2. Ficino's Pimander and the Asclepius
16. A collection of individual reports - In order to understand the attitude in the Renaissance towards magick in the Asclepius, one must first consider the piety the Pimander seemed to reveal. The hermetic writings are by different unknown authors and of varying dates. Even the individual treatises are composites. Never were they intended as a coherent system. They are basicaly individual records of souls seeking for revelation through a religious approach of the world. This religious approach is the only unity between the texts.
17. Governors - In gnosticism, the laws of nature are astrological: the material world is ruled by the stars and the planets. There are two types of gnoostic texts though: dualist and optimist. For the dualist gnostic, the material world is evil and must be escaped from through ascese. For the optimist gnostic, matter is impregnated with the divine and all parts of the world are parts of god.
2.1. The Egyptian Genesis: Pimander.
18. Ontogeny - Pimander, the Nous or divine Mens appears to Hermes Trismegistus in a dream. He sees infinite light, then darkness, then light leaps into the darkness. Pimander: "That light is I, Nous, thy god. And the luminous word, issuing from the Nous is the son of god." HT then sees in his own Nous the light and the limitless. Pimander: "The Nous-Father brought forth a second Nous, the Demiurge who fashioned the 7 governors who envelop the sensible world." The Nous-father brought forth a man similar to himself. Man received full power in the demiurgic sphere and participation in the nature of the 7 governors. He showed nature below the beauty of the divine form. To unite with nature, he took on a mortal form. Although in essence immortal and and having power over all things, through his mortal coil man became slave of the destiny of the 7 spheres. From the union of nature and man came 7 hermaphrodites corresponding to the nature of each of the 7 governors. These were the elements. Man transformed from life and light into soul and intellect. At the end of this period, man all animals separated into 2 sexes and started to multiply.
19. Gnothi seauton - Pimander tells HT how to live in the knowledge of what he was told: he is to know himself, as he who knows himself knows his true nature. "If you learn to know yourself as made of light and life… you will return to life". Man can know himself through intellect and purity.
20. The Ascension - HT asks Pimander about the Ascension. After dying, the spiritual man ascends through the 7 spheres, leaving at each level a part of his mortal nature and the evil it contains. When finally denuded of everything that the spheres imprinted on him, he enters his ogdoadic nature and mingles with the powers.
21. Preaching -"Trismegistus engraved within himself the benefit of Pimander" and started to preach to people.
22. Commentary by Ficino - Ficino is struck by the similarities with Genesis. For him the importance of HT for the Egyptians is comparable to Moses for the Jews. In a later book, the 'Theologica Platonici" Ficino wonders whether HT and Moses might have been one and the same. Ficino was a major help to give HT an odour of sanctity.
23. Differences - Nevertheless the Pimander and Genesis differ as to the nature of man and the conditions of his fall. In the Mosaic Genesis, Adam wasn't created as a divine being with creative powers as it is said in the Pimander. And when he desired to become god-like by eating from the tree of knowledge, this was considered blasphemous and the fall was his punishment. Not so in the Pimander: when man wished to create something similar to the 7 governors his wish is granted.
24. The Fall - The fall of the hermetic man sounds more like the fall of Lucifer, as he first dwells amongst the star daemons or governors; he is even said to be the brother of the Demiurge or the Verb. His fall is an act of his power: by his own free will, moved by his love for nature and through his voluntary participation in the nature of the governors. As man recognises himself in nature, nature recognises the power of the 7 in him and they are united. He looses something in the bargain: his mortal part gets ruled by the stars and he is split in two sexes. Only by contemplation of the divine mens can man realize this is also his own essence.
2.2. The secret discourse on the mountain of HT to his son Tat.
25. Regeneration - Tat wishes to be taught on the doctrine of regeneration. HT tells him that according to his own experience, the regenerated man will be god, son of god and composed of all the powers.
26. Truth - Tat asks what truth is. HT: "That which can only be apprehended by itself". It cannot be apprehended by the senses and demands that a person first must be capable of understanding birth in god. Shut down the activity of the bodily senses and a divinity will be born.
27. Ultores and Potestates - One must first be purified from the 12 main punishments (Ultores) of matter:
Ignorance, Sadness, Incontinence, Concupiscence, Injustice, Cupidity, Deceit, Envy, Fraud, Anger, Precipitation and Malice. Every time these are inflicted on the body, man suffers through his senses. The 12 punishments originate in the 12 signs of the Zodiac. Tat experiences how the 10 powers (Potestates) can drive out the 12 punishments:
Knowledge, Joy, Continace, Endurance, Justice, Generosity, Truth, Good, Life and Light.
28. Destiny and free will - Symbollically, during this event, Tat was lying down under a tent, metaphor for the material realm. When regeneration is completed HT lead his son out of the tent. This could be compared to Pimander, where 7 vices are left with each corresponding planet on the upward path. So the material burden comes from the influence of the stars, counterbalanced by the divine powers which help the soul regenerate into the Word. Gnostic experience seems to cancel the predestination by the stars.
2.3. Reflections on the universe.
29. Death - In this book, the Mens or mind is adressing HT. Nothing in the world will ever perish. All is one. The change we call Death is mere a breaking of bonds, not the destruction of the elements. The soul is non-local and can go anywhere under will.
30. Becoming god - To understand god one must become equal to god. "Make yourself grow to a greatness beyond measure, by a bound free yourself from the body; raise yourself above all time, become eternity; then you will understand god. Believe that nothing is impossible for you, think yourself immortal and capable of understanding all, all arts, all sciences, the nature of every living being. Mount higher than the highest height; desend lower than the lowest depth. Draw into yourself all sensations of everything created, (...) imagining that you are everywhere, (...) that you are not yet born (...). If you embrace into your thought all things at once, times, places, substances, qualities, quantities, you may understand god."
31. Thinking and creating - The intellect makes itself visible through the act of thinking. God makes itself visible through the act of creating.
32. Optimist and dualist gnosis - This is an optimist type of gnosis, as compared to the dualism in book 2 above, where regeneration consist of escaping matter; here, all is needed is a reflection of the world through the mind. In dualist gnosis the vision frees the adept from the evil forces in matter. In optimist gnosis the world is full of the divine and gnosis consists of fully grasping this. Of course for the Renaissance man this distinction would be blurred.
2.4. the common intellect.
33. Intellect - HT addresses Tat on the subject of the intellect. In some men, the intellect is god. So some men are gods. Unguided by intellect, man falls into animal state. All are subjected to destiny but those in possession of the Word are not ruled by it as others. If a man makes the right use of the both gifts of intellect and the Word, he becomes immortal.
The world too is god, hence indestructible. Living beings do not die but their mixture is simply dissolved. The energy of life is movement. The earth itself is in movement as it gives birth to all things. In the all there is nothing that is not god; gnosis consist of re-becoming god.
2.5. The perfect world.
34. Divine flow - HT, Asclepius, Tat and Hamaon meet in an Egyptian temple. The divine love starts speaking through HT. The divine doctrine flows down from heaven and can be attended through full application of the divine intellect. Matter is receptacle of all forms and nature imprints the forms with the 4 elements, extending them up to heaven.
35. Magnum Miraculum - Of all races, man comes from high where it had commerce with daemons and is related to the gods. Only the men gifted with the faculty of the intellect can unite back with the gods. Man is a Magnum Miraculum, he despises his human part and puts his hope in his divine part. All other creatures are bound to him.
36. Double nature - Man is condemned to a double nature. When god created the Demiurge he loved him as his son. But he needed another being to contemplate the creation on the material plane as well, so he created man and gave him a material enveloppe, so he could admire both the celestial world and take care of the material one.
37. Types of gods - There are different kinds of gods; intelligible and sensible. The ruler of heaven, dispenser of life is the god of air Jupiter. The Sun is the rigin of all light. Next in order are the 36 horoscopes: fixed stars whose chief is Pantomorph (also called Omniform). These 36 gods or Decans represent the divisions in 10 degrees of the Zodiac. They impose their individual forms on each individual; hence no 2 individuals are born the same. Finally comes the 7 spheres whose master is Destiny.
38. Two creators of gods - There is a similarity between god and man: as god is the creator of the gods in heaven, and man is the creator of the gods who reside in the temples. The statues are full of spiritus and can accomplish many things. Man was able to discover the nature of the gods and and to reproduce it. The ancestors invented the art of making gods by introducing the souls of daemons into idols through the use of divine rites.
2.6. The Lament (the early part of the Asclepius).
39. Apocalyps - There will come a time when worshipping divinities will become useless. The gods will leave earth. Strangers will invade Egypt and forbid by law to practice the cults. Nothing of religion will survive, save engraved stones. Egypt will become a desert. Wars will be fought, earth will loose its balance and the divine voice will be silenced.
40. Recorso - Then the one god will erase all evil by deluge or fire and bring back the worls to its first beauty. Men shall again live in continual hymns of praise.
41. Commentary - The commentary, attributed to Ficino is really by Lefèvre d'Etaples from 1505. Before translating the Corpus, Ficino wrote that Asclepius was a divine work on the Will of god. The Pimander for him then deals with the Power of god.
42. Rehabilitation and Initiation - The Renaisance man, reading Ficino, would rehabilitate the Egyptian religion of the Asclepius through the piety of the Pimander. In the light of the last he could see the first as the final initiation into the the Egyptian cult. It became a legitimate practice, even to the most devout philosophers, to try out sympathetic sacral magick. The rehabilitation of the Asclepius through the discovery of the Corpus Hermeticum was one of the main reasons for revival of magick in the Renaissance. As opposed to Augustine, it became fashionable to believe that the destruction of the Egyptin cult was the cause of the decay of ethics, hence its return was hoped for.
43. Hermes considered as a contemporary of Moses - Entering the cathedral of Sienna one first sees the portrait of Hermes Trismegistus surrounded by the Sybils announcing the coming of Christ. Next to him, a figure who might represent Moses holds a book on which is written: 'Take up thy letters and laws O Egyptians', which might be a supplication to revive the ancient Egyptian piety and morals.
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