Spiritus Hermeticum: part one
An investigation of the origins of Hermeticism and the true teachings of Hermes Trismegistus
The spirit of Hermes Trismegistus towers like a colossus over mysticism, magic and esoteric philosophy. In this new series of twelve articles we shall endeavour to trace the origins of Hermeticism back to its earliest roots. Along the way we shall consider many different aspects of the Hermetic legacy and its profound influence upon some of the greatest minds of the past, not least Plato, who embodied many of the teachings of Hermes in his philosophy. Our main aim, however, is to discover who Hermes was, when he might have lived and what his true teachings were, for many of the writings called Hermetic are little more than superstitious speculations upon occult laws and principles of which the authors had little understanding. This is why we have called this investigation Spiritus Hermeticum, not Corpus Hermeticum (as the literature dealing with Hermetic philosophy is generally known), for we are not concerned with the dead body—the 'corpus'—of Hermeticism, but with its inner, living Spirit.
For this reason much of what we have to say will contradict the prevailing view that the Corpus Hermeticum was composed between the 2nd or 3rd centuries A.D., and is the work of various anonymous Greek writers. We aim to show that not only are the essential texts of Hermeticism much older than this, but that some of them are the fragmentary remains of the original teachings of Hermes Trismegistus himself. Far from being a mythical figure as is generally thought, we believe that Hermes actually existed as an individual teacher or group of teachers going by that name, and that he or they are not to be confused with the Hellenistic fantasy which resulted from the fusion of the Greek Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth. We shall endeavour to prove all these points during the course of our investigation which is spread over twelve articles, published at monthly intervals from April 2020 to March 2021.
Our principal aim then is to discover, or rather rediscover, the Spirit of Hermes by identifying the original truths he taught to his disciples, and to distinguish these without fail from the half-truths and speculations grafted onto them over the centuries. For it is the Truth and nothing but the Truth that matters to us, and we hope, to our loyal readers, no matter how unpopular or unsaleable it may be to those who call themselves 'occultists' and 'magicians', but are nothing but blind charlatans leading the even blinder. As many of you will know this website was created to re-state the age-old Truths of Occult Science—not to peddle modern fantasies masquerading as occultism. We have stuck firmly to this sacred purpose ever since we published our first article on 13 March 2012. Now, eight years later, we are publishing by far the most ambitious and certainly the longest series of articles we have ever contemplated. We are in no doubt that what we have to say will appeal to very few readers. But if our labours increase these few, if only by a handful, we shall have achieved our objective.
In the twelve afterwords accompanying this investigation in the sidebar we are meticulously dissecting the so-called Emerald Tablets of Thoth the Atlantean fabricated in the last century by Dr Maurice Doreal. Our aim, as always, is to help our loyal readers distinguish between Truth and falsehood and between half-truths and outright fantasy. We have sometimes been asked what we mean by 'half-truths', and this is as good an opportunity as any to address this question. For once we agree with Wikipedia that a "half-truth is a deceptive statement that includes some element of truth." The online encyclopaedia goes on to say: "the purpose and or consequence of a half-truth is to make something that is really only a belief appear to be knowledge, or a truthful statement to represent the whole truth, or possibly lead to a false conclusion." We agree, and this is why we say half-truths are much more dangerous than downright lies in so many of our articles. Here is a classic illustration which explains why. An elephant was once encountered by three blind men, each of whom could only reach parts of the animal. Although they all touched the same elephant, none of them obtained a complete understanding of it. The first touched the tail and thought the elephant was some kind of furry snake. The second handled only the trunk and insisted the creature was an elongated, hollow tube with two sharp teeth, while the third, seated on the animals back, was convinced it was a huge, round sphere. There is a further, much more dangerous aspect to half-truths and that is when a genuine truth has been re-packaged with the deliberate intention of misleading and deceiving us.
We all know the famous remark made by former U.S. President Bill Clinton that he "did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." Had he used the word 'sex' it would have been a lie, or very close to one. But as he chose the term 'sexual relations' it was a half-truth. When Dr Maurice Doreal (real name Claude D. Dodgin) claimed The Emerald Tablets of Thoth the Atlantean we shall examine in our afterword, were authentic ancient artefacts, he was telling a half-truth. For whilst the 13 verses of the SINGLE Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus known since at least the 12th century may owe their origin to the wisdom teachings of Atlantis, this is not true of Doreal's 'tablets' which first saw the light of day in the 1940's. Should any reader doubt us, which would be an eminent attitude to adopt as we never ask anyone to accept our words on trust, but to prove them for and by themselves, then we invite them to follow our examination of Doreal's tablets in our twelve afterwords. When we come to compare them with the REAL Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus they may make up their own mind as to which is genuine and which is the fake.
Before we examine the spurious tablets themselves, we think it would be helpful to say something about their author—the 'Dr' Maurice Doreal mentioned above—the better to understand how and why they became an overnight sensation and remain infinitely better known and more popular than the one, genuine tablet of Hermes. We promise our readers quite a few surprises as we explore the career of the devious 'doctor', who was one of the most influential metaphysical mountebanks of the 20th century. In sober contrast to the colourful and chequered career of this self-appointed mouthpiece of the 'Ascended Masters' our main article is concerned with fact not fantasy. In this first part of our investigation we examine the many references to Hermes throughout history and compare and contrast the teachings attributed to him with the mythology of the name itself. In Part two we consider the origins and extent of the literature dealing with the Corpus Hermeticum. The remaining parts follow at monthly intervals thereafter.
The origins of Hermeticism
When people talk about Hermes, they may mean anything or nothing. As we shall see during this investigation, there are very few, even among occultists, who understand or know the full meaning of that name, symbol or idea. Hermes may mean any of these three things, and various other things too, depending on the correspondence between the name, symbol, and the ideas or suggestions behind them. To begin with there are a multitude of ideas and types of Hermes. There is the Greek god Hermes, the Hermes beloved of Alchemists—a very different personage altogether. We also have the Hermes connected with Aphrodite, the Hermes of birthdays, of boundaries, of cairns and of crossroads. We find Hermes in Homer, in Greek and Roman images and depicted on coins of the Thracian religion. There is Hermes the many-headed; Hermes with the wings; Hermes Chthonios, or the Hermes of the Underworld, and Hermes Kriophoros, the messenger of Zeus and god of fertility in flocks and herds, who was supposed to spend much of his time seducing nymphs. This belief goes to show that the obsession with sex is not a modern one! Be that as it may, the subject of Hermes is a vast and complex one. If you thought that twelve articles was a little excessive to explore what, on the face of it, is a simple matter of learning about one god, or teacher and their teachings, you must think again. For even at the conclusion of this investigation we will by no means have fully explored the spirit of Hermes—or Spiritus Hermeticum.
This is why we have waited a full eight years to discuss Hermes. He and his true teachings are not meat for armchair occultists, would-be maguses and mystery-mongers, for such would not understand them anyway. Nay, the Spiritus Hermeticum is for the very few genuinely in search of Truth. Those brave souls who are ready to comprehend the tremendous Wisdom concealed in all the different aspects of Hermes; who are willing to jettison the illusions, misconceptions and fantasies to which the name, symbol and idea in all its forms has given rise over the centuries. We shall deal with many of the above mentioned aspects in some detail, and this alone will constitute a compendium of learning which, to the best of our knowledge, no website has ever before attempted to gather together in this way. Though we will analyse a good few fantasies and illusions do not expect be entertained with lovely tales which have no real meaning; for as we said in our introduction, we are embarked on a serious quest for Truth and nothing but the Truth. No erroneous idea, misleading concept or distracting deviation will be spared in our quest, for that would be to add more chaff to the mountain of superstitious ideas and fantasies with which the world has been bombarded spiritually ever since man began to think. So we ask you to keep in mind as we develop our theme that the original teachings of Hermes have suffered from the usual change to which all true teachings are subject, due to misunderstanding, misinterpretation and, more often than not, to superstitious ignorance in the minds of the many men and women who handled, 'edited', 'revised' and 'improved' them over the centuries.
From the little we have said so far, it will be clear to you that the name of Hermes stands, like that of Homer, for a whole body of literature. As we said in our introduction this is generally referred to as the Corpus Hermeticum, or body of books attributed to Hermes. We don't particularly like this term for the simple reason that much of the literature coming under this head has little or nothing to do with the real Hermes or his teachings. The writings called Hermetic are found scattered all over world as well as in the pages of books that deal with other matters, so it is no easy task to gather all of them together and come to firm conclusion as to their value or otherwise. The literature dealing with Hermes is said to present a curious form of human thought, emanating from Egypt. As we shall see later on this is not true at all. Some have described the Corpus Hermeticum as 'Plato according to the Egyptians', which really is utter nonsense as we shall see too. Some so-called 'authorities' have even gone so far as to suggest that if we take the works of Plato, the Stoics, Philo, Catholic Christianity, Gnosticism, Neoplatonism and Neo-Pythgorianism, mix them thoroughly together, season well with the strong flavours of ancient Egypt, the resulting brew will be Hermes as we have him today. This may well be true of some of the recent editions of the Corpus Hermeticum now in vogue. One such is The Hermetica by Timothy Freke published in 2008. This purports to 'distil down' the core Hermetic teachings into just 192 pages. We are tempted to say 'dumb down' would be a more accurate description of this complete waste of paper. Another modern attempt to make the teachings of Hermes more 'accessible' to the modern reader—a euphemism for the ignorant, inept and bone idle—is The Way of Hermes by Clement Salaman et al which, at 132 pages, is even shorter than Freke's book! We need hardly add that the only value such books have is to display the abysmal ignorance and breathtaking presumption of their authors.
Let us dig and delve a little into this unpalatable brew, which has cooked so long it has turned sour and rancid, to see what edible morsels we can find within it. Such an exercise is profitable to the thinking seeker, and warns him not to believe all he reads penned by so-called 'authorities' who are worshipped by the mindless multitudes of occult students who do not know, or care, where to turn for Truth. When we have digested the vain conceits and confident complacencies of these wise pundits and then learn the Truth, we shall understand and appreciate Truth all the more, and chuckle quietly to ourselves about those peacocks of literature and their would-be perceptions and inflated pride. Plato in two passages in his books mentions an Egyptian god or divine man, named Theuth or Thoth, to whom were attributed many inventions, such as arithmetic, algebra, geometry, astronomy, draughts, dicing, but especially the alphabet and writing—which Thamus, the then king of Thebes, is said to have condemned as being destructive to memory, instead of an aid to it. Now, there is something in this opinion, and if you wish to try a simple experiment you will soon see why. Next time you do the weekly shopping make a mental note of all the items you need and fix them firmly in your memory. With a little practise you will quickly find that you remember much better without a written list than with one.
Anon — Reconstruction of the Sphinx at Giza — ink and watercolour, 1980
The Teachings of Hermes
The Teachings of Hermes which comprise the Corpus Hermeticum are found in the Gnostic Literature of the pre-Christian times, and from thence they can be recognised in certain parts of the Canonical Gospels, the NT Apocrypha and other early Christian documents. The first to recognise the ancient Egyptian origins of Gnosticism was the French Egyptologist Émile Amélineau (1850-1915), who based his arguments on resemblances between the mystical symbols in the Coptic documents and certain hieroglyphic signs. This significant deduction was confirmed by Amélineau's contemporary, the British Egyptologist E. A. Wallis Budge (1857-1934), and later still by independent scholars such as Schwaller de Lubicz (1887-1961) and John Anthony West (1932-2018). From this it is clear that Hermetic literature, our chief existing record of pre-Christian Gnosticism, was composed in Egypt and impregnated with Egyptian ideas. On the ground of the parallels supplied by this literature it is also clear that the Gnostic thinkers were indebted to Egypt for their theory of Pleroma, meaning 'fullness'—such as the fullness of Divine Grace which pervaded the being of Christ. Similarly, we can trace the Gnostic doctrine of the birth of the Aeons by a process of emanations, and of the syzygies, or pairs of male and female gods to the theology of ancient Egypt.
We may also assign the conception of an apotheosis, or absorption into the Divine Nature to Egyptian influence, which in Gnosticism is the final goal of the ascent to Heaven. But here we must pause to interject a note of caution, for the idea of absorption has given rise to all sorts of wrong concepts, the most erroneous of which is that the eventual destiny of man is to 'melt into God', as it were, which would lead to a total loss of our identity. We need hardly add that this is both absurd and impossible in actuality. What possible purpose would be served by such a pointless exercise? What man or woman is so very foolish as to believe that an All-Wise Creator would endow His supreme creation—man—with the consciousness of the Higher Self, only to lose it again in the end? Does not the Bible tell us that "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them" (Genesis 1:27)?
If we accept that man was made in the image of his Maker—no matter if the words are capable of more than one interpretation, then it follows as night follows day, that the Creator must be a triune being comprising, body, mind and soul, just like His creation, no matter how elevated these principles may be in comparison to ours. If He is not 'melted' or 'merged' into whatever or whoever first created Him, as we discussed in the commentary to our occult studies course article on evolution, why should man be? This would be retrogression not progression. The purpose of life as we discussed in the aforementioned article is the perfection of all things—material and spiritual—and their evolution to ever higher states of consciousness and being. Of course, we are all free to wilfully reject this idea and believe in the complete loss of our hard-won individuality, but we hope those of you who are reading this will not do so. This has a double meaning which will not be lost on some readers!
But it is not only in true Gnostic literature that we find echoes of the ancient Egyptian beliefs, many of which were very much misunderstood and distorted on account of the demise of the last of the Mystery Schools some 2,000 years ago which we have alluded to in several of our articles. So in time what remained of the original teachings of Hermes became fused with what is called Hellenic culture. Most modern writers and thinkers, lacking any knowledge of the Mysteries and even less of Occult Science, have come to the conclusion that the Hermetic beliefs were utterly fantastic. One 'eminent' historian even went so far as to call them "the most fantastic product of the human mind." What this and similarly misinformed scholars fail to realize is that these teachings only became 'fantastic' after the fusion of their incomplete remnants with Oriental, Hellenic and Gnostic writings, for the reason mentioned above, namely: lack of understanding of the laws and principles of Occult Science once taught in the Mystery Schools. Apart from the well known maxim, 'as Above, so below,' there is another Hermetic formula frequently addressed to the Deity which runs: "I am Thou and Thou art I." This formula was regarded as the master-word of Hermeticism which we later find in the saying of Jesus when he states: "I and my Father are One."
The unnatural alliance between Greek philosophy and Oriental and Egyptian mystic theosophy is a momentous phenomenon of later so-called Paganism; and the studies of the origins of Christian metaphysics are much concerned with it. Such mixtures have a natural affinity with magic; and magic, always a power in an age of intellectual decay, became most powerful in the latter age of Hellenism. It is a just reproach that Augustine brings against Porphyry, the most notable of the Neoplatonists, that he "wavered between philosophy and a sacrilegious curiosity," that is, a vicious interest in black magic. And this is always an ever-present danger to those who seek without true guidance; for black magic has an attraction which the degenerate seeker finds it hard or impossible to resist. It is a most fatal sign of mental decay, leading the Higher Self to certain destruction. For one can apply the formula: "I am Thou and Thou art I" to the devil as well as to the God of Light. We shall discuss this and related ideas more fully in the subsequent articles of this investigation. But ere we do so, or indeed, go any further, it is important to ask ourselves: who was Hermes?
Who was Hermes?
According to Cicero the fifth Mercury, who was the slayer of Argus, was obliged on that account to flee into Egypt, where he gave laws and letters to the Egyptians. This is nothing more than a pretty fantasy for Egypt was a flourishing civilization long before the arrogant Greeks appeared on the scene. But it is possible that by 'the fifth Mercury' Cicero meant some wise man or other who fled to Egypt from the sinking Atlantis, thousands of years before Argus was even thought of. In any event Cicero goes on to tell us that "Him the Egyptians called Theuth, and the first month of the year among them is called by his name." That month was September in our calendars by the way. So here, according to some writers, we find the equation Hermes equals Theuth. The early Church Father Lactantius quotes this passage from Cicero, and goes on to say that this same person founded Hermopolis, and, though a man, was so honoured for his learning that he received the name of Trismegistus, and on the Rosetta Stone Thoth, or Theuth, is called the great-great, or twice-great. Lactantius also says that Hermes Trismegistus was far older, not only than Plato, but also than Pythagoras and the famous Seven Sages. Lactantius thus accepts the antiquity of Hermes, and is sneered at by the pundits for this reason, who call him 'naïve' on account of it, as Tertullian was also called naïve because he accepted the antiquity and the antediluvian authorship of the Book of Enoch. But the naivety, not to call it stupidity and blindness, rests with those who sneered at Lactantius, who was much nearer to the truth than were his detractors. For we are in no doubt that both the Book of Enoch and the man Hermes from Atlantis—not the god Thoth or Theuth—lived long before the recorded history of any land or nations of which we know, and we say as much in our review of Dr E. V. Kenealy's edition of the book.
We are gradually leading up to the identity of Hermes. Among early modern scholars there was considerable readiness to accept the Sage at his own valuation. Thus, the 15th century scholar Vergicius puts him before Moses; the 16th century Venetian philosopher Franciscus Patricius makes him an elder contemporary of the Jewish law-giver, while his contemporary, Flussas Candalla is inclined to put him back as far as the time of Abraham. Those people were all correct in so far as they accorded a great antiquity to the Atlantean Sage known as Hermes, or Theuth, or Thoth. But Isaac Casaubon (1559-1614), Isaac Vossius (1618-1689), and Johann Albert Fabricius (1668-1736) deny him this antiquity, which they call 'general credulity'. We are in no doubt that the credulity is entirely theirs! Fabricius says that, in his own opinion (we do not know where he got it) all the books that were supposed to have been written by Hermes were not earlier than Homer, not to mention Moses; and he ends by agreeing with 'certain learned men' (he does not say who they were), that these books were the work of a Jew or of some half-Platonic, half-Christian author about the beginning of the 2nd century A.D. This remains the prevailing orthodox view today. We think these 'learned' men and the modern 'authorities' who agree with them, are all halfwits incapable of seeing further than the end of their superior noses, if that far.
One writer tells us that one of the first results of a critical examination of the Corpus Hermeticum is to refute the notion that Hermes equals Thoth, or Theuth. For, says this pedantic pundit, Hermes is shown to be the father of Tat, who appears to be the same as Theuth or Thoth. But why shouldn't Hermes have had a son named after himself? Many fathers call their sons by their own names. Moreover, it is by no means certain that Tat equals Thoth or Theuth. But some writers go even further than this, for in the Asclepius, Hermes is made to claim that he is the grandson of the God Hermes, who was worshipped at Hermopolis. How can this be? Are the pundits right after all? Not necessarily. If we accept that the man Hermes was not the same being as the god Hermes, and if we further accept that the man was evidently wise and learned, then it is perfectly possible for him to have been deified after his death. As recently as the early years of our own era the Emperor Augustus became a 'god' as did his wife Livia. Why then, should not an Atlantean Sage, who lived many millennia before Rome was even thought of, not have become a God in the eyes of the people after he had passed on to his rightful home on high? Let the clever 'authorities' answer! Furthermore, it was common practise among the ancient Initiates for the Hierophant or Chief Adept to pass on his name to his successor. Indeed, this is still the rule in some occult orders to this day, so that the 'name' of the founder or leader never dies out at any time. Hence, in order to get out of the difficulty, this grandson of Hermes was called 'the younger Hermes'. Similarly, the Asclepius whom Hermes is supposed to be instructing is declared to be the grandson and the inventor of medicine. In the Pymander—also written Poemander—Tat claims descent from Uranus and Kronus, of whom it is said that they have already attained to the beatific vision. Later still, Asclepius is called the son of Hephaestus, and not, as in Greek mythology, the son of Apollo. He is then credited with the patronage of poetry as well as medicine! Do you see what a labyrinth it all is, and how easy it is to lose one's way in all this abracadabra?
In our next article we endeavour to find a way through this maze of facts, fictions and fancies by unriddling this abracadabra of scholarly sophistry to shed light on the true character of Hermes and his teachings. Meanwhile, we hope this first discourse upon the Spiritus Hermeticum has given you plenty of food for thought and quiet meditation. In the first of our 12 afterwords in the sidebar we begin our investigation of the presumptuous modern fraud perpetrated by Dr Maurice Doreal which goes by the name of the Emerald Tablets of Thoth the Atlantean. This too, will be continued next month; the investigation that is, not the fraud, which needs no help from us to continue to bamboozle the unthinking and inexperienced seeker after truth. Indeed, only the other day we received an email from a new reader who asked: "is it true what the Tablets of Thoth say that Earth was settled by reptilians from the Orion star system and that they rule the world?" Our answer in the negative cannot have pleased this reader as we never heard from them again. If they should stumble on this present investigation we hope they may learn something to their advantage. . .or perhaps not!
© Copyright occult-mysteries.org. Article published 12 April 2020. Updated 24 December 2022.