49 Days of Definitions: Review

This post is the final recap of the series “49 Days of Definitions” that discussed and explained some of my thoughts 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.  I sought to afford people some food for thought with my meditations on each aphorism in a series of blog posts, one aphorism per day, and while I know I didn’t plumb the entire depths of each one, I also didn’t try to do that.  Still, it was a blast to write, and I hope it helps in explaining some of the philosophy involved when dealing with Hermetic work.

For convenience, here are links to the posts for each aphorism, along with a very brief summary of each section:

  1. Part I: one, two, three, four, five
    The three worlds of creation: God, the world, and Man.
  2. Part II: one, two, three, four, five, six
    The elements of the world and light which enables the world to be known.
  3. Part III: one, two, three, four
    The ubiquity of God, the place of Man in the world, and of the world in God.
  4. Part IV: one, two
    The different types of living beings and what they’re composed of.
  5. Part V: one, two, three
    Nous and Logos, God and reasonable speech.
  6. Part VI: one, two, three
    The development towards perfection of the soul of Man in the body of humans.
  7. Part VII: one, two, three, four, five
    The immortality of Man afforded by God, and the mortality of humans mandated by the world.
  8. Part VIII: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven
    Knowledge or ignorance of God/world/Man/self, and the power of Man as God.
  9. Part IX: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven
    The place of Man in the cosmos, the nature of the soul in Man, what perfect knowledge is.
  10. Part X: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven
    The natures and realization of good and evil, how the parts of the world work together.

So, what are some of the takeaways from the Definitions?

  • God is both the end result of spiritual development and the ultimate source of all things that exist, don’t exist, might exist, etc.  Everything else that exists does so within God as part of God.  There is nothing that is not within God.  God is greater than anything conceivable, and is exemplified by and is knowledge.  God is intelligible, able to be known, by those who are able to understand the intelligible.
  • The material world is a part of God, but also hides God from those within, since the world is sensible, able to be directly perceived according to material senses, but things that are intelligible are invisible and unsensable within the world.  The material world is populated with bodies, composed of matter, and different bodies have different components of elements as well as of living essences: souls, spirits, and minds.
  • We as humans are composed of different parts: a material body that dies, an immortal soul that moves the body, spirit that performs the movement within the body according to soul, and mind which is our connection to God.  We contain the nature of all things of the sensible and intelligible worlds, and rule over the sensible world as God rules over the entirety of creation.  No other creature has this distinction, since only human beings are given a special connection to God through our souls.  We are both of the sensible world and of intelligible God, God made us in its image, and God loves us and we love God as spouses or children of each other.
  • The way to salvation (immortality, freedom from death, freedom from evil) is knowledge.  Knowledge of the self is the same as knowledge of creation which is the same as knowledge of God.  Knowledge is possible due to the presence of Nous/divine Mind within our human souls and the ability to use Logos/reasonable speech.  Perfection of the soul is knowledge obtained by attaining Nous itself, joining ourselves with God in the process, and in the process we obtain the power to help others free themselves from suffering, ignorance, and evil.
  • The way to obtain knowledge is through silent contemplation, the use of pure Logos without need to further anything of this world.  Logos is the servant of the Nous, pure Reason working for and under pure Mind, and through reasonable thoughts, meditation, speech, and action can we obtain knowledge.  This must be aimed toward divinity, however, and all actions as well; the use of speech or action to further worldly, animal, or material goals does not fulfill this.  Much as one should treat the body well so much as only to keep the soul on its way to perfection, so should all actions in this world be done with an eye on the goal of divinity.

Despite the area covered by these definitions, there are some questions leftover that I’m sure are ringing in the minds of my readers; there are some I have, as well.  Some of the questions that are left unanswered wholly or in part by the Definitions that I came up with, details and minor things as they might be:

  • The many gods that exist are not God, this much is clear; I never claimed to think otherwise, since God and gods operate and exist on two wholly different levels.  That said, there are experiences of people who encounter gods made flesh, though the Definitions preclude such a thing, relegating the gods to the heavens and out of earthy existence.  What of the many myths, stories, and experiences of those who experience gods made men, not God made Man?  What about the underworld gods that are immortal?
  • Is it possible to reconcile worship of God with that of other gods, even if we recognize the difference in nature between the two?  What is the proper method of worship to God, when God is without attributes and is divinely simple and without comparison?
  • The Gnostic/Neoplatonic aspects of the text make the material world we live in to be evil, with the immortal and eternal intelligible world beyond good.  Why is this the case?  It makes sense that denying the soul is bad for it, but why should all material actions done for material purposes and aims automatically neglect the soul?  Is it impossible for a combination of Nous, soul, and immortality to exist from the outset?
  • God made the world for Man; everything exists within and for Man.  Without Man, the world may as well not exist, and likely wouldn’t.  So why did God make Man?  Why is Man desirable and loved by God, and vice versa?  What’s the whole point, and why should we have to strive for Nous in the first place?  Why does Man have to be mortal to strive for immortality?
  • What exactly does it mean that we are made in the species of Man after God?  I’ve been using the phrase “Man is made in the image of God” from the Bible, but what does that entail?  Is it physical form?  Is it our ability for Nous?  What is the nature of an essence, idea, or species that makes us so different from other creatures?
  • God is said to have conceived Logos in silence, and that we should do the same.  But what is silence?  Is it meditation and contemplation of reason, direct use of Logos without speech?
  • Because of our connection to Nous and God, we have as much power as the gods.  What is this power, exactly?  Just the choice of choosing knowledge or ignorance according to our soul-based passions?  What does it mean that we can become gods in our own right?  Gods as in the Olympians, gods as in heroes, gods as in planets or stars, gods as in God?  Or just immortal, pure Man?
  • The text hints at but never directly states that the soul may require multiple iterations of lives in order to be perfected, i.e. the soul may undergo reincarnation or transmigration.  What is the nature of death and birth, and how do souls go between one or the other?  What happens to a soul that is not yet perfect when the body dies?  What about humans who are born without soul-Nous/the Nous-based connection to God?  What about humans who are unable to use Logos/reasonable speech?
  • What about the spiritual lives, if any, of animals or the gods themselves?  These beings have soul, but lack Nous.  Is there a possibility for them to understand God and the cosmos as well?  Does reincarnation have any role to play in this, or transmigration of the soul?  What about plants or stones?  Many magicians work with the spirits or genii of individual places or bodies that are said to lack souls and Nous or even spirit, so how are they taken into account?

Alright!  That’s it for this blog project.  I really thank you guys for sticking through with me through this phase of philosophy, and I hope you got as much out of it as I did.  I had read the Definitions before, but I was honestly surprised at how much I got out of it this time by going through each with analysis and writing my thoughts down.  The past seven weeks really helped me put myself on a more solid Hermetic footing in my work, and I hope all you guys who stuck around got something out of this as well.  If you have any questions, feel free to post in the comments and help polish and refine some of my analyses further.  While the Definitions lay out the basics of Hermetic philosophy, there’s a lot that was left unsaid or unclear.  That’s kind of the point of any introductory text, of course, since it serves as an introduction, so I hope you’ll investigate more of this with me, with friends, or on your own and dig deeper into the philosophy and worldview of Hermes Trismegistus.

The past 49 days have been full of writing, and would you look at that, it’s suddenly the end of 2013!  I hope you guys had a fantastic winter solstice, however you may have spent it, and I hope you have an even better New Year and start to 2014!  Now let’s stop talking about spirits of God and soul and let’s start talking about the spirits we’ll be drinking and enjoying tonight.  Happy New Year, my fellow amblers and dear readers!  You guys made this a truly awesome year, and I look forward to what next year will bring to all of us.

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49 Days of Definitions: Part X, 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-ninth and final definition, part X, number 7 of 7:

Therefore soul is an immortal essence, eternal, intellective, having, as an intellectual (thought), its reason endowed with Nous.  By understanding nature, it attracts to itself the intellect of (the planetary) harmony; then, once it is freed from this natural body, it remains alone with itself (and) is grieved, belonging only to itself in the intelligible world.  It rules on its reason.

After the last few definitions, which I feel were getting a little dramatic in how they were presenting the interaction between mortals on earth and immortals in heaven and how us who are Man should act, we wrap things up with this definition, which talks about the soul, which really is the centerpiece and focus of the entire Definitions.

First, we start of with a list of attributions of the soul, and here specifically that of Man.  It’s an essence, an underlying quality, which helps to define that which we are.  It is immortal; it does not die, nor is it born; while it may have been made by Nous (X.3), it was not generated in the same way bodies are (V.5).  The soul is eternal, which only confirms that it has always existed outside of time itself and experiences time only as much as God does or allows us to in our bodies; the soul truly is unbegotten, just as matter is (X.5).  It is intellective, able to think and reason with Nous, since that is what makes Man distinct from other creatures (IV.1, V.3).  Because of this, we can reason and understand the cosmos in a way that only God can, but it takes time, practice, skill, dedication, and perseverance to do so.  We can similarly choose to do none of those things and remain as, essentially, animals are; we can let our reason and minds stay catatonic and remain as animals do, or we can use reason just enough to get things done but in nowhere a complete way as we ought.

The way we understand things as we ought to is obtained by acting reasonably with the soul in the body (V.3).  This produces knowledge, true honest knowledge, which when obtained enough yields knowledge of everything: ourselves, all other things, and God itself (VII.5).  By understanding that which goes on around us, we understand everything as it works together: how bodies increase and decrease, by what means, and why they do this.  We understand the intelligible things that cannot be seen but we can still yet know, all the same.  However, we must continue to choose to do this, lest influences from the heavenly beings above sway us to do otherwise.  But even then, once we understand even a little bit of nature and the natural world, Man “attracts to itself the intellect of the planetary harmony”.  We begin to associate ourselves with the planets and other gods, and we begin to raise ourselves up into knowledge of systems far beyond that of the material plane of the earth.  As we attract ourselves to “the intellect of the planetary harmony”, we ascend into godhood, coming to know how all things work.  This is not the final stage of gnosis or perfection, but it’s certainly getting there.

After all, the soul stays in the body only as long as it needs to; then, once the soul reaches perfection, the soul leaves the body to die (VI.2, VI.3).  At this point, the soul is “freed from this natural body”, and, without a body, the soul becomes inert once more as it was beforehand.  Thus, it “remains alone with itself”, but it is also “grieved”.  After all, it has all the knowledge of the cosmos and of God at this point, yet it sheds its old skin, its old world, everything it had grown up knowing, and “grieves”.  This is an interesting point, since why should we grieve?  Sadness, after all, is an illness of the soul; without anything to expose itself to, how can the soul obtain anything?  After all, it remains “belonging only to itself in the intelligible world”.  It is without body, and it is now independent as a truly immortal being, a god, free from the sensible world in the infinity of God.  It rules, on its own and by its own, according to “its reason”, it’s Logos.

So why should there be grief?  All this work and perfection and godhood for…grief?  It doesn’t make much sense, I’ll agree, so there’s something missing, I’d think.  Jean-Pierre Mahé notes that the text is not only incomplete at this point, but that the rest of the text in several versions of the Definitions is spurious and an add-in from some other text dealing with astrological influences.  It’s kind of a let-down for the final definition, but let’s assume that the text is complete, and that this is the final and definitory definition of them all.  What follows is pretty much my interpretation, but this is going to be less logical and less based on the rest of the text than the other definitions.

The perfect soul, freed from the body,  rules on its reason in the intelligible world of God.  It, already possessing soul-Nous (VIII.4), has now also obtained divine Nous in its entirety, and thus becomes one with the knowledge of God and, thus, God.  By knowing all the beings, by knowing the self, by knowing Man, by knowing God, the soul becomes everywhere God is.  By ruling on its reason, which is now the Logos of the Nous, the soul acts according to the will of God without any external influence to sway it, and no unreasonable things to change its opinions or desires.  It belongs only to itself, but since itself is now effectively God, then it belongs to and exists within God perfectly in harmony.

The grief mentioned in this definition refers to it being separated from the material sensible world, which is odd when you consider the etymological root of “grief” to mean “weighty” in Latin.  The process of shedding the body for the soul may not be a very peaceful process, just as the process of birth for a human being is by no means easy or painless.  Perhaps, then, the grief of the soul is the final removal of its illnesses of sadness and joy, or the experiences it can no longer experience as a moving soul in a sensing and sensible body.  Yet, being joined in the knowledge of God, it already knows these things and experiences them intelligibly.  But it also knows that there are others that have not yet experienced this, and that they suffer in envy and jealousy and death when they don’t have to.  Why should they suffer?  God loves Man, after all, and Man loves God; if you saw a loved one in pain, you might also do what you could to relieve it.  As God, since that’s effectively what the soul is now, why wouldn’t you try to help out those who are suffering so that they wouldn’t need to suffer anymore?  If that’s what reason dictates, after all, why couldn’t you return to animate a new body, speak reasonably, act reasonably, lead others to act and speak reasonably, lead others to knowledge, and help perfect the souls of others that they too might be free?

Maybe this is an indication that the soul, ruling on its reason, may reason to return to the world; after all, since this soul is now God, we know that “God changes and turns into the form of man” for the sake of Man, so that others may become God as well.   In other words, to quote one of my favorite stories, perhaps the ending has not yet been written.

49 Days of Definitions: Part X, 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 forty-eighth definition, part X, number 6 of 7:

Providence and Necessity (are), in the mortal, birth and death, and in God, unbegotten (essence).  The immortal (beings) agree with one another and the mortal envy one another with jealousy, because evil envy arises due to knowing death in advance.  The immortal does what he always does, but the mortal does what he has never done.  Death, if understood, is immortality; if not understood (it is) death.  They assume that the mortal (beings) of this (world) have fallen under (the dominion) of the immortal, but (in reality) the immortal are servants of the mortal of this (world).

The relationships between different material bodies in the world is complicated, ranging from different types of living beings, some immortal and some not, some with Nous and some not, to the motions provided by the immortal heavenly beings that influence the lower mortal ones, and so forth.  Between figuring out what’s really us when we move and what’s an influence we’re being moved by can be difficult, and this is starting to raise some cosmological questions that this text is probably unsuited to answer adequately.  This definition, however, affords some more reason and rules to how everything down here works.

First, we’re introduced to Providence and Necessity.  We’ve already met necessity once before, in VIII.1: “there is a destiny which has come into being according to a just necessity; there is a law which has come into being according to the necessity of humans”.  Necessity is, then, an ordering principle of the cosmos, which structures things just so according to what we need so that everything can work together.  No matter what else happens in the world, it must fulfill necessity, else it cannot happen at all.  For all intents and purposes, we can consider necessity, providence, fate, and destiny to all be the same thing here; the two terms are not seen apart from each other, even in a similar passage in the Corpus Hermeticum (chapter XII, part 14):

Necessity and Providence and Nature are instruments of Cosmos and of Matter’s ordering; while of intelligible things each is Essence, and Sameness is their Essence.

In the world, each thing that exists must fulfill a particular fate.  For the mortal, these things are “birth and death”; these things are mandated for every mortal being that lives.  For every birth, there is a death; for every death, there is a birth.  Nothing mortal can live without being born, and all mortal things, by virtue of their being mortal, must die.  On the other hand, for Man who is both mortal and immortal in his own godly way, the corresponding fate of God is being “unbegotten”.  God is unbegotten, as we’ve mentioned before in the last definition, and God can neither die nor be born, nor can God grow or increase or decrease.  Simply put, God is, was, always will be, and can only ever be.

So, mortal beings are born, live for a short while, and die, and immortal beings live forever.  Cool.  But there’s more to it than that, especially when you put two of the same kind of beings with each other.  With immortal beings, they “agree with one another”; they do not fight, they do not bicker, they do not argue, but they agree and exist in more-or-less harmony with each other.  They have their roles and their parts to play, they always have, and they always will.  Consider the planets of the sky; though they may enter into harmful or violent aspects with each other, they do not fight or try to take from another what they have.  Mortal beings, on the other hand, “envy one another with jealousy, because evil envy arises due to knowing death in advance”.  So us mortal beings, including animals and plants, fight and bicker and harm each other because we always want things that others have.  We envy others for what they have, and we’re jealous over what we already possess.  This is because we’re afraid of losing it when we die, so we want to hold onto it as much as we can before our bodies expire.

But this is stupid, isn’t it?  I mean, look at the planets: “the immortal does what he has always done”.  They don’t care what other things are doing; they’ve got their own job to do, and they’re in no rush nor lax state to get it done.  They just keep doing it forever; that’s their job.  A mortal being, on the other hand, “does what he has never done”.  Although any immortal part within us may have done it at some point before, these bodies are constantly changing (cf. panta rhei), not to mention that every body has not existed forever before.  There is always something new that we’re doing that we have not yet done, and may never get the chance to do it again.  We are only born once, we only take our first breath once, we only eat a particular plate of food once (different food is on it the next time!), and so forth.  Nothing is ever the same for us mortals, and with death approaching as is due for all mortals, we want to try to get everything we can done, and to obtain everything we can.  Being material creatures, we often find solace in material ends, which leads us to “envy one another with jealousy”.

Still, it’s stupid.  I mean, what is death?  It’s just the ending of the body’s use for the soul.  Man may have a body, but Man is so much more than that.  The essential Man is more than the sum of its parts; the essential Man is immortal and cannot die, no matter what kind of death the body may undergo.  The body simply doesn’t affect the soul in that way; while the body’s premature death may leave the soul stunted in development, it doesn’t kill the soul or the essential Man.  “Death, if understood, is immortality”, which is obtained through knowledge, and knowledge is perfection of the soul.  If we properly understand death, just as we can understand anything else, we will not fear it (IX.3), which then removes death from jealousy and envy and fighting over things.  That said, if we do not understand death, “it is death”.  By being ignorant of the nature of life and death, mortality and immortality of Man, we who are Man condemn ourselves to death and forsaking our chances at immortality and knowledge.

And, trust me, there are plenty of people who fit that bill.  How many people do you know are focused only on the material world?  How many who fight over money or possessions or Black Friday deals or what-have-you?  How many who conceive of nuclear wars to get rid of some pesky people from the face of the planet so we can get more oil?  There’s a lot of these people, and they find death to be fascinating without understanding it.  These type of people “assume that the mortal beings of this world have fallen under the dominion of the immortal”.  In other words, these people are violent or are ignorant because they think that’s just the way things are.  They don’t stop to think how they can change it, they don’t think they’re capable of changing it, and they don’t care about what the world might be if they changed it.  They think that the underlying reality of everything that happens is out of their control, so they may as well play along and “do their part” in being ignorant, however wise and reasonable it may seem to them.

But, as you who’re reading these Definitions know, that’s not the case.  Those who understand the nature of beings, who know reality and God and truth, understand that Man has as much power as the gods in determining our own actions (VIII.7).  We don’t have to be led around by the nose according to the whims and influences and passions of other beings.  We have the power to choose good or evil, knowledge or ignorance.  Those who realize these things have knowledge, and they understand that “in reality the immortal are the servants of the mortal of this world”.  The immortal don’t serve to rule or own the world; that’s for Man.  Man rules and owns the world, and we’re to understand and properly live our lives with the immortal beings so as to know them, by which we know ourselves, by which we know God, by which we obtain Nous, by which we perfect the soul, by which we obtain true immortality.

So what do we have to gain from the immortal gods?  Let’s restrict ourselves to the topic of the astrological planets and stars, then, when we talk about these heavenly beings.  Just as the four elements constitute four essences or qualities of created bodies down here, the stars and planets constitute essences or qualities of motion and action that are performed by bodies down here.  Mars, for instance, cuts off and burns up and produces a heat strong enough to lead people to fight.  Venus, on the other hand, embraces and nourishes and produces a cold mild enough to nurture and join people together.  All the planets, stars, gods, and heavenly beings produce other effects, and they take place down here in the world.  If we understand these influences, we understand what we do when we’re exposed to them, how we internalize and realize them, how we effect them, what they make use of in different situations, and how we can make the best use of them.  We use the immortal beings as a means to knowledge, which is why they exist in the first place.  The immortal beings, just as everything else, are a means by which we can know ourselves.

49 Days of Definitions: Part X, 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 forty-seventh definition, part X, number 5 of 7:

Soul is bound to be born in this world, but Nous is superior to the world.  Just as Nous is unbegotten, so is matter too, (although) it (can be) divided.  Nous is unbegotten, and matter (is) divisible; soul is threefold, and matter has three parts; generation (is) in soul and matter, (but) Nous (is) in God for the generation of the immortal (beings).

Man is a creature composed of a material body inhabited and moved by soul, and the soul of Man (generally) have a contact with and capacity for Nous, or knowledge of God.  Because of the presence of Nous within us, we’re able to use Logos, or reasonable speech, which can help us understand and direct the world around us.  However, it turns out that we’re not the only ones in the game here; the immortal beings in heaven above us also move us down here, and it’s up to us to choose whether to steer ourselves in whichever way we think is best (even if it’s not really good for us) or let the stars and planets and gods steer us in whichever way they think is best.

Of course, the process of even bringing Man into the world is complicated; first Nous makes soul from itself, then soul uses the heavenly beings to create a body, then the soul joins the body at birth.  Souls without bodies are “inert” and motionless, so they can only fulfill their functions when they have a body.  Bodies are material, so they belong in the world; thus, “soul is bound to be born in this world”.  Soul has basically no choice in the matter; if it wants to move and carry out its functions, it must have a body, so the connection between the intelligible soul and sensible body is almost mandated.  However, the soul of Man is blessed with a connection to and part of Nous, and “Nous is superior to the world”.  Although all things in the cosmos exist within and as part of God/Nous, Nous does not blatantly or consciously reside within all things; that’s only given to Man.  This is what allows Man to be both of the world (as far as his body is concerned) and in the world (as far as his soul is concerned).  Nous is not bound to the world; Nous is the world and so much more.

So, it goes without saying that God is unbegotten; God is the creator of all things, and God is both immortal and eternal, so nothing can have created God; God, simply, has always existed.  Thus, “Nous is unbegotten”.  However, what may be surprising is that just as Nous is unbegotten, “so is matter too”.  Thus, not only does the world exist within God, but the world has always existed within God.  There was never a point, except outside of time itself perhaps, when matter and the world did not exist.  God and the world, Nous and matter, have always both existed.  However, we know Nous to be the One, while we can pretty easily pick out different kinds of matter and different numbers of body.  Indeed, “[matter] can be divided”; thus, while matter has always existed, it does not exist in the same forms from moment to moment, and can be broken off or split up or otherwise divided so as to be joined with other matter later on.  Thus, “Nous is unbegotten, and matter is divisible”.  This sounds somewhat like the law of conservation of mass: nothing new was ever brought in, but always existed in some form or another.

So how does soul relate to the material world, besides being in a body?  Well, according to this, “soul is threefold”.  That’s not very helpful, but the footnotes provided by Jean-Pierre Mahé indicate that the “threefold soul” refers to its reasonable, unreasonable, and sensible forms.  By saying that the soul is threefold, I don’t believe that Hermes is saying that we have three souls, but rather that the soul has three “modes”: it can act reasonably, it can act unreasonably, or it can act sensibly.  Reasonable action is when the soul acts agreeably with Nous; unreasonable action is when the soul acts disagreeably to Nous.  Sensible action, however, is when the soul works with the body.  The body contains the sense organs, but it delivers the sensory data to the soul for it to understand and know.  Of course, all this threefold soul stuff only applies to Man, since he’s the only creature endowed with Nous and so can act reasonably or unreasonably.  For all other living creatures, they can neither act reasonably or unreasonably, but only sensibly, since that’s all that’s available to them.

Matter, on the other hand, has “three parts”.  Jean-Pierre Mahé suggests this to mean three dimensions, or that of length, breadth, and depth.  Anything solid must exist in at least three dimensions, since two dimensional objects indicate only flat abstract forms, one dimensional objects indicate direction and motion, and zero dimensional objects indicate infinity, singularity, or nullity.  All bodies exist with three dimensions, in other words, and these things are both quantifiable and qualifiable, since matter brings about these things (VII.4).  We can count how long things are, how fast they may be moving, and so forth.  These things are meaningless outside the sensible world, since these are all sensible qualities and quantities.

One such quantity we can measure is growth, which is continued generation.  How are things generated?  By “soul and matter”; soul is what makes the body and moves it, and by making use of the fluidities of femaleness and maleness as well as the four elements, the soul can direct the body to increase or decrease, or to be born or bear children, and so forth.  Generation and growth exists as a property of matter.  However, what about for things immortal?  Immortal beings are either heavenly, in which case they are made of matter, or immaterial, in which case they have no body at all but are detached from them, e.g. Man.  For the generation of mortal beings, “Nous is in God”.  Nous is immortality, and God is the means by which it is spread and grows.  Nothing can be immortal in the true, unbegotten sense as God or Nous is without Nous, and Nous is perfect truth, which is perfect immortality exceeding that of the heavenly beings.  While birth and death are in soul and matter, truth and perfection are in God.