Mercury as Abyss, Island, and Bridge in the Tetractys

Last time we discussed how we might traverse the Tetractys of Life in pathworking through two sets of paths, collectively termed schemata:

  • The Gnosis Schema consists of 12 paths that link every sphaira on the Tetractys in a pattern not unlike the Mitsubishi logo, looping around through three systems of four spheres each, passing through Mercury multiple times.
  • The Agnosis Schema consists of 12 paths that link all but the Mercury, Monad, Fire, and Earth sphaira together in two cycles, the hexagon and hexagram paths around the Mercury sphaira.

The big difference between these schemata is that the Gnosis Schema allows one to see into the deepest and highest reaches of the cosmos, as well as the Source of the cosmos itself, for theurgical and henosistic purposes, allowing us the choice of reincarnation as we desire until we reach our final henosis with the Monad.  The Agnosis Schema, however, keeps us trapped in a Hermetic samsara of sorts, always flitting around like bats in a cave around real Life and yet just out of reach of real Truth.  In other words, as long as we’re trapped in the Agnosis Schema, we’re not making progress to the real ends of the cosmos where the real treasure lies.  We need to make that schematic leap from Agnosis to Gnosis, and as we discussed before, it all starts with Mercury.


The question is, though, how do we make that leap?  Mercury is at the center of the Tetractys of Life and is connected to all the sphairai but the most extreme ones, that of the Monad, Fire, and Earth.  However, it’s only in the Gnosis Schema that we can get from any of these “middling” sphairai (Darkness, Salt, Water, Air, Sulfur, and Light) to Mercury.  The Agnosis Schema has these middling sphairai all connected to each other but not to Mercury, Monad, Fire, or Earth.  As long as we’re on the Agnosis Schema, we’re barred from attaining access to those spheres, and if we can’t even get to Mercury which is the closest and most easily accessible of them all, how can we even consider being able to get to the Monad?

Thus comes in an idea that’s also present in the Tree of Life, though I’ve seen it far more in Hermetic qabbalah than Jewish kabbalah.  That idea is that of the Veils, though there are two sets in qabbalah, one of two and one of three.  The former set is the one I’m talking about: the Veils of Paroketh and of the Abyss.  In the Tree of Life, the Veil of Paroketh separate the sephiroth from Tiphareth and up from Netzach and below.  The Veil of the Abyss (or, more commonly, the Abyss) separates the sephiroth of Binah and above from Chesed and below, often with the Abyss itself represented by the “false” sephirah (se-faux-rah?) of Da`ath.  The former veil of Paroketh is illusory; there is no real separation between the personal world (represented by the lower four sephiroth) and the interpersonal world (represented by the higher sephiroth), except that of our own making.  By tearing down the veil of our own making, or at least by temporarily parting it, we gain access to higher spiritual truths.  As long as we continue thinking that the world must follow the rules we conceive to be law, and as long as we refuse to accept the universe and the cosmos on its own terms, the veil remains firmly in place.  Leave all that behind, and the veil is easily parted.  The comic series Promethea by Alan Moore gives this scene in bloody detail: on the Kircher Tree, the path that links Tiphareth with Netzach (transcending the Veil) is associated with the letter Nun, given to Scorpio and Tarot trump XIII, Death.  In order to attain new life in the Sun, the protagonists must die, literally rent apart and completely dissected.  It was all an illusion, however, but a painful one all the same to dismember.  By dismembering our preconceptions, we remember the truth of the world.

The Abyss, on the other hand, is much more of a problem on the Tree of Life.  To keep it very simple and brief, almost to the point of a lie, the Abyss is the division of the mundane and the spiritual; it’s the gulf between what the world should be and the world that is damned to be, the mirror between what is and what Is that cannot normally be transcended.  It’s the purpose of the magician or theurgist to transcend this gulf and attain divine understanding, wisdom, and finally the crown of all that exists and not-exists.  It’s a dangerous thing, especially since the Lightning Bolt Path on the Kircher Tree doesn’t actually have a path where it should between Chesed and Binah.  All the same, the Abyss must be transcended and crossed over, and it’s no easy thing.  Some people never do and get lost in it, while others spend a long time in dark places only to come out a completely different person (which is quite the goal of the whole thing).  Going back to Promethea, as opposed to a few pages where Promethea and Barbara crossed the veil of Paroketh, a whole issue was devoted to their crossing the Abyss, and it wasn’t a pleasant or rational part of their journey.

A similar case exists with making the jump from the Agnosis to the Gnosis Schemas.  While we’re stuck in our cycle of mindless and uncontrolled rebirth, we lack the ability to achieve true life, power, and knowledge.  At any stage on the Agnosis Schema, we have the option of going to the sphaira of Mercury or to the nearest extreme sphaira (the one of the same system which belongs to the one one is already in, e.g. if one is in the sphaira of Salt, the nearest extreme sphaira is that of Earth).  However, making the jump from the Agnosis Schema to Mercury on the Gnosis Schema is most important, even though one could feasibly start their path at any point on the Tetractys.  Mercury is the most preferable starting point, because Mercury is a figure of balance and allows one to start with equal footing and a clean spiritual slate; further, given the road-opening, guiding, and quickening abilities of this sphaira, starting with Mercury is arguably the best choice and continuing along the Gnosis Schema paths as normal.

Still, the process of getting from any of the middling sphairai to Mercury is, itself, crossing an abyss of sorts.  It’s not because there’s no path that exists (because Mercury is connected to all the middling spheres), but because the types of path are so divergent from the normal roles of Mercury.  The Agnosis Schema seeks to circumvent Mercury however it can, while the Gnosis Schema leads right to Mercury time and again.  The first abyss we must cross in order to get to Mercury from any of the middling sphairai is that of desire: we must first seek out Mercury, we must first seek the path to take before we even take it.  Once there, we have suddenly jumped to the Gnosis Schema.  As one of the prayers in my gnostic work goes, “in order for us to understand the gnosis, we must first seek a firm foundation”; Mercury provides us with that foundation.  We must first seek our guide, our protector, our initiator to assist us in our real work.  Finding that guide and opening the door is just the beginning to it all; it might be that your guide is Hermes, your Holy Guardian Angel, a yidam, or some other tutelary spirit, but something that guides you along the Gnosis Schema as it applies to you is just about crucial to starting the Work.

But, once we get to Mercury, what then?  If we stay where we are, we’ve crossed the abyss only to be stranded on an island.  If we forget that, hey, we have a cosmos to explore (and then some), reveling in our initiation and fact that we can go anywhere without actually doing so, we end up back on the Agnosis Schema.  But wait!  There are no paths connecting the sphaira of Mercury to anything on the Agnosis Schema, so we end up trapped there.  We end up in a one-node loop; rather than running around in circles, we end up twisting in the wind.  Being trapped in Mercury is always dangerous, not just after our first initiation into the Gnosis Schema, but because we risk this every time we return to Mercury on the Gnosis Schema.

  • We go through the Hot System and we return to Mercury, thrilled that we’ve overcome our obstacles on that part of the cosmos, yet end up burning up too much with joy and think we’ve accomplished and are in charge of everything.  Only by recognizing our inability to act fully within the cosmos and our ultimate nature as finite, non-omniscient, and manipulatable creatures and allowing ourselves to be acted upon can we free ourselves from the Agnostic sphaira of Mercury.
  • We go through the Cold System and we return to Mercury, feeling confident that we understand how things are affected by others in the cosmos, and end up passively waiting for true action to happen to ourselves when we need to accomplish it ourselves.  Only by realizing that we still need to play an active role in the cosmos do we free ourselves from the Agnostic sphaira of Mercury.
  • We go through the Cosmic System and we return to Mercury, catching a glimpse of the Source and really grokking important truths about creation as a whole.  After this, we end up with what Fr. Rufus Opus elegantly calls “insufferableprickitis”, or “Moses Off The Mount Syndrome”.  After all, when Moses came down from the Mount and jamming with the Lord, his face was so radiant and glowing from the divine interaction that he wore a veil to mask himself.  Without wearing the veil (and this isn’t like the veils we discussed above), we come across as a holier-than-thou (even if it’s true) douchebag who thinks they know everything because they had one brush with God.  In this state of pride, we think we’ve done everything there is to do and are confident that we’ve attained the Great Work, when all we’ve done is made a loop around the cosmos once.  We end up stuck at the Agnostic sphaira of Mercury until we realize that there’s still so much more, that no finite amount of practice can truly equate infinite gnosis.

All that being said, while getting to Mercury can be a bitch of an abyss in and of itself, and while visiting Mercury has its own dangers that turn it into a deserted island isolated from the rest of the cosmos, when approached properly and respectfully, Mercury becomes a bridge from something into its complement.  That’s Mercury’s role, after all; to balance things out between opposites.  Mercury is placed between Sulfur and Salt, Light and Water, and Darkness and Air.  We continue on our path of the Gnostic Schema by traversing Mercury and transforming ourselves from one thing into its opposite.  Mercury is not only our beginning but our constant transformation; it is only in the extreme sphairai of the Monad, Earth, and Fire do we have no choice but to continue along our path of Gnosis and keep going in one direction or another without immediate recourse to Mercury.  Mercury, in a sense, is our “home away from home”, our place of respite between systems as well as our nexus of transformation between systems.

We can fall into the Agnosis Schema at any stage of the Gnosis Schema if we linger too long or if we lose our way; with Mercury as our guide leading us away from and towards our cyclical destination, that shouldn’t ideally pose a problem, but we humans (and, for that matter, all entities) are constantly fighting against what we should do, even if it’s a subtle and instinctual reaction.  If we stray from our path even a little bit, we lose our way; if this happens at the Monad or the sphairai of Fire, Earth, or Mercury, then we end up stranded until we loosen ourselves up and make ourselves capable of further progress, or until we strengthen our resolve and continue along the path of transformation.

It’s not that we fall by fate from Gnosis into Agnosis or vice versa, but it’s a choice we make, even if we’re unaware we’re consciously making it and the repercussions of doing so.  Tying the sphaira of Mercury back to its mythological counterpart, Hermes is the god of guides and guide of gods, men, spirits, souls, and heroes.  If we choose to progress along the Gnosis Schema to accomplish the divine imperative given to us, then ouranic (heavenly) Hermes will lead us on; if we choose to linger or abandon that quest, then chthonic (underworld) Hermes will lead us to Styx and leave us there until we dig ourselves out again.  It’s dangerous falling back into Agnosis, especially if we’re at one of the extreme spheres, since we may not be able to find our way back.  Of course, the rules change a bit once we achieve henosis and union with the Monad, where we can freely choose to leave the Tetractys completely and enjoin what becomes of us with the Infinite and Simple, at which point we’ve completed our path and ended up exactly where we need, and no longer need a guide to continue our path.  That said, that’s the endgame, and chances are we’re nowhere near that stage of spiritual evolution yet.  If you were, then I hope your divine prerogative includes something more than reading one magician’s ramblings on the Internet.


Tetractys and Magic

Alright, alright, I can hear some of my readers mutter in the distance.  “Yes, polyphanes, we know you like the Tetractys.  We get it.  You’re on a huge Pythagorean kick lately.  You’ve been on this kick for over a month and a half now.  Yes, it’s awesome.  But what about magic?  What about conjurations and talismans and shit?  When are you going to talk about those things again?”  Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten.  Yes, I admit I’ve been taken with the Tetractys and this new field of occult mathesis as of late, but to be fair, it’s a huge new thing for me that I didn’t expect to develop.  I honestly feel like I should be spending more time on it, more meditation, more scrying, since it’s all so new and, thus, unexplored.  And, to make proper use of it, I feel like more exploration is definitely needed.  Otherwise I’d just be stumbling around with a wand in the dark, and I like to do my research before jumping into anything.

Though, I also have to wonder: what substantially changes if I use the Tetractys of Life instead of the Tree of Life as my core magical framework?  The best answer I have for that is, well, not terribly much.  I mean, the only real kabbalistic thing I use in my work is the use of particular godnames to conjure the planetary and elemental angels under; maybe I rap several times on the altar to open up a ritual, the number corresponding to the spirit’s sephirah; I might occasionally use a number square to charge something upon.  But, really, that’s about it.  The planets, stars, and elements would exist regardless whether I used the Tree, the Tetractys, or neither, as they have for countless other cultures and magicians before me.


The heavens still remain in their usual order, which is probably one thing that neither the Tetractys nor the Tree of Life really affect.  I mean, Saturn is still the next heaven in line under that of the stars, and Jupiter is the next one under Saturn.  In this scheme, there are still ten heavens, with the first one being that of God (Monad) and the last one being that of the Earth (Decad).  Thus, the sphere of the fixed stars is still recognized as the Dyad (2), that of Saturn as the Triad (3), that of Jupiter as the Tetrad (4), and so forth until that of the Moon as the Ennead (9).  The sephiroth are not the planets, and the planets are not the sephiroth; the Tree of Life assimilated the planets into its structure as a later development of the Tree itself, corresponding to the planets without identifying with them.  The planets are still a representation of number, and numeric representations of the planets are still important tools independent of whether they’re placed on the Tetractys or the Tree.  In that light, the magic number squares of the planets can still be used as important tools, and the use of numbers to associate with the planets as well.

In this view, perhaps my idea-in-passing from a ways ago about using a Greek version of the magic number squares could still be used.  After all, the planets are a different realization of number and are associated with the sephiroth, but are not themselves the sephiroth; the number squares are also representations of number in the same way as the planets are.  The magic squares are not kabbalistic in and of themselves in the same way we’d reckon kabbalah; they’re a tool used to understand the kabbalah, but they are not themselves kabbalah.  The only real change to be made here would be to create a set of Greek number squares and find a new set of spirit names to make sigils with; that idea is one I’ll have to pursue for sure.  The hangup I had with that, to be honest, was the fact that I couldn’t easily assign a simple 1-to-10 numbering to each of the dots in the Tetractys.  It’s easier to see the planets or other forces as distinct groups working in tandem with each other on different levels in a conceptual way apart from the nested-spheres view.  The planets are number, too, and with a bit of clever rearrangement can be put into a tetractys of their own.  While I like my arrangement of the planets onto the Tetractys, it’s surely not the only way to do so, though I have good reasons for going with the model I have.

Say some reader says “well, I think the number squares should stick to kabbalah, so we should use another model of numerical mediation”.  Okay, good!  I like making new models and tools.  However, what could be used in their stead?  The regular polygons of a particular number, say?  Well, if you exclude the Monad (which is a simple point) and the Dyad (which is an infinite line or a circle, neither of which are polygons), we run into an issue.  The “true” Greek way of developing a polygon is to use a compass and straightedge, neither of which are marked for degree or length.  While the triangle, square, pentagon, hexagon, octagon, and decagon can be constructed by a compass and straightedge, the heptagon and enneagon cannot.  They can be approximated, sure, but these numbers cannot be made into regular polygons by compass and straightedge alone, similar to the ancient Greek geometrical problems of squaring the circle or doubling the cube.  It’d be like trying to make a magic number square of rank 2, which cannot be done.  While their ideal forms might be good for meditation, it’d be hard to apply those forms in reality or construction of forms.  This itself can be considered a mystery worthy of meditation, but in terms of applying or constructing numbers, I’d prefer number squares myself if the rank of the square is going to be the same as the number of sides of the polygon.

Beyond numbers, what else might have to change?  Colors?  I’ve gotten good enough results with the colors as used in the Golden Dawn Queen and King scales, so I may as well stick to those (though seeing what else the spheres themselves can show me is useful).  Names of spirits?  Obviously, since Greek names and spelling follow radically different rules than Hebrew, but again, those would just have to be obtained through scrying and numerological research.  The associations of other tools, symbols, and the like with the planets is pretty firmly established and I see no reason to change all those.  So, if by and large the major tools of my work aren’t going to change by switching over to the Tetractys from the Tree, what really changes?


The set of paths I have on the Tetractys really don’t work for the Tree of Life; if you try to take the standard ten sephiroth and apply the same paths I have on here, you end up with something resembling metaphysical spaghetti.  While the paths on the Tetractys make sense to me, they cannot be separated from the Tetractys.  The Tetractys offers a radically new meditation and theurgic model of manifestation and understanding how the Divine interacts with all that exists.  That’s the big thing that the mathetic Tetractys provides: a modern Neoplatonic/Neopythagorean model of emanation and divine flow from high to low and back up again.  Unlike the Tree of Life with its neatly-defined start and end points that are so diametrically opposed to each other (due to the Jewish conception of the mortal world being so far removed from the divine), the Tetractys shows how everything is involved in a balanced way in the evolution of everything.  The Monad exists as much as it does down here as it does up there, after all; there’s no need of a God to “recede” from itself to allow for creation within-yet-apart from the rest of its own infinity.  There’s no clean start point for us to use the Tetractys, because not only are we composed of all the forces in the Tetractys, but all of the Tetractys is within us equally and directly.  It might make good sense for us to start with the four elements that compose our bodies and senses of self, but we could easily start with ourselves as a unified whole, or a Monad unto ourselves, and see how we quickly devolve/evolve into a Dyad between ourselves and the rest of the cosmos.

What does the Tetractys really represent?  If the Tetractys is fully present within each of ourselves, then that means we can start anywhere and go anywhere on our personal Tetractyes; we can start at Earth and work our way up through the elements, then the reagents, then the principles, all the way up to the Monad and back down to Earth; we can start at Fire and sublimate ourselves to Nothingness and back down to pure matter once more.  The Tetractys of Life is less about state than it is about process, less about what we are and more about how we come to be in every passing moment.  It’s the connections that we should study, I claim, since that’s where the real beauty and action happens.  Once we understand how we work internally, then we can start expanding outwards and relating ourselves to the rest of the cosmos.  I mean, if each of us is an individual Tetractys in the world, then we’re each our own monads, each taking part in an even larger Tetractys that connects and binds us all together.  Once we can understand the grander connections, we can scale back down and back up in a neverending Tetractys fractal, understanding how the cosmos as a whole is based on the same principles we are, and how we can use the same processes with different materia at different levels.  After all, ten monads does not a decad make; it’s the connections and processes between them that link them together into an ordering, a kosmos of its own.

While the Tree of Life in Jewish kabbalah was originally intended to be used as a mediation model to indicate the interaction of the Creator with Creation, and eventually picked up associations and correspondences to further those meditations, Hermeticists and occultists generally took qabbalah into their own hands as a model of magic and system of correspondences as a cosmological framework.  I don’t consider this an abuse of kabbalah, but I do consider it (at worst) a misuse of the system generally, especially when many people don’t have the required background to fully explore kabbalah as it’s meant to be studied and used.  In the same way, I don’t intend for this Tetractys of Life to be used as a system of correspondences but, again, as a meditative and theurgic blueprint for understanding how things come to be.  Tables of correspondence exist aplenty; good meditative models are harder to come by.

Magically, the use of the letters on the Tetractys’ paths deserves exploration.  For instance, the path between Venus/Water and Jupiter/Air is connected by Nu/Scorpio.  And, while the exact correspondences between the signs of the Zodiac and alchemy differ from tradition to tradition, the most common association I’ve seen with Scorpio is the process of Separation, where a mixture of two or more substances into distinct groups, usually with one of the components of the original mixture enriched in one of its resulting groups.  Air and Water are closely related, both being moist and easily blended with other substances, but it’s by their separation that we can see warm air rising and cool water falling, as in the Poemander’s description of the creation of the world.  Alchemically, we can understand separation in this sense of refining a particular lump of mass within a mixture, but we can also see it in other occult ways, too, such as whittling down extraneous forces to get to the heart of a particular matter or spirit.  We know that the path of Nu is a “lower register” in the Tetrad as the single path is directly above it in the Dyad is, or the path of Nu compared with the path of Xi, which we know is associated with Water, that which permits change and flow.  While Air connects and diffuses itself, Water flows and changes things, cutting certain areas off from others or whisking things away from one place to another.  Water is a form of separation, as separation is a representation of Water.

So now that I’ve thought about the place of the Tetractys of Life in magic a bit more, it doesn’t really have as big an effect on my magical practice as I thought it might have (or worried it might have).  Kabbalah was famous for crossing religions and traditions and incorporating more and more tools into its own toolbox; why not let mathesis do the same a bit, especially from those parts that themselves came from Neoplatonism or Pythagoreanism?  My day to day magical practice and religious offerings are going to be maintained, and the colors and materials of my talismans won’t change much if at all.  I will need to make versions of the magic squares using Greek letters and go through the planets and start getting new spirit names (as well as to figure out why there’s a “spirit of spirits” and “intelligence of intelligences” for the Moon and the like from the spirits themselves), but that’s something that we could all make do with, after all.

Oh, and names of God?  I haven’t forgotten about those, either.  Making use of my names of God from my first foray into making a Greek kabbalah, let’s see what we have.  First, recall that the Tetractys is composed of four ranks: a Monad, Dyad, Triad, and Tetrad.  I temporarily propose these names of God for these ranks, all based on Revelation 1:8, which contains all these names of God (attributes, really, but eh):

  1. ho Kyrios, “the Lord”
  2. hē Arkhē kai to Telos, “the First and the Last”
  3. ho Ēn kai ho Ōn kai ho Erkhomenos, “He who Was and Is and Is to Come”.
  4. ho Pantokratōr, “the All-Ruler”

All are God, of course, and the overall monadic name could easily be God (ho Theos), the Aeon (ho Aiōn), the Whole (to Holon), and so forth.  Personally, I’m getting into the habit of using Aiōn or Iaō as my primary go-to names of God, though my old Stoic inclinations always keeps the Whole nearby in my mind.  So, in conjurations, I’ll test how the use of these specific names work, though I’ll also shoot for other names to see whether other appellations or descriptors of God work better, or whether there are more secret names of God to be used.  Who knows?  As this Tetractys model of magic develops, maybe these names’ll be obsoleted in favor of others, or another method can be used entirely.

Emanation in Qabbalah versus Mathesis

So, in the meantime of developing the Tetractys of Life and starting to use more Pythagorean and classical Neoplatonic ideas in my studies of the occult, I think I’ve finally found a word that accurately captures what I want to name this system.  The broader system in Hermeticism and Western occulture is qabbalah (or Jewish kabbalah or Christian cabala, to use different spellings to indicate different traditions).  All these words have the same root in Hebrew: קַבָּלָה‎, meaning “tradition” or “reception”.  I’ve been using a Greek transcription of this word, καμπαλα or “kampala”, to describe my Pythagorean-Neoplatonic system, but this is still basically the same word, and I’m developing it to a point where it doesn’t really fit into the qabbalistic scheme anymore.  After thinking about the thing I’m developing and going through some Greek dictionaries, I think I’ve found a word to name this new system of occult thought: μαθησις, or “mathēsis”, which means “the act of learning” or “obtaining knowledge”.  This word is related to our word “mathematic“, which itself comes from Greek meaning “scientific, disposed to learn”, itself from Greek μαθημα, or “that which is learnt”.  While this Tetractys of Life and everything are things to be learned, sure, they’re all tools to learn more.  Hence, the broader system I want to call is appropriately mathēsis, a term that’s been used before in the pre-modern and modern Western world by philosophers such as Descartes and Leibniz to describe a hypothetical universal science modeled on mathematics.  And, well, since Pythagoras established that everything is number and (in our modern sense) mathematical, this isn’t too bad a term.  To that end, I’ve gone through and labeled all the Towards a Greek Kabbalah posts (which are their own blog project in their own right) under the category of mathesis.

Alright, so, labels and terms are out of the way.  I want to talk about emanation in mathēsis and how it compares to qabbalah, because there’s a critical difference between the two that really should be understood.  While I originally set out to develop a qabbalah-like system based on Greek mathematical and grammatomantic principles that essentially shared the same ideas, I ended up with a much different beast of a cosmology than I had anticipated.  For instance, consider the idea of emanationism, where successively more complex forms of existence and reality develop or flow forth both within and from a higher and more primitive source.  This is distinct from creationism, where things are made as they are without successive steps by an external creator, and from materialism, where things come about from other things without a metaphysical origin.  The idea of emanationism is replete throughout many forms of the occult, not least in both Pythagorean, Neoplatonic, and mystic Jewish thought.  It can be seen in both the kabbalistic Tree of Life as well as in this new mathetic Tetractys of Life, but not in the same way.

For instance, consider the Tree of Life in qabbalah.  There are ten sephiroth, each assigned a particular number from 1 to 10 and descending from the top to the bottom.  Each sephirah represents a different attribute or aspect of the one God, or a different way God expresses his will.  There exists a particular set of paths, collectively termed the Lightning Bolt Path, that hits each sphere in sequence from Kether to Chokmah to Binah all the way down to Malkuth.  This describes the emanation of the cosmos from God in successive forms, ultimately culminating in our existence down here on Earth.  This also ties in (or perhaps founded?) the notion of an Idea of God descending through the many spheres of Heaven, hitting each planet in turn, building up more form and density until it hit our lowest Earth-plane, finally becoming a manifest Thing.  There is one Source and one Goal, clearly marked out with clearly defined stages in between.

The Tetractys of Life also describes emanation, but not in the same way.  Like the Tree of Life, there are ten spheres or units, each representing an aspect of creation in a different manner.  Like the Tree of Life, there is one Monad at the top, the undifferentiated and divinely simple source of all things.  Like the Tree of Life, the Tetractys of Life describes an emanatory or development of creation from the top down.  However, that’s where the similarities end.  Instead of having each sphere on the Tetractys represent a different emanation or stage in existence, the Tetractys shows emanation based on the rank of the Tetractys; instead of going One-Two-Three-…-Ten, it goes Monad-Dyad-Triad-Tetrad.  In other words, there are only four stages of emanation in the Tetractys compared to the ten in the Tree.  The emanatory dyadic principles of Light and Dark  occur simultaneously and as two parts of a whole, not in a sequence.  They are different, but they are in a kind of super-alchemical marriage as One, since they both come from One.  Likewise, the emanatory triadic reagents of Salt, Mercury, and Sulfur occur simultaneously as a result of the marriage between Light and Dark, as do the emanatory tetradic substances of the four elements from the harmony of the three reagents.  And, from these four substances, all of material creation is made.

Why is this significant?  Because we have different notions of a “starting point” when working with the Tree and with the Tetractys.  With the Tree, we can all safely agree that we’re down here in the tenth sephirah of Malkuth, and it’s our job to rise through the sephiroth in the reverse order compared to how we got here.  With the Tetractys, however, there is no single starting point; our starting point is below the Tetractys, in the unnumbered and implied pentad of all the things that exist, the symbol of which is the pentagram and which represents the Divine Proportion (φ).  In that sense, our starting point is below the Tetrad working within as a Pentad, itself not represented on the Tetractys.  The Tetractys is the source of life but is not itself life in the same sense that the Monad is the source of existence but is itself neither existence nor nonexistence.  We must first understand how the Pentad comes forth from the Tetrad, then the Tetrad from the Triad, then so forth back to the Monad.


So, rather than thinking of each of the ten spheres in the Tetractys as a separate stage of emanation, it’s more proper to understand mathetic emanation as occurring in four stages (divine simplicity, differentiation, system, embodiment) compared to the qabbalistic ten.  And, within each stage, there are different forces at work that represent how that emanation of the cosmos takes place.  While the Tetractys of Life illustrates the different types of forces within each rank of the Tetractys, this is only an ideal representation, much as the Bohr representation of atoms is convenient to understand ideal spatial relationships between an atom’s nucleus and electrons, but in reality the electrons move in indeterminate electron clouds where either the speed or location of a subatomic particle may be known but not both at the same time.  In other words, Light and Dark take place at the same time and interchangeably within the Dyad, as do the three reagents within the Triad, as do the four elements within the Tetrad.  We may find it easy to focus on one element, reagent, or principle at the same time, but this is a hyperfocused and ultimately false distinction that isn’t true on a fundamental level.  That said, on a fundamental level, everything is already part of One and is One, much as the distinction between the sephiroth in qabbalah is only apparent from the point of view of the Created and not of the Creator.

So why am I clarifying the notion of emanation when studying mathesis in using the Tetractys of Life?  Because it requires a different sort of understanding of the cosmos than what we’re used to thinking based on the Tree of Life in qabbalah, which is arguably the starting point for much of Western occultism today.  Why does this matter?  Because I ran into the practical problem of trying to assign numbers from 1 to 10 to each of the spheres in the Tetractys.  I wanted to link the spheres on the Tetractys to the sephiroth in some way, or find some sort of numerical sequence for the forces in the Tetractys, so I could link these spheres to other types of magical technology and techniques.  For instance, consider magic squares, the qameas of the planets.  If the planet Saturn is corresponded to the sephirah of Binah, and Binah’s number in the order of emanation is three, then three is the qabbalistic number of Saturn.  Thus, the magic square or qamea of Saturn is a 3 × 3 grid of numbers from 1 to 9 (or 3²), upon which we can plot qabbalistic names and sigils of various spirits and concepts related to the sphere of Saturn.  I personally like the use of magic squares in magic, and I wanted to find a particular way to develop a set of magic squares to each of the forces in the Tetractys of Life.  However, after a good amount of reflection and late-night thinking, I couldn’t find a way to suitably number the spheres on the Tetractys outside their non-sequential lambdoma numbering.  Because I can’t (yet?) think of a way to sequentially number the spheres in the Tetractys, this makes it cut off from systems such as qabbalah and much of qabbalah-influenced magical tech; at the same time, trying to force on a numbering system like this seems ill-advised, like trying to square the circle when the two cannot be done except at a higher level.

In this case, if we have a collection of points that themselves are unordered, are we up Styx creek without a paddle?  Not at all.  The use of algebra and arithmetic weren’t the preferred means of mathematics back in Pythagorean thought, but rather geometry.  And, understanding the four ranks of the Tetractys to refer to geometric forms, we have a 0-dimensional figure as the Monad (a single point), a 1-dimensional figure as the Dyad (two points form a line), a 2-dimensional figure as the Triad (three points form a plane or a triangle), and a 3-dimensional figure as the Tetrad (four points form a solid or a tetrahedron).  Geometry, then, might be a better route to go to understand the various forces represented within each rank of the Tetractys than number squares or knocking on an altar a particular number of times.  The Tetractys is slowly but surely showing me a new way to understand the cosmos and how to apply myself within it and to it both theurgically and thaumaturgically; what new tech it’ll lead me to, I don’t yet know, but I’m excited to find out.

Towards a Greek Kabbalah: Why the Alexandrian Tree Isn’t Really a Thing

So, let’s clear up some naming terminology before we continue this thread of thought.  Because there are different traditions of qabbalah depending on religion, I’m going to differentiate between them all using the following spellings:

  • Kabbalah (with “k”): Jewish
  • Qabbalah (with “q”): Hermetic
  • Cabala (with “c”): Christian
  • Kampala (with “k” but “mp” instead of “b”): my new Greek framework

Alright.  If I want to end up with what’s effectively a Greek kabbalah, the system of kampala is going to need to fulfill several requirements:

  1. Provide a cosmological framework that allows for the ten spheres of the cosmos (Earth, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Fixed Stars, Divinity)
  2. Provide a cosmological map that allows for traversing the spheres of the cosmos with paths that connect them together
  3. Provide a mapping between the paths of the map with the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet
  4. Provide a means of starting from awareness on the Earth sphere (where the majority of us live and operate on a day-to-day basis) and reaching any other sphere by means of the paths, especially that of Divinity
  5. Provide a description of the creation of the cosmos by means of the cosmological framework and mapping
  6. Provide a means of correspondence to link other forces, concepts, objects, etc. to the paths and spheres on the framework and map
  7. Be rooted primarily in Neoplatonic and Pythagorean thought, referencing Hermeticism as necessary without relying on explicitly Jewish principles that are not also present in Hermeticism

I’m sure there will be other requirements as we come along, but so far, so good.

The whole business with wanting to work with a Greek kabbalah started when I found the Rosicrucian Archives site, which contains a series of posts describing a Greek kabbalah with a Tree of Life with 24 paths.  The spheres themselves are the same as those of the sephiroth on the Jewish Tree, just with their names in Greek.  Most of the paths are the same as on the standard Hermetic qabbalah tree, except that two paths were removed (between spheres 2/6 and 3/6) and four paths were added (between spheres 3/4, 2/5, 1/5, and 1/4).  The paths were numbered in a different way than the Golden Dawn did with their Kircher tree, with the first letter of the Greek alphabet Alpha being assigned to the path between spheres 9/10 and working upward from there.  The picture they use is highly similar to the one given in Stephen Flowers’ Hermetic Magic: The Postmodern Papyrus of Abaris, where he gives the image as “the form of the Kabbalistic ‘Tree of Life’ as it might have been framed by the Hellenistic cosmologists” when giving an overview of Neoplatonic cosmology.  Both trees are presented below; the paths are the same, as far as I can tell, while the names differ slightly for the spheres.

It’s an interesting Tree, and the analysis the Rosicrucian Archives gives to describe the internal logic of the Tree is a fascinating read, though with a sometimes purposely obtuse and obnoxiously mysterious style.  They also use the same stoicheic associations I do when assigning the Greek letters to the planets, elements, and Zodiac signs, which is a nice addition, and make use of those distinctions an important part in their analysis.  As might be expected from a Rosicrucian organization, the analysis is steeped in Christian theology, which is appropriate and not that much a stretch; after all, if Hebrew is the language of the Jews, Greek can arguably be said to be the language of the early Christians, especially since that’s the original script of the New Testament.  Stephen Flowers, on the other hand, leaves much more wanting when it comes to describing the Tree and kabbalah generally; he claims that “it has long been suspected that the cosmology of the Hebrew Kabbalah—as outlined in the Sefer Yetzirah and the Zohar—was based on a now lost Greek original”.  Mentally, I’m just throwing in [citation needed] tags all over his book nowadays, though it was useful to get started with as a basic, though fanciful, primer.  He claims that the “restored [Neoplatonic kabbalah] is based on simple principles using the classic cosmological pattern inherited by the Hebrew Kabbalah together with what we know of the Hellenistic philosophical tradition”.

If anything in this world is simple, the cosmology and patterns present in Jewish kabbalah aren’t it.

At any rate, I liked this schema, since it already fit nicely with what I already do and simply changed a few of the paths near the top of the Tree around.  Nothing big, right?  Well, as my ponderings from last time indicated, the more I thought about it, the less I wanted to work with this system.  What was substantially different?  Different numbering of the paths?  Big deal, plenty of Trees have been used by different traditions with different success.  Different associations of stoicheia on the paths?  Crowley himself changed the Star and Emperor, and thus their stoicheia, around on the Golden Dawn Tree.  Different paths towards the top?  Even the Golden Dawn had the use of several Trees, as did the Jewish kabbalists before them.  Even with the different coating of Greek bark, the Tree was still kabbalah, and relies on connections and culture that don’t fit quite right for me.  Even though it’s used by most modern Western magicians nowadays, what (maybe) works for them doesn’t dictate what will work for me.

Besides, even as a matter of correctness, there’s no real evidence to show that this Alexandrian Tree of Life is anything more than a fanciful mental exercise in what I was going to get myself engaged with.  Kieren Barry in his “The Greek Qabalah” describes many uses of the Greek letters in understanding the forces of the cosmos, but (chapter 6):

On the evidence we have seen, it is plainly incorrect to state that there are only a few correspondences to the letters of the Greek alphabet along the lines of those found much later in the Hebrew Qabalah.*  It is also anachronistic, as well as completely pointless, to attempt to project Hebrew Qabalistic symbolism onto the Greek alphabet, or to imagine anything so historically impossible as an “Alexandrian Tree of Life,” as has been done.**  It is hoped that the extensive Greek letter symbolism examined above is enough to put an end to any perceived need for this unnecessary practice by those with a background in Hebrew Qabalah.

* (47) See for example, D. Godwin, Light in Extension—Greek Magic from Modern to Homeric Times (St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1992), pp. 197-198.  Through historical error, Godwin also unfortunately alleges that the Milesian system “which seems to have originated around 400 B.C., more or less copies the Hebrew/Phoenician system”; all of which is quite wrong.
** (48) See for example, S. Flowers, Hermetic Magic (York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, 1995), a forgettable mixture of historical fact and personal fantasy.

In other words, Barry is of the opinion that the Greek letters are alive and well with their own internal symbolism and meaning, as well as those of the stoicheia behind them linking them to the elements and astrology, but nothing in the classical world along the lines of today’s kabbalah with the Hebrew script.  Like Greek letters, Hebrew letters have their own symbolism and biographies, with whole personalities and worlds within each letter.  Greek letters have the same, tailored just for themselves and not borrowed from another script.  To borrow the meanings of Hebrew kabbalistic practice, though, into Greek wholesale is folly.

Barry says that “the extensive Greek letter symbolism examined above is enough to put an end to any perceived need for this unnecessary practice [of making an Alexandrian Tree] by those with a background in Hebrew Qabalah”, and I agree with him.  However, where we may diverge (he’s not explicit with this) is that I think a method of understanding a creation of the world by letters, which are numbers, in a systematic and coherent way is worthy of our attention.  Thus, if the Alexandrian Tree of Life won’t do, something else needs to be made in its place that not only achieves the same ends but in a way more faithful to the Greek philosophic tradition.