Hermeticism is the symbolic and ceremonial use of magic, the height of which is arguable the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in the 19th Century. The Rosicrucian Order is also another example of a modern Hermetic Order. Hermeticism was traditionally opposed by the Church and practices were underground and intermingled with various occult traditions.
'Hermeticism is a set of philosophical and religious beliefs based primarily upon the writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus [depicted below], who is put forth as a wise sage and Egyptian priest, and who is commonly seen as synonymous with the Egyptian god [of wisdom] Thoth [and later the Greek god Hermes]. These beliefs have influenced Western magic traditions and held great influence during the Renaissance. In Islam, the Hermetic cult was accepted in 830 CE as being the Sabians mentioned in the Qur'an.'
In Late Antiquity, Hermetism emerged in parallel with Gnosticism, Neoplatonism and Early Christianity, "characterized by a resistance to the dominance of either pure rationality or doctrinal faith". The books now known as the Corpus Hermeticum were part of a renaissance of syncretistic and intellectualized pagan thought that took place around the 2nd century. Other examples of this cultural movement would include Neoplatonist philosophy, the Chaldaean Oracles, late Orphic and Pythagorean literature, as well as much of Gnosticism. The extant Greek texts dwell upon the oneness and goodness of God, urge purification of the soul, and defend pagan religious practices, such as the veneration of images. Many lost Greek texts, and many of the surviving vulgate books, contained discussions of alchemy clothed in philosophical metaphor.
After centuries of falling out of favor, Hermeticism was reintroduced to the West when, in 1460 CE, a man named Leonardo brought the Corpus Hermeticum to Pistoia. He was one of many agents sent out by Pistoia's ruler, Cosimo de'Medici, to scour European monasteries for lost ancient writings.
In 1614 CE Isaac Casaubon, a Swiss philologist, analyzed the Hermetic texts for linguistic style and claimed that the Hermetic writings attributed to Trismegistus were not the work of an ancient Egyptian priest but in fact dated to the Christian Era. Walter Scott places their date shortly after 200 CE, while Sir W. Flinders Petrie places them between 200 and 500 BCE. Plutarch's mention of Hermes Trismegistus dates back to the first century CE, and Tertullian, Iamblichus, and Porphyry are all familiar with Hermetic writings.
In 1945 CE, Hermetic writings were among those found near Nag Hammadi, in the form of one of the conversations between Hermes and Asclepius from the Corpus Hermeticum, and a text about the Hermetic mystery schools, On the Ogdoad and Ennead, written in the Coptic language, the last form in which the Egyptian language was written.'
This is in keeping with the understanding that the Hermetic texts were written in the post-Christian Gnostic era (2nd to 5th centuries). Their content also shows influence from Neo-Platonism.
'Hermetica is a category of popular Late Antique literature purporting to contain secret wisdom, and generally attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, "thrice-great Hermes", a syncretism of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian Thoth. A collection of several such Greek texts from the second and third centuries, survivors from a more extensive literature, were compiled into a Corpus Hermeticum by Italian scholars during the Renaissance. Other Hermetic works, however, existed in Syriac, Arabic, Armenian, Coptic, and other languages.
Unlike some Gnostic writings, the Hermetica contain no explicit allusions to Jewish or Christian texts - and this choice seems deliberate. They do, however, contain some unconscious echoes of Biblical themes, underscoring the close if uneasy intermingling of Jewish, Greek and Egyptian currents in Hellenistic Alexandria. Unlike Orphic literature, the works of the Hermetica are unconcerned with the genealogical tedia of Greek mythology. And compared with Chaldaean Oracles and Neoplatonist philosophy, the Hermetic texts dwell far less on the technical minutiae of metaphysical philosophy: their concerns are practical in nature, their ends a spiritual rebirth through the enlightenment of the mind.'
'Throughout history a body of knowledge has existed providing a philosophy of life that is attuned to the true nature of things with clear instructions and methods for self-realization and transformation. Hermeticism, Hermetism and Hermetics is one name for this body of knowledge. Essentially, Hermeticism is the ancient philosophy, theory and practice of the inner secrets of man, nature and spirit. It's origins are lost in the mists of prehistory. Its revivals in the Hellenistic, Renaissance and modern times have often been pale reflections of its real nature. Though much of its records are lost, it has re-risen from the flames like the Phoenix under many different guises. Fragments of this great primal teaching are distributed throughout the world. The ancients have called Hermes Trismegistus, its legendary founder, the originator of writing, the sciences and arts, as well as the patron of esoteric teachings, alchemy, astrology and theurgy. He has been equated as one and the same as Tehuti, Thoth, Enoch and Idris, among many other spiritual teachers at the dawn of human history. Hermetic teachings have been transmitted through a long line of masters and teachers throughout the ages. Its survival throughout the ages has been accomplished by means of guardians of the holy mysteries. These guardians have emerged from time to time to disclose precious fragments of these timeless teachings.'
A list of articles and books on Hermeticism can be read at the Hermetica.org web site below.
'The Book of Thoth is a legendary book containing powerful spells and knowledge, said to have been buried with the Prince Neferkaptah (meaning perfect ka of Ptah in Egyptian) in the City of the Dead. The reader of the rolls would know the language of the animals, be able to cast great spells, and be able to enchant the sky and earth themselves. Anyone who read the book was punished by the gods (who would cause the reader's loved ones to die until the book was returned). The Book of Thoth is said to be hidden inside a golden box, which is contained in a silver box inside a box of ivory and ebony encased in a sycamore box which is found in a bronze box contained in an iron box. The keys of each box, if the myth is taken into context, were hidden across the Egyptian Empire by either the Gods, the son of Neferkaptah or Neferkaptah himself, depending on the version of the legend, and the keys were either put under the charge of trusted friends, hidden in hard-to-reach places or placed under guard of beasts or enchantments and curses, as prevention to the curses that the Book placed upon the reader.'
Aleister Crowley wrote a book called 'The Book of Thoth' which is not related to the above, but outlined his astrological tarot system using a 'Thoth' deck.
The main three texts of Hermeticism are The Corpus Hermeticum, The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus and The Kybalion. A translation of the Corpus Hermeticum is available at the link below.
A translation of the Emerald Tablet by Georgio Beato from the Aurelium Occultae Philosophorum is shown below. Another translation by the part time alchemist (and bully) Isaac Newton exists but used older English.
1) This is true and remote from all cover of falsehood.
2) Whatever is below is similar to that which is above. Through this the marvels of the work of one thing are procured and perfected.
3) Also, as all things are made from one, by the consideration of one, so all things were made from this one, by conjunction.
4) The father of it is the sun, the mother the moon.
5) The wind bore it in the womb. Its nurse is the earth, the mother of all perfection.
6) Its power is perfected.
7) If it is turned into earth,
7) Separate the earth from the fire, the subtle and thin from the crude and coarse, prudently, with modesty and wisdom.
8) This ascends from the earth into the sky and again descends from the sky to the earth, and receives the power and efficacy of things above and of things below.
9) By this means you will acquire the glory of the whole world, and so you will drive away all shadows and blindness.
10) For this by its fortitude snatches the palm from all other fortitude and power. For it is able to penetrate and subdue everything subtle and everything crude and hard.
11) By this means the world was founded
12) And hence the marvelous cojunctions of it and admirable effects, since this is the way by which these marvels may be brought about.
13) And because of this they have called me Hermes Tristmegistus since I have the three parts of the wisdom and Philosophy of the whole universe.
14) My speech is finished which I have spoken concerning the solar work. This doesn't work!
'One account of how Hermes Trismegistus received the name "Trismegistus," meaning "Thrice Great," is because, as he claims in The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, he knows the three parts of the wisdom of the whole universe. The three parts of the wisdom are alchemy, astrology, and theurgy. Marsilio Ficino's opinion was that "they called him Trismegistos because he was the greatest philosopher and the greatest priest and the greatest king." Another explanation, in the Suda (10th century), is that "He was called Trismegistos on account of his praise of the trinity, saying there is one divine nature in the trinity." This last is an example of how Hermes Trismegistus was adopted by Christianity to serve its own particular purposes.
Alchemy - The Operation of the Sun - is not simply the changing of physical lead into physical gold. It is an investigation into the spiritual constitution, or life of matter and material existence through an application of the mysteries of birth, death and resurrection. The various stages of chemical distillation and fermentation, among them, are aspects of these mysteries, that, when applied quicken Nature's processes in order to bring a natural body to perfection. This perfection is the accomplishment of the Magnum opus (Latin for Great Work).
Astrology - The Operation of the Moon - Hermes claims that Zoroaster discovered this part of the wisdom of the whole universe, astrology, and taught it to man. In Hermetic thought, it is likely that the movements of the planets have meaning beyond the laws of physics and actually holding metaphorical value as symbols in the mind of The All, or God. Astrology has influences upon the Earth, but does not dictate our actions, and wisdom is gained when we know what these influences are and how to deal with them.
Theurgy - The Operation of the Stars - There are two different types of magic, according to Giovanni Pico della Mirandola's Apology, completely opposite of one another. The first is Goetia, 'blac'k magic reliant upon an alliance with chaotic or 'evil' spirits (i.e. demons). The second is Theurgy, divine magic reliant upon an alliance with divine spirits (i.e. angels, archangels, gods - referred to by some as a form of 'white' magic). Theurgy translates to "The Science or art of Divine Works" and is the practical aspect of the Hermetic art of alchemy. Furthermore, alchemy is seen as the "key" to theurgy, the ultimate goal of which is to become united with higher counterparts, leading to the attainment of Divine Consciousness.
Hermeticism encompasses both Panentheism and Monistic-polytheism within its belief system, which teaches that there is The All, or one "Cause", of which we, and the entire universe, are all a part. Also it subscribes to the notion that other beings such as gods and angels, ascended masters and elementals exist in the Universe.
These words circulate throughout occult and magical circles, and they come from Hermetic texts. The concept was first laid out in The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, in the words "That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above, corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracles of the One Thing."
In accordance with the various levels of reality: physical, mental, and spiritual, this relates that what happens on any level happens on every other. This is however more often used in the sense of the microcosm and the macrocosm. The microcosm is oneself, and the macrocosm is the universe. The macrocosm is as the microcosm, and vice versa; within each lies the other, and through understanding one (usually the microcosm) you can understand the other.
There are mentions in Hermeticism about reincarnation. As Hermes states:
"O son, how many bodies we have to pass through, how many bands of demons, through how many series of repetitions and cycles of the stars, before we hasten to the One alone?"
Some say this refers to the various rebirths in one's spiritual nature, rather than the physical body.
Hermes explains in Book 9 of the Corpus Hermeticum that Nous brings forth both good and evil, depending on if he receives input from God or from the demons. God brings good, while the demons bring evil. Among those things brought by demons are:
"adultery, murder, violence to one's father, sacrilege, ungodliness, strangling, suicide from a cliff and all such other demonic actions."
This provides a clearcut view that Hermeticism does indeed include a sense of morality. However, the word good is used very strictly, to be restricted to use to the Supreme Good, God. It is only God (in the sense of the Supreme Good, not The All) who is completely free of evil to be considered good. Men are exempt of having the chance of being good, for they have a body, consumed in the physical nature, ignorant of the Supreme Good. Among those things which are considered extremely sinful, is the focus on the material life, said to be the only thing that offends God:
"As processions passing in the road cannot achieve anything themselves yet still obstruct others, so these men merely process through the universe, led by the pleasures of the body."
It is troublesome to oneself to have no "children". This is a symbolic description, not to mean physical, biological children, but rather creations. Immediately before this claim, it is explained that God is "the Father" because it has authored all things, it creates. Whether father or mother, one must create, do something positive in their life, as the Supreme Good is a "generative power". The curse for not having "children" is to be imprisoned to a body, neither male (active) nor female (thoughtful), leaving that person with a type of sterility, that of being unable to accomplish anything.
The tale is given in the first book of the Corpus Hermeticum by God's Nous to Hermes Trismegistus after much meditation. It begins as the ALL creates the elements after seeing the Cosmos and creating one just like it (our Cosmos) from its own constituent elements and souls. From there, the ALL, being both male (Divine Father) and female (Universal Mother), holding the Word (the logos), gave birth to a second Nous, creator of the world. This second Nous created seven powers, or deities, (often seen as Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the Sun and the Moon) to travel in circles and govern destiny. The Word then leaps forth from the materializing elements, which made them unintelligent. Nous then made the governors spin, and from their matter sprang forth creatures without speech. Earth then was separated from Water and the animals (other than Man) were brought forth from the Earth.
The Supreme Nous then created Man, androgynous, in his own image and handed over his creation. Man carefully observed the creation of his brother, the lesser Nous, and received his and his Father's authority over it all. Man then rose up above the spheres' paths to better view the creation, and then showed the form of the ALL to Nature. Nature fell in love with it, and Man, seeing a similar form to his own reflecting in the water fell in love with Nature and wished to dwell in it. Immediately Man became one with Nature and became a slave to its limitations such as gender and sleep. Man thus became speechless (for it lost the Word) and became double, being mortal in body but immortal in spirit, having authority of all but subject to destiny.
The tale does not specifically contradict the theory of evolution, other than for Man, but most Hermeticists fully accept evolutionary theory as a solid grounding for the creation of everything from base matter to Man.'
The Kybalion: The Hermetic Philosophy of Ancient Egypt and Greece is a book written anonymously by 'The Three Initiates' claims to describe the teachings of Hermes Trismegistus, but appears to draw heavily on the philosophies of the New Thought Movement and also the Indian Yogic Tradition. It was published some time between 1908 and 1912, by The Yogi Publication Society, Masonic Temple, Chicago, Illinois. Some credit the book to William Walter Atkinson, a New Thought movement writer of a number of books on Yoga and Indian mysticism. Perhaps it was a response to the publication by Aleister Crowley, the ex-Golden Dawn member, of his book 'The Book of Law' in 1904. Crowley's books described the Golden Dawn's Hermetic Magic system (contrary to the order's strict instructions for elitist secrecy) but Crowley had developed it into his Thelema religion/philosophy and combined its Theurgy (divine magic) with Tantra (sex magic), Hedonism and Goetia (demonology), and it was not a fair representation of pure Hermeticism. Perhaps this inspired Israel Regardie to publish his books in 1940 onwards on the practices and belief of the Golden Dawn.
The Kybalion tends to focus on the philosophy of Hermeticism and does not draw so much on the religious side of Hermeticism, but alludes to the fact that Hermeticism was originally a pure philosophy with no literal belief in alchemy in the physical sense (or accompanying religious system) but as a system to changing/transforming the emotions (alchemy being used as a metaphor); and that pure Hermeticism was philosophy only which was later perverted and amalgamated into various pagan religions; it was deemed to have only been passed down to those who 'deserved it' or were intellectually capable of understanding it, and as such it was kept out of the hands of the common 'swine'. This seems to be a rather New Thought interpretation of Hermeticism, taking the philosophical and religious parts that were compatible with New Thought and leaving it to the reader as to whether to pursue the religious aspects and the Theurgy (divine magic), Astrology and Alchemy.
Many Hermeticists and occults (including Gnostic Luciferians) highly rate this book as an introductory text to occult philosophy and practice, but which does not actually contain any Hermetic practices or magical instruction in it. Some such individuals do genuinely believe in literal Alchemy, or rather mind over matter (in curing disease (the power of positive thinking on the immune system or genuine thought creating matter? Or creating a virtually indestructible body (see the Left-Hand Path) - which some achieve by Qi Gong or Kung Fu practices). Some regard it as empty 'mind candy', full of promises of the secrets of the universe and compliments but with little actual content or hermetic exercises that can be applied. I regard the Kybalion as a distillation of the essence of Hermetic philosophy into an acceptable format, but which strictly speaking, is only a small subset of the actual philosophy and religion of Hermeticism as that can be seen from the actual texts and historical facts. It tends to paint a rather rose-tinted view of Hermeticism. This is not to say that considerable benefit cannot be gained from studying the purely philosophical aspects of Hermeticism and applying them to one's atheistic or religious beliefs. Indeed, some of the content of this web site can be seen to be derived in some form from the some of philosophical principles of Hermeticism and also the New Thought movement.
The Kybalion can be read on line at the link below or on google.
It can also be downloaded in pdf format here.
Reviews of The Kybalion can be found on amazon.
Some of the main principles outlined in the Kybalion are outlined below.
The Seven Hermetic Principles are:
1) The Principle of Mentalism
"All is mind" - relating to the universal, infinite, living mind in which we are all considered to live within.
2) The Principle of Correspondence
"As above, so below; as below, so above' - there is always a correspondence between the laws and phenomemna of the various planes of Being and Life.
3) The Principle of Vibration
"Everything is in motion; everything vibrates; nothing is at rest" - the principle that the different manifestations of Matter, Energy, Mind and even Spirit result largely from varying rates of Vibration. It is the recognition of the level of vibration of others around us, and the way one can raise the level of vibration of those around us and indeed our own level of vibration.
4) The Principle of Polarity
"Everything is dual; everything has two poles; everything has its pair of opposites" - Thesis and antithesis are identical in nature, but different in degree; opposites are the same, differing only in degree; the pairs of opposites must be reconciled; extremes must be reconciled; everything is and isn't, at the same time; all truths are but half-truths; every truth is half-false; there are two sides to everything, etc. As stated on the Belief page in the Psychology section, hot and cold are not opposites but just descriptions of different levels of vibration on different points on a sliding scale. 'Black' people are not the opposite of 'white' people! Dark is not the opposite of light but the relative absence of light. Go far enough 'right wing' in politics and you meet 'extreme left wing' in a form of socialist/populist totalitarianism that are virtually indistinguishable in practice (and often equally nationalistic and racist). If you go far enough north you end up south. Language often causes mental confusion and creates polarity where it does not in reality exist. The principle of polarity enables one to turn around one's mental state and recognising one state as mere a lower level of vibration to another. Like can only become like. For example, hate can be turned to love, fear can be turned to courage; they are not opposites. But fear cannot be turned into love; nor can hot be turned into dark. Such principles are important in regulating one's own emotions and achieving higher mental states and levels of vibration. One could however view 'more of' a specific quality (rather than viewing more of as a polar position) being a good thing and conducive to a higher level of vibration, and so the idea that more of is a polar position is not strictly valid. It probably depends on the specific quality in question and the context. I believe that if all truths are half-truths, then so is Hermeticism, which is why he is only really interested in some of the philosophical aspects of Hermeticism (rather than occult practice and religion) and balances these against his other philsophical and religious beliefs. Each are only a part description of the whole. Indeed, some of these principles may be true but at the same time only a part description of reality and thus partially false. Perhaps Hermeticists are half right in this regard. Einstein's Law of Relativity held that time was a continuuum, that has always existed (after the big bang) and always will exist, but that both past and future are part of a 4th dimension of time/space...time; i.e. points on an axis, and that the past and future are already plotted and exist all at once, much like different points on a graph exist and can be seen by one outside this dimension of the paper. We are deemed to travel through this time dimension at the speed of light. However, quantum physics seems to suggest that time is not like this, not a continuum, but more granular in nature, i.e. grains of time, one grain influencing how the next grain is formed and what is contained there in and its nature. Thus there is a continuum in a sense but it is also perhaps granular and can be broken down into absolutes (locally). It is perhaps a little like arguing whether light is a particle or a wave. Both are true and both are false.
5) The Principle of Rhythm
"Everything flows, out and in; everything has tides [e.g. stock market, housing market]; all things rise and fall; the pendulum-swing manifests in everything; the measure of the swing to the right is the measure of the swing to the left; rhythm compensates" - mental states swing in a pendulum-like manner, and one can halt the swing of the pendulum (through Polarity) where they want it using the Mental Law of Neutralisation. To use the principle of rhythm rather than be used by it, through use of the Will.
6) The Principle of Cause and Effect
"Every cause has its Effect; every Effect has its Cause; everything happens according to Law; Chance is but a name for Law not recognised; there are many planes of causation, but nothing escapes the law" - the art of rising above the normal plane of Cause and Effect, to a degree, and by rising to a higher mental plane and level of vibration, one can become a Causer instead of Effects. The majority of a population are being carried along. Hermeticists not so (apparently). Play the game of life rather than being played by it. Obey the law of causation but rule (or just not be led) on their own plane.
7) The Principle of Gender
"Gender is in everything; everything has its Masculine and Feminine Principles; Gender manifests on all planes" - on the physical plane, the principle manifests itself as SEX , but on higher planes it is reputed to take higher forms. No creation, physical, mental or spiritual is deemed to be possible without this principle. Every male element has its female element, and vice versa. This principle has no reference to the many 'base, pernicious and degrading lustful theories, teachings and practices, which are taught under fanciful titles, and are a prostitution of the great natural principle of Gender. Such base revivals of the ancient infamous forms of Phallicism tend to ruin mind, body and soul, and the Hermetic Philosophy has ever sounded the warning note against these degraded teachings which tend toward lust, licentiousness, and the perversion of Nature's principles. If you seek such teachingsgs, you must go elsewhere for them - Hermeticism contains nothing for you along these lines. To the pure, all things are pure; to the base, all things are base.'
The view of the Universe is more religious/esoteric than philosophical and is described below.
Hermetic philosophy considers that the Universe can be divided into three great classes of phenomena, The Three Great Planes:
1) The Great Physical Plane
2) The Great Mental Plane
3) The Great Spiritual Plane
The Seven Minor Physical Planes are:
1-3) The Plane of Matter (A, B and C)
4) The Plane of Ethereal Substance
5-7) The Plane of Energy (A, B and C)
The Great Mental Plane comprises those form of 'living things' known to us in ordinary life:
1) The Plane of Mineral Mind
2) The Plane of Elemental Mind
3) The Plane of Planet Mind
4) The Plane of Elemental Mind
5) The Plane of Animal Mind
6) The Plane of Elemental Mind
7) The Plane of Human Mind