also called Hermetism, is a religious and philosophical tradition
based primarily upon pseudepigraphical writings attributed to
Hermes Trismegistus ("Thrice Great").
These writings have greatly influenced the Western esoteric
tradition and were considered to be of great importance during
both the Renaissance and the Reformation. The tradition claims
descent from a prisca theologia, a doctrine which affirms that a
single, true theology exists which is present in all religions and
was given by God to man in antiquity.
origin of the description Trismegistus or thrice great is unclear.
Copenhaver reports that this name is first found in the minutes of
a meeting of the council of the Ibis cult, held in 172 BCE near
Memphis in Egypt. Fowden
however asserts that the earliest occurrence of the name was in
the Athenagora by Philos of Byblos circa 64–141 CE.
account of how Hermes Trismegistus received the name "Thrice
Great" is derived from the The Emerald Tablet of Hermes
Trismegistus, wherein it is stated that he knew the three parts of
the wisdom of the whole universe.
The three parts of the wisdom are alchemy, astrology, and
Poimandres, from which Marsilio Ficino formed his opinion, states
that "They called him Trismegistus because he was the
greatest philosopher and the greatest priest and the greatest
king." The Suda
(10th century) states that "He was called Trismegistus on
account of his praise of the trinity, saying there is one divine
nature in the trinity."
explanation is that the name is derived from an epithet of Thoth
found at the Temple of Esna, "Thoth the great, the great, the
Christian writers, including Emerson, Lactantius, Thomas of
Aquinas, Augustine, Giordano Bruno, Marsilio Ficino, Campanella
and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola considered Hermes Trismegistus
to be a wise pagan prophet who foresaw the coming of Christianity.
"The date of his sojourn in Egypt, in that his last
incarnation on this planet, is not now known, but it has been
fixed at the early days of the oldest dynasties of Egypt, long
before the days of Moses. The best authorities regard him as a
contemporary of Abraham, and some of the Jewish traditions go so
far as to claim that Abraham acquired a portion of his mystic
knowledge from Hermes himself." Three Initiates, The Kybalion:
a study of the hermetic philosophy of ancient Egypt and Greece,
Egyptians deified Hermes, and made him one of their gods, under
the name of Thoth.
TRISMEGISTUS, "THE THRICE GREATEST HERMES,"
God of scribes, science, magic, time, medicine, reckoning, cults,
wisdom, the peace of the gods and companion of MAAT
Drawing by Stéphane
date of his sojourn in Egypt, in that his last incarnation on this
planet, is not now known, but it has been fixed at the early days
of the oldest dynasties of Egypt–long before the days of Moses.
The best authorities regard him as a contemporary of Abraham, and
some of the Jewish traditions go so far as to claim that Abraham
acquired a portion of his mystic knowledge from Hermes
to early Christian Fathers, Hermes
Trismegistus was either a contemporary of Moses
or the third in a line of men named Hermes — Enoch, Noah,
and the Egyptian priest-king who is known to us as Hermes
of the importance of Hermeticism arises from its connection with
the development of science during the time from 1300 to 1600 A.D.
Late Antiquity, Hermetism emerged in parallel with early
Christianity, Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, the Chaldaean Oracles, and
late Orphic and Pythagorean literature. These doctrines were
"characterized by a resistance to the dominance of either
pure rationality or doctrinal faith."
books now known as the Corpus Hermeticum were part of a
renaissance of syncretistic and intellectualized pagan thought
that took place from the 3rd to the 7th century A.D. These
post-Christian Greek texts dwell upon the oneness and goodness of
God, urge purification of the soul, and defend pagan religious
practices such as the veneration of images. Their predominant
literary form is the dialogue: Hermes Trismegistus instructs a
perplexed disciple upon various teachings of the hidden wisdom.
1945, Hermetic texts were found near Nag Hammadi. One of these
texts had the form of a conversation between Hermes and Asclepius.
A second text (titled On the Ogdoad and Ennead) told of the
Hermetic mystery schools. It was written in the Coptic language,
the latest and final form in which the Egyptian language was
The caduceus, a
symbol of Hermeticism.
creation story is told by God to Hermes in the first book of the
Corpus Hermeticum. It begins when God, by an act of will, creates
the primary matter that is to constitute the cosmos. From primary
matter God separates the four elements (earth, air, fire, and
water). Then God orders the elements into the seven heavens (often
held to be the spheres of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn,
the Sun, and the Moon, which travel in circles and govern
Word" then leaps forth from the materializing four elements,
which were unintelligent. Nous then makes the seven heavens spin,
and from them spring forth creatures without speech. Earth is then
separated from water, and animals (other than man) are brought
God then created androgynous man, in God's own image, and handed
over his creation.
carefully observed the creation of nous and received from God
man's authority over all creation. Man then rose up above the
spheres' paths in order to better view creation. He then showed
the form of the All to Nature. Nature fell in love with the All,
and man, seeing his reflection in water, fell in love with Nature
and wished to dwell in it. Immediately, man became one with Nature
and became a slave to its limitations, such as gender and sleep.
In this way, man became speechless (having lost "the
Word") and he became "double," being mortal in body
yet immortal in spirit, and having authority over all creation yet
subject to destiny.
the Discourses of Isis to Horus, the creation of man is given in a
slightly different form as follows:
having created the universe, created the divisions, the worlds,
and various gods and goddesses, whom he appointed to certain parts
of the universe. He then took a mysterious transparent substance,
out of which he created human souls. He appointed the souls to the
astral region, which is just above the physical region.
then assigned the souls to create life on Earth. He handed over
some of his creative substance to the souls and commanded them to
contribute to his creation. The souls then used the substance to
create the various animals and forms of physical life. Soon after,
however, the souls began to overstep their boundaries; they
succumbed to pride and desired to be equal to the highest gods.
was displeased and called upon Hermes to create physical bodies
that would imprison the souls as a punishment for them. Hermes
created human bodies on earth, and God then told the souls of
their punishment. God decreed that suffering would await them in
the physical world but he promised them that, if their actions on
Earth were worthy of their divine origin, their condition would
improve and they would eventually return to the heavenly world. If
it did not improve, he would condemn them to repeated
reincarnation upon Earth.
the period of Roman Christendom Hermetic Literature was also
banned as pagan. However,
the group of texts of 17 treatises now known as the Corpus
Hermeticum finally returned to the Latin West during the Italian
Renaissance when the Florentine philosopher prince Cosimo de
Medici obtained a set of manuscripts from one of his agents in the
Greek East and commissioned the scholar, priest, magician, and
philosopher Marsilio Ficino to translate the Corpus into Latin.
became took new life as part of Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry,
Theosophy and generalized egyptomania (cf. Golden Dawn, Thelemism,
Pyramidology, etc.) during the Gnostic resurgence. Today it is the
basic theology of the New
Age religion with additions and emphasis on reincarnation.
(428/427 or 424/423 BC – 348/347 BC) made the statement that,
" "We are dead and the body is a tomb.." and
presented detailed accounts of reincarnation in his major works.
stated the pre-existence of the soul in a celestial world and its
fall into a human body as due to sin and that in order to be
liberated from its bondage and return to a state of pure being,
the soul needs to be purified through reincarnation.
Roman copy of Greek 5th century BC bust (Museo Archeologica
Pindar (c. 522–443 BC),earlier stressed
the divine origin and nature of the human soul in
contradistinction to the mortality of the human body. "While
the body of all men is subject to over-mastering death, an image
of life remains alive, for it alone comes from the gods," he
affirmed. This sharp dualism of soul and body appears again and
again in the Orphic tablets, though it is not always clear that
the myth of the origin of man from the ashes of the Titans was in