a process that transforms or realizes a dynamis within ourselves.  By carefully selecting different energeia, we activate and realize different dynames within us, but in order to choose certain energeia, we have to be able to enact those processes, and without having been initiated into the Gnosis Schema (mathetically or otherwise), we simply don’t know how.  We normally live under the powers of the seven planets, four elements, and spirit; these are the forces we’re caught up in and which we are most familiar because they’re closest to us and have the most bearing on our lives.  It’s the forces of the zodiac, however, that really guide to our entelechiai, but they’re so distant and occluded by the other forces that we aren’t as familiar with them.  In order to access those zodiacal forces, we must first work our way through the elemental and planetary forces, understanding not only how they work but why, so that we can build upon them and ascend to the sphere of the fixed stars and, thus, to the energeia that link all ten of the sphairai of the Tetracts rather than those that link only six.


Contemplation of the letters, say by our means of daily meditation on the day of the letter, is one way by which we become accustomed to and aligned with the energeia of the letters and the force they represent; by contemplating and harmonizing with the letter and its force, we understand more and more the energeia it represents and what sorts of dynames it pulls upon.  When done regularly and cyclically, one may not need an energy ritual to align oneself with the forces because they’re already doing that by contemplation alone; the process may be made more mystical, such as by the use of chanting or vocalization to make the contemplation more like an invocation, but the result is the same.  However, this is done on a letter-by-letter, force-by-force, energeia-by-energeia basis, and for more complete ritual where one may wish to achieve a balance of forces, we need something more.

If I were to write a mathetic energy work ritual for regular practice, I’d write it so that it could be done in several stages, with different types of letters involved in the process.  If we tie this back into our distinction of Hypognostes/Gnostes practices, then we know that it’s the role of the Hypognostes to study and integrate the forces of the elements and planets to build upward to the zodiac, while it’s the role of the Gnostes to study and integrate the forces of the zodiac based on their footing with the elements and zodiac.  Assuming one keeps up their daily contemplation of the letters of the day, by the time one reaches the status of Gnostes and is initiated into the Gnosis Schema, they’ll have the understanding and ability (though not yet proficiency) in working with all the zodiacal forces, even if they have not yet made the theurgic exploration of those forces on the odoi of the Tetractys.  Thus, the Hypognostic energy work would focus on a maximum of 12 forces (elements and planets), but more likely four (4 elements), five (4 elements + 1 spirit), seven (7 planets), eight (7 + 1), or eleven (4 + 7) up to the maximum of twelve (4 + 7 + 1).  On the other hand, the Gnostic energy work all 24 (elements, planets, spirit, and zodiac).  As the mathetes successively works with more and more forces, they slowly introduce new forces while strengthening the ones the mathetes is already familiar with.

So while all this has been a lovely(?) discourse on my thoughts on what spiritual energy is and how we could/should use it theoretically, I haven’t really touched upon how that might be accomplished in a practical manner.  Like I said, I prefer to think of energy as the action or presence of spiritual entities, so rather than thinking of an energy ritual as channeling or directing specific forces in one’s sphere, it might be preferable to think of it as the invocation of spiritual entities to effect change within one’s sphere or the invocation of spiritual entities already present to induce motion within one’s sphere.  That latter interpretation is interesting, since it aligns with late Neoplatonic theories that the soul (ψυχη) is an energeia within the body that causes motion as it actualizes its own dynamis based on the perception of the body, the reason of the spirit, and the divine contemplation of the mind.  In that light, the notion of energy work takes on a different meaning and purpose in mathesis.  Instead of energy work simply empowering the body or stabilizing it in the forces we work with, mathetic energy work has the goal of familiarizing ourselves with the processes we need to take to obtain gnosis.  It’s a work of spiritual alchemy, preparing ourselves for purification and spiritual development by means of the forces of the cosmos, exercising our soul so that, when faced with the energeia we need to effect, we’ll be prepared to make the changes we need both internally (soul acting within itself) and externally (soul acting within the body).  It’s not about being able to channel certain forces into the world, but to practice the changes and processes those forces present to us.  Some of those forces we already use/effect on a day-to-day basis, perhaps unknowingly, but energy work brings them to the forefront of the mind so that we’re consciously aware of the changes those energeiai make so that, should we need to, we can undergo those processes again at the drop of a hat.

While we moderns are perhaps best accustomed to thinking of spiritual energy as we’d consider electrical current, flowing along certain conduits from an empowering source to charge an appliance, this isn’t perhaps the best way to think of it, especially in terms of theurgy.  Rather, consider that energy is a process of change that allows an inherent potential power within something to be effected and perfected, literally acted-upon and completely-done, so that we refine something into what it should be rather than what it is.  It’s not you simply channeling some vague force from source A to target B and then using B to do work for you; it’s you undergoing the work as well as being at work that transforms something into something better.  That is the goal of energy work; remember, it’s still Work.  In that light, we should consider what ways mathesis can apply Work to effect energy qua ενεργεια.


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.

2 Responses to A Mathetic Understanding of Energy

  1. runeworker says:

    “It’s a work of spiritual alchemy, preparing ourselves for purification and spiritual development by means of the forces of the cosmos, exercising our soul so that, when faced with the energeia we need to effect, we’ll be prepared to make the changes we need both internally (soul acting within itself) and externally (soul acting within the body). It’s not about being able to channel certain forces into the world, but to practice the changes and processes those forces present to us. Some of those forces we already use/effect on a day-to-day basis, perhaps unknowingly, but energy work brings them to the forefront of the mind so that we’re consciously aware of the changes those energeiai make so that, should we need to, we can undergo those processes again at the drop of a hat.”

    what you have described is exactly what the middle pillar and the circulating of the body of light is all about, I believe. It is energy work, and it is about moving energy from point a to point b, but the purpose behind it is ultimately spiritual transformation through purification and development. Of course it has practical uses like healing, or physical and mental empowerment, but those are really side effects of the aim for spiritual evolution.

  2. Rose says:

    Reblogged this on Weaving Among The Stars and commented:
    Excellent, especially since I can’t explain this stuff.

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