The Hermetic texts are a collection of spiritual works ascribed to the mysterious figure Hermes Trismegistus, who is traditionally revered as an ancient Egyptian sage1 and associated with the Egyptian god Thoth.2
The Hermetic texts contain knowledge of the Religion of the Sun and appear likely to be connected with an Egyptian wisdom tradition of great antiquity. 3 4 It is possible this tradition could have roots leading back to the Atlantean wisdom bringer Thoth himself, as some early writers believed that the Hermetic knowledge was first recorded in hieroglyphics before a great flood devastated the earth. 5
This knowledge is presented as a secret tradition reserved for those who are spiritually prepared.67 It describes a process of enlightenment, through which an initiate would overcome their lower nature and merge with divinity, which in Hermeticism includes the three primary forces of the Spiritual Father, Spiritual Mother, and Spiritual Son described in the Religion of the Sun.89 Hermetic narratives also describe these divine forces as intimately connected to the sun, stars, light, and fire. 10
Hermeticism emphasizes a number of key spiritual practices, which are common with other traditions connected to the Religion of the Sun. These include the pursuit of self-knowledge,11 the elimination of “tormentors” that exist within (the personification of various defects such as anger, lust, injustice, greed, deceit, envy, and malice),12 symbolic references to spiritual alchemy,13 14 prayer,15 and mystical experiences out of the body.1617 The texts also emphasize the importance of helping others spiritually.18
A growing collection of practices from Hermetic texts can be found below. A more detailed overview of the connections of Hermeticism to the Religion of the Sun can be found in the article, “Cultures Descended from the Civilization of the Sun.”
- Jan Assmann, “Introduction,” in The secret history of Hermes Trismegistus: hermeticism from ancient to modern times, by Florian Ebeling (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011), viii.
- Brian P. Copenhaver, “Introduction,” in Hermetica: the Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius in a new English translation, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), xv.
- Mantheo, an Egyptian priest of the 3rd century BC, reportedly stated that the Hermetic knowledge was set down in books by a figure named Hermes Trismegistus (identified with the primary figure described in the texts) and deposited in the sanctuaries of the temples of Egypt. Mantheo apparently considered the knowledge already ancient in his time. It is significant that Mantheo described himself as the high priest of Heliopolis and reportedly had access to archival documents of the temple, giving him potential insight into Egyptian wisdom traditions from a more ancient past. Copenhaver, “Introduction,” xv.
- The discovery of Hermetic texts written in Coptic as part of the collection found near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, has sparked renewed scholarship around the possibility of an Egyptian origin for the Hermetica. Researchers have noted connections between the Hermetic texts and temple inscriptions in Egypt as well as to ancient Egyptian mythologies. (See Florian Ebeling, The secret history of Hermes Trismegistus: hermeticism from ancient to modern times, trans. David Lorton (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011), 30.) Other scholars have noted that the similarity between Hermetic writings and ancient Egyptian wisdom literature such as the “Instructions,” which reach back to the Old Kingdom. Parallels have also been noted between the 42 books of Hermes Trismegistus (described by the early Church father Clement of Alexandria) and the description of sacred writings inscribed on the walls of an Egyptian temple in Edfu, which themselves describe a very ancient antediluvian past. (Copenhaver, “Introduction,” lvii, xxxiii.)
- Mantheo traced the ultimate origin of the Hermetic knowledge to the Egyptian god Thoth, who had created “stelae in the land of Seiria […] inscribed in the sacred tongue in heiroglyphic letters” in a time before the flood. (Copenhaver, “Introduction,” xv.) Josephus Flavius, a historian in Rome, makes a similar claim, stating that the Hermetic knowledge was inscribed on columns before the flood, and that one had actually survived and could be seen in Syria. Ammianus Marcellinus, another Roman historian, goes further, stating that “wise men of Egypt, anticipating a catastrophic flood, prepared subterranean galleries and caves and covered their walls with hieroglyphic inscriptions in which all their wisdom was recorded.” (Assmann, “Introduction,” ix.)
- Assmann, “Introduction,” x, xii.
- Wouter Hanegraaff, “Altered States of Knowledge: The Attainment of Gnōsis in the Hermetica,” The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition 2, no. 2 (2008): 135.
- For example, Poimander (who appears to represent Hermes’ own divine being in the mystical vision called “Poimander”) states: “This is the final good for those who have received knowledge: to be made god.” Brian P. Copenhaver (Translator), “Discourse of Hermes Trismegistus: Poimander,” in Hermetica: the Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius in a new English translation, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 6.
- This divine nature is described as containing multiple parts, including the “Son of God” – the “Word” that “takes flesh” in the wise and is “the redeemer of all men. This word is in turn brought forth by the “Supreme Being […] male and female.” From the “Poimander” presented in Manly P. Hall, The secret teachings of all ages: an encyclopedic outline of Masonic, Hermetic, Qabbalistic and Rosicrucian symbolical philosophy: being an interpretation of the secret teachings concealed within the rituals, allegories, and mysteries of the ages (Los Angeles, CA: The Philosophical Research Society, Inc., 1988), CLIII. XL, XXXVIII.
- Those who succeed in reaching divine unity will “[dwell] in the light,” returning to their source “in the ring of the fixed stars.” These stars are principles controlling the universe, which in turn burns with the radiance of the “one fire.” The spiritual father himself is said to consist of “Life and Light,” of which all things are made. Ibid, XL,XXXIX, XL.
- Copenhaver, “Poimander,” 5.
- Hermes describes these “tormenters” in a dialogue with his son, Tat, saying that they can be gradually removed by one who has been “taken pity on by God” and that they are “chased out” by certain divine powers. G.R.S. Mead (Translator), “Corpus Hermeticum XIII: The Secret Sermon on the Mountain,” Internet Sacred Texts Archive, accessed September 14, 2017, http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/herm/hermes13.htm.
- Hall, Secret teachings, CLIII.
- Ebeling, “Secret history,” 32.
- Prayer is frequently alluded to and demonstrated in the Hermetic texts. Perhaps most notably at the end of the discourse “Poimander,” where Herme is filled with joy after his mystical revelations and offers praise to God the father. From the “Poimander” presented by Manly P. Hall in Hall, “Secret Teachings,” XL.
- In the Corpus Hermeticum XIII, “The Secret Sermon on the Mountain,” Hermes states to his son, “you, too, would have passed out of yourself, as happens to those who are dreaming in sleep, but then in full consciousness.” Cited in Hanegraaff, “Altered States,” 146.
- For example, at the beginning of the “Poimander,” it states that “[f]ollowing the secret instructions of the Temple, [Hermes] gradually freed his higher consciousness from the bondage of his bodily senses” before having a mystical vision. Hall, “Secret Teachings,” XXXVIII.
- For example, at the conclusion of the “Poimander” discourse, the divine being orders Hermes to “go forth, to become as a guide to those who wander in darkness, that all men within whom dwells the spirit of My Mind (The Universal Mind) may be saved by My Mind in you, which shall call forth My Mind in them.” Hermes then “consecrated his life to the service of the Great Light” and goes forth to freely share his newfound knowledge with humanity. Ibid, XL.
Trismegistos is a public domain image found here