THE HERMETIC PHILOSOPHY
Tria sunt mirabilia. Deus et Homo. Mather et Virgo. Trinus et Unus.
THERE is only one eternal truth and consequently only one divine wisdom. If we wanted to trace the history of those in whom that wisdom became manifest back to their origin, we would have to step out of time and space and enter into eternity. We would have to go back to the first days of creation, when “the spirit of God moved upon the waters,” when the “first initiator” (1) instructed a race of semi-spiritual beings, constituted very differently from the human beings as we now know them upon this planet. The externally reasoning historian speaks of the wisdom-religion of the ages, as if it were some system invented by man and evolved from the gradually unfolding speculative power of the reasoning intellect; but the Occultist knows that divine wisdom is eternal and always the same; all that differs is the form of its manifestation, according to the capacity of the minds in which it seeks for expression. A history of the doctrines of the Rosicrucians might, therefore, begin with an exposition of the doctrine of the Vedas or the ancient books of Egypt; but as these subjects have been extensively treated in H. P. Blavatsky’s “Secret Doctrine” and other books, we will merely see in what shape the hermetic philosophy presented itself to the minds of the neoplatonic philosophers.
Tilts philosopher, who lived about ago A.D., was the founder of the Neoplatonic School. He was the son of Christian parents, and received a Christian education, . but departed from this system and became a “philosopher.” He gained a living by carrying burdens for pay, and yet he was one of the greatest philosophers of that age, and well acquainted with the Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy. His disciples were Erennios, Origenes, Plotinus, and Longinus.
Plotinus was born at Lykopolis in Egypt in the year 205 A.D. He received his education at Alexandria. He took part in the war of the Emperor Gordianus in Persia, and went afterwards to Rome, where he established his school of philosophy. Here he obtained great renown and was respected by all. It is said that during the 26 years he lived in Rome he did not have a single enemy. Even the Emperor Gallienus, one of the greatest villains, respected and honoured him.
Plotinus fell sick. As the physician Eustachius entered the room in which Plotinus was dying, the latter exclaimed, joyfully, “I am now going to unite the God that lives within myself with the God of the Universe.”
The mind of Plotinus was continually directed towards the Divine genius who accompanied him,—his own higher self. He cared little about his physical body, and having been asked about the day when the latter was born, he refused to tell it, saying that such a trifling matter was of too little importance to waste any words about.
Phenomenal existence was to him an error, a mistake, a low and undesirable condition, union with the Divine principle the highest aim of existence. He ate very little, took no meat, and lived a life of chastity. Porphyry, another one of the disciples of Saccas, having become envious of the renown of Plotinus, attempted to use black magic against him, but without success; and finally said that the soul of Plotinus was so strong that the most powerful Will directed against his soul could not penetrate it, and rebounded upon the sender. Plotinus, however, felt that magic influence, and expressed himself to that effect.
According to the philosophy of Plotinus, God is the foundation of all things. There is only one Substance; Matter and Form are merely illusions, or shadows of the Spirit. God is eternal and everywhere. He is pure light, a Unity, the basis of all existence and thought. The Mind (νοῦς) is the image of this Unity; it is, so to say, the image created by the Eternal by looking within itself. Thus the Mind is the product or creation of God, and yet God itself, and receiving its power from the latter. The Mind is the eternal activity of the Eternal. It is Light, primordial and unchangeable. Thought and every thinkable object exists within the mind. The world of Mind is the internal world; the external, sensual world is the external expression of the former. Mind being a Unity, and all beings and objects consisting of Mind substance, all are fundamentally identical, but they differ in form.
The activity by which the inner world of Mind came into existence is an interior power acting towards the centre. If an external world, corresponding to the inner world, is to come into existence, there must be another activity by which this internal activity is reversed, so as to be directed towards the periphery. This centrifugal activity is the Soul, a product or reaction of the centripetal activity of the Mind, in other words a product of Thought, entering within itself.
There is a universal law according to which something real may produce something approaching its own state of perfection, but not quite as perfect as itself, and therefore the activity of the soul resembles the activity of the mind, but is not as perfect as the latter.
The Soul, like the Mind, is living thought, but unlike the Mind, subject to continual change. The soul, unlike the mind, does not see things within her own self, but sees them in the mind. The activity of the soul is directed outwardly, that of the mind inwardly; the perceptions of the soul are not so clear as those of the mind. The soul, like the mind, is a kind of light; but while the light of the mind is self-luminous, that of the soul is a reflection of the former.
According to the eternal laws of order and harmony existing in the whole organism of Nature, all souls become after a certain time separated from the mind, or—to express it more correctly—the distance between the soul and the centre of mind increases, and they assume a more material state. Moving away from the Divine intelligence they enter the state of matter, they descend into matter. At each step towards materialization their forms become more dense and material, the souls in the air have an airy, those upon the earth an earthly material form. The activity of the soul produces other and secondary activities. Some of the latter have an upward tendency, others follow lower attractions. The upward-tending activities are Faith, Aspiration, Veneration, Sublimity, etc.; the downward tendencies produce reasoning, speculations, sophistry, etc.; the lowest activity of the soul is the purely vegetative power, sensation, assimilation, instinct, etc.
The ultimate aim of the activity of Nature is the attainment of self-knowledge. Whatever Nature produces in a visible form, has also a supersensual form, giving shape to gross matter, so that the form may become an object for recognition. Nature is nothing but a living soul, she is the product of a higher, interior activity, the Universal Mind. There is only one fundamental living power in Nature, the power to imagine; there is only one result of the activity of this power, formation, or perception of form, and the same process which takes place in Nature, takes place in the nature of man.
All formations of matter are produced by the soul residing therein. All forms are filled with an interior life, even if not manifested outwardly. The Earth is like the wood of a tree, wherein life exists; the stones resemble twigs which have been cut off from the tree. In the stars, as well as in the Earth, is Divine Life and Reason.
The sensual world and each existence therein has an interior soul, and this soul is all that is lasting about those forms; the external appearance is nothing more than an appearance.
The World of Intelligence, is an unchangeable living Unity wherein there is no separation by space or change in time. In that world exists everything that is, but there is neither production nor destruction, neither past nor future. It is not in space, and requires no space. If we say the world of intelligence is everywhere, we mean to express the idea that it is in its own being, and, therefore, within itself.
The world of Intelligence is the world of Spirit. There is a supreme Intelligence, wherein are germinally (potentially) contained all objects and all intellects, and there are as many individual intellects as can possibly be contained in that world of intelligence. The same may be said about the Soul. There is a supreme Over-Soul, and as many individual souls as can be contained therein; and the latter stand in the same relationship to the former as a species to the one class to which it belongs. There are different kinds of species in a class, yet all originate in the latter. Each species has a character of its own. Likewise, in the intellectual world there must be some certain qualities to produce souls of various kinds, and the souls must be in possession of various degrees of thought-power, else they would all be identical in every detail.
There is nothing absolutely without Reason in Nature, although the manifestations of the principle differ vastly in the various forms. Even animals, which seem to be unreasonable, possess a reason which guides their instincts. Everything that exists has its origin in Reason, and there can be nothing absolutely unreasonable in Nature; but there are innumerable modes in which Reason becomes manifest, because these manifestations are modified by external and internal conditions and circumstances. The inner, spiritual man is far more reasonable than the external one. In the external world Reason manifests itself as observation, logic and speculation; but in the world of intelligence Reason is manifest in direct perception of the truth.
The aim of the internal action of reason is to produce an objective form. As differentiation proceeds and the various powers unfold, they continually lose some of their attributes, and the ultimate products are less perfect than the original power; but the circumstances in which they are placed give rise to the origin of new attributes, and thus a step is made towards rising again into a higher state.
Thus the world of intelligence is a radiation from the fundamental original centre, and the world which we perceive with our senses is a product of the world of intelligence. The state of imperfection and mutability of all things in the external world is caused by their remoteness from the great centre. The Universe is a product of three fundamental principles of existence; it is a great living being or organism, in which all its constituent parts are intimately connected together, and no part in that universe can act without causing a certain reaction in all other, even distant parts because throughout the whole there is only one soul, whose activity, manifesting itself in all parts, constitutes the organism of the whole. All parts are connected together by that universal power which constitutes the One Life in the universe. All souls lead, so to say, amphibious existences. Sometimes they are attracted more to the sensual plane and become interwoven with the latter; at other times they follow the attraction of Reason, from whence they originated, and may become united with it. The soul ultimately becomes divided, the higher elements rise to the higher planes, the lower ones sink still lower when they are no more held up by their connection with the higher ones. Whenever the incarnation of a human being takes place, the soul furnishes the mortal body with some of her own substance, but she does not, as a whole, belong to the body; and only that part of the soul which has become thoroughly amalgamated with the body takes part in the pains and pleasures of the latter. Man’s evil desires come only from that part of his soul, which is thus mixed with the body, and, therefore, the evil consequences of man’s evil actions befall merely the animal man—that is to say, his living animal principle—but not the real man or the spirit, connected with the higher elements of the soul. The more the soul is attracted to the vulgar and low, the more grossly material will the organism with which she clothes herself become. After death the gross substances must be purified or destroyed, while the pure elements rise up to the source from whence they came, until the time for a new incarnation in a form of flesh has arrived. This process is repeated until the soul has attained sufficient knowledge to become inaccessible to the attraction of that which is low. In this sense man’s terrestrial existence may well be looked upon as being a punishment for harbouring evil desires and inclinations. Intellectual labour is an activity belonging to a lower state of existence, and is necessary because the original faculty of the soul of directly perceiving the truth has been lost. If the soul desires to obtain this faculty again, she must free herself from all intellectual conceptions, and penetrate into the formless. If she desires to reach up to the original inconceivable fountain of all, she must leave her own conceptions behind, she must become free from all sensual perceptions and intellectual speculations, free of thought and speech, and live in a state of spiritual contemplation. That which is beyond intellectual conception can be seen, but can neither be conceived nor described in words. Seeing is better than believing, knowledge is better than logis; spiritual knowledge is one, but human science is a multiplicity, and has nothing to do with the eternal Unity, from which all things take their origin.
It is of the utmost importance that men should be instructed about their own nature, their origin, and their ultimate destiny; because an intellectual person is not inclined to undertake a labour, unless he is convinced about its usefulness. Spiritual perception is a power, which cannot be imparted, but which must be gained by effort.
If a person does not know that such a power exists, or if he cannot realize its usefulness, he will make no efforts to attain that state, his mind will remain without illumination, and he will not be able to see the truth. He may feel the existence of the truth, like a man may feel love for an unknown ideal, of which he does not know whether or not it exists; but he whose mind is illumined sees the object of his love, the light which illumines the world. This light is present everywhere. But it exists relatively only for those who are able to see, perceive, feel, and embrace it, by reason of their own similarity to it. To make the matter still more comprehensible, let us say that if the soul throws off her impediments and enters that state again in which she originated from the Eternal, then will she be able to see and fed the Eternal. If, after having received these instructions, a person is too indolent to follow them, he will have no one to blame but himself if he remains in darkness. Let all, therefore, try to tear themselves loose from that which is low and sensual, and become united with the supreme power of God. If you desire to find the Supreme, you must free your thoughts of all impressions coming from the external world, purify your mind of all figures, forms, and shapes.
God is present in all, even in those who do not recognise Him; but men flee from God, they step out of Him, or, to speak more correctly, out of themselves. They cannot grasp Him before whom they are thus fleeing, and, having lost themselves, they hunts after other gods. But if the soul progresses on the road to perfection, begins to realize her own higher state of existence, to know that the fountain of eternal life is within herself, and that she, therefore, has no need to hunt after external things, but can find all that is desirable in the divine element within herself; if she begins to understand that in that God within is her whole life and being, and that she must flee from the realm of illusions to live and exist in Him, then will the time come when she will be able to see Him, and to see herself as an ethereal being, illumined by a super-terrestrial light. She will see herself even as the pure Divine Light itself, as a God, radiant in beauty, but becoming dark again as her light is rendered heavy if it approaches the shadows of the material plane.
Why does not the soul remain in that state of light? Merely because she has not yet freed herself fully from the attractions of matter. If she has become entirely free of these attractions, she will remain in that light, and know that she is one with it. In this state there is no perceiver and no object of perception, there is merely perception, and the soul is that which she perceives. She is, for the time being, identified with the object of her perception, and, therefore, this state is something beyond the intellectual comprehension of man.
Having been united and identical with it, the soul carries its image within herself when she returns to herself. She then knows that during the time of her union with the Eternal she was the Eternal itself, and there was no difference between herself and the former. In herself there was no motion, no sensation, no desire after anything else, neither was there thought nor conception. She was exalted and resting in her own being, she was, so to say, rest itself, in a state surpassing all conceptions of beauty or virtue. A soul entering into this sublime state, in which there is no form and no image, cannot be supposed to enter anything illusive. A soul which sinks into illusions degrades herself, and enters the region of evil and darkness; but the exalted soul enters into herself; she is then neither in a state of being nor of non-being, but in one which is inconceivable and above all being.
This philosopher was a disciple of Plotinus, and was born in Batanea, in Syria, in the year 233 A.D. He died at Rome in the year 304 A.D. He says that only one single time during his life did he succeed in obtaining his union with God, while his teacher Plotinus, was four times blessed in this manner. Porphyry says, in regard to the Soul:—The embodied soul is like a traveller who has lived a long time among foreign nations, and has, therefore, not only forgotten the costumes of his own country, but also adopted those of the foreigners. When such a traveller returns from his voyage, and desires to be welcomed by his friends and relatives, he attempts to lay off his foreign manners, and to return again to his former way of acting and thinking. Likewise the soul, while banished from her celestial home, and being forced to inhabit a physical form, acquires certain habits from the latter, and if she desires to return to her former state, she must lay aside all she has adopted from her terrestrial form. She must try to put off not merely the gross physical mask in which she is dressed, but also her more interior envelopes, so that she may enter, so to say, in a state of nudity into the realm of bliss.
There are two poisonous sources from which man drinks oblivion of his former condition, and which cause him to become forgetful of his future destiny, namely sensual pain and sensual pleasure. By the action of these two, but especially by the action of the latter, desires and passions are created, and these attract the soul to matter and become the cause of her corporification. Thus the soul is, so to say nailed to the body, and the ethereal vehicle of the soul is rendered heavy and dense. We should avoid everything which may excite sensuality, because wherever sensuality is active, reason and pure intelligence cease their activity. We should, therefore, never eat for the mere pleasure of eating, but only eat as much as is necessary to nourish the body. Superfluous, and especially animal food, strengthens the bonds which bind the soul to matter, and withdraw her from the Divinity and from divine things. The wise, being a priest of God, should seek to remain free of all impurities while he is in the temple of Nature, and he should never so far forget his dignity as to approach the Source of all Life while he himself constitutes a grave for the dead bodies of animals. He should select for his nutriment only the pure gifts of his terrestrial mother. If we could avoid all kind of food, we should become still more spiritual.
In regard to the difference existing between corporeal and incorporeal things, Porphyry says:—”The Incorporeal governs the Corporeal, and is, therefore, present everywhere, although not as space, but in power. The corporeal existence of things cannot hinder the Incorporeal from being present to such things as it desires to enter into relation with. The Soul has therefore the power to extend her activity to any locality she may desire. She is a power which has no limits, and each part of her, being independent of special conditions, can be present everywhere, provided she is pure and unadulterated with matter. Things do not act upon each other merely by the contact of their corporeal forms, but also at a distance, provided they have a soul, because the higher elements of the soul are everywhere, and cannot be enclosed in a body, like an animal in a cage, or a liquid in a bottle. The universal soul, being essentially one and identical with the infinite supreme Spirit, may, by the infinite power of the latter, discover or produce everything, and an individual soul may do the same thing if she is purified and free from the body.”
“The realm of the soul, being semi-material, has its inhabitants possessing semi-material (astral) forms. Some of them are good, others evil; some are kindly disposed towards man, others are malicious. Both classes have ethereal but changeable bodies; the good ones are masters of their bodies and desires, the evil ones are governed by the desires of their bodies. They are all powers for good or for evil, divine, animal, or diabolic invisible influences creating, by their interior activity, passions, desires, vices, and virtues in the souls of beings. The more evil they are, the more do their forms approach the corporeal state. They then live on the exhalations of matter; they induce men to murder and to kill animals, they enjoy the vapours arising from the victims, and grow fat by absorbing the ethereal substances of the dying. They are, therefore, always ready to incite men to wars and crimes, and they collect in great crowds in places where men or animals are killed.”
Porphyry ridicules the idea that gods, being wiser, more powerful, and superior to man, could be coaxed, persuaded or forced to do the will of man or conform to his desires. He repudiates the theory that clairvoyance, prophecy, etc., were the results of the inspiration by external gods, but says that they are a function of the Divine Spirit within man; and that the exercise of this function becomes possible when the soul is put into that condition which is necessary to exercise it. “The consciousness of man may be centred within or beyond his physical form; and according to conditions a man may be, so to say, out of himself or within himself, or in a state in which he is neither wholly without nor within, but enjoys both states at once.” He also states that there are many invisible beings, which may take all possible forms and appear as gods, as men, or as demons, that they are fond of lying and masquerading, and of pretending to be the souls of departed men.
It is said that Porphyry was several times during his prayers levitated into the air, even to the height of ten yards or more, and that on such occasions his body appeared to be surrounded by a golden light. “The gods are everywhere, and he whose soul is filled with such a divine influence to the exclusion of lower influences is, for the time being, the god which that influence represents, possessing his attributes and ideas. The nature of the union of the soul with God cannot be intellectually conceived or expressed in words; he who accomplishes it is identical with God, he is Divinity itself, and there is no difference between him and the latter. The gods are not called down to us by our prayers; but we rise up to them by our own holy aspirations and efforts; we are connected with them by the all-embracing power of love.”
This philosopher was a disciple of Porphyry, and died about 333 A.D. He says:
“If the soul rises up to the gods, she becomes god-like and able to know the above and the below; she then obtains the power to heal diseases, to make useful inventions, to institute wise laws. Man has no intuitive power of his own; his intuition is the result of the connection existing between his soul and the Divine Spirit; the stronger this union grows, the greater will be his intuition, spiritual knowledge. Not all the perceptions of the soul are of a divine character; there are also many images which are the products of the lower activity of the soul in her mixture with material elements. Divine Nature, being the eternal fountain of Life, produces no deceptive images; but if her activity is perverted, such deceptive images may appear. If the mind of man is illumined by the Divine Light, the ethereal vehicle of his soul becomes filled with light and shining.”
Proclus lived at Byzany, 412-485. He was a hermetic philosopher and mystic, having often prophetical visions and dreams. It is said that he had the spiritual power of producing rain by his “prayer” and of preventing earthquakes. He was very pious and self-denying, and on some occasions his head seemed to be surrounded by a glory of light.
He says that the soul of man consists of many coats; some more dense, and others of a more ethereal character, each one being a fundamental principle, changeable only in regard to its form. “The soul can only return to her divine state after having been purified of her earthly desires. Her reason and free will must take part in the sufferings belonging to the material state, until she attains knowledge and becomes free from desires. For this purpose she clothes herself at certain periods in a physical form (reincarnates as a human being), until she has laid off her desires. The more the soul frees herself from her gross external coats (principles) the higher can she rise.”
This philosopher says:—”The intelligent soul-substance received from the Demiurgos (Logos) an inseparable immaterial body, and entered thus into being. She is, therefore, neither corporeal nor incorporeal, but comparable to the sun and the stars, which are the product of an immaterial substance. This soul-body, which human beings as well as “spirits” possess, is of a shining nature. The vehicle of the soul is contained within the material body of man; it breathes Life into the lifeless and soulless physical organism, and contains the harmony of the latter. The Life Principle of man is the inner being which produces the activity of Life in the organism. The inner man consists of an intelligent substance and an immaterial (transcendentally material) body. The visible material form is the production and image of the interior man. The external form consists of the animal, unintellectual, gross-material and ethereal bodies, a separation of living substance and dead matter is effected, and thus man may render himself capable of having intercourse with pure spirits.
During the year 529, the imperial bigot Justinian closed the schools of Philosophy at Athens, and their last representatives, Isodorus, Damascius, and Simplicius went to Persia. They expected to find in the East freedom of thought, tolerance, and wisdom. It was said that Chosroes, the King of Persia, was a philosopher, and they hoped to obtain his protection. But they soon found that the philosophy of that King was very superficial, and that he was a cruel, passionate, and ignorant tyrant, varnished over with some superficial learning. Disappointed, they returned to Greece.
This was the experience of the last of the Neoplatonic philosophers, such as were publicly known, and a long obscuration of the sun of wisdom took place, until a ray of light broke again through the clouds during the 15th century.