Spiritus Hermeticum: part seven
An investigation of the origins of Hermeticism and the true teachings of Hermes Trismegistus
In the first two parts of this 12-part investigation we discussed the origins of Hermeticism, the Greek and Egyptian conceptions of the God variously known as Thoth, Theuth, Tat, and Tahuti, and the origins and extent of the Corpus Hermeticum. This was followed in parts three, four, five, and six by an examination of the actual teachings of Hermes as they have come down to us in the Poemander, the Asclepios and the various Hermetic fragments. In this seventh part we continue our discussion of these teachings. Our principal aim, as we have explained from the very beginning, is to uncover the eternal truths Hermes taught to his disciples, and to distinguish these without fail from the half-truths and speculations which have attached themselves to the Corpus Hermeticum over the centuries.
In the twelve afterwords accompanying this investigation we are meticulously dissecting the so-called Emerald Tablets of Thoth the Atlantean written by the 20th century occultist—Dr Maurice Doreal. In this seventh afterword we continue our examination of the tablets themselves, turning our attention to numbers four and five. If you have not read the previous parts now is the time to do so, for this investigation forms an ascending scale of revelation which cannot be understood by skimming through individual articles in a haphazard and piecemeal manner.
We ended our previous discussion with an examination of the so-called 'Void' which can be found in part XII of the Asclepios (Kingsford and Maitland's edition). This is preceded in part VIII by a long dissertation on the Decani. This should not be confused with the Latin term 'of the dean,' meaning that section of a church or cathedral choir conventionally placed on the south side of the building. Hermes' Decani are something quite different as we shall see. We are of the firm opinion that the teaching about the Decani in the Asclepios has been inserted by some Greek writer who evidently thought that Zeus was the Supreme Being. This is a colossal error the real Hermes would never have made, not least because Zeus bears no relationship to any Egyptian God. But our anonymous Greek author goes further, telling us about the Ruler of the Decani, that is, the thirty-six fixed stars which are called Horoscopi in Greek. His name, according to Greek Mythology, is Pantomorphos, and he is supposed to give individuals of each kind their diverse forms. As all this is quite superstitious and based on entirely false teachings, we may safely dismiss it, but not ignore it. For, as we keep repeating, it is vitally important for the sincere seeker after truth to recognise false teachings of this kind and so learn to distinguish them without fail from the true teachings of Hermes.
The doctrine of the Decani—which still flourishes today—is typical of those fantastic teachings we encounter all too often among contemporary occultists. Some modern writers have even gone so far as to posit that the Decani are proof of the existence of aliens! The slight particles of a forgotten Truth such teachings may contain are distorted out of all recognition, thus misleading another generation of seekers. But let that pass. One sentence amidst all this dross, however, shines forth with the lustre of pure gold, for our Greek author writes: "But God, who dwells above the summit of the highest Heaven, is present everywhere....his abode is beyond heaven, in a starless region, far removed from all things corporeal."
In one Greek Fragment, which purports to be a genuine teaching of Hermes, we find more explanations of the Decani. Hermes (so-called here) begins by telling his son Tat about the Circle of the Zodiac, the animal-bearing circle as he calls it, and about the five planets, and the sun and moon, and "the several circles of these seven bodies." We shall see later what all this means, but the very fact that only five 'planet-stars', as they are called in this Fragment, are mentioned, shows that this Greek teaching is of late origin, for Hermes knew there were more than seven planets. The Egyptian Sages who followed him, as well as the Assyrians and Babylonians, knew as many as nine planets, apart from the Sun and Moon; our Earth being one of these planets. Hermes, in this Fragment, says: "I told you, my son, that there is a body which encloses all things. You must conceive of that body as circular; for such is the shape of the universe."
Now, although all things are contained in a Universe there are none known to science we can call 'circular' in the sense that they form a circle. A completed Universe is oval in shape, such as our own Milky Way Galaxy and our nearest neighbour, the Andromeda Galaxy. Granted, there are many universes which are not ovals for the reason that they are incomplete, being in various stages of formation and growth and development as science has now confirmed. Any illustrated book on astronomy shows us this. A universe has been compared with a molecule, and these are not circular in form either. Although there is no teaching we know of that tells us that there is a sort of envelope around a universe in the sense that a solar system has such an envelope, or like the Earth, Moon, Sun and planets, all have such envelopes, called magnetic fields, we must assume that any Universe, completely formed or not, also has such an envelope which holds it together, like the shell holds together the contents of an egg. Magnetic fields are not seen as easily as the aura around a living being, the aura also being the 'envelope' of that being. Sometimes parts of the envelope around the Earth can be seen when we behold the 'northern lights', or the Aurora Borealis or Australis. But the whole of the envelope or magnetic field can never be seen in its entirety.
Hermes continues: "And you must understand that below the circle of this body are placed the thirty-six decans, between the [outer] circle of the universe and that of the Zodiac, separating the one circle from the other; they bear up, as it were, the circle of the universe, and look down on the circle of the Zodiac."
It would seem that the writer of the Fragment we are discussing thought almost the whole of our universe consisted of 36 sections, and that these were placed between the outer envelope and the stars or constellations of the Zodiac, beneath which our Solar System travels continuously. But the Greek writer does not say so here. As we have seen, he says nothing very clearly as the following interesting theory of his illustrates: "They [the Decans] retard the all enclosing body—for that body would move with extreme velocity if it were left to itself—but they urge on the seven other circles [meaning the Sun and Moon as well as the five aforementioned planets], because these circles move with a slower movement than the circle of the universe [itself]."
There is no scientific evidence to support this teaching, but some present-day occult orders and groups believe every word of it. If, in the days when this Fragment was written, clocks or watches had been in existence, our pseudo-Hermes may have compared the fast and slow movements he mentions with the faster and slower movements of some of the parts of watches, where the hour hand moves slowly and the minute or second-hand, moves fast or faster in this order. But we cannot compare the ideas of man's inventions with a universe, galaxy or planet. He may have known something about the speed with which the Solar System completes its yearly round, or oval, beneath the ring of the Zodiac, and the much slower speed of such a planet as Neptune around the sun, and if he did know all this, then his idea of speeds would be a little more correct.
Science currently believes that the whole of the 'local group' of which our Milky Way Galaxy is a member, moves around some central point (if we may call it that), at a far greater rate of speed than the solar system moves within the oval of the Zodiac. All this is possible, but occult science cannot prove it for certain and neither can material science, despite all its sophisticated instruments. That various parts of our Universe move at different rates of speed is also possible, even probable, but this too has never been proved as yet. All we know is that our Solar System is placed within the tail-end of the outer rim of our Milky Way Galaxy. But astronomers, who cannot see farther than their telescopes, which is their end of the nose, assume that our galaxy turns around a point in the Constellation Sagittarius, not realising that this, or any other, Constellation is also but a minute part of the outer rim and tail-end of our galaxy.
This Greek Hermes, in this Fragment adds that: "subject to the Decans is the constellation called the Bear, which is centrally situated with regard to the Zodiac." We fail to see why anyone should think that any part of the Zodiac can be 'central' in relation to any other point, any more than any point on the circumference of a circle can be called central. It must be obvious to all that no part of any circle or oval can be said to be the end or the beginning of either; therefore there can be no 'central' point in them anywhere either. But let this piece of spatial nonsense pass, we only mention it in order to show the muddled thinking of this and millions of other writers who discuss things beyond their understanding. Let us remember too that the Zodiac itself is not stationary but moves just like all the other parts of a universe. Our writer goes on: "The Bear is composed of seven stars, and has overhead another Bear to match it. The function of the Bear resembles that of the axle of a wheel; it never sets nor rises, but abides in one place, revolving about a fixed point, and making the zodiacal circle revolve....transmitting the world from night to day, and from day to night."
So in the opinion of this prize nincompoop it is not the rotation of the earth about its axis which gives us the phenomena of day and night, light and darkness, but the turning of the entire Zodiac, and all in an average of just twelve hours! Moreover, even the fixed point of the axis of a wheel turns, and can not be called stationary when the wheel is in motion!! Please forgive the exclamation marks, but how can we avoid them when we see such fantastic teachings laid down as universal laws? And then this pseudo-Hermes states that we must understand that the Decans stand round about all things in the Kosmos (meaning Universe here) as guardians, holding all things together, and watching over the good order of all things.
This would be a fine idea if it were true, but every section of the Universe, whether we conceive these as independent portions, self-contained, or not, are under the guardianship of the Supreme Deity and His Ministers, and none of the sections, called Decans here, can guard or keep in order any other. Our Greek sophist seems to think the universe is run on similar lines to the Earth, where some busybody is forever poking their nose into our business and telling us how to manage our affairs. Confusion is piled on confusion when this would-be Hermes teaches that the Decans are "exempt from the things that befall the other stars." No planet, moon, sun or solar system is exempt from the Universal Hermetic Laws, which must apply to everything in the same measure or they would not be laws, but mere whims. This is but logical, is it not? This Hermes says for instance: "They are not checked in their course and brought to a standstill, nor hindered and made to move backwards" [as the planets appear to do at times as viewed from Earth], "nor are they of the same nature as the rest of the stars. They are free, and exalted above all things; and as careful guardians and overseers of the universe, they go round it in the space of a day." There are many people today who eagerly accept such a statement, though it is hard to believe that any one could be so utterly foolish.
In the doctrine imparted to the laity in ancient Egypt, the existence of only five planets, plus sun and moon was taught. The Decani, or Decans, making up the 36 decades of the twelve months were placed under the protection of a number corresponding to the constellations when situated on various parts of the horizon. The fourth century soldier, engineer and philosopher, Hephaestion, listed their names in Greek. Most of what has been said by various writers about them ever since is mere conjecture, so we may pass it by without losing anything of value. Nor is the actual date of these teachings of the Decani known any more; so no good purpose is served by going into these doubtful details either. But it is known that each of the three Decani of the month presides in turn over the beginning of the month, the middle and the end. But all that is now known about them has no astronomical value; nor is the religious meaning of them known.
Anon — Sculptured bas relief of the Zodiac — Temple of Hathor at Dendera, Egypt.
When the 20th century Egyptologist, Flinders Petrie, wrote about certain pictures depicted in the Egyptian Zodiac sculptured on the ceiling of the Temple of Dendera, he got out of the difficulty by declaring that they were merely the horoscopes of kings; but there is no proof of this either. In fact, nowhere can one find reliable data about those pesky Decani, though they form the basis of the theories of several occult Groups, Orders and teachers as we mentioned earlier. After all this, Tat asks this anonymous pseudo-Hermes whether the Decans or Decani also act on men, to which he receives the reply: "Yes, my son, they act on us most potently. If they act on the heavenly bodies, how could it be that they should not act on us also, both on individual men and on communities? The force which works in all events that befall men collectively comes from the Decans; for instance, overthrows of kingdoms, revolts of cities, famines, pestilences, overflowings of the sea, earthquakes—none of these things, my son, take place without the working of the Decans. For if the Decans rule over the seven planets and we are subject to the planets, do you not see that the force set in action by the Decans reaches us also, whether it is worked by the Decans themselves or by means of the planets?"
We seem to recall that only five planets were mentioned previously in this same Fragment, do you? So it seems our Greek author has trouble with arithmetic as well as astronomy, but let that pass too! He continues: "And besides this, my son, you must know that there is yet another sort of work which the Decans do; they sow upon the earth the seeds of certain forces, some salutary and others most pernicious, which the many call daemons." This prompts Tat to ask: "And what is the bodily form of these beings, father?" Hermes tells him: "They do not possess bodies made of some special kind of matter, nor are they moved by soul, as we are; for there is no such thing as a race of daemons distinct from other beings; but they are forces put in action by these six and thirty gods."
Now, although occult science tells us that the Solar System, with its various planets etc., is influenced by the rest of the stars and their systems in our Universe, or in any other Universe, these are material influences only which affect man's lower mind as we pointed out long ago in our article about Astrology. As such they can at best have some reflex action on the Higher Self, but only if that Higher Self is not strong enough to resist these influences. It is this occult fact or truth if you like which is the basis of such sayings as "a wise man rules his stars; the fool obeys them," familiar to all astrologers. A 'wise man' being one in whom the Higher Self or Mind (different words for the same principle) is in control and a fool one in which the lower self or mind dominates his or her thinking and acting. But even the Higher Mind has to learn such wisdom by experience, the key to which is Inner Peace. This is a very hard thing to master in full amidst all the turmoils of this world as our regular readers know.
But such influences are not 'daemons,' nature spirits, or even 'demons' in the usually accepted sense. Neither are they put 'in action' by the six and thirty 'gods' the writer of this Fragment talks about. For the Decans (as understood by the ancient Egyptians), are not gods or beings at all, but phases of varying degree during the course of each month; in other words, mere influences caused by material conditions within our Universe. They may, and do cause heat and cold; joy and anger, sickness and sadness, even death. But they are not gods or other beings. Moreover, we should always remember that material conditions are illusions which influence the senses of the lower mind and body only as we said just now. They have no such influence over the Higher Mind or Self. We say 'illusions', not because material conditions are not real, for they most certainly are, as anyone who has ever had a serious accident or illness knows, but because there is no truth in anything material in any way. For, as the real Hermes taught, the material is never the same from one moment to the next, it being in a constant state of flux, though this is not always obvious to the perceptions of our senses.
Kingdoms are not 'overthrown' by the Decans; nor are revolts, or anything else, directly caused by them. Such disasters can be the result of the general influences which affect human beings in some way. They can do nothing else, unless we react to them in the wrong manner by giving way to the violence of these influences because we are too weak to resist them. Weaklings blame 'fate' for their own errors as we discussed in our investigation of the problem of fate versus free-will. Or they may blame the failings of others who influence our lives in turn, if we do not know how to resist them, or have no friends to stretch out a helping hand in times of trouble. Call this fate if you wish, but it is a misnomer and an excuse for our own weaknesses. This is not to say that a race of 'daemons' does not exist, for that would be entirely wrong in every way. There are, as we pointed out years ago in our article on the Astral World, all sorts of (to us) invisible beings who play their parts in our lives. But the same holds good for (to us) visible beings too, such as relatives, friends, colleagues, officials of all kinds, etc. If you wish to call these 'daemons', especially in the case of some truly mendacious politicians, you would be just as correct as the anonymous author of the erroneous Decan lore.
Not being satisfied with the Decan-gods and daemons, our Greek writer now adds a new kind of imaginary being which, as a class of stars, are called the Liturgi. These, we are told, obey the Decan-gods and whom the Decans have under their command as servants and private soldiers! This pseudo-Hermes goes on to explain that the Liturgi are borne along and float in aether, helping to maintain the order of the Universe, putting forth a force of their own which is subject to the force put forth by the six and thirty Decans. They are apparently responsible for the destruction of living beings (humans excepted!) that take place in this or that region, and the swarming of creatures that spoil crops, such as locusts we presume. There really seems to be no limit to this writer's imagination, but even so he is still not satisfied and mentions yet another sort of force in the universe, for he adds: "And after the Liturgi comes another company of stars, to which we have not cared to give names; but the men who come after us will assign names to these also." Let us give you their names now, and call them inanity, hocus-pocus, drivel, moonshine, bosh, rubbish, twaddle, poppycock and balderdash; or, you may wish to make up some of your own!
In this and similar ways we see how some Greek writer, or writers, have completely destroyed by means of their unfounded imagination the simple but true Laws about the Decans of Hermes the Divine. This is the reason we have devoted so much time to this particular Fragment, so you will be forewarned and forearmed when you encounter similar distortions in the Corpus Hermeticum. Before we conclude this discussion, we must not omit to mention an aspect of this law which has been preserved among some modern Astrologers. This divides each Zodiacal Sign into three decans, or parts, of 10 degrees, each of which is said to be 'ruled' by a different planet in the same Triplicity. If we take Cancer as an example, the first ten degrees are ruled by the Moon, the second ten degrees by Pluto (the ruler of Scorpio), and the last ten degrees are ruled by Neptune (the ruler of Pisces). For the non-astrologers among our readers we would add that 'Triplicity' is an astrological term used to designate those signs which belong to the same element, such as Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces in our example, which are all Water signs. Now, we can't say for certain that the ancient Egyptian astrologers followed this same or a similar system based on Hermes' Laws, but it is possible. However, this simple division of the month into three periods of 10 days was embellished and embroidered by the writer(s) of the Fragment we have dealt with into a whole series of gods, daemons, Liturgi, and all the rest of the unbridled crew of fantasms, until nothing of the original Teaching was left!
The simplicity of Truth
No wonder people sneer at 'occultism' which they regard as a pseudo-science invented by crackpots for the delight of gullible simpletons. The few who do venture into what we have called the 'occult jungle' in our occult studies course, either turn away in disgust after a while, become frightened by the 'unknown' they believe to have found, or are too tired, lazy and inept to stay for any length of time with any teacher, wise or unwise. The sad fact is that most Seekers abhor simplicity, for it is so pure that they cannot see it on account of the dust which lies behind their eyes, preventing true vision. And another reason is that simple things are more difficult to master than intricate ones for purity cannot endure ornamentation, for it has no need of it, and only in the ornate things can the less evolved hope to find one thing or another that may catch and hold their wandering attention for a short time.
A truly gifted musician once told the writer that it is much more difficult to play, sing, or conduct a simple melody than to let off the fireworks of virtuosity, which often helps to cover faults which cannot be concealed in a straightforward tune. The same holds good for all the other Arts too. A gifted orator can say the simplest things in the most perfect manner and impress his hearers with the inward beauty and purity of his interpretation of the work of an inspired poet or writer. A talented artist can convey a whole body of meaning with just a few, well-placed brush strokes as we can see in the detail from the Philosopher in Meditation—a painting by Rembrandt—heading this part of our investigation. In this way an orator of genius can transmit the Soul of a great writer to the hearer, who will absorb the message sent from Soul to Soul via the Higher Mind. If—that is—the Higher Mind of the listener is capable of truly hearing what the orator says. All very natural and simple, is it not? The trouble is so very few Higher Minds are capable of hearing a message from their own Soul, and still more seldom a Message from another, given directly or indirectly. This explains why so few can understand a pure and simple Truth, no matter how great the Teacher may be who tells them about it. The clouds of dust veil the vision or block the ears, and dust is all that is seen or sensed by those who dwell in dust, for that is their true home.
Others are not so dusty. . . .
Some are entirely free from it so far as their Higher Minds are concerned, and it is for them that this series of articles on the True Teachings of Hermes has been written, knowing that they will understand them. We would mention in passing that this has proved to be far and away the most UNPOPULAR series of articles we have ever published. This too will convey an important truth to our not-so-dusty readers, but be completely lost on those who abhor the pure simplicity mentioned earlier. For Truth—real Truth—is about as popular as the flu, as we have pointed out in so many of our articles but cannot repeat too often.
All this is enshrined in the well-known but little understood verse from The Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." For purity in morals and in all forms of thought as well as in our person is true godliness. And with that with which we attune shall we become united. Every pure thought is a glimpse of God, but though the smallest speck of dirt is seen on snow, a small blemish on our Mind will be overlooked by the Angel who writes our Book of Life if we try at all other times to follow the Path to the Light to the best of our ability.
A little girl once asked her mother: "Mummy, what happens at the end of days?" And her mother answered: "when that time comes all those people who have lived on Earth shall have become ready to meet God in Heaven." Whereat the little girl said, bless her, "But I want to stay with you and Daddy." How great a blessing was that little girl's saying to her loving parents! But God is our parent, is he not? He is the Father of Children as well as of adults, and if we express our love for Him as the child did in the case of her parents; then we shall receive that Blessing from Him who so patiently awaits our coming.
Purity lives and derives its life solely from the Spirit of God, transmitted by the Divine Soul to the Higher Mind of man. But the fountain of the Higher Mind must be cleansed of the dross of the lower if we would purify the stream of Life. The stream is always purer at its source of course, and it becomes filled with impurities as it runs down towards the valley. As we all dwell in the valley here below, how shall we escape from the dust? Think of the Higher Mind as the portal to the Temple of the Soul, where nothing impure or unworthy can enter. We become that with which we attune, let us repeat this once again. But there are always Two Ways, and this must not be forgotten either. The Angel beholds our deeds, and if they are pure it will stoop to bestow a Blessing. And when our hearts are pure, our lives are happy and our return to our Heavenly Home is assured, no matter how long the journey may take or how many obstacles we encounter along the way. But do not make the mistake of regarding a pure man or woman as a puritan; the former is on his way to Heaven, the latter would make a hell of heaven if he could!
We say this in order to point out once again that nothing can be stated precisely in such a way that it is impossible to find another meaning in it. The simple reason for this is that there are many aspects to the truths Hermes taught. Although every aspect may be true in itself, such as the truth of reincarnation or the truth that we all have two minds—the lower and the higher—yet both truths are capable of distortion and alteration without losing their full Truth. Here is an example of what we mean. In the Bible we may read: "And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." (John 1:5). 'Comprehendeth' in this instance means that 'darkness'—the true Light of God from which all manifestation has arisen—does not recognise our transient, physical light, however bright it may seem to our physical senses. Thus, if we have sufficient Wisdom, we will be able to place our own construction on such seemingly contradictory statements, and know that each facet of light and darkness is correct both ways, but that there are many other facets to it, which are also quite correct and true.
But if we know only one aspect of the Truth, then we are apt to become lost in a wilderness of doubt and untruth and stand in danger of embracing darkness in the lowest and worst meaning of the term. Hence, we may say quite correctly that Light is God and God is Light in the highest sense of sublimity. But the darkness of the lower realms of the Astral World is their Light, and Satan their God of Light, which is Darkness! Thus, sophists could claim that both God and Satan are 'The Light' of their respective worlds. This gives a different meaning to the statement found in Genesis 1:5 wherein we may read: "And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night." But the light of Satan is also a day which is darkness to our conception. But who is to say how those beings who dwell in the lower realms regard our light, which, to them must be utter darkness? The difficulty of understanding such seemingly simple statements lies in their misleading simplicity!
You can read more about the True Teachings of Hermes in part eight. If the simplicity of Truth still eludes your understanding, you will find many facets of light and darkness explained in Vision One of The Golden Star by J Michaud PhD.
© Copyright occult-mysteries.org. Article published 11 October 2020. Updated 24 December 2022.