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On the Hermetic Pymander
The following is a transcript of Manly P. Hall’s lecture on The Pymander or The Vision of Hermes. It is an eloquent breakdown of the core concept at the centre of Hermetic thought and teaching. Enjoy!
This in turn, destroyed by matter this strange veil of the senses which descends over man’s spiritual emotion, gradually dimming these emotions and perverting them. This in turn gives witness to the final manifestation of the invisible through the immutable structure of a universe upon eternal foundations rising as a column out of the darkness. Now the great reason in the power of things then further explains that Hermes has beheld the descent of the eternal into the darkness of illusion. That the darkness in the midst of which rises the column is in truth the darkness of the mortal mind which stands in the presence of the column but does not see it. Does not know it, does not know how to comprehend it or to realise it, for it is only given to those whom God shall love, that they shall look out into chaos and see not chaos but the rising of the great column of law. The others are not given to see these things. The reason also explains how all this mystery came about. It explains for example that the divine mind within itself conjured up archetypes, these archetypes are its own thoughts. The divine power of mind reason, reflecting upon his own nature cause to arise within itself thought forms. These thought forms being what the modern psychologist might call the wishful thinking of the infinite. The infinite possessing within itself absolute potential and with also the power of absolute transformation of potential into potency.
The universal mind began to devise out of itself the devisement of itself. It began to project its own eternal reason into the product of reason, fashioning out of itself many patterns as though upon a potter’s wheel, and each of these patterns was a magnificently potent blossom of thought, each of these patterns was a tremendous dynamic symmetry of divine idea. The eternal mind, having daydreamed these beautiful things within itself, having in it meditation, realised that of which it was capable. And having in itself the infinite good which it could not but wish to express through the perpetual visualisation of good things. It is said in the vision that the reason fell in love with its own thought and because it formed a partnership with its own thought it descended out of its own nature and became one with its thought and this descent or this departure from its own centre into the centre of its own production was the first motion and from this came the supreme illusion which is existence as we know it.
Thus Hermes goes on to say that illusion always arises from reason falling in love with its own thoughts. The delusion from man is the dedication of the energy of his mind to the service to the productions of that same mind. Therefore if a man shall have a fear and shall create a thought in which this thought is objectified as a pattern, as impulse, as a design causing negative attitudes to arise within him then his reason becomes identical with his own thought, he falls in love with his own idea or archetype, unites with it and begins to serve this idea rather than the truth. Wherever this occurs native habits set in and man loses his own centre becoming the servant of thought and forgets that every thought is a production of himself. Therefore the service of his thought is merely the service of a lesser part of his own nature. Forgetting this he dedicates his life to the fulfilment of his own thoughts and in so doing wonders further and further into space like Dionysus following the magic mirror held by the titans. And when he has been lured away from the great throne of heaven the titans set upon Dionysus the reasoner and destroy him. And then they eat of his flesh they in turn are destroyed by the thunderbolts of Zeus and from the ashes of the titans—containing the blood of Dionysis—was fashioned the bodies of mortal man. This is your Greek men and carries the same essential point. In the beginning, reason is lured into space by its own archetypal thoughts, thus establishing the pattern which maintains upon all the levels of life and every man is lured toward chaos by his own thoughts, which he becomes enamoured of, thinking them greater than thoughts of any other man, and most of all regarding them as greater than the thoughts of heaven. In so doing he sets up darkness, he sets up illusion, he sets up a mysterious falseness by which his entire future is strangely possessed and obsessed.
The next point in the vision deals with another very interesting and curious thing. Having fashioned out of its own nature this mysterious symbol of the word mind the great power takes the word and uses it as a kind of hammer so that like the mysterious hammer of the Nordic deity Thor or Tor this hammer is used to beat out space, to carve or cut great holes in space. And we are again reminded of the Chinese because P’an-ku (盘古), the symbol of the divine mind personified is given a hammer and a chisel and is given the power to carve out holes in space and these holes become suns and planets and worlds. Here’s an interesting point that Hermes makes, namely that these are not bodies in space but holes in space and that what we call the solidness of a physical thing is actually a solid within a density and the density is the true solid. Therefore matter is not a solid in space but a deprivation or hole and density—which is space itself, life itself, the divine mind itself—finds its own productions as small areas of negation within its own nature rather than forms or structures more positive than itself. The word or the mind moving upon the great deep, upon this strange mist of matter causes something that Hermes in the vision describes as striving, therefore here we have an alchemical principle of motion releasing fire.
We have motion as friction and out of the motion of the will in the form of the hammer or in the form of the active agent we find there emerging out of space the seven children of friction called by Hermes as the suns of striving. These are the seven deities or the seven planetary gods and together these gods constitute what Hermes calls the second mind. Therefore there is the first mind or the reason which is the dragon and there is the second mind which is composed of the seven governors or the seven cosmocratores (Rulers of the World). The adjective forces of creation. These seven governors form the demiurgus or the second type of deity, the secondary God. To such orders of deity would belong Zeus in the Greek order or Jupiter in the Latin. These deities are the objectifications, the coming forth out of the darkness of cause into the great world of effects, universal reason of first mind. Therefore operates through the second mind which is the orderly sequence of created bodies and worlds. And these seven governors have their power from the great reason which is the dragon, but they disseminate this power from themselves into the world calling forth out of the darkness the shadowy substance of creation. These are indeed the spirits that move upon the face of the waters. These are the Elohim of Genesis. These are the Amunian (Amun, Egyptian creation god) artificers of Egypt. These are the sacred vowels from who’s combinations are formed the names of gods. These seven then become the carriers of the word, they are the disseminators, they are the diffusers and the distributors and they sit upon their ancient thrones or drive their chariots around the golden altar of the sun.
We have therefore now the concept of the emergence of a universe of a solar-system or of a power. Now in the midst of these procedures Hermes beholds something still further. He beholds rising out of the deepness, darkness of things anthropos—the divine man. Anthropos seems to stand in the midst of all things, he appears to stand as an isolated and lonely creation as Goethe says twixt heaven and earth dominion wielding. This is the mysterious, primordial, archetypal universal man. This is the total man, this mysterious great man of the Zohar who stands with his head in the heavens, one foot upon the earth and the other upon the oceans. This is the great macrocosmic man and this man in the Hermetic doctrine is the one and only begotten son of the father. And this is the man that stands forth as anthropos. The man which is the son of the mind. The son of reason in whose nature have been gathered all of the celestial elements, for this man is the final and most perfect of the archetypal projections of the mind of the creator. This man therefore is that being made and fashioned in the image of reason of God. We said that efforts have been made to parallel this man with the Christ of Christianity—as the only begotten—and also strangely as the celestial Adam. This power which is also found in the writings of Böhme (Jakob Böhme, German philosopher) and is symbolised by an upright light letter A, even as the relaxed Adam is represented by a black letter A. This celestial man however, is not truly a Christian figure, this does not mean that it is opposed to Christianity, but it cannot be said that this archetypal man of Hermes is simply patterned upon the Christ concept. Nor could it be safely said that the Christ concept could have been patterned upon this, it stands apart, for this man fashioned by the father is truly the redeemer of the world, he’s truly the preacher that was made to be proprietor of all things.
It was this creature that was given the right to be a citizen in space, to wander from star to star, to gather experience in the great meadows of the constellations. This great man, this mysterious shadowy archetype was a perfect magnificent heroic creature. Almost in itself a god, but a product of a God, and into this archetype all of the essentials and essences of the divine nature were united, so truly it was the noblest work of the creator, and was really a kind of projection of himself. There may be a parallel to this in the idea of Osiris being reborn in his own son Horus. For it was through this great man or universal being which it had fashioned that reason came into its perfect rulership over matter because this archetypal being was virtuous, gracious, full of light and wisdom, defective in nothing, deficient in nothing because within him were all the potentials and powers of the eternal reason. Thus in a way eternal reason is consummated in the concept of archetypal human reason. Not the reason of a schooled man but the reason of the internal intuitive being, for this being was not embodied it was simply a great design, a great living archetype. Into this archetype however, the creator placed not only the tremendous potential of its own being, but it placed therein also the peculiar habit of itself—namely the habit of daydreaming. This creature like its father could project thoughts from its own mind. It likewise could conjure up ideas, fall in love with them—become possessed by them and wander away from its own strange ethereal space foundations. And there is a wonderful word picture of this universal man, this anthropos, standing upon the rings of the seven governors or the masters of the planets and gazing downward into the mystery of the unknown. Hermes tells us then also a very interesting fact that I believe has become a point in Jungian psychology, namely that in the presence of the unknown man is always in the position of being liable to a fall.
The human being cannot apparently in his own personal psychology survive a kind of mystery, which if ever grasps him or envelops him leads him into the strangest and most distant departures from reason and common sense. And in the vision, this anthropos, this divine man standing with the governors of all things looks down into the abyss. Looks down in the strange whirling shadows somewhere in the midst of which there is a broad desolate plain like area: matter. Matter which has swallowed up the radiance of the dragon. Matter all of the atoms of which are seminal with God, filled with the seed of God, filled with the power to bring forth dragons of themselves, filled with light, this light being more or less than the thought of reason, the eternal thought of the eternal thinker. And then Pymander shows a certain indebtedness to Greek mythology, for this anthropos, this heavenly man, gazing down into the abyss, gazes as though into the depths of a still pool, or upon the surface of a burnished mirror. And looking down into the abyss he is like Narcissus in the Greek legend, he sees looking back up at him a strange shadowy likeness of himself. This is the projection of his own thought in the daydream of creation, it is his first sensing of the power which he possesses within himself to create by reason. The reason generates—gives birth to things—but it is not merely for the constant remembering and handling of dead facts that reason is a living thing, a god, and that that which possesses it can be so light and this anthropos looking down becomes enamoured of its own mysterious reflection and descends or hurls itself from the ring of the governors down into the darkness of the underworld. It goes not because of sin, it goes rather because of fascination, it goes because within the nature of mind is the eternal enquiry that the thinker cannot exist without his thought, that reason cannot escape the instinctive desire to reason, that the noun is forever giving birth to itself in the form of the verb.
Therefore the thinker without a labour is inconceivable. An existence which does not seek to solve the mystery of itself is inconceivable. And an existence that is not fascinated by the projected shadows of its own creation is also inconceivable. So we find this universal man moving downward precipitously but voluntarily and as it moves downward there is a reaction from below, a mysterious veiled being like Hera the great earth mother of the Nordic rights. A mysterious mother, mother principle rises up out of the darkness of the below and envelops the anthropos with robes of mist and of darkness. Envelops it with strange protective garments and in these garments it falls into darkness and into sleep and suddenly it is born again and its birth is in the birth of body and this thing that fell from the rings of stars is reborn as the weeping infant coming into this world. Now Hermes is not really telling us the story of human birth, primarily that is not his motive. Remember our anthropos or a man is a kind of mind, the great mother, the enveloping mother is form or body which to protect this mind in the darkness of the abyss wraps it in a kind of swaddling garment which is also not different from a grave cloth, and thus protecting it. Protecting the power of the mind by encasing it in a form it then leads it downwards into the world of form and we find then archetypal man. Passing from the state of a spiritual existence to the state of a material existence and symbolically man the thinker is born into this world. Man not as a person but as an instrument of reason, man is a projection of the father, man really is the wish fulfilment of the eternal, man as reason exploring the darkness of the field of its own thought. So what has actually happened now is that the dragon, having projected the archetype of creation, creates an instrument by means of which it can move into its own archetype, this instrument is archetypal man. The symbol of Manus, the mind thinker. Taking upon itself the likeness of its own mind, it moves into its thought, falls with it into nature or into matter and comes forth as embodied reason. This embodied reason is a strange thing for it has a tremendous invisible and a comparative limited visibility. This creature wrapped in claws and robes is almost incapable of motion, it has lost all memory as in the famous gnostic hymn of the robe of glory, it has lost all memory of its own origin, it has however come into existence with a spark and this spark is the seed of reason. It is this seed of reason without which no thing can be created and which is intrinsic in every atom, every electron, every indivisible ultimate minute particle of energy or substance. Every one of these contains the seminal reason of the infinite, contains the seed of eternal truth. This mind then coming forth and becoming the archetypal material man becomes the parallel of the Adam Kadmon of the Kabbalists, for this is the Adam made of the red earth, this is the Adam who’s nature is outwardly earthy, but who’s inward parts still belong in and to heaven.
This man or this eternal power, this wonderful anthropos has stood upon the rings of the seven governors and descending into the darkness of material obscuration has brought not only with it the power of the divine reason but also brings with it the powers of the seven governors. These seven governors being the active agencies by means of which reason is served, by which reason projects its purposes and by which reason is gradually brought into orientation in the material universe.
Thus we find in the Pymander or the great vision that Hermes describes a multiplication of this primordial man, having become absorbed into the mystery of material diffusion this man becomes 7 men multiplying itself according to the mysterious powers of the guardians or the governors of the world. Therefore the archetypal man now embodied but although embodied not obvious to us for we see no giant standing with its head in the sky. This becomes a totality which is broken up within itself to produce the seven men. It’s pretty obvious that Hermes is now telling us the story of the archetypal man by which we shall say humanity, the totality, humanity as one. Later by the action of the differentiation of the seven governors, we find the one man as humanity, a reversal of position, so out of the one man come the seven andogenous male female beings, and these in the Hermetic tradition represent the seven races. They are the seven differentiations by means of which humanity can be variously distinguished into levels, and each of the races therefore is an embodiment of the power of one of the seven guardians sitting upon the circle of the stars. And the infinite progression of things and these generations are reflected as the gradual individualisation of the power of reason. Each of these seeds develops within its own nature its own individuality, for the symbol of the anthropos or the universal man is the symbol of individuality rising in the universality of divine reason. So out of all this comes the mortal mind, mortal reason, the human thought, the human projection of its own thought purpose, and the result of all of this combines to produce individuality and the final statement of individuality, I, I or selfness, and this I is a pillar set up in the soul of man, just exactly like the great column that is set up in space. This pillar of selfhood or selfness becomes man’s great centre of assurance. It becomes the mysterious axis tree upon which turns the entire wheel of his existence, and it is this same wheel—which as Buddha taught—he clings to so desperately in the cycle of trans-migratory existence. There is an I, a column set up in the soul, which to each individual becomes the peculiar symbol of his godhood, but this symbol of his godhood is a strange and illusionary thing and in the pursuit of it man passes into a constant recedure of separation, segregation, division, further division, until finally out of the one comes the circumference of ultimate diversity. While the eyes shine like little stars, matter becomes an incredible area of selfnesses and these form a new kind of matter—which is interesting and curious in itself—for just as the earth is made up of an infinite number of small material particles, so what we call culture, civilization, the vast area of human projects is composed of a kind of substance made up of an infinite number of selfnesses grouped together to form structures.
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