What is the Importance of Vegetarian Food for Spiritual Development?
There is a strong relationship between spirituality and vegetarian food, both from a historical point of view and from spiritual practice. In this article, we will take a closer look at the vegetarian tradition in the age-old tradition of Hermeticism.
If we look at the moment when the Hermetic practitioners first started meeting in the city of Alexandria or maybe Panopolis, around the first century, we see that it was a common practice for these spiritual groups to eat a group meal after their meetings.
If we read the Hermetic texts, we see that this meal was often, or almost always “bloodless”. So this would have been a meal prepared without killing an animal or fish.
Vegetarian food was an important tradition, not only for Hermeticists but also for Pythagoreans, Stoics, Gnostics, and Neoplatonists.
Read more: If you want to read more about vegetarianism among the ancient Egyptians read: “What Did the Ancient Egyptians Really Eat?”
Because all these traditions so clearly stated that eating a bloodless meal was important, we can deduce that this was just as controversial a topic a long time ago as it is today.
Porphyry writes in On Abstinence:
“Whoever refrains from eating something that is animated will also be careful not to injure the flesh of his own kind. For he who loves the animal will not want to harm any animal species.“
For Porphyry, a philosopher who eats meat was something like a non-smoker who smokes: someone who does not act logically and consistently. Moreover, Porphyry believed that killing animals also negatively affected one’s spiritual progress.
Not only is your spirituality “contaminated” by eating meat, but Porphyry also thought that eating meat was unhealthy for the body and that, compared to vegetables, it was not digested as quickly and was therefore heavy for digestion and would be much more likely to lead to obesity.
Politeness or Wanting to Distinguish
Experts discuss why the original Hermetics thought it was so important that their meals were vegetarian and why this vegetarianism is explicitly mentioned in some texts. Some experts think it’s because the followers of Hermes came from different populations, different cultures, and many different traditions.
By making the joint meal vegetarian, they made sure to serve a meal that would not offend anyone. Other experts think that the Hermetics did not want people to think that their tradition involved the sacrifice of animals.
Other spiritual and religious groups at that time sacrificed an animal and then ate it. By eating vegetarian, the Hermetics distinguished themselves from these groups.
The Hermetics themselves never explain why their meals are vegetarian, but we can find out the reasons by looking at those who were not members of this group, but wrote about it at the time.
These outsiders wrote that people who followed the Way of Hermes did not eat meat because they believed in metempsychosis – or, reincarnation.
Reincarnation is something Hermetics believed in. The idea that the soul could reincarnate not only in humans but also in animals, probably came from the Pythagorean tradition.
Apart from the belief in reincarnation or the courtesy to the various animals, the choice of vegetarian food also has to do with how the Hermetics viewed the role of man in the cosmos.
Read more: Do animals have souls in the hermetica?
Power of Association
The main focus in the Hermetic text Asclepius is Man (anthropos). Hermes describes man as the second image of the Most High, and as the third god.
Although man is placed as a class among the daimon (spirits), through the “power of association” he has the potential to become anything with which he associates himself.
Man can become any entity, from God to anything in the material world. A man or woman becomes what he or she associates with.
Man can attain divine consciousness through the power of attention. Before beginning an exposition of the triple deity and the nature of man, Hermes asks his disciple, Asclepius, to listen “not only with keen attention, but also with vividness of mind.”
Before Hermes tells his disciples how everything in the cosmos is connected, he warns:
“If you do not hear the speaker’s words with attentive obedience, the conversation will fly over you and flow around you, or rather, it will flow back and mix again with the waters of his own source.”Asclepius
As always, it is the student’s condition that determines the master’s strength.
Access to divine consciousness gives us tremendous power. Early on in the Asclepius, Hermes exuberantly praises man, for Hermes has discovered man’s potential:
“Man is a great miracle, a being to be worshiped and revered. He passes into the nature of God as if he were God…”Asclepius
“Expression of praise” and “special acknowledgment” of God and life in the material cosmos is an important element in Hermeticism for positive transformation. A transformation achieved through the lessons of Hermes.
Spirit and Matter
Man is made partly of divine substance and partly of matter.
“The true man sees with contempt that part of nature in himself that is human, because he has placed his full trust in the divinity of the other part.“
The unchanging mind is the only ultimate reality for Hermes. The spirit is the divine part of man. Those who have gained access to it are able to fulfill the most important role for which Man was created: to contemplate and worship God.
The second role of man, which in practice is actually no different from the first role, is to take care of creation. Man loves creation just as he is loved by the gods.
Hermes emphasizes man’s duty to care for this planet with a force that resonates in our time.
From chapter 8 of the Asclepius:
8. Dual Origin and Role of HumanityAsclepius
“This is how He made the people of His own being. He found that they would not be able to love and care for everything unless He protected them with a material covering. So God sheltered them with a physical abode and gave it to all people, and in proper proportion. He mixed the two natures into one. Thus God formed human beings of both spirit and body, that is, of both eternal and mortal nature, so that they could thus do justice to their dual origin. They can marvel at the heavenly and worship it, while also taking care of things on earth.”
Hermes continues in Chapter 9:
9. Worshiping God and Caring for the CosmosAsclepius
“But there are those who, out of the confusion that arises from their dual nature, have sunk into the lower mind because of the weight of their physical bodies. These people are appointed to manage the elements and things that are connected to this lower world. So man is a creature, but I am not saying that he is inferior because he is partly mortal. Rather for that reason, he is better adapted and more effective for his specific purpose. For this, his status seems to have been increased by his mortality. Indeed, because otherwise he would not have been able to sustain both realms, if he had not been formed from the substance of both, he is formed in such a way that he can take care of the things of the earth and also love the divine.“
Hermes says that in order to fulfill this obligation, man needs a physical body, which is therefore given to him by the Most High. The body is not a prison for man as Plato writes, but rather, the body increases man’s status in the cosmos.
According to Hermes, man is placed in the unique “middle position”. A position that makes man superior to the gods. But this middle position brings certain dangers with it.
Danger of Matter
Because of our dual nature, we can identify ourselves with the divine, but through our physical body, we can incorrectly associate ourselves equally with matter, and thereby sink to lower levels.
We have been given free choice, which is essential to be able to fulfill our role properly. We are bound by the consequences of that choice by an unchanging divine law:
“When we have fulfilled our term in this physical world, fulfilled our worldly duties, and are freed from the bonds of mortality, God will restore us to our higher, that is divine, nature, free from blemish and inviolable.”
Plato writes, “Hermes also says that the divine part of the soul is immortal. So why should we make a different choice?” This question seems to arise in Asclepius when he asks:
“Why has God allowed evil to be brought into the world?“
Hermes explains that this is because “the imperfections of matter” are mixed in our bodies along with other imperfections derived from the food that all living things must eat in order to stay alive. It is therefore inevitable that the desires that arise from matter, such as greed and other vices, end up in man.
Desire for Possessions
This greed takes the form of a desire for possessions. This greed is alien to the parts of man who are related to the divine.
So we must condemn not only those things that we cling to, but also the source within ourselves from which this greed comes.
Greed comes from the physical nature of a human being. Although our body is essential for our function in the cosmos, when man acquires possessions, he begins to associate himself with his physical nature. He will then forget the divine. Both his divine nature and his divine responsibility.
As in Plato’s book Phaedrus, the soul that is unable to follow the gods upwards sinks under the double ballast of forgetfulness and vice.
It requires a huge change in the emotional state of the Hermetic learner to reverse this negative process. But, this is what happens during the Way of Hermes.
Hermes tells us that God gave us the best defense against the treacherous enemy when he gave to the spirit of man’s consciousness the gifts of knowledge and intelligence. This allows us to avoid the deception of evil and vice. However, if we use these gifts selfishly, suffering will be the result.
Hermeticism teaches that man is made up of divine spirit and worldly matter. Matter has dangers within it that allow man to be distracted from his true role as guardian of the cosmos.
Food is a necessary evil because it keeps us alive, but with it, we also get more “bad” matter in us. Eating the flesh of beings with souls that we have killed in a traumatic way only makes eating an even greater danger to our spiritual development along with forsaking our divine responsibility to be keepers, not destroyers, of the cosmos.
Besides the fact that vegetarian food is good for avoiding too much negative matter, vegetarian food also offers other benefits for the Hermeticist.
Good for Spiritual Development
There is another possible reason that contributed to the vegetarian food of the early Hermetics. You will only notice this advantage when you are engaged in the practical aspects of Hermeticism.
A Hermetic practitioner will find that as he or she meditates and contemplates more, a higher form of consciousness will increase in themselves. As you ascend, more and more, into higher states of consciousness you will see that it leads to changes in your everyday life.
One of the most notable changes is that you can get a strong aversion to eating meat. The more you give in to this aversion, the less meat you’re going to eat, and the more you’ll see that it will help your meditation practices.
Avoiding meat helps raise your consciousness. And raising your awareness will encourage you to eat less or no meat: a wonderful cycle.
The Hermetics, who focused on developing a higher consciousness to attain a divine consciousness soon recognized that eating “bloodless” meals helps with their spiritual practices. Whether they learned this wisdom through lessons from their own Hermetic masters, or from the Indian yogis who visited Alexandria, or whether they were inspired by the Pythagoreans they interacted with, is impossible to say.
Therefore, we can say that Hermeticists discovered that vegetarian food helped them in their spiritual development in a practical sense. But vegetarian food also ensured that in this life, but especially after this life, they would not be too negatively burdened with matter and all its temptations; one solution for multiple problems.
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