Hermes & Hermeticism
From the Second Key of Basil Valentine, Hermes is shown as
a healing god carrying a Caduceus in each hand, note he is winged,crowned,
the symbol of Hermes/Mercury above his head,
Sun & Moon are on Earth, along with a set of wings rooted to the ground.
Hermeticism is a set of philosophical and religious beliefs that appear in the Roman Empire by the 2nd century AD. with the appearance of a series of texts we now call the Corpus Hermeticum. As a class Hermetic texts are focused upon the Greek “tou philosóphou líthos”, in Latin the “lapis philosophorum,” and in English the “Philosophers Stone”. Hermeticism was compounded of many different strains of religious and philosophical belief that were current in the Roman Empire at that time. Of course all of these beliefs developed from beliefs that are far older, in order to begin to understand the origin of Hermetic thought, the individual ancient strands of beliefs that were woven into it must be separated and examined individually. Starting with the classical Greek God Hermes, the Egyptian God Thoth, and finally Hermes Trismegistus and the books attributed to him.
Hermes is first attested in the Mycenaean pantheon, as Hermes Araoia ("Ram Hermes") in Linear B inscriptions at Pylos and Mycenaean Knossos, circa 1450 BC making Hermes as old as Mithra, Soma, and Dionysus. The ancient name combination of Hermes and the Ram a symbol of wool should be noted, since the “golden” Amanita muscaria mushroom can quickly transform itself into a wooly “Ram”. Hermes is the herald and messenger of the Greek Olympian gods, the son of Zeus and the nymph Maia, daughter of Atlas and one of the Pleiades. Hermes is the god of boundaries/transitions/transformations, a God of shepherds, land travel, merchants, weights and measures, oratory, literature, athletics and thieves, a god known for his cunning and shrewdness. Most importantly, he is the “messenger” (Gr. angelos - Angel) of the Gods. Besides that he was a patron of poetry and music, inventing the lyre, the pan pipe, and the flute. Hermes carried a magical “golden staff” with which he could cause sleep or with hold sleep from men or Gods. Over time Hermes staff sprouted wings, acquired two serpents and is today called the Caduceus, the symbol of modern Medicine, which is very fitting since Hermes was a “master healer”, who over time transferred his healing power to his Son Asclepius. Hermes was considered the inventor of the religious sacrifices to the other gods, and hence he not only acts the part of a herald at sacrifices (Aristoph. Pax, 433), but is also the protector of sacrificial animals, and was believed in particular to increase the fertility of sheep. He was worshiped throughout Greece, especially in Arcadia, and festivals in his honor were called Hermoea.
According to legend, Hermes was born in a cave on Mount Cyllene in Arcadia. He was the child of Zeus (sky father) and the nymph Maia (earth), Zeus had impregnated Maia in the dead of night while all other gods slept, when dawn broke that morning, Hermes was born. The legendary mountain top cave birth is something that the Immortal Gods Hermes, Soma, and Mithra share. The legendary theft of sacred cattle which represent the Soma “plant” are also common themes these three gods share in their stories. Soma, Hermes and Mithra are all credited in their legends, with creating the first sacrifice to the gods. Hermes “broad brimmed hat”, “golden wings”, the magic healing “golden winged staff’, and his position as a God and “messenger of the Gods” show great correspondence with Soma, and other Sacramental uses of the Amanita muscaria mushroom.
The Homeric hymn to Hermes invokes him as the one "of many shifts (polytropos), blandly cunning, a robber, a cattle driver, a bringer of dreams, a watcher by night, a thief at the gates, one who was soon to show forth wonderful deeds among the deathless gods."
In very ancient Greece, Hermes was “a phallic god of boundaries” often represented with a standing carved phallus of wood or stone, later Hermes was depicted as an older, bearded, male bust on a square pillar with genitals carved at the bottom in keeping with his status as a phallic god. In the 6th century B.C.E., the traditional Hermes was re-imagined as an athletic youth. Statues of the new type of Hermes stood at stadiums and gymnasiums throughout Greece. In these new statues Hermes was conceived of having “golden wings” attached to a “rounded top, broad brimmed hat” carrying his magic healing Staff, as sculpture further evolved, his sandals or his ankles, also sprouted wings as a symbol of his great speed in service to men and Gods.
Hermes, note the obvious mushroom similarities of rounded cap with wings.
State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia. Circa 100BC Greece
Today the name Hermes is rarely used in it’s original sense of a winged God that is a visitor and “messenger” to both Heaven and Earth. Hermes name carries on in several modern words where Hermes is the root, such as hermetic, hermetica, hermeticism and hermetically sealed. To the Romans, the Greek Hermes was equated to their God Mercury. Like Hermes, Mercury is rarely thought of as a “god” today, while serving as the common name of a liquid poisonous metal or the name of the planet orbiting closest to the Sun. This triple identity of “Mercury” as a God/Metal/Planet in Alchemical and Hermetic texts leads to endless confusion when one forgets there are three radically different “Mercuries”in Alchemy, all represented in the texts with the same symbols or name.
Thoth is the Greek name for the Egyptian deity called “Djehuty” which translates to "He who is like the ibis". “Djehuty” is sometimes alternatively rendered as Tahuti, Tehuti, Zehuti, Techu, or Tetu. Thoth (also Thot or Thout) is the Greek version derived from the letters dhwty. Thoth was considered one of the most important deities of the Egyptian pantheon, often depicted with the head of an Ibis, who’s curved bill resembled the crescent moon.
Thoth was considered the heart and tongue of Ra as well as the means by which Ra's will was translated into speech. Thoth has also been likened to the Logos (Word) of Plato, and the mind of God. In the Egyptian mythology, he has played many vital and prominent roles, including being one of the two deities (the other being Ma'at) who stood on either side of the Sun God Ra's, boat.
The Egyptians credited him as the author of all works of science, religion, philosophy, and magic. The Greeks further declared Thoth to be the inventor of astronomy, astrology, the science of numbers, mathematics, geometry, land surveying, medicine, botany, theology, civilized government, the alphabet, reading, writing, and oratory. They further claimed he was the true author of every work of every branch of knowledge, human and divine.
Thoth as Scribe of the Gods
Thoth is prominent in the Osiris myth, being of great aid to Isis, after Isis gathered together the pieces of Osiris' dismembered body, he gave her the words to resurrect Osiris, so she could be impregnated and bring forth Horus. When Horus was slain, Thoth gave the formulae to resurrect him as well. Similar to God speaking the words to create the heavens and Earth in Judeo-Christian mythology, Thoth, being the god who speaks the words that fulfill the wishes of Ra, spoke the words that created the heavens and Earth in Egyptian mythology. In the ancient Egyptian Ogdoad cosmogony myth, Thoth gave birth to Ra, Atum, Nefertum, and Khepri by laying an egg while in the form of an ibis, or later as a goose laying a “golden egg”.
Vitriol acrostic (originally from Basil Valentine) in Johann Neithold Aureum Vellus; oder Güldenes Vleiss, Frankfurt, 1733.
After the decline of the Egyptian Empire, Egypt looked inward for centuries, developing a unique culture in semi-isolation that could be thought of as totally Egyptian. All that changed in 525 B.C.E. when Egypt was conquered by the Persian Empire, bringing Zoroastrian ideas along with it. Of course that would include the introduction of "Magi" practicing the Persian Haoma ceremony, which is descended from the ancient Soma ceremony. Persian philosophical ideas and religious beliefs were introduced into Egyptian culture for almost two hundred years.
Alexander the Great captured Egypt from the Persians, late in the year 332 BC, founding the City of Alexandria in 331 BC. In the wake of Alexanders conquest, Egypt became an attractive area for Greek settlers and traders. Throughout Egypt, but especially in the City of Alexandria, the ancient Egyptian and Persian philosophies and religious cults mingled with those philosophies and mystery cults of the wider Greek world. This ancient meeting of East and West created the perfect conditions for a synthesis of new beliefs, the creation of new Philosophies and many new religious cults. It was here that the Egyptian cult of Thoth and the Greek cult of Hermes, became blended so to speak into the new cult of Thoth/Hermes. It was only natural that two similar Gods who both created writing, science, medicine, religion and magic in their respective myths would be thought of as being basically the same God under different names. Thoth was referred to as “twice greatest” and “thrice greatest” (three times great) by his Egyptian followers, which in Greek translates to “Trismegistus.” Thus creating the name Hermes Trismegistus literally “thrice-great Hermes” in Latin “Mercurius ter Maximus”.
As a divine fountain of writing, Hermes Trismegistus was credited with tens of thousands of writings of high standing, reputed to be of immense antiquity. Plato's Timaeus and Critias state that in the temple of Neith at Sais, there were secret halls containing historical records which had been kept for 9,000 years. Clement of Alexandria was under the impression that the Egyptians had forty-two sacred writings by Hermes, encapsulating all the training of Egyptian priests.
The "Hermetic literature", known as the “Hermetica”, is a category of papyri containing spells and induction procedures. In the dialogue called the Asclepius (after Hermes Son Asclepius, the Greek god of healing) the art of imprisoning the souls of demons or of angels in statues with the help of herbs, gems and odors, is described, such that the statue could speak and prophesy. In other papyri, there are other recipes for constructing such images and animating them, such as when images are to be fashioned hollow so as to enclose a magic name inscribed on gold leaf.
Outside of Egypt and the Middle East, the majority of Greeks, and later Romans, did not accept Hermes Trismegistus in the place of the original Hermes. These two gods remained distinct from one another in the majority pagan thought. When Christianity as an official State religion of the Roman Empire declared war on all the old pagan beliefs, the ancient cult of Hermes was banned, persecuted, temples destroyed, texts burned, and followers eradicated. At the same time, to the early Christians the Hermeticists seemed to be possessed of an earlier version of Christianity, therefore the Christian Church seems to have left them and their writing basically unmolested. As we will discover there are indeed very close ties between the Hermetic “Philosophers Stone”, and the “living Stone” of early Eucharistic Christianity.
This same story was repeated when the religion of Islam swept through large areas of the ancient world. Any remaining followers of the old Pagan cults including that of Hermes, were converted to Islam or immediately killed. In 830 CE, a group of Hermetic pagans in Harran needed protection by being either Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or Sabian. They took the Corpus Hermeticum as their scripture and Hermes Trismegistus as their prophet, and decided to call themselves Sabians. As no one was sure what the Qur'an meant by Sabian, they were accepted as being such having a monotheistic scripture and a prophet. This group played a large role in Baghdad's intellectual life from 856 - 1050. The most famous of the Harranian Sabians was Thabit ibn Qurra, who made great advances in alchemy, astronomy, and mathematics, citing his paganism as the reason for his ability. They however began to decline in 950 CE when the caliph imposed strict Islamic orthodoxy forcing explicit Hermeticism underground and forcing other followers of Hermeticism to change Hermes to Mohammed. Of course when ideas are oppressed in one area they can suddenly sprout up in other areas as rapidly and unexpectedly as mushrooms.
By the early Middle Ages Hermeticism has a growing impact on Jewish thought in the Islamic countries and in Europe. Some Jewish philosophers identified Hermes Trismegistus with the pre Mosaic, biblical personage “Enoch”, this identification paved the way for the exchange and melding of ideas between Judaism and Hermeticism. The Hermetic texts being thought of as the lost books of Enoch, containing powerful ancient knowledge and magic. The result was a tremendous increase in the Medieval Jewish study of magic, numerology, and astrology. Hermetic philosophies had a large influence on the Medieval creation of the Kabbala and the birth of various Jewish occult philosophies. Of course many Rabbis in Medieval Judaism wanted nothing to do with any of this, and condemned those who introduced these Philosophies into Judaism. There were counter claims that the Sabians were not even “Hermetic” but heathen idol worshiping pagans from Mesopotamia using Hermes Trismegistus and Hermeticism as a cover religion for their practices of Paganism and magic.
Islam stressed literacy of the people that they might read the Koran, thus creating a generally literate society. When the West was in the dark ages, the scholars of Islam had preserved the writings of the Greek and Roman era, and in the 11 and 12 centuries AD. translated versions of many Greek and Latin writings including Hermetic texts, that had disappeared in the West after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, appeared in Europe. Since these Hermetic texts came to Western Europe along with great works of classical Greek and Latin writers, the Europeans tended to highly prize these Hermetic texts. The fact that these Hermetic texts were believed to date back to the time of the ancient Egyptians, vastly increased their popularity.
During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus enjoyed great credit and were popular among alchemists. The "hermetic tradition" therefore refers to alchemy, magic, astrology and related subjects. The texts are usually distinguished in two categories the "philosophical" and "technical" hermetica. The former deals mainly with issues of philosophy, and the latter with magic, potions and alchemy. The most famous of these texts was the Emerald Tablet also known as Smaragdine Table, Tabula Smaragdina, or The Secret of Hermes, a text purporting to reveal the secret of the Philosophers Stone, and its transmutations. Claimed to be the work of Hermes Trismegistus, this short and cryptic text was highly regarded by European alchemists as the foundation of their art, in particular of its Hermetic tradition. The oldest documented source for the Emerald tablet text is the Kitab Sirr al-Asrar, a compendium of advice for rulers authored by Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani in around 800 AD. This work was translated into Latin as Secretum Secretorum (The Secret of Secrets) by Johannes "Hispalensis" or Hispaniensis (John of Seville) ca. 1140 and by Philip of Tripoli c. 1243. Interestingly the Emerald Tablet is the only piece of non-Greek Hermetica to attract widespread attention in the West.
Hermeticism underwent it’s own transformation from contact with Christian, Jewish and Moslem thought, branching and diversifying into Christian Hermeticism, Jewish Hermeticism, and Moslem Hermeticism. From Christian Hermeticism, Societies evolved such as the Rosicrucians and other western Hermetic groups plus European Alchemy which eventually led to modern Chemistry, and western Occult magic. From Jewish Hermeticism the Kabbala and most of the modern “New Age” Occult magic is derived. While Hermetic thought permeates the rich Alchemical traditions developed and fostered under Islam.
Hermes Trismegistus pointing to the Philosophers’ Stone,
from Maier Symbola aurea mensae, Franckfurt, 1617.
Inspired by certain Islamic Alchemists, European Hermeticists and Alchemists conceived and created an encoded symbolic language expressed through symbols, diagrams and very strange pictures. At the same time the plain language of many of their texts clearly warns the reader that the symbols, diagrams, and pictures contain the essential truth, while the written text contains deliberate lies and deceits to confound the unworthy. This practice provided a certain amount of security for the secrets of the Hermeticists and Alchemists since only those who have been initiated would be able to understand the pictorial knowledge presented. Unfortunately people who were not initiated into the secrets often claimed that they knew these secrets, some were sincere seekers, many however were just shysters and swindlers, deceiving many people who trusted them. Many of the sincere but still false teachers developed spiritual philosophies based on Hermeticism, to make up for their lack of the Philosophers Stone. Thus throwing the whole western Hermetic and Alchemical tradition into great confusion and raising serious doubt if any of the modern Hermetic groups actually still possess the secret of the real Philosophers Stone, the one true and only goal of the ancient Hermeticists.
Photo by Neil
the Ambrosia Society Philosophers Stone,
Sun & Moon on Earth.
Hermes Trismegistus links
Hermetic texts links
Ambrosia Society Emerald Tablet
Sacred-texts The Hermetic Museum
Sacred-texts Corpus Hermeticum
Levity.com Corpus Hermeticum
Sacred-texts The Kybalion
Gnostic.org The Kybalion
Sacred-texts The Golden Tractate of Hermes Trismegistus
Sacred-texts The WATER STONE OF THE WISE
Sacred-texts THE GOLDEN TRACT
Sacred-texts The Hermetic Arcanum
Papyri Graecae Magicae Greek Magical Papyri Texts
The Gnostic Society Library Asclepius 21-29