WHAT, O Trismegistos, are the primordial principles of things?
I reveal to thee great and divine mysteries, and in beginning this initiation I implore the favour of heaven. There are many orders of the Gods; and in all there is an intelligible part. It is not to be supposed that they do not come within the range of our senses; on the contrary, we perceive them, better even than those which are called visible, as this discussion will inform thee.
[paragraph continues]Thou wilt apprehend this fact if thou lendest all thine attention to our discourse; for this order of ideas, so sublime, so divine, so elevated above the intelligence of man, demands an uninterrupted attention without which speech merely flits across the mind and flees away, or rather, returns to its source and is lost therein.
There are, then, Gods superior to all appearances; after them come the Gods whose principle is spiritual; these Gods being sensible, in conformity with their double origin, manifest all things by a sensible nature, each of them illuminating his works one by another. 1 The supreme Being of heaven, or of all that is comprehended under this name, is Zeus, for it is by heaven that Zeus gives life to all things. The supreme Being of the sun is light, for it is by the disk of the sun that we receive the benefit of the light. The thirty-six horoscopes of the fixed stars have for supreme Being or prince, him whose name is Pantomorphos, or having all forms, because he gives divine forms to divers types. The seven planets, or wandering spheres, have for supreme Spirits Fortune and Destiny, who uphold the eternal stability of the laws of Nature throughout incessant transformation and perpetual agitation. The ether is the instrument or medium by which all is produced.
Thus, from the centre to the uttermost parts, everything moves, and relations are established according to natural analogies. That which is mortal approximates to that which is mortal, that which is sensible to that which is sensible. The supreme direction belongs to the supreme Master, in such wise that diversity is resolved into unity. For all things depend from unity or develope
from it, and because they appear distant from one another it is believed that they are many, whereas, in their collectivity they form but one, or rather two, Principles. These two Principles, whence all things proceed, and by which all exist, are the substance of which things are formed, and the Will of Him who differentiates them.
What is the reason of this, O Trismegistos?
It is this, Asclepios. God is the Father, the universal Ruler--or whatever other name yet more holy and religious may be given to Him--and which, because of our intelligence, ought to be held sacred between us; but, in considering His divinity, we cannot define Him by any such name. For the voice is a sound resulting from the concussion of the air, and declaring the will of man, or the impression that his mind has received through the senses. This name, composed of a determined number of syllables, serving as a token between the voice and the ear, and, moreover, sensation, breath, air, all that is concerned with, and belonging to its expression--these convey this name of God, and I do not think that a name, however complex it may be, is able to designate the Principle of all majesty, the Father and Lord of all things. Nevertheless, it is necessary to give Him a name, or rather every name, since He is one and all; therefore we must say either that All is His name, or we must call Him by the names of all things. He, then, who is one and all, possessing the full and entire
fecundity of both sexes, ever impregnated by His own Will, brings forth all that He has willed to beget. His Will is universal goodness, the selfsame goodness that exists in all things. Nature is born of His divinity, in such wise that all things should be as they are, and as they have been, and that Nature may suffice to generate of herself all that in the future is to be born. This, O Asclepios, is why and how all things are of two sexes.
Sayest thou this also of God, O Trismegistos?
Not only of God, but of all beings, whether animated or inanimate. For it is impossible that anything which exists should be barren. Were we to suppress the fecundity of existing things, it would be impossible for them to remain what they are. For I say that this law of generation is contained in Nature, in intellect, in the universe, and preserves all that is brought forth. The two sexes are full of procreation, and their union, or rather their incomprehensible at-one-ment, may be known as Eros, or as Aphrodite, or by both names at once. If the mind can perceive any one truth more certainly and clearly than another, it is this duty of procreation, which God of universal Nature has imposed for ever upon all beings, and to which He has attached the supremest charity, joy, delight, longing, and divinest love. It would be needful to demonstrate the power and necessity of this law, if everyone were not able to recognise and perceive it by interior sentiment. Behold, indeed, how at the moment when from the brain the tide of life descends, the two natures lose themselves each in each, and one eagerly seizes and hides within itself the seed of the other! At this moment, by means of this mutual enchainment, the feminine nature receives the virtue of the male, and the male reposes on the bosom of its mate. This mystery, so sweet and so necessary, is enacted in secret, lest the divinity of the two natures should be constrained to blush before the railleries of the ignorant, were the union of the sexes exposed to irreligious observation. For pious men are not numerous in the world; they are, even, rare, and one might easily count them. In the majority of men malice abides, for lack of prudence and of knowledge of things of the universe.
The understanding of divine religion, the basis of all things, leads to the contempt of all vices in the world, and supplies the remedy against them; but when ignorance asserts itself, then vices develope and inflict upon the soul an incurable hurt. Infected by vices, the soul is, as it were, swollen with poison, and can be healed only by knowledge and understanding. Let us then continue this teaching, even though but a small number should profit by it; and learn thou, O Asclepios, why to man only God has given a part of His intelligence and of His knowledge. Wherefore, hearken.
God the Father and the Ruler, after the Gods, 1 formed men by the union in equal proportions of the corruptible part of the universe and of its divine part, and thus it happened that the imperfections of the universe remained mingled in the flesh. The need of nourishment which we have in common with all creatures, subjects us to desire and to all other vices of the soul. The Gods, constituted of the purest part of Nature, have no need of the aid of reasoning or of study; immortality and eternal youth are for them wisdom and know-ledge. Nevertheless, seeing the unity of Order, and that they might not be strangers to these things, God bestowed on them for their reason and their intelligence, the eternal law of Necessity.
Alone, among all creatures, whether to avoid or to overcome the evils of the flesh, man has the aid of reason and of intelligence, and the hope of immortality. Man, created good, and capable of immortal life, has been formed of two natures: one divine, the other mortal; and in thus forming him, the Divine Will rendered him superior to the Gods, who have an immortal nature only, as well as to all mortal beings. For this reason, man, united in close affinity with the Gods, pays them religious service, and the Gods, in their turn, watch with a tender affection over human affairs. But I speak here only of pious men; as for the wicked, I will say nothing concerning them, in order that I may not, by pausing to talk about them, sully the holiness of this discourse.
65:1 Hermes here includes as Gods the sensible Forces of Nature, the elements and phenomena of the universe.
68:1 Hermes here intends the mundane deities.--A.K.
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