by Frater Palamedes
I. Ancient history of Hermeticism
A. Hermes Trismegistus
1: Not a real figure
In the Renaissance, Hermes Trismegistus was thought to be a contemporary of Moses, the grandson of the god Hermes (or alternately, Thoth), but in the same way that we now consider most biblical characters to be literary vehicles, HT is to be understood as a character in a dialog, much like Plato's.
The surname “Trismegistus” is the Greek adaptation of a demotic Egyptian epithet frequently applied to Thoth. He was referred to as “Thrice great” because he was considered the greatest king, the greatest philosopher and the greatest priest to have ever have lived. He was the culture hero figure to the Egyptians of the Ptolemaic period. He invented agriculture, cities and writing.
2: “Corpus” not a body
The CH as we know it today first appeared in a Byzantine manuscript, brought back to Western Europe for Cosimo de Medici after the fall of Byzantium in 1453, contained only the first 14 tractates we know today. Few manuscripts of the CH date back further than 100 years before this. In other sources (Stoebaus, Iamblichus, Plutarch) there are many other books mentioned in context of the Hermetica, but most seem to have been censored by the Byzantine copyists.
Even in current academic circles, it is common to divide the surviving works into “Philosophical” and “Occult” works. This is a false dichotomy, the authors of the works saw no such distinction.
3: Greco-Egyptian paganism/sycretisim
Critics of the Hermetica, both historic and modern, claim that there is nothing uniquely Egyptian about the works, and therefore they must be considered offshoots of purely Hellenistc philosophy, clearly originating in late antiquity and the beginning of the Christian period. In the 17th century, Protestant scholars (Issac Casaubon et al) used linguistic analysis to “prove” that the Hermetica originated long after the writing of the New Testament. All their arguments prove is that the recordings of the Hermetica that come down to us date to late antiquity. The oral teachings no doubt predate this recording, as do the recordings of the Hebrew bible.
(Reread Burnell chapter on the CH)
a. Greek Hermetica
The Greek of the Hermetica has been influenced by biblical sources, in particular, the LXX, composed in Alexandria in the 3rd BC. This is far from the 3rd AD date assigned by some Greek scholars determined to de-emphasize the importance of Egyptian influences.
b. Coptic Hermetica
(more research on Coptic hermetica)
B. Augustine and the Early Church
The Church has rarely gotten along well with theurgists. Since the Hermetica are so closely related to the emergence of Gnosticism.
C. The Dark Ages
After the fall of the Rome in the late 5th century, the skill of reading Greek was largely lost to Western Europe. With it was lost the CH as well. Very few Hermetic works were translated into Latin in antiquity, the Asclepius being the notable exception. The Asclepius was well known in the Dark Ages, but it was not well respected, and St. Augustine's hatred for it biased all popular opinion of it for centuries to come. The Hermetica survived, of course, in the Arabic world, particularly in Moorish Spain, and particularity among Arab astrologers and alchemists. This is where the famous Emerald Tablet comes from, as no greek original has ever been found for it.
II. Renaissance Hermeticism
Italy and Greece have always had a close relationship. This didn't end with the fall of Rome in the West. Byzantium retained colonies on the Italian peninsula into the Middle Ages. As the power of Constantinople wained, the Orthodox church sought to reconcile with Rome. In 1439, a delegation of Orthodox patriarchs headed by the Eastern Emperor himself came to Florence at the behest of Cosimo de Medici in an attempt to work out their differences with the Pope. Among the scholars who came was a man named Gemistos Plethon, the foremost authority in the Eastern Empire on Plato. His lectures inspired Cosimo and Ficino to start the Careggi Circle,which later morphed into the Platonic Academy.
The link between Florence and the Eastern Empire served as an escape valve for refugees fleeing the Turkish conquest of Constantinople in 1453. Many scholars and patriarchs, in fleeing the armies of the Turkish Sultan, arrived in Florence to a warm welcome from the learned humanists of the city in general, and the Medici family in particular.
Marsilio Ficino was the son of one of Cosimo's doctors. As a young man, Cosimo adopted Ficino as his own son, and even paid for his education in philosophy, theology and Greek. Ficino's life's work was the translation of all the works of Plato into latin, but in the middle of this work, Cosimo asked him stop his work with Plato and translate the newly rediscovered CH, which Ficino published in 1471 under the name of “The Divine Pimander”
B. Northern Europe
4. Newton and Blake
III. Modern Hermeticism
A. Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism
With the developing process of the Enlightenment in the 17 and 18 centuries, Hermeticism dropped out of favor as a philosophy among scientists. The idea of the divine ascent of Man seemed absurd if man was only a single cog in the great wheel of the universe. Also, Protestant Christianity tended to vehemently despise any suggestion that one's own destiny was something that could be altered, as it reeked of the Catholic concept of Purgatory.
The main place in which such heretical ideas were kept alive was in the pseudo-hermetic secret societies of the Masons and the Rosicrucians. Not so much the practice of ritual magic itself was preserved, but the idea that God had not created all men spiritual equal. We are not merely cogs in the great wheel of the universe.
B. Golden Dawn
MacGregor Mathers was an arrogant, self important, egomanical man by any account. He was also a decent scholar of ancient languages and religious practices and a wonderfully talented researcher who was able to produce from the bowels of the libraries of the British Museum, enough information to found a system of high magic which integrated formulae of personal practice into the overall masonic scheme of initiation to a degree of complexity which borders on the miraculous.
Again, an egomaniac of the highest proportion, Crowley excelled in drawing attention to himself. This self promotion, coupled with a genuine talent and a driving dedication to the Great Work almost assured that he would clash with the secretive Chiefs of the GD (aka Mathers in his hierophant's hat) With the first publication of GD ritual material in Equinox, the secret could be kept no longer.
C. Going public
2. The Hermetic world since Regarde
The Hermetic world has gone through a true revolution, just as the rest of the world did in the 20th century. The internet has opened up whole new ways to disseminate "secret knowledge" to the masses. But the value of a secret lies less in its effect on a group than in its effect on an individual. Secrecy lets us work with a minimum of ego noise. If I don't have the play the part of the great and powerful Oz, I don't need a curtain to hide behind in the first place.
Sam Webster's recent innovation of the Open Source Golden Dawn will be an experiment in whether a group founded on openness and mutual sharing of information can succeed at building a magical egrigore. And it will most certainly succeed, at least for those who genuinely work at it. Because the Great Work is not about chanting the proper line from some dusty old tome while burning the right kind of incense. It is about dedicating one's whole being to the betterment of Humanity.
I Fundamentals of Hermeticism
A. Aristotelian/Ptolemaic worldview
1. Empiricism and psychic egocentrism
2. Four elements and the Quintessence
a. The stuff that man is made of
3. Planetary spheres
a. Astrology and psychology
4. Beyond the Spheres
B. Great Chain of Being
1. Man's place in the Cosmos
C. The Great Work
I Ogdoadic Hermeticism
A. Constellation of the Worshiped
Attested to in Greek literature in the Homeric as well as the Orphic hymns.
In the Setting of the Wards of Power, she is invoked in the form of The Dove and the Water.
In her lesser aspect, below the veil, she appears in the guise of Earth, and of Venus. Her earth-form is the Veiled Maiden. In her higher aspect, the harsh Justice of Jupiter (as personified by the goddess Athena) prevails. The form of Aiana, with her silk spun net reminds one of the just fate of Ariadne, who dared compare her own talents to those of the goddess.
Dyadic principle: Sarx
Triadic principle: Dike
Does not appear to have been a historically worshiped deity in this particular form. Still, as the natural consort of Leukothea, the ogdoadic tradition has developed this godform.
In the Setting of the Wards of Power, he is invoked in the form of The Serpent and the Egg.
In his lesser aspect, he is personified by (Luna and) Mercury, the thief and the magician. In his higher aspect, Mars, tempered by the force of Mercy.
Dyadic principle: Pneuma
Triadic principle: Eleos
Appears frequently in late Greek literature, such as the CH, as the child of Hermes. Often depicted in snake form in art of antiquity, the ogdoadic tradition uses his ophomorphic godform of the winged serpent to represent the intertwining of the masculine and feminine forces, and the awakening of the bodies energy centers in a manner similar to the arousal of the kundalini energies (I don't know much about yoga)
In the Setting of the Wards of Power, he is invoked in the form of the union of the Earth with the Blood of Heaven.
Dyadic principle: "unity"
Triadic principle: Kudos
B. The House of Sacrifice (From three, five)
1. Pneuma, Sarx, Dike, Eleos, Kudos
2. Five sides, eight elements
C. The Star of Regeneration (From five, eight)
2. Planetary forces