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CHAPTER THREE

Ancient Greece

Hermetica

Thoth Hermes Trismegistus Picture

Hermeticism, 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.

The 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.

An 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 theurgy.

The 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."

Another explanation is that the name is derived from an epithet of Thoth found at the Temple of Esna, "Thoth the great, the great, the great".

Many 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.


HERMES TRISMEGISTUS, "THE THRICE GREATEST HERMES,"
THOTH
God of scribes, science, magic, time, medicine, reckoning, cults, wisdom, the peace of the gods and companion of MAAT
 Drawing by Stéphane Rossini (1992)

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.(Kybalion)

According 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 Trismegistus. 

 

Much of the importance of Hermeticism arises from its connection with the development of science during the time from 1300 to 1600 A.D.

In 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."

The 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.

 

In 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 written.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/57/Caduceus.svg/299px-Caduceus.svg.png

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The caduceus, a symbol of Hermeticism.

A 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 destiny).

"The 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 forth.

The God then created androgynous man, in God's own image, and handed over his creation.

Man 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.

In the Discourses of Isis to Horus, the creation of man is given in a slightly different form as follows:

God, 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.

He 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.

God 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.

 

During 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. 

 

Hermeticism 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.

 

Plato (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.

 

Plato 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. 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pindar,
Roman copy of Greek 5th century BC bust (Museo Archeologica Nazionale, Naples)

                   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 mind