Hermetic Intelligence

Hermes and Athena (ca 1585), by Bartholomeus Spranger

…the great advantage of Mercurial intelligence is its power to keep the soul in motion, spiraling down toward a vortex of significance. Mercury keeps the carousel of interpretation moving, feeding wonder and curiosity instead of granting the stupor of final conquest (Moore 153).

The primary way the soul is deepened is through imagination. When we have new ideas about something we’re thinking about metaphorically, such as how a spiral exemplifies the movement of the soul, or how snowflakes are perfect mandalas, then we are functioning in the area of Hermetic intelligence. One of the main tasks of Hermes as World Daimon is to guide the soul into a deeper experience of the world. In our day, viewing the world metaphorically and imaginatively has taken a back seat to science, engineering and technical learning. What many don’t understand is that our technical concentration of this age is yet another story of soul, and we must view it, not literally, but through the eyes of soul. Most don’t listen to the voice of Hermes. Most are not receptive to the wisdom he provides.   Everything that occurs in this world can be “seen through,” as James Hillman often said. We can view all of the wonders of Nature metaphorically. If we listen closely, Hermes will supply us with a wealth of interpretations that will lead our souls downward into, what Moore calls, “a vortex of significance.”

The practice of hermeneutics, the science of interpretation, is named after Hermes because of his role as messenger. He brings knowledge of a thing from the illimitable depths to the human soul. This nugget of knowledge was previously hidden from the awareness of the seeker of truth. These unconscious musings that arise from the abyss into our conscious awareness are delivered by Hermes. In doing so, he also fulfills his role as the god of the liminal, since, by bringing us to greater awareness, he creates liminal space, the “neither-here-nor-there,” the metaxical reality we call soul.  Of this marginality, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Chicago, Paul Friedrich, writes in his book, The Meaning of Aphrodite, that

Hermes moves by night, the time of love, dreams, and theft;

he is the master of cunning and deceit, the marginality of illusions and tricks;

he has magical powers, the margin between the natural and the supernatural;

he is the patron of all occupations that occupy margins or involve mediation: traders, thieves, shepherds, and heralds;

his mobility makes him a creature betwixt and between;

his marginality is indicated by the location of his phallic herms not just anywhere but on roads, at crossroads, and in groves;

even his eroticism is not oriented to fertility or maintaining the family but is basically Aphroditic–stealthy, sly, and amoral, a love gained by theft without moral concern for consequences; and finally

Hermes is a guide across boundaries, including the boundary between earth and Hades, that is, life and death (Friedrich 206)

Of course, Hermes is closely attached to Aphrodite, who is a wonderful image for the identity of the Anima Mundi. Remember, Hermes is daimon to the World Soul.

So, the messages that Hermes brings are messages that have been previously hidden from us, but, upon our receiving them, our souls are deepened. This is Hermetic intelligence in a nutshell. In a later article, I’d like to delve into what Henry Corbin believed about the practice of hermeneutics. It is fascinating and very related to a discussion of Hermes as messenger.


Works Cited

Moore, Thomas. The Planets Within. Hudson: Lindisfarne Press, 1990.

Friedrich, Paul. The Meaning of Aphrodite. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.

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Ciphers of Nature

Photo by Pauk

…initial imaginative operation is to typify (tamthll) the immaterial and spiritual realties  in  external or sensuous  forms,  which  then  become  “ciphers”  for  what they manifest. After that the Imagination remains the motive force of the ta’wil which is  the continuous ascent of the soul In short, because there is imagination there is  ta ‘wll; because there is  ta ‘wll,  there is symbolism;  and because there is symbolism, beings have two dimensions (Alone with the Alone, by Henry Corbin).

Could it be that we, in this material world of self-aggrandizement, are really asleep? In our humdrum day-to-day existence of relying on the physical senses to perceive this world, truly a one-sided state of affairs, we don’t realize that we’re omitting the most important aspect of reality.

The Hermetic doctrine teaches,

For All things, are but two Things, That which Maketh, and that which is Made, and the One of them cannot depart, or be divided from the Other (Corpus Hermeticum, Book 17).

Every empirical object is not just an entity to be observed and measured. All things are two. These cannot be divided; they are actually one reality. This other corresponds to the physical object, but it is not observable by the physical senses.

Let’s take a concrete example and discuss a tree, since I like talking about trees. Let’s talk about an oak tree. The oak tree has spirally arranged leaves; its fruit is a nut called an acorn. Within this hard little nut is another tall, strong oak tree in potentia. The bark is hard to the touch. These are physical characteristics of the tree. Is this all there is to an oak? What about the awesome symbolism inherent in such a mighty tree? The spiral, which I have discussed on this blog, is a tremendous spiritual image. Each oak leaf is based on a spiral pattern, which expresses the famous Fibonacci series. Tremendous imagery! The acorn has been used by psychologist, James Hillman, in his book, Soul’s Code, to theorize individual human destinies. This is just scratching the surface of the rich depths of symbolism the oak possesses. 

When we begin to experience the depths inherent in Nature via imagination, our souls begin a journey back to their origin. This is all about imagination. Corbin talks a lot about ta’wil. This idea, taken from Islamic mysticism, is spiritual exegesis on, not only sacred texts, but also on the world around us. Through imagination, we experience the twin of all material things. The maxim, As above, so below, leads us to greater understanding of ourselves. That is why we can discuss, say, a flower, and discover a plethora of truths inherent in its reality. 

All manifested forms function as ciphers that, if read properly, will unveil their inherent truths. This is exactly how the ancients formulated their spiritual ideas. It is a hermeneutical, imaginative reading of Nature. Jung’s active imagination is very effective in this pursuit of truth.

So say those who have gone before us, if we follow this truth, our souls will also return to their rightful place in the universe.

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Henry Corbin and the Archetypal Realm

Nicholas Roerich “Song of Shambhala”

The active Imagination is the preeminent mirror, the epiphanic place of the Images of the archetypal world; that is why the theory of the mundus imaginalis is bound up with a theory of imaginative knowledge and imaginative function–a function truly central and mediatory, because of the median and mediatory position of the mundus imaginalis. It is a function that permits all the universes to symbolize with one another (or exist in symbolic relationship with one another) and that leads us to represent to ourselves, experimentally, that the same substantial realities assume forms corresponding respectively to each universe (for example, Jabalqa and Jabarsa correspond in the subtle world to the Elements of the physical world, while Hurqalya corresponds there to the Sky). It is the cognitive function of the Imagination that permits the establishment of a rigorous analogical knowledge, escaping the dilemma of current rationalism, which leaves only a choice between the two terms of banal dualism: either “matter” or “spirit,” a dilemma that the “socialization” of consciousness resolves by substituting a choice that is no less fatal: either “history” or “myth” (Mundus Imaginalis, or the Imaginary and the Imaginal, by Henry Corbin).

French philosopher and theologian, Henry Corbin (1903-1978) was one of the most important intellectuals and scholars of the twentieth century. I first heard of him in the mid ’90’s, after immersing myself in the writings of James Hillman. The latter saw him as a carrier of the torch of Soul, when many in those days were denying its value. In 1949, Corbin attended the Eranos Conference in Asconia, Switzerland, in which he would play a large role, along with C.G Jung.

Most of us are aware of what Corbin means in the above passage by “active imagination.” If you’re not, read Gary Lachman’s wonderful essay at Reality Sandwich.

We know the power and value of this gift that Jung rediscovered for our generation. It was by no means a Jungian invention, for mystics and seers have used it for millennia to enter another, more subtle world. Corbin dubs this realm mundus imaginalis,  the world of the imaginal. He uses “imaginal” to differentiate from “imaginary,” and the disparaging connotations it carries in our rationalistic culture.

Corbin’s worldview requires a complete cosmology and metaphysics of presence. The West once possessed this, but lost it when the Aristotelianism of Averroes swept aside the Avicennan cosmology in the twelfth century. From that point on, the emphasis would be on res extensa and res cogitans.

Our typical idea of historical consciousness of a world of cold, dead objects and linear time will not work here. According to Tom Cheetham, “the human presence spatializes a world around it in accordance with the mode of being of that presence” (The World Turned Inside Out, p 66). This is very Heideggerian, reminding me much of Dasein. In fact, Heidegger was a major influence on Corbin’s work. This mode of being requires a qualitative, not a quantitative space. Our normal idea of space is much too limited for the limitless depths of Soul. That is why our urge to personify machines, as in the seemingly never-ending quest for so-called artificial intelligence, will never produce anything more than a cold, lifeless calculator.

The mundus imaginalis is the realm of Soul, the metaxy, mediating between the physical and spiritual universes. It is the middle course Icarus was instructed to fly by his father, but disobeyed and perished. It is the abode of the Archetypal Images of all existence and the realm of all mythology, which provides for us analogical knowledge by which we can peer into multiple levels of being. Cheetham says,

It is a measure of the depth of the catastrophe to which we have succumbed that we have come to regard this realm as just a fantasy in our heads. It is a realm of Being with its own characteristics, its own laws, and to which we have access by an organ of cognition appropriate to just this realm. The organ of cognition that gains us access to this universe is the active Imagination. It has a cognitive function just as fundamental as sensation or intellection, and like them, it must be trained. Therefore there are a perfectly objective imaginative perception, an imaginative knowledge, and an imaginative consciousness (ibid, p 69-70).

 I don’t know about you, but these are very exciting ideas.

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