Hermeticism in Western alchemy combines Greek, Egyptian, Islamic, and Jewish traditions and is a branch of Hermetic philosophy founded on the teachings of Hermes Trismegistus, which translates as “Thrice-Great” Hermes.
It is unclear why Hermes Trismegistus was given the title “Thrice-Great,” but it is thought that it is because he is knowledgeable about three aspects of the universe’s wisdom:
- Alchemy (the action of the Sun)
- Astrology (the operation of the stars)
- Theurgy (the operation of the gods)
Zoroaster, the founder of the Zoroastrian religion and a Middle-Eastern philosopher who lived sometime in the second part of the second millennium BC, was attributed with the invention of astrology by Hermes.
Hermes Trismegistus is credited with establishing science, religion, arithmetic, geometry, alchemy, philosophy, medicine, and magic. He is a hybrid of the Egyptian God Thoth, who is associated with wisdom, learning, and communication, and the Greek God Hermes, who is associated with messengers of the gods.
Hermes Trismegistus is often regarded as the creator of the Hermetica and the fabled founder of Western alchemy. Maier (1617) defines formalized formalized formalized formalized formalized formalized formalized formally.
Thoth is frequently depicted as having the head of an ibis and holding a pen and a tablet, or a pen and a palm branch. N372.2A, Brooklyn Museum, Thoth Deux fois Grand, le Second Hermés. : Author: Champollion, Jean-François, 1790-1832.
He is also credited for writing anything from 20,000 (Seleucus) to 36,525 (Manetho) works, 42 of which were kept in the famous Library of Alexandria, which was destroyed many times.
Unfortunately, despite all chances, just a few of Hermes’ texts survive today, most of which have been gathered into the Corpus Hermeticum.
Hermes Trismegistus is claimed to have received heavenly wisdom in contemplative trances. He spoke on medicine, chemistry, law, art, music, magic, philosophy, geography, mathematics, and anatomy, among other things. His wisdom was so extensive and all-encompassing that the ancient Egyptians referred to him as the gods’ messenger or communicator.
Marsilio Ficino’s Corpus Hermeticum, late fifteenth century
What was Hermes Trismegistus all about?
Hermes Trismegistus may have been a real-life ruler, philosopher, priest, sage, scientist, and sorcerer. He was known by numerous names and was thought to be a mash-up of several persons and legendary entities from ancient history. Hermes’ multiple “incarnations” fundamental purpose is to transcribe God’s word, and his principal symbol is the caduceus or serpent staff.
Hermes Trismegistus is associated with the following historical and mythological figures:
- Thoth (Egyptian Paganism): Egyptian God of learning, wisdom, and communication. He is the gods’ scribe and is credited with inventing language, the alphabet, and writing (i.e., hieroglyphs). He is credited as the author of all works of science, philosophy, religion, wisdom, and magic by the Egyptians. Thoth is thought to have been an Egyptian priest-king and philosopher who lived somewhere between 2000 and 1200 BC.
- Hermes (Greek Paganism): The Greeks connected Thoth with Hermes, Zeus’ son and the God of science, commerce, language, and writing, as well as the gods’ messenger and the first alchemy. Hermes was also credited with inventing astronomy, astrology, arithmetic, geometry, medicine, botany, theology, and all other areas of knowledge.
- Mercury (Roman Paganism): The Roman equivalent of Hermes is the God Mercury, who is the patron of business.
- Enoch/Metatron (Biblical character in Judaism and Christianity): Enoch, Noah’s great grandfather, ascends to heaven and becomes the archangel Metatron, celestial scribe.
- Idris (Islamic Prophet): Synonymous with Enoch.
- Moses (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity): Moses was an Egyptian ruler of Hebrew ancestry who lived in Egypt between 2000 and 1200 BC. In pagan Egypt, he developed a monotheistic religion but was exiled. He is credited with penning the Torah and the Ten Commandments, which were delivered to Moses by God.
- Akhenaten (Egyptian Pharaoh; ruled 1353–1336 BC): He strove to unite pagan Egypt under a single sun god. Tuy, his mother, was most likely of Hebrew heritage, and he, like Moses, was driven out of Egypt. Hermopolis, devoted to Hermes Trismegistus Nabu (Babylonian): God of writing and wisdom, scribe of Marduk, and guardian of the Tablets of Destiny has the most Akhenaten Statues.
The brass serpent (Nehushtan) was built by Moses and set on a pole so that “if a serpent had bitten any man, he lived when he saw the serpent of brass” (Numbers 21:9). William Blake created this painting. the 18th or 19th century.
In current parlance, the term “hermetically sealed” refers to being airtight and impenetrable to gases. Today, the term “Hermetic” usually refers to something hidden or sealed. Hermeticism was largely shrouded in secrecy, and only the genuinely prepared could receive the Hermetic teachings. Hermes is also claimed to have magical abilities, such as the ability to seal a box or chest in such a way that it could never be opened.
The caduceus, Hermes’ sign, is also a modern symbol of commerce and medicine.
The caduceus of Hermes: a modern symbol of commerce and medicine
Hermetic philosophy, also known as Hermeticism, is one of the earliest religious and intellectual traditions, a synthesis of religion and philosophy that thrived in Ptolemaic Egypt. Hermeticism was not incorporated in a single religious group but rather as a philosophical philosophy at the heart of multiple lineages, some of which are still in existence today!
Hermeticism combines aspects of Greek Paganism, Alexandrian Judaism, ancient Sumerian religion and Chaldaean astrology/astronomy, and Zoroastrianism with ancient Egyptian religion, philosophy, science, and magic. It is related to Platonism, Neo-Platonism, Stoicism, and Pythagoreanism.
Hermeticism is believed to believe in “Prisca theologia,” a philosophy that asserts a real theology at the root of all religions that was given to man in antiquity. Hermeticists believe in one transcendent God and “All is One” in the world, but they also believe in other beings like eons, angels, and elementals. Hermeticism inspired Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, particularly the early Christian heretics known as Gnostics.
The annihilation of Hermetic wisdom
Much of the Hermetic and alchemical literature was destroyed, and the remaining was transferred to the Islamic world between 400 and 600 AD, later emerging in medieval Europe during the Renaissance. From 312 AD until well into the 6th century, Christians destroyed practically every trace of Hermeticism, beginning with Emperor Constantine and his successors executing thousands of pagans, many of whom were Hermetic, and destroying temples and sacred books.
The Burning of the Library of Alexandria in 391 AD, from ‘Hutchinson’s History of the Nations,’ circa 1910.
Because of the Church’s opposition, the Hermetic legacy was forced underground and now pervades Western esoteric traditions. This includes secret societies like the
- Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn,
- New Age,
Hermetic philosophy is also influenced by the Theosophical Society, which is the philosophy underpinning the Waldorf/Rudolf Steiner schools.
The impact of Hermeticism on the Scientific Revolution
Pythagoras (570 – 495 BC), a Greek philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer, was supposed to be an initiate of the Hermetic arts, which he studied in Egypt. Plato (424/423 – 348/347 BC) was profoundly affected by Pythagoras and inspired by Hermetic teachings; some suggest he also studied with Egyptian teachers. Pythagoras and Plato both had an impact on early modern scholars of the Scientific Revolution.
From 328 to 347 BC, the Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle attended Plato’s Academy in Athens. Beginning in 343 BC, he educated Alexander the Great, who invaded Egypt in 331 BC and created Alexandria, a center for alchemy and Hermeticism.
Contrary to common assumptions, Hermeticism, Neoplatonic mysticism, and natural magic significantly impacted the Renaissance-era Scientific Revolution. Throughout the Scientific Revolution, empiricism, reason, and free inquiry were valued more than faith, mysticism, or dogma. Surprisingly, the Renaissance saw a revival of Hermetic ideas and mythical, allegorical, and magical modes of thought.
Indeed, many of the forefathers of contemporary science and the scientific method were passionately religious, and many were alchemists and esotericists, both of which were steeped in Hermeticism.
Hermetic concepts can be found in the writings of luminaries like Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, and medieval philosophers such as Roger Bacon and Islamic philosophers as Al-Kindi and Avicenna.
The title page of Robert Boyle’s The Sceptical Chymist, a founding text of chemistry published in 1661.
Copernicus, the first to give a predictive mathematical model for a heliocentric system, depicts the Sun as follows:
“In the midst of it all, the Sun sits enthroned. Could we put this luminary in a better position in this most beautiful temple, from which he can illuminate the entire structure at once? He is appropriately known as the Lamp, the Mind, and the Ruler of the Universe; Hermes Trismegistus refers to him as the Visible God, and Sophocles’ Electra refers to him as the All-seeing. As a result, the Sun sits atop a royal throne, governing over his children, the planets that orbit him.”
The inventor of modern physics, Isaac Newton, spent most of his time rediscovering the ancients’ arcane wisdom, notably the Corpus Hermeticum and the Emerald Tablet. He was a fervent study and practitioner of alchemy, which substantially inspired his scientific work, including the laws of motion, the theory of gravity, his work on optics, and the invention of calculus.
The International Alchemy Guild’s reconstruction of what the Emerald Tablet would have looked like.
Although Hermeticism has a relationship between the celestial and terrestrial realms (“As above, so below”), the core theme is the growth of knowledge and the advancement of learning. Nature is studied in the Hermetic tradition through observation, experimentation, and illumination. The goal is to identify and detect the invisible and discover hidden connections between things. Hermeticism’s magical heritage seeks to find the impact of one thing over another, comprehend occurrences and learn how to manipulate them.
Toxicology was founded by Paracelsus, a Renaissance physician, surgeon, botanist, astrologer, and alchemist. He coined the term “the dose makes the poison.” Hermetic, Neo-Platonic, and Pythagorean philosophy were all favorites of Paracelsus. He argued that experience should be the last arbitrator of a theory and that humility and hard work are required.
“he can be astonished by an anomaly—like a white raven—that confounds all the texts, and all his experience, all he has gained at the sickbed, is abruptly gone.”
So, without a break, study every day, explore and watch thoroughly; despise nothing, and don’t put too much reliance on yourself. Do not be conceited.” — Parmenides
The schism between spirit and science
While Hermeticism was influential in the rise of contemporary experimental science, other aspects of the Hermetic tradition had to be rejected for science to arise. This entails separating science from religion and the spiritual realm and eliminating illumination as a means of acquiring information.
Natural philosophy, up until the mid-17th century, generally described nature as an organic, dynamic, living, interconnected creature. There was no obvious line between astronomy and astrology, alchemy and chemistry, science and magic.
The Scientific Revolution divided these fields and introduced a mechanistic understanding of nature, a concentration on rational and logical thought, and a separation of religion and spirituality from the pursuit of knowledge.
In science, a thing witnessed is divorced from the observer’s spirit and internal value system. When science observes a thing, it presumes that it is of that nature; the perceptual is actual. However, in the current domains of relativistic and quantum physics, observation has an effect on the process being viewed, resulting in a different outcome than if the process had not been watched.
In Hermeticism, the object of study is a reflection of the observer, and the two are inextricably intertwined. As evidenced in the famous expression “As above, so below,” this is key to Hermetic philosophy: the universe is a symbolic representation of what is going on inside of us. The pursuit for knowledge evolves into a spiritual journey to re-establish humankind’s oneness with the divine, dubbed the “Great Work.”
All is one. As above, so below.
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