The Hermetic Cross: Sixteen Days of Insight

When John asked me to come up with a month of daily meditation exercises, I immediately thought I might put together a program based on the Hermetic Quaternary, a.k.a. the “Powers of the Sphinx.” Who knows how old the Quaternary really is or where it originated. All we can say is that it was first revealed in Eliphas Levi’s book Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie and not widely known until Levi’s book was translated into Transcendental Magic, Its Doctrine and Ritual by A. E. Waite in 1896.

I’ve been working with the Quaternary for almost thirty years, and still each year brings a new insight or two. Its power is not to be taken lightly. So I’m leaping at the chance to make this deceptively simple framework accessible to a wider audience. There is mystery at the center of the Quaternary that awaits you, but I dare not name it for fear of spoiling the revelation that awaits you. It is my sincere hope that you will know it by the final day.

To get the most out of this program I strongly suggest that you keep a journal. Write down the thoughts and realizations you have as you go along. This will help to solidify your spiritual gains while making them available to you in the future should you wish to revisit those exercises you found most valuable.

I hope you enjoy the exercises. Whether you like them or not, I’d be delighted to hear from you at 12thkey@gmail.com. One learns from repeated failure, not from continued success, and this old dog loves to learn new tricks.

Robert Mitchell Jr.
Richmond, VA

The Hermetic Quaternary is an axiom that goes “To Know, To Will, To Dare, To Keep Silent.” Set a timer for at least 10 minutes. Assume your meditative posture of choice and regulate your breathing to a slow and steady rhythm. Keep your eyes open and do not fidget, wiggle, scratch, count, or think in language. Quiet your chattering monkey mind and visualize what you would look like if you moved through the world embodying this axiom. Record your thoughts and impressions in your journal or diary.

A mundane compass indicates the four cardinal directions of North, East, South, and West. The Hermetic Quaternary is an aeternal compass. It is outside time and can help you navigate other realms too – many of which you will be learning about in the meditations to come.

In order to succeed in any endeavor, you must have the necessary knowledge (“To Know”), the will or desire to succeed (“To Will”), the daring or courage to begin and persevere (“To Dare”), and the ability to shut up, listen and observe (“To Be Silent”). Say the Quaternary out loud as you touch the points on your body with the first and second fingers of your right hand: “Two Know” in the North (forehead), “To Will” in the South (navel), “To Dare” in the East (right shoulder), and “To Keep Silent” in the West (left shoulder).

Set a timer for at least 10 minutes. Assume your meditative posture of choice and regulate your breathing to a slow and steady rhythm. Keep your eyes open and do not fidget, wiggle, scratch, count, or think in language. Now visualize the compass and conceive that it will allow you to move through any realm if only you could master its secrets. Record your thoughts and impressions in your journal or diary. Visualize the compass often and cement its arrangement in your mind.

Last time you learned to associate the Quaternary with the four compass points and the four points of the body. Hopefully you have it memorized – “Two Know” (forehead), “To Will” (navel), “To Dare” (right shoulder), and “To Keep Silent” (left shoulder). Good. These signs are “fixed” and they connect you to the four “fixed signs” of the Zodiac. Now say the Quaternary touching each point on your body as you orient yourself with the Zodiac – Taurus (forehead), Leo (navel), Aquarius (right shoulder), and Scorpio (left shoulder).

Set a timer for at least 10 minutes. Assume your meditative posture of choice and regulate your breathing to a slow and steady rhythm. Keep your eyes open and do not fidget, wiggle, scratch, count, or think in language. Quiet your monkey mind and meditate, in a non-linguistic way, upon the symbolism of this arrangement. Record your thoughts and impressions in your journal or diary.

The Quaternary also correlates to the four classical elements. Now say the Quaternary touching each point on your body as you orient yourself with the elements: Earth (forehead), Fire (navel), Air (right shoulder), and Water (left shoulder).

Set a timer for at least 10 minutes. Assume your meditative posture of choice and regulate your breathing to a slow and steady rhythm. Keep your eyes open and do not fidget, wiggle, scratch, count, or think in language. Quiet your monkey mind and meditate, in a non-linguistic way, upon the symbolism of this arrangement. Record your thoughts and impressions in your journal or diary.

Remember, Hermeticism is the original Human Potentiality Movement and it is closely linked with Alchemy. Its plan for ultimate success – call it what you will, the Philosopher's Stone, the Stone of the Wise, the Magnum Opus, redemption, transformation, enlightenment – depends on setting and keeping a course using the Hermetic Quaternary.

So it’s no surprise that the Quaternary also correlates to the four Alchemical elements. Now say the Quaternary touching each point on your body as you orient yourself with the elements: Salt (forehead), Sulphur (navel), Azoth (right shoulder), and Mercury (left shoulder). Set a timer for at least 10 minutes. Assume your meditative posture of choice and regulate your breathing to a slow and steady rhythm. Keep your eyes open and do not fidget, wiggle, scratch, count, or think in language. Quiet your monkey mind and meditate, in a non-linguistic way, upon the symbolism of this arrangement. Record your thoughts and impressions in your journal or diary.

The Quaternary also correlates to the Cross of Light – a ritual for orienting oneself in relation to the Supreme Ultimate, the Uncaused Cause, the Father of Creation. Now say the Quaternary touching each point on your body as you orient yourself with God: Ateh “thine is” (forehead), Malkuth “the kingdom” (navel), Veh Geburah “the power” (right shoulder), and Veh Gedulah “the glory” (left shoulder). Then put your hands together in prayer position and say Le Olam Amen “Forever may it be so.”

Set a timer for at least 10 minutes. Assume your meditative posture of choice and regulate your breathing to a slow and steady rhythm. Keep your eyes open and do not fidget, wiggle, scratch, count, or think in language. Quiet your chattering monkey mind and visualize what you would look like if you moved through the world properly oriented with regard to your higher power. Record your thoughts and impressions in your journal or diary.

The Quaternary also correlates to four very special divine names of God. Say the Quaternary touching each point on your body as you call out to God by these four names YHVH “Yahweh” (forehead), Adonai “Lord” (navel), Eheyeh “I AM” (right shoulder), and AGLAH (short for “Ateh Gebur Le-Olam Adonai” which means “Thou art great forever my Lord” (left shoulder).

Set a timer for at least 10 minutes. Assume your meditative posture of choice and regulate your breathing to a slow and steady rhythm. Keep your eyes open and do not fidget, wiggle, scratch, count, or think in language. Quiet your linguistic mind and experience the reality of being oriented properly with God. Record your thoughts and impressions in your journal or diary.

The four Hermetic ways of seeing are gnostically, magically, scientifically and mystically. A good Hermeticist understands that in the same way that different lenses apply to different tasks – telescopes for astronomy, spyglasses for scouting, eyeglasses for reading, and magnifying glasses for small work – some ways of seeing can distort rather than clarify a given view. Think of an insoluble problem or issue in your life. Ask yourself which of the four lenses you haven’t yet applied and then bring them to bear. See if you can’t bring a solution into focus. Record your new insights in a journal or diary.

The four Hermetic ways of achieving are to Visualize, Plan, Execute and Practice and they correlate (as all of the foursomes in this quotidian set of meditations do) to the four points on your body. Touching each point, state the four ways as follows: Visualize (forehead), Plan (navel), Execute (right shoulder), and Practice (left shoulder). Is there something in your life you’ve failed to achieve? Interrogate yourself. Have you assiduously applied each of the four ways to realizing your goal? Have you visualized success every day? Have you made a detailed plan? Have you actually taken action to advance your plan? Have practiced the skills necessary to execute that plan? Use the results of your self-interrogation to jumpstart your headway. And as always, record all realizations in your journal or diary.

Are you the same person no matter where you are, what you’re doing, or whom you’re talking to? Do you say things that ring insincere even as you hear yourself speaking them? Do you claim to hold certain beliefs but demonstrate different ones through your actions? Say this out loud as you touch the four points of your body with the first and second fingers of your right hand: “Integrity is the unification of thoughts (forehead), desires (navel), actions (right shoulder) and beliefs (left shoulder).”

Set a timer for at least 10 minutes. Assume your meditative posture of choice and regulate your breathing to a slow and steady rhythm. Keep your eyes open and do not fidget, wiggle, scratch, count, or think in language. Quiet your mind and visualize what you would look like if you moved through the world with integrity. Record your thoughts and impressions in your journal or diary and take steps to put them into practice.

From Plato to Aquinas, from ancient Greece to the modern day, the cardinal virtues have remained unchanged for over two millennia. Recite them as you cross yourself like before. “Wisdom (forehead), Courage (navel), Justice (right shoulder) and Temperance (left shoulder).” The word cardinal is Latin for hinge or pivot. Following the cardinal virtues in the same way one follows the cardinal directions of North, South, East and West, will determine whether you will make headway in life or be lost.

Set a timer for at least 10 minutes. Assume your meditative posture of choice and regulate your breathing to a slow and steady rhythm. Keep your eyes open and do not fidget, wiggle, scratch, count, or think in language. Quiet your babbling mind and visualize what you would look like if you moved through the world embodying these virtues. Record your thoughts and impressions in your journal or diary.

There are, in broadest terms, two states of being and two states of action. These also map onto the four compass points of your body. Say them aloud as you cross yourself: “I am not” (forehead), “I am” (navel), “I will” (right shoulder), “I will not” (left shoulder). Enlightenment is dependent on reconciling these four opposites without contradiction. We are individuals and yet we are part of the One. We must have ego and assert ourselves in order to survive, and yet we must do the will of God.

Set a timer for at least 10 minutes. Assume your meditative posture of choice and regulate your breathing to a slow and steady rhythm. Keep your eyes open and do not fidget, wiggle, scratch, count, or think in language. Still your mind and visualize what it might be like to successfully balance these four opposites. Record your thoughts and impressions in your journal or diary and take action to get there.

There are four archangels associated with the four points of our Hermetic cross. Call their names as you perform the cross: Uriel (forehead), Michael (navel), Raphael (right shoulder), and Gabriel (left shoulder). Are angels “real,” or are they just “ideas” or “concepts?” Consider that ideas and concepts have had the power to transform the world as much as material things and are therefore altogether real.

Set a timer for at least 10 minutes. Assume your meditative posture of choice and regulate your breathing to a slow and steady rhythm. Keep your eyes open and do not fidget, wiggle, scratch, count, or think in language. Quiet your chattering monkey mind and visualize the four archangels bringing you the wisdom you’ve studied thus far. Record your thoughts and impressions in your journal or diary.

The wisest of the wise rise above and take an “all-encompassing” view that includes, without contradiction, all ways of knowing. As Cognitive Science expert John Vervaeke has pointed out, there are four primary ways of knowing: propositional, perspectival, participatory and procedural.

To understand something propositionally is to see it intellectually and philosophically (To Know). Take the martial arts for example. One might know a great deal about the martial arts, its theories, techniques, strategies, and history. One might have an excellent grasp of the various aspects of armed and unarmed fighting, war, self-defense, and sports.

But martial arts mean something different to each person. This is the perspectival way of knowing (To Will). Some people want to ban MMA as “human cockfighting” while the fighters themselves may see it as a way out of poverty or a means to fame and glory. Fans see MMA as a form of entertainment or perhaps as a social event to watch while hanging out with friends and eating chicken wings. Non-professional participants see martial arts as a way to get exercise and lose weight, as a way to promote safety, improve self-esteem, or one of a host of other ways.

Which leads to the participatory way of knowing. To some extent you cannot fully understand any activity until you have actually participated in it. Can an observer really appreciate martial arts the way an experienced martial artist does? But isn’t it also true that not being a participant can provide critical distance and insight? There is wisdom in participation for sure, but there is wisdom in non-participation as well.

And finally there is the procedural way of understanding martial arts. This is the way referees, instructors, coaches, and organizers understand martial arts. Knowing the rules of a given martial art, if any, are integral to making sense of it fully.

Think of a viewpoint that is counter your own – it can be political, moral, philosophical, religious etc. Ask yourself where this viewpoint comes from. Is it a propositional, perspectival, participatory or procedural way of seeing the issue? Now look at yours and make a similar evaluation. Is it possible that, if you put your two ways of knowing together, that you could both arrive at a more elevated viewpoint? Are there other ways of knowing you’ve both neglected?

Record your insights in a journal or diary and start using this method as often as you can to reconcile conflicts.

Named after the Latin name for a chariot drawn by four horses, the quadriga is an ancient way of interpreting scripture. To memorize them, place them on the cross and recite them now: Literally (forehead), Allegorically (navel), Morally (right shoulder), and Mystically (left shoulder). This method of reading can be applied to any story.

Imagine you are reading a 1972 newspaper article about the Watergate scandal. You could read it literally – as a resource to help you place the historical event within the framework of history as to the people involved, the chronology, its place on the world stage, and so on. Watergate was a big deal at the time and remains a touchstone even today.

When read allegorically, the article might seem to be about every leader who has ever succumbed to the allure of power and the need to maintain control. It might say something about the universal temptation to deny and cover up mistakes and transgressions. To read the story morally you might ask yourself what the story has to say about how people should act in general. What are the moral lessons we can learn from the Watergate scandal? What did the conspirators do wrong? What should Nixon have done or not done? What can we, as a country, do to prevent another scandal of this type? And finally, to read the story anagogically (from the Greek anagoge meaning climb or ascend) is to step into the story intimately and experientially, or perhaps to elevate it to a higher level. When read anagogically, you ask yourself if there has been a time when you did something like Nixon and/or his henchmen. Can you imagine what it would be like to be in his position – fearful of losing re-election, paranoid about enemies, fearful of getting caught? What are you doing in the way of character-building to make yourself less vulnerable to similar missteps?

Pick a piece of sacred literature that you find compelling and read it in all four ways. Record your thoughts and impressions in your journal or diary.

The ancients associated four winged animals known as the heavenly creatures with the four points of the compass. Hermeticists can therefore place them on the bodily cross. Say it now as you cross yourself: Ox (forehead), Lion (navel), Man (right shoulder) and Eagle (left shoulder). These four creatures appear in the book of Ezekiel and in Revelation. If you look at any good, quality, illustrated version of the Holy Gospel you will see the Four Evangelists depicted as, or at least associated with, these four creatures.

This is because, like any true story observed by four witnesses, the stories may vary but truth inheres between and among their perspectives. Luke is the Ox, and he depicts Christ as the ultimate and most perfect sacrifice. Mark is the Lion. His story is the first one written, the shortest and most immediate in tone. His depiction is of Christ the King. Matthew is the Man, and depicts Christ as a human teacher. John is the Eagle, and his is the 30,000 foot view of Christ as the divine Logos.

Set a timer for at least 10 minutes. Assume your meditative posture of choice and regulate your breathing to a slow and steady rhythm. Keep your eyes open and do not fidget, wiggle, scratch, count, or think in language. Quiet your mind and try to synthesize all of the aspects of the Hermetic Quaternary you have worked with in this series. The heavenly creatures are the embodiment of all the crosses and you have learned over the last sixteen days (see table below). It is completely without coincidence that a sphinx is the amalgam of all four of the heavenly creatures and that the Hermetic Quaternary is sometimes referred to as “the Powers of the Sphinx.”

Record your thoughts and impressions in your journal or diary and come back to them often.


Putting all of this together we get the following table.

Day 1: The Hermetic Quaternary Day 2: The Directions Day 3: The Fixed Signs Day 4: The Elements
To Know North Taurus Earth
To Will South Leo Fire
To Dare East Aquarius Air
To Keep Silent West Scorpio Water
Day 5: The Alchemical Elements Day 6: The Cross of Light Day 7: The God Names Day 8: The Hermetic Ways of Seeing
Salt Ateh YHVH Gnostically/Intellectually
Sulphur Malkuth Adonai Magically/Instinctually
Azoth Veh Geburah Eheyeh Scientifically
Mercury Veh Gedulah Aglah Mystically
Day 9: The Hermetic Ways
 of Achieving Day 10: The Nature of Integrity Day 11: Plato’s Qualities Day 12: Being and Action
Visualize Thoughts Wisdom “I am not”
Plan Desires Courage “I am”
Execute Actions Justice “I will”
Practice Beliefs Temperance “I will not”
Day 13: The Archangels Day 14: The Four Ways of Knowing Day 15: The Quadriga Day 16: The Heavenly Creatures
Uriel Propositional Literal Ox / Luke / Sacrifice
Michael Perspectival Allegorical Lion / Mark / King
Raphael Participatory Moral Man / Matthew / Teacher
Gabriel Procedural Mystical Eagle / John / Christ Logos

 

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