Silent Hymns and the Absent Heaven

21 Mar

Continuing with the conversation in The Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth, the initiate persists in his quest to reach the eighth and ninth heavenly spheres. He tells his spiritual father (and, simultaneously, the thrice great God), “Trismegistus, let not my soul be deprived of the great divine vision.”

Still psychically floating in the eighth heavenly sphere, the father replies, “Return to praising, my son, and sing while you are silent. Ask what you want in silence.”

The initiate praises in silence; he asks for the vision in silence. (What else could he do?) And, after praising, perhaps even by praising, he obtains it at last: “We have received this light. And I myself see this same vision in you. And I see the eighth, and the souls that are in it, and the angels singing a hymn to the ninth and its powers.” His instructor quickly tells him not to speak any further about the vision (“It is advantageous from now on that we keep silent”).

Obedient as ever, the initiate offers no additional descriptions of his vision, but waxes poetic about “the object of man’s quest, the immortal discovery, the begetter of light and truth, the sower of reason, the love of immortal life.” Descriptions of the vision fold into such descriptions of his silent hymns.

In his praising he does a bit of chanting, too. Just as his father chanted during his pre-vision invocation, the initiate proclaims, “I call your name that is hidden within me”:


ooo iii oooo


ooooo uuuuuu oo




After this outburst of vowels (silly on paper, more profound performed), his father switches gears, telling him to write a book “for the temple at Diospolis.” It’s to be composed “on steles of turquoise,” with very detailed and enigmatic specifications: “Eight guardians,” half “frog-faced” men, half “cat-faced” women, are to frame the text; “a square milk stone” is to adorn the base, with the title written on the stone; and this is all to be done “when [he] is in Virgo, and the sun is in the first half of the day, and fifteen degrees have passed by him.” (Whew!) The book’s title? “The Eighth Reveals the Ninth.”

Wait, what? The eighth reveals the ninth?

We don’t ever see the ninth sphere in The Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth; neither the mystagogue nor the initiate encounters a vision of it in this text, at least not explicitly. We only hear of angels “singing a hymn” to it in the initiate’s description of the eighth sphere. Is it somewhere behind the silence about the visions? (Is the ninth what should not be spoken of, according to the father?)

Since angels (and the initiate?) sing their hymns to the ninth while in the eight, is the ninth in the praising itself? Does this higher sphere begin with “A O EE O EEE?” (The son is only told to write “The Eighth Reveals the Ninth” after he chants this divine name, after all.) Guesses like these emerge, but this sphere remains a mystery–as if a bright, ineffable sphere of singing angels, like Doré’s illustration above, wasn’t enigmatic enough.

At least we learn from the unwritten book (the one we didn’t read) that the eighth reveals the ninth. Like the initiate, like any initiate, we need to reach the eighth ourselves to see what comes next.

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