Sandro Botticelli La nascita di Venere Google Art Project edited

Hermetic Renaissance:  Love and Beauty

People are reminded of their divine nature by drawing their attention to the beauty that is everywhere because there’s nothing so attractive as beauty. The attraction that we feel towards beauty we call love. 

Below are three passages from Hermes where he speaks of the beauty of the creation, and the beauty of creation is its order, and this inspires love. This love really is for the Good and it is this love that fundamentally and in the first place moves artists, writers, musicians, etc:

Oh that you could grow wings and fly up into the air, and that, poised between earth and heaven you might see the firmness of earth, the liquidity of the sea, the flow of the rivers, the swiftness of the heavenly movement encircling all of these things. What a most blessed vision, O son, to behold all that in one moment. The unmoving being moved, the unmanifest being made manifest through what it creates! This is the very order of the universe and this is the beauty of the order.

Corpus Hermeticum Book V.5

If you also wish to see God through mortal beings who are on earth and in the sea, consider, my son, man being formed in the womb and examine carefully the skill of His work, and understand who creates this beautiful and godlike image of Man. Who has outlined the eyes? Who has pierced out the nostrils and ears? Who has opened the mouth? Who has stretched and fastened the sinews? Who has conducted the veins in their channels? Who has strengthened the bones and covered the flesh with skin? Who has separated the fingers? Who has widened the soles of the feet? Who has bored the passages through the body? Who has stretched out the spleen? Who has shaped the head like a pyramid and joined the sinews together? Who has broadened the liver? Who has hollowed out the Jungs and made the stomach capacious? Who has fashioned the most honorable paths so that they may be seen and concealed those paths which are unseemly?

Corpus Hermeticum Book V.6

See how many skills arise from one substance and how many forms are made by one impression, and all things beautiful, all things measured, all things varied. Who made all these? What mother, what father, If not the unmanifest God who created all things by His own will?

Corpus Hermeticum Book V.7

These passages leads on, almost immediately, to the passage where Hermes comes to the understanding of unity. The realization of this and its divine nature is something that comes into almost all cultures as being a means by which the realization of our true nature, of what it’s really like and its divine origin, actually comes about. 

The Birth of Beauty

Artists have expressed this everywhere. An example of this love coming into creation is the famous painting of the Birth of Venus by Botticelli. This painting is not only very beautiful, Venus herself is of exquisite beauty, but it actually expresses the truth, the philosophic truth behind the beauty – which is that beauty comes into the creation pure, as represented by the naked Venus, and as she comes in she is being clad, so she becomes the veiled beauty within creation. 

The Renaissance hermetic scholar Ficino says that God is beauty and when beauty enters into creation it enters as love because that is the response, this love to the beauty. Beauty finally, returns to god again as voluptas which is a word that can mean desire, joy, or delight.

This is the function of beauty, that it raises the love in creation and generates this desire to return to God, the source of the beauty. It is this joy that defeats the irrational tormentor of sorrow in Book XIII of the Corpus Hermeticum.

Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus (c.1484-86). Tempera on canvas. Uffizi, Florence.

Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus (c.1484-86). Tempera on canvas. Uffizi, Florence.

The shell in the painting floats on the water. It’s suggestive of the rays of the sun, and perhaps of the unmanifest sun. It floats above the surface and it’s always been associated with Aphrodite/Venus, the god of love itself, and also with St. James of Compostela, one of Jesus’ closest disciples. It’s a symbol of love passed from classical times into Christian ones.

The figures on the left of the shell, more like one figure as it is an intimate embrace of Male and Female, are the Zephyrs symbolizing the Pneuma, the divine breath or the spirit of God, which is conducting this heavenly beauty onto the earth.

The lady on the right-hand side is lifted off the earth, being transcendental, as she is one of the Horai. She is covering Venus, because divine Beauty when it enters the earth is covered, and can not be seen by our normal eyes but only be seen by the eyes of our heart.

… reflect upon it with the eyes of the heart, believe me, my son, you will find the way to higher things. In fact the image itself will guide you. For sight of the image has a special quality of its own. It dwells in those who have already seen it and draws them upward,
just as they say a magnet draws up iron.

Corpus Hermeticum Book IV.11

In Greek mythology, the Horae or Horai or Hours were the goddesses of the seasons and the natural portions of time. They were originally the personifications of nature in its different seasonal aspects, but in later times they were regarded as goddesses of order in general and natural justice.

The great painter Botticelli not only created something that’s beautiful but just by that sheer beauty reminds people of their source, reminds people of their soul and the divine nature of that soul. The painting is an allegory conveying the truth itself. 

This is an example of the hermetic Renaissance in Florence but we can also briefly touch on the Renaissance in England. Its great artist is of course the mysterious Shakespeare.

Unity in Plurality

Shakespeare is full of Ficino. The author John Vivien wrote the book Shakespeare and Platonic Love and another book about this subject. Shakespeare’s plays are full of hermetic teachings. For example, his use of twins all the time. They actually signify that beneath the apparent plurality, there’s a unity and that unity is conveyed by the fact that they are twins, they are the same. 

In the play Twelfth Night, Antonio, the ship’s captain accosts Sebastian because he’s got confused. Viola and Sebastian are twins and he thinks they’re one person, and he gets thoroughly confused, and he says, “How hath you made division of yourself?“. Which is an astonishing line, as of course, you can’t. 

But maybe the purest hermetic teaching is conveyed in the short poem The Phoenix and the Turtle that he wrote:

So they lov’d, as love in twain
Had the essence but in one;
Two distincts, division none:
Number there in love was slain.

Shakespeare’s poem The Phoenix and the Turtle

It’s a very beautiful poem and Shakespeare seems to go right to the source.

In the next century, there was the poet George Herbert. The theme of his poem below is the unity through love:

Lord, I am thine, and thou art mine: 
So mine thou art, that something more I may presume thee mine, then thine. 
For thou didst suffer to restore Not thee, but me, and to be mine, 
And with advantage mine the more, Since thou in death wast none of thine, 
Yet then as mine didst me restore. 
O be mine still! still make me thine! 
Or rather make no Thine and Mine!

Hermetic teachings then flew westward over the Atlantic and landed within the hearts of the artists of the New England transcendentalists, particularly Ralph Waldo Emerson. He had in his library a copy of the first English translation of the Poimandres by Dr Everard. Ralph Waldo Emerson had this book in his library and he wrote as follows in his essay on intellect, or Nous:

“… the high-priesthood of the pure reason, the Trismegisti, are expounders of the principles of thought from age to age. When… we turn over their abstruse pages, wonderful seems the calm and grand air of these few, these great spiritual lords…. [At such times] I am present at the sowing of the seed of the world.”

Food for the soul

We find that there are always a lot of people who have a spiritual hunger or thirst and want something better. They know that things have been covered up and seek very intently for spiritual truth, which is maybe or hopefully actually happening at the moment. People are not finding spiritual inspiration in the churches or the traditional religions, so they are looking at it elsewhere. People need food for the soul. 

Hermes tells us how we can really feed our soul:

You must consider God in this way, as having all that may be conceived in Himself: the Cosmos and indeed the All. If you do not make yourself equal to God you cannot understand Him, like is understood by like. Grow to a stature which has no measure; go beyond all body, beyond all time, become eternity and you will realize God. Think that nothing is impossible for you. Consider yourself immortal and capable of understanding everything, every art, every science, and the character of every living thing. By nature you are higher than every height and lower than every depth. Comprehend within yourself all the feelings of created beings: those of fire and of water, of the dry and the moist. Conceive yourself to be at one and the same time everywhere; that you are not yet born, that you are within the womb, that you are young, you are old, you are dead, you are beyond death. Conceive all these things at once: times, places, actions, qualities, and quantities, then you can realize God.

Corpus Hermeticum XI.20

You can’t really add anything to that.

The painting of the Birth of Venus is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art. The work of art itself is in the public domain for the following reason:
This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 100 years or fewer. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1928.

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