Spiritus Hermeticum: part twelve
An investigation of the origins of Hermeticism and the true teachings of Hermes Trismegistus
In the first 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 by an examination of the actual teachings of Hermes and a detailed study of the Seven Universal Hermetic Laws. In this final article we draw together the golden threads of Hermes' Divine Doctrine and explain and elucidate a few subjects we have not yet considered. Our aim throughout these twelve articles has been to recover—as far as possible—the original truths Hermes taught, and to distinguish these without fail from the half-truths and speculations grafted onto the Corpus Hermeticum over the centuries.
In the twelve afterwords accompanying this investigation we have meticulously dissected the so-called Emerald Tablets of Thoth the Atlantean written by the twentieth century occultist—Dr Maurice Doreal. In our final afterword we analyse the last two tablets and compare the whole series with the genuine SINGLE Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus. If you have not read the previous parts of this investigation now is the time to do so, for all twelve articles form an ascending scale of revelation which cannot be understood by skimming through them or reading them out of sequence.
We have not always mentioned the names of the parts of the Poemander, the Asclepios, or the Hermetic fragments we have consulted in our investigation to avoid cluttering up our discourse with innumerable citations and pointless repetitions. Readers who wish to follow our narrative or delve more deeply into the books we have drawn upon can easily refer to the sources we have used. These, you will remember, are primarily The Virgin of the World translated by Anna Kingsford and Edward Maitland, The Divine Pymander of Hermes Mercurius Trismegistus, translated by Dr John Everard and G. R. S. Mead's Thrice-Greatest Hermes. All three books are reviewed in the books section of our website and may be studied online.
Hermes' Divine Doctrine
The Corpus Hermeticum contains more Wisdom than any other writings we can think of, provided we are able to recognise the truths and errors within these sacred books and differentiate without fail between them. We have drawn your attention to many of these errors in the previous eleven parts of this investigation, notably in part seven, in which we discussed the erroneous doctrine of the Decani. We explained the reasons for the presence of these errors in part two. Firstly, the 'revisions' made by the many editors and translators through whose hands the Corpus Hermeticum has passed over the centuries. Secondly, the distortions and misinterpretations introduced into the books by the misguided 'followers' of Hermes who tried to improve on the words of the Master.
The Hindu Saviour, Krishna had something to say about such meddling in chapter 18 of The Book of Sa-Heti which is well worth quoting in full; here it is.
"The Holy Books contain no errors if nothing that the Master said is altered or explained by witless men.
"The words of Him mean what they stand for, and nothing else, and they are all the Truth the common man may know and profit by this Wisdom.
"Therefore, the Master said, 'It is the greatest sin to alter even by one iota my Holy Words revealed to man in general.'
"And this is truly said, for upon him who dares this risk will fall awesome punishments, unless himself he be a Master, who knows the Laws of the Within."
We said in part six that the Corpus Hermeticum was not written for the instruction of Gods but men; albeit not your average self-important, intellectual whose mind is firmly glued to the material plane, or even the average mystic, but those whose Minds have received the One Light of Truth and are therefore ready for this Wisdom; in short students enrolled in the Sacred Mysteries preparing for initiation. The primary text employed for this purpose in ancient Egypt was the Poemander, though in a perfect form only parts of which have come down to us untouched and unscathed. Yet even in its present parlous state, the elevated teachings of the book are well beyond the comprehension of the average mystic as well as the average occultist. The impudent imposture known as the Emerald Tablets of Thoth the Atlantean which we have meticulously analysed during the preceding eleven months continues to enjoy an enduring popularity while almost no one except a few Alchemists has even heard of the single Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus or Tabula Smaragdina, much less studied it. The same applies to the Corpus Hermeticum in general and the Poemander in particular. Which is why the translations by Brian Copenhaver (1992), and Clement Salaman, Dorine van Oyen, et al., (2004) are vastly more popular than John Everard's edition of 1650.
Consequently, unless one fully understands the inwardness of the Great Doctrine of Hermes, it is quite impossible to realise what has been lost or hidden in the Poemander that has come down to us. We do not say this in any slighting manner so far as the majority of our readers are concerned. As we explained in our introduction to part one, we are in no doubt that this investigation will appeal to very few readers. But if our labours increase these few, if only by a handful, we shall have achieved our objective. Nonetheless, every kind of reader may profit from these articles if they truly wish to. For, as we say on our Homepage, "It will be heard by the dull and the brilliant, the pure and the impure, the stupid and the wise, and those in between such conditions of mind, who all need what they are qualified to take of the shining pearls of Holy Wisdom."
We have already explained to you such sections of the Poemander as Hermes' teachings about God, the Mind of Light, Regeneration, the Net, and the Void. These sections belonged to the Highest Grade of the Egyptian Mysteries which we discussed in part five. It is due solely to the indiscretions of pupils that parts of this Grade leaked out over the centuries, though much of it has been lost too. The doctrines expounded in the fragment called the 'Crater' or 'Cup' found in Book Twelve of the Poemander gave rise to the legends of the Holy Grail. Plato incorporated this doctrine into his philosophy and speaks of this Cup or Crater as a receptacle within which the Deity mixes the constituents of universal nature from the purest Cosmic Elements to fashion the souls of men. This, of course, is an allegory describing Space as the womb of the Kosmos out of which Mind emerges once the primeval matter which constitutes the Mother Principle has been set alight by the Fire of the Father.
In this connection, it is interesting to find a totally correct teaching about matter in the Asclepios. Here it is: "And if you consider the whole, you will learn that in truth the sensible Cosmos itself, with all things that are therein, is woven like a garment by the higher Cosmos. For matter, having no quality or form of its own to make it visible, is in itself wholly invisible; and for that reason many people think that it is like space, and has the property of space. It is only by reason of the shapes derived from the ideal forms (in the higher Cosmos) in the likeness of which we see matter carved, that men suppose it to be visible; but in reality, matter is invisible; for the substance of each thing, in so far as the thing is actually existent, consists wholly of the visible shapes which are present in all things. For the ideal form, which is divine, is incorporeal, as are all things apprehensible by thought alone."
From the above it is clear that matter as we think we know it and as science currently perceives it, does not exist. Are you startled by this conclusion? You should not be if you have read our article on why matter matters in which we said: "atoms are centres of electrical motion which occupy space kept apart by the law of attraction and repulsion." Matter is invisible once its cloak—its seeming appearance as perceived by our physical senses—has been removed. If you require proof of this consider the many rays, such as X-rays and gamma rays, which pass through all material forms rendering them invisible and non-existent to our senses. Hence—as we have explained in many of our articles—all that we behold by means of our senses is an illusion. This may not be news to some of our readers but how did the authors of the Asclepios know it before material science had discovered X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and similar diagnostic techniques?
We cannot possibly examine the whole of the Corpus Hermeticum in this investigation. That would require a hundred articles like this one and still not cover a fraction of the ground. G. R. S. Mead for instance, in his Thrice Greatest Hermes, devoted more than 900 pages to his study of the Hermetic books. Nonetheless, we have discussed the most important teachings, such as the 'Secret Sermon on the Mountain' found in Book Seven of the Poemander. We drew upon this for our discussions about Regeneration in parts four and five and will return to the subject later on in this article. Incidentally, the Sermon on the Mount in the New Testament is but a pale shadow—though a most wonderful and instructive one—of this section of the Poemander as John Temple explained in the afterword to his article on the Mystery of Jesus.
The dead letter
We have seen during the past eleven months that what is left unharmed of the Corpus Hermeticum is Holy Scripture indeed. If we wish to understand its full import we must employ all the faculties of the Higher Self, ever guided by the Divine Soul which dwells in Light. Without such an approach we grope in the dark with those dusty intellectuals—past and present—who have poured over the Books of Hermes with the scalpel of scholarly criticism and found naught within them but the confirmation of their own vapid dreams and vain imaginings. Brian Copenhaver, the highly 'acclaimed' author of Hermetica: The Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius in a New English Translation, with Notes and Introduction (1995) is a prime example of those authors who, often with the best of intentions, see only the 'dead letter that killeth' because they are blind to the Spirit that giveth life.
In his introduction to his Hermetica, Copenhaver dismisses the two earlier English editions we have used in our investigation in one paragraph. "Some older English translations remain in print, such as The Divine Pymander.....which is impenetrably literal, and others are readily available in libraries, such as the version of G. R. S. Mead, whose good sense of the Greek and Latin must be watched for theosophical motivations." Oh dear, oh dear. God forbid that anything so lamentably unscholarly and metaphysical as 'theosophical motivations' should get in the way of a strictly academic interpretation of the Books of Hermes. Truly, there are none so blind as distinguished professors who cannot see further than the ends of their superior noses!
Now you see, if you have not done so already, why we have called this investigation Spiritus Hermeticum. We gladly leave the dead letter of Hermetica—the corpus—to the Copenhavers of this world and their dupes; our discourse will hold no appeal for them. Such scholars pride themselves on their 'intelligence,' not realising, as we point out in our occult studies course, that intellect is nothing more than a natural development of their animal instincts and animal cunning. We may observe the very same instincts and animal cunning at the zoo in the antics of the apes and monkeys. The intelligence of an opinionated professor is only slightly more mature and therefore all the more dangerous and misleading! Copenhaver may sneer at what he calls theosophy, little realizing what the word actually means. It comes to us from the Greek theo meaning God and sophia meaning Wisdom, which together mean the 'Wisdom of God.' Copenhaver and his ilk clearly prefer the wisdom of man, though we would question whether the word 'ignorance' is not a better description for the fallacious notions that pass for wisdom among men. So—make your choice. Do you wish to be enlightened by the Wisdom of God or add to your ignorance by hearkening to the intellectual speculations of self-important academics such as Copenhaver?
We believe in the occult scientific Teachings of Hermes, the Divine Shepherd, unspoiled by the ignorance of men or the criticism or doubt. Some might regard this as a form of Religion, but if so, it is a religion of the Mind and not of ritualism and dogma such as we find among the various faiths, both Western and Eastern. A religion of the Mind does not exist anywhere on Earth, though it does exist in Heaven. The Gnosis of Thrice-greatest Hermes takes unto its bosom all true and good men and women, and its Disciples will find the Way, being already on that Holy path to the Light of which so many speak without knowing what it is. Knowing the Divine Revelation in all its Great Forms is the greatest Blessing one can receive from the hands of the Divine Shepherd. His Disciples proceed without any prejudice and bias, but rather with love and reverence, though it is also true that no mortal mind—however wise—can grasp all the inner meanings of what Hermes taught. But we can all share—however imperfectly—in the Illumination which Hermes sheds upon those who are worthy and ready to receive this marvellous form of true Faith. Hence Freedom is the subject of the next part of our discourse, for Freedom is the first and most important of the gifts of God to man.
The gift of Freedom
After having carefully considered the Universal Hermetic Laws in the previous four parts of this investigation, laws which Hermes laid down long ago for the few who could follow his Teachings to some small extent, it is our dearest hope that humanity as a whole may absorb and be moved by those powers which, up to now, have been the heritage of these few. If this does not come to pass in our present Age of Darkness—the Kali Yuga—there are the Golden Ages to come, of which we may read in the Vedas, Puranas and other sacred books of ancient India. The Power of the Light will then pass from Mind to Mind and be linked with the Great Mind of Hermes who brought instruction to humankind in Egypt. But there is no compulsion in all this, for Freedom is the great Gift of God to man, though man breaks this gift on the least occasion as we see all too clearly today, when the worst of men hold the reins of temporal power in their grasping hands and wreak their evil will upon suffering humanity in the pursuit of their selfish impulses and low desires. It is true that our birth is regulated by forces of which we have but a dim apprehension; it is true that we are born without our consent; it is true that the body we dwell in for a while is shaped and regulated by powers beyond ourselves, and that we live in it as a prison as Plato taught. We shall come back to this later on when we discuss the Laws of Fate and Destiny Hermes taught.
The world is full of myriads of wills of all sorts; the wills of individuals and of nations each following its own path, giving rise to the infinitely varied cultures of all climes and times, each thinking their own culture is the best. This can enrich the world if the Law of Freedom is also maintained but all too often it is the first casualty of conflicting wills. It is for this reason that the ideals of some have been the cause of the greatest spiritual tragedies of people and nations, for they are apt to make people lose the memory of their own greatness in the past. They forget which way they came and by what innumerable dreams they were led. They lose the beauty of their ancient poetry and arts, and, without spiritual guidance they are lost in a veritable wilderness of vulgarity. This has been evident ever since the cult of the teenager produced the first generation of shrieking young hooligans in the 1950's and 60's of the last century. Today both sexes leap, gyrate and hop like so many demented goats in the grip of the spirit of Pan! We need not go into details, for the sorry spectacle is only too familiar to us all, especially the writer who succumbed to this same madness in his misspent youth!
On the other hand we must not fall into the trap of thinking that the past was a state of unalloyed bliss and perfection. The fetters and the cruelties of the past were many, and in this case again, it was only the few who found the Way of Escape. Only after that has been achieved shall we be in a position to help others rather than being in need of help ourselves. For we shall be clad in the raiment of the very gods, so that the lost and the lonely will come to us; we will then be a sure refuge for the sad, the sick and the persecuted. And when our Faith is tested and the world seems a living hell, let it be a consolation to us that darkness cannot penetrate the Light: it is Light which penetrates darkness, if that is desirable. If you should feel at any time that dark thoughts are entering your mind here is a prayer taught by Hermes to his disciples which is a safeguard against evil in any form, spiritual or mental, or bodily.
The Prayer of Hermes
Holy is God the Father of All Things.
Holy is God Whose Will is Performed and Accomplished by His Own Powers.
Holy is God, that Determineth to be Known, and is Known of His Own, or Those that are His.
Holy art Thou, that by Thy Word hast established all Things.
Holy art Thou of Whom all Nature is the Image.
Holy art Thou Whom Nature hath not Formed.
Holy art Thou that art Stronger than all Power.
Holy art Thou, that art Greater than all Excellency.
Holy art Thou, Who art Better than all Praise.
Accept these Reasonable Sacrifices from a Pure Soul, and a Heart stretched out unto Thee.
O Thou Unspeakable, Unutterable, to be Praised with Silence! I beseech Thee, that I may never Err from the Knowledge of Thee. Look Mercifully upon Me, and Enable Me, and Enlighten with this Grace, those that are in Ignorance, the Brothers of my Kind, but Thy Sons.
Therefore I Believe Thee, and Bear Witness, and go into the Life and Light.
Blessed art Thou, O Father, Thy Man would be Sanctified with Thee, as Thou hast given Him all Power.
Anon — Crossing the River — Gouache on board, 1990
Vice and Virtue
But Hermes did more than encourage his followers to pray, powerful as that neglected and misunderstood act of faith is. In order to provide a safeguard against all forms of evil, he laid down a series of Laws which govern the Virtues and Vices of mankind. The Virtues of which He spoke are not mere moral abstractions, but definite substantial Powers capable of action on every plane of being. These Powers were known to the Christian Gnostics as the Aeons of the Pleroma. If you are unfamiliar with these two terms the following short explanation should clarify their meaning. Pleroma (meaning 'Fullness' in Greek) is the name the Gnostics gave to Heaven which they believed was the abode of the Aeons, meaning spiritual beings of all kinds and grades, the highest of which are equivalent to the Christian archangels.
There is a definite plan of numbering the virtues and their opposite vices which comes in a series of Twelve, Ten, Seven, and finally One. The Twelve torments of the Darkness are conditioned by the zootypes, or animal archetypes, of the Zodiac, which are also twelve, such as the Ram (Aries); the Crab or Tortoise (Cancer); and the Lion (Leo). Each Sign of the Zodiac has its corresponding vice or virtue as any competent astrologer will tell you. If you wish to look these up you can easily find them in From Pioneer to Poet by Isabelle M. Pagan, reviewed in the books section of the website. We have no time to deal with these things here as we are concerned with the Teachings of Hermes, not astrology. The purpose of the torments is to keep man in Error, or Ignorance. As we point out in many of our articles it is the 'animal soul' in man—the lower mind as we call it—which holds fast the Higher Mind in subjection as a jailer holds onto his prisoner. The old translators of the Corpus Hermeticum and all the modern ones too, such as Copenhaver and others, made a serious mistake when they thought of the 'soul' as one single entity, due to their ignorance of the two minds in man which, together with the Divine Soul, make up our being. This gave rise to many misconceptions which covered up the simple truths. There is no profit in examining these ideas, so the best thing will be to give you the list of Hermes' Torments and Virtues set out in the following simple table.
Hermes' list of the twelve Torments and Virtues
- Not knowing or Ignorance
- Gnosis or Wisdom
- Pleasure in the success of others
- The Good and Generous and True
- Inner Peace
- Friendship and Love
Each of the twelve torments is based upon the first, Ignorance, which is their Root. Thus the Twelve are really only One as we said earlier, though the number of permutations which can be obtained by their combination is infinite, for rarely do we find unmixed vices or virtues. Many lists of these torments and virtues were made at different times by various writers for different purposes, but the table we have given you above is the nearest to the truth taught by Hermes. Zosimus of Panopolis, the 4th century Egyptian alchemist and Gnostic mystic, called these vices 'Fates of Death.' This is exactly what they are if we regard them as so many ways to attune in thought and deed with evil conditions and beings. Zosimus further associates the vices with the passions. These were sometimes represented in the forms of twelve women in dark robes. To these are opposed twelve maidens in shining robes, showing forth the corresponding virtues, for as the Hermetic Law of Polarity teaches us, all opposites must complete themselves, as shown in Zosimus' table below.
Zosimus' twelve Vices and Virtues
As you can see the subject is infinite in its varieties and permutations, though the vices and virtues in the first and second tables are broadly similar. In addition to the Twelve Torments, Vices and Virtues there were lists of Ten and Seven. Foremost among these was a list of the Seven Sins and their corresponding Virtues which Zosimus assigned to Seven Zones, as shown in our final table.
Zosimus' Seven Zones, Sins and Virtues
- First Zone
- Second Zone
- Third Zone
- Fourth Zone
- Fifth Zone
- Sixth Zone
- Seventh Zone
- Growth and Waning
- Device of Evils
- Guile of the Desires
- Daring and Rashness
- Getting Wealth
- Practise of Goodness
- Wisdom of Self-control
- Courage and Patience
- Charity to All
Attentive readers will have noted that 'Getting Wealth' and 'Falsehood' are condemned to the lowest Zones of all while 'Arrogance' and 'Humility' are assigned to the fourth Zone. How far these Zones agree with the scheme of the seven realms of the Astral World to be found in The Secret Doctrine, The Quest of Ruru and other occult books we would not like to say, but the judicious reader will no doubt have their own ideas on the subject. We further learn from Zosimus and others that those who had reached the highest grade in the Mysteries were enjoined to keep strict silence about their Virtues (which alone enabled them to reach that grade). For, it was said, that as they were still men, and it became known that they were also such high Initiates, there was always a possibility that, as mere men, they might err at some time or another, and thus bring the Gnosis into ridicule and disrespect. This, of course, is precisely what happened to the Mysteries in the end as we may read in The Secret Doctrine. To some extent, our vices and virtues are the fruit of the deeds and thoughts of former lives. But this is not Karma as it is misunderstood by almost all mystics and occultists, as we pointed out long ago in our occult studies course. It is, however, the result of right or wrong attunement. This leads us to the thorny topic of Fate which we discussed in considerable depth in our investigation of the problem of Fate versus Free-Will. Hermes had quite a bit to say about Fate as we will now see.
Fate and Destiny
Hermes divided Fate into two distinct Laws; Destiny and Necessity, which working together, determine our Fate. He further taught that, as a rule, Destiny generates the beginnings of things while Necessity compels the results that follow. These two Laws were personified as the God Shai and the Goddess Renenet by his followers in Egypt. In conformity with their function, Shai was crowned with a flowering reed while Rennenet was crowned by a serpent. Shai (Destiny) determined the length of a person's life, the manner of their birth and death, and the general circumstances and conditions into which they were born. Renenet (Necessity) determined the results which followed from the right or wrong use a person made of these circumstances and conditions. Destiny (Shai) and Necessity (Renenet) are in our own hands, to make or mar in accordance with our thoughts and actions. If a man is born on Earth at a time and place when his Destiny puts him in a social circle of wealth, rank and good fortune then his consequent acts will produce the Necessity (Renenet) which will rule his Fate and general conditions. This applies to all men and women, to all sections of humanity, and to all classes of society without fail.
Yet, Hermes also taught that even the best of men may be attacked and persecuted by the Furies, and suffer in consequence. But it is not the Fate or Destiny of the superior man or woman to be thus attacked and persecuted in any way; for such things will bring more power to their mind and a greater understanding of the laws of being which are a mystery beyond resolution to the inferior person. There is an interweaving of events and their arrangement in all our lives which it is not always possible to avoid, no matter how wise and cautious we may be. In fact, the more cautious we are, the more reason will we have to be left to our own devices by the lesser gods who can help or mar our earthly life and work. The same holds good when we act recklessly or rashly.
The only way we can be saved from the Necessity that follows all acts, or non-acts, is through the intercession of God-inspired friends who will come to our aid and negative the acts of the Furies. But unswerving Faith in the protection of God is the first requisite for our Salvation; this is the Law that the Divine Hermes taught. There is nothing that is not arranged in order; it is by order above all else that the Kosmos itself is borne upon its course; nay, the Kosmos consists wholly of Order in the highest sense of the word. Let us place these things in their proper order now. The first is Destiny or Shai if you wish, which sows the seeds that give rise to all that is to come to pass afterwards. The second is his female counterpart, Renenet or Necessity, who compels the results which all things and beings are inevitably compelled to follow; and the third is Order, which maintains the interconnection of the events which Destiny and Necessity determine—unless there is any direct interference by the Gods themselves, who are the Lords of Destiny, Necessity and Order. All these three are wrought by the Decree of God. And if you wish to regard Order as the Goddess Maat, as the ancient Egyptians did, then this would be quite correct in every way.
God, from a beautiful Necessity is Love; His steps are Beauty and His Presence Light. His Will is the very perfection of all Reason, and His Reason is the only sure foundation on which the Higher Mind can rest. The rolling Ages are full of Him, but His eye is upon every hour of our existence. Nothing with Him is accidental, and He never made His work for man to mend. His works are glorious and He deceiveth not, but only God can comprehend God. He is as great in minuteness as He is in magnitude, and His Power never produces what His goodness cannot embrace, and His Angel is ever near them that love Him. For He that feeds the Eagle does not forget the sparrow. The eye of His Wisdom knows the fixed event of Fate's remote decrees, but to comprehend Him as He is, is a labour without end, though in seeking we shall find. When we sense His Presence our Mind is calmed and resides in quiet and repose, and the vision of the Divine Presence ever takes the form which our circumstances most require. He never makes us sensible of our weaknesses except to give us of His strength. To become aware of His Power we only need to open our eyes to His glory which surrounds us like a screen of glowing roses whose roots lie in His Kingdom and reflect His beauty.
Who would reject the chance of his return to Heaven offered by the Truths taught by Hermes the Divine? The mysteries of Man and the Universe and the origins and purpose of Life are shrouded in hopeless obscurity to the men and women whose thoughts and aims are of the Earth alone. But God's Holy Enigma becomes a blaze of translucency to those whose Faith has been the Key which opened the great Portals to Life in Light. To such the mysteries become a translucent Light after the Wisdom of Hermes the Divine Shepherd has entered their hearts and minds and found a welcome lodging there. But what use is the Truth Hermes taught if, like the scholars and academics we referred to earlier, it is not understood? No one can even begin to know the inwardness of any Truth if he or she does not spend their waking hours in earnest study and meditation. How many—or rather few—are prepared to do so today? Many say they seek for Truth, but only God knows who has found it. Truth is inclusive in every Virtue, absent from every vice, and older than any sects or schools. It is ever present, but the scales which seal the eyes of man prevent it from becoming more generally known. It is an edict of God; and can heal and wound; it is a mighty power, utterly sweet and holy; and the greatest Truth of all truths is Love, which IS God. This is the end of the Spiritus Hermeticum and our twelve discussions on Hermes and his teachings.
© Copyright occult-mysteries.org. First published 21 March 2021. Updated 24 December 2022.