Spiritus Hermeticum: part three
An investigation of the origins of Hermeticism and the true teachings of Hermes Trismegistus
In the first part of this 12-part investigation we discussed the origins of Hermeticism, touched on the teachings of Hermes, and attempted to separate the Greek and Egyptian conceptions of the god variously known as Thoth, Theuth, Tat, and Tahuti. In part two we considered the origins and extent of the literature dealing with Hermetic philosophy known as the Corpus Hermeticum. In this third part we begin a detailed examination of the actual teachings of Hermes as they have come down to us; namely in the Poemander, the Asclepios and the various Hermetic fragments found in the Suidas, Stobaeus' Anthologium, as well as in the writings of the early Fathers of the Church, such as Lactantius and Cyril.
Our principal aim, as we told you in part one, is to uncover the original truths the man Hermes taught to his disciples, and to distinguish these without fail from the half-truths and speculations grafted onto them over the centuries. For as we said in our first introduction, it is the Truth and nothing but the truth that matters to us, and we hope, to our loyal readers, no matter how unpalatable or unpopular it may be with those who, like the 16th century French Catholic, Franciscus Flussas Candalla, rejected the Asclepios on the grounds that it had been "tampered with by some impious pagan." We would add that there is no shortage of modern 'pagans' whose secular interpretations of Hermes' words amount to a more serious crime against truth than any amount of impiety on the part of those beyond the pale of the Catholic Church!
In the afterword accompanying part one we examined the early life and career of the colourful occultist—Dr Maurice Doreal—who was responsible for composing and promoting the fraud known as The Emerald Tablets of Thoth the Atlantean. In our second afterword we told you about the Shaver Mystery and other bizarre tales that influenced Doreal's ideas and teachings which ultimately led to the fabrication of the aforementioned tablets. In this part we conclude our investigation of his life and times, the occult order he founded, and begin our examination of his presumptuous imposture.
In part four, published in July 2020, we continue this examination and also tell you more about the true teachings of Hermes. If you have not read the first two parts, now is the time to do so, for this investigation forms an ascending scale of revelation which cannot be understood by skimming through the individual articles in this series in a haphazard and piecemeal manner.
Contradictions and conundrums
We ended part two with the statement that with very few exceptions none of the modern translators of the Corpus Hermeticum are occultists. Hence they are unable to recognise the many errors, half-truths, misunderstandings and misinterpretations made by their predecessors over the centuries, most of whom were not occultists either. Neither are they qualified to recognise—much less understand—the profound esoteric truths which lie concealed beneath the copious complex allegories, glyphs and symbols to be found within the Corpus Hermeticum. It is this grave deficiency, more than careless scholarship, or even deliberate meddling, which has given rise to the many contradictions in the Poemander and Asclepios, as well as the fragments found in the Suidas and Stobaeus. This is the reason we have called our investigation Spiritus Hermeticum, not Corpus Hermeticum, for we are not concerned with the dead body—the 'corpus'—of Hermeticism, but with its inner, living Spirit.
Let us examine one of the most serious errors in the Poemander. When speaking of Hermes, the book tells us that "God begat a man equal to himself." Can you see the colossal mistake here? No wise man, as we believe Hermes to have been, would presume to make such a claim, for God is as far removed in Wisdom from the wisest man that ever breathed on earth as the Sun is removed from a guttering candle in a dark cellar filled with bemused bats. This is but common sense, is it not? As we told you in part one, we are in no doubt that the 'man' Hermes must have been one of the wisest men that ever lived. As a man, we do not know his equal, but that still does not make him equal to God. But there is one ray of light which redeems the translators, scholars, philologists, theologians and academics mentioned above, and that is that they all lament the decay of the Egyptian religion, whose great secrets were no longer known. They all pay deep respect to that marvellous religion, or of what was left of it, making of Egypt of that time, and the times before when it truly flourished, the temple of the Universe; and with this verdict we agree with all our heart. According to Philo Judaeus, a Hellenized Jewish philosopher who flourished in the first century B.C., Hermes is the preacher of repentance par excellence who teaches the way of salvation from the illusions of life on earth. With this too, we are in complete agreement.
Among the more glaring misstatements in the Corpus Hermeticum is the idea that though God makes all things He does not make anything evil. But is this strictly true? That we aim to discover in the next section. Meanwhile, in different portions of the books we encounter the contradictory statements that it is not lawful for a human soul to pass into the body of an animal, yet we are also told elsewhere that if a human soul continues to be evil, it retraces the way by which it had ascended from reptiles. Which is it? Both statements cannot be true. We also find the ascetic principle that one must hate one's body if one would love oneself, which contradicts the renunciation of celibacy and the glorification of parentage. We submit that none of these ideas could possibly come from a true Master of Wisdom, such as we believe Hermes to have been. If they did not originate with Hermes, then they must have emerged from the twisted minds of his would be followers, or have been introduced into the texts by the 'impious pagans' mentioned by Candalla, as well as by the various translators and editors through whose hands the Corpus Hermeticum has passed over the centuries.
If there is such a thing as 'mortal sin', tampering with sacred writ is in our view the very worst. It is no defence to say that the meddler, whoever he or she may have been, meant well. The road to hell, as we all know, is paved with good intentions. We cannot omit to mention another, even graver contradiction which runs throughout the Corpus Hermeticum, and this is the question of who or what the Son of God is. Sometimes he is called the Logos, as proceeding from Nous. At others he is Man, not man as we know him, but an aeonian Man after the teachings of the 'heretical' Gnostic Christian sect of the Valentinians. This aeonian man takes after the Nous that begat him in being bisexual, though the commentators upon these teachings find it hard to understand how there can be sex in Nous! In other parts of the Corpus Hermeticum, the Son of God is called the sensible universe, as in the Timaeus of Plato. So what exactly were Hermes' ideas of God? Or rather, what does the Corpus Hermeticum say they were? We will examine these ideas shortly. But before we do so, let us fulfil the promise we made earlier to consider the question of evil, for the two questions are closely related.
Illustration depicting the Tabula Smaragdina or Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus from Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae (Amphitheatre of Eternal Wisdom) an alchemical work by Heinrich Khunrath published in Hamburg, Germany, in 1595
Good and Evil
If you were to ask any competent scholar who has made a thorough study of the Corpus Hermeticum what the views of Hermes on evil and its problems are, if he were an honest man, a variety of answers would have to be given. In one place in the Poemander we have the cynical answer that every disease of the soul arises from pleasure; in another, the body is denounced as the cause of evil; and love of the body is the cause of death. Then, again, it appears that goodness and passion—especially sexual passion—are mutually exclusive, like day and night, and that passion may be compared to the evil rust which corrodes good iron, or dirt defiling the human body. These answers may amount to the same thing; namely that evil is a corruption which fastens on the body of goodness. But we encounter a different theory of causality when we are told that evil thoughts are prompted by demons. This is the voice of Persia speaking here, not Greece and certainly not ancient Egypt where the body was venerated as the temple of the spirit, or Higher Self in our terminology, as we told you in our investigation of the human body and some of its mysteries.
But, however evil comes about, one thing is taken for granted by all those thinkers, and that is that God did not create, or make, evil. Moreover, it is said in both the Poemander and the Asclepios that evil is confined to earth. According to these writers—whoever they may have been—it is blasphemy to say that it attaches to the whole Kosmos. They also believed that the religious man turns evil into good, so that the things which are evil to others are good to him! If these were the true teachings of Hermes then they completely negate the famous but little understood axiom attributed to him that what is Above is like that which is below. Do you see the traps such misleading and contradictory ideas lay for the unwary and unthinking seeker?
We said just now that the idea of demons prompting evil thoughts came from Persia and not Greece or Egypt. This is because the Persian Prophet and religious reformer, Zoroaster (also known as Zarathustra), taught that Ahriman (also called Angra Mainyu)—the god of evil—was the adversary and enemy of Ahura Mazda, though the two made one being in the end: that of positive good and negative evil. The positive part of Ahura Mazda, like the positive Higher Self in Man, can control the evil god which may be compared with the lower self of man. Here we have the simple answer to the riddle of Good and evil, both in man and in the Kosmos. An answer you will not find in any books on or about Hermes for the writers of such books, or the commentators and editors of them, do not know about the two minds or selves in man, least of all whence each comes and whither it is tending.
Yes—simplicity escapes the lower mind, which just loves complex arguments and convoluted, contorted intellectual gymnastics. Such circuitous caperings and casuistic caprioles impress the unthinking, especially when they are delivered with becoming gravitas and supported by a plethora of scholarly citations, but leave the wise cold. Meanwhile, the poor seeker after truth is left as much or more in the dark as he was before. Complexity is ever the enemy of truth; never forget this if you wish to reap real benefit from this investigation. So, the simple key of lower self and Higher Self escapes the complex intellectual arguments of the writers we referred to earlier. Writers who purport to have preserved the true teachings of Hermes but have only left us their own distorted interpretations of his words. We must never lose sight of the aforementioned Hermetic axiom either, for in the equally simple 'as above so below,' combined with the idea of Light and Darkness, we can find the answer to every riddle in the Universe, especially that of Good and evil.
But to learn is not necessarily to know; for there are learners as well as the learnéd. Memory makes the one, philosophy the other, and philosophy is something which cannot be learned, for it is not reducible to complex intellectual rules whereby it can be learned; it is the amalgamation of all the sciences and the arts, and is, as it were, a golden cloud which bears the Higher Self to Heaven, to be finally united with the Soul and dwell in God's Kingdom, until it qualifies even there to rise still higher in Wisdom and glory. But most learners fall into the snares of non-essentials, dwelling upon the intellectual complexities their lower selves present to them which we referred to just now. While they are busily engaged in such fruitless activity the simplicity of spiritual truth escapes like incense from the ashes of the material. There is no end to learning, but only one way to Wisdom. For many people—even students of occultism—material accomplishments take the place of virtue, but wisdom retires before exterior ornament. He who learns the rules of wisdom without conforming to them in his search for truth, is like a man who tills the soil but forgets to sow any seed. It is also true that a fool is willing to pay for anything but wisdom, for most think they have it in abundance already, which proves that it is abundantly absent!
Martin Luther once said that "The Devil has a great advantage over us inasmuch he has a strong bastion and bulwark against us in our own flesh and blood." This was a wise saying, and it shows us why some writers say that love of the body is the cause of death as we saw earlier. But we would say, excess or unbalanced love of the body is the cause of death, or provides opportunities for evil to rise up and flourish. We only have to observe our fellowmen and women to see how so many get themselves into all kinds of difficulties by satisfying some temporary desire. Moreover, temptation is seldom where we suppose it lies, for it is often hidden in the smallest of things in our very home where we least expect to find it. Pause here and think about this for a moment.
When you have done so you will realize that it is often the little sins of omission and commission that lead us into evil. Greed, avarice, jealousy, thoughtlessness, indifference to the troubles of others: these are all temptations toward evil in one form or another. Remember too that no place, no company, no person is entirely free from temptation, not even the greatest and wisest. Let no man boast that he was never tempted, let him not be high-minded and proud, but have a care, for we may be surprised in the very instant when we boasted of our virtues! The Prince of Darkness never sleeps and there are many vacancies in his grim Domain as we can read in Dr Michaud's marvellous short story Symphonie Fantastique. But it is not so much the devil that tempts us, but we ourselves tempt him to come forth and take possession of his own. Believe not that God leads man into temptation as the Lord's Prayer tells us. This is a wicked lie which even a recent Pope has questioned as John Temple tells us in his article on the Power of Prayer. God can lead us out of temptation if we place our Trust in Him, but never into it.
Hermes' ideas of God
The ideas about God attributed to Hermes are no less contradictory than those about evil we have just considered. According to the Corpus Hermeticum they may be polytheistic, pantheistic, or monotheistic. In one of the supposed books by Hermes we read: "The stars in the sky are manifest gods, and most manifest among them is the sun, who is larger than land and sea." No truly great wise man, or profound philosopher would say such things, unless he wanted to conceal the truth. If such were his aim he would not have chosen words that invite the worst kind of idolatrous and anthropomorphic interpretation being placed upon them. The words 'larger than land and sea' are just the kind of interpolation we would expect from some meddling Churchman, never from the real Hermes we are slowly getting to know who had no need for such pious exaggerations. Such a sentence as the foregoing can be interpreted in a thousand ways without ever approaching Truth. No body, whether that of a star, a planet, a man or a mouse can ever be a god. That a body can be the vehicle of a spirit we readily admit, but even the most evolved spirit is far removed from a god who has no need of bodies of any kind. You will see this for yourself if you think it over, as you should. Do not fall into the trap, as many mystics and occultists do, of regarding the Earth as some kind of giant god or goddess. It is not, yet this supposed teaching of Hermes can easily be interpreted to mean just this, so leading the reader even further away from Truth.
In the same place Hermes speaks—or is supposed to speak rather—about daemones, a kind of order of angels, who are of an immortal nature, to which man can attain. Again the truth is either hidden in this sentence or the writer of it (most certainly not Hermes) did not know what he was talking about. There is no need for man to attain to immortality, for he is immortal in any case as we have explained in countless articles, not least in our Occult Studies Course. Hermes is also thought to have said that man has made god in his own image, even as the Father and Lord made the heavenly gods in His image. "Dost thou speak of the statues, Trismegistus?" says his supposed auditor, Asclepios, who is at once rebuked for his want of faith by his teacher. "Statues," says Hermes in further reply, "so full of life, of feeling, and of aspiration, which do so many wonderful things; the prophetic statues which predict the future by bestowing dreams and by all manner of other ways; which strike us with maladies, or heal our pains according to our deserts" (Asclepios: part 9).
Hermes goes on to explain that the reason why such statues possess those marvellous powers is because the souls of daemones have been invoked into them. In support of this doctrine, he appeals to the benefits that Isis bestows when she is propitious and the harm she does when she is angry. Passion or anger, he remarks, is natural to such terrene and mundane gods, who have been made and composed by men out of the two natures of matter and spirit. This theory, that statues were the abode of daemones, was eagerly accepted by the early Christians, subject to the proviso that they were evil ones—demons in fact, not daemones or angels but devils! The belief in the presence of good or evil entities dwelling within statues made for this purpose by men is a universal one, and not to be ascribed to Hermes alone. We find it in Babylonia, in Persia, in India, in China, among the Maya of Central America and the Aborigines of Australia—everywhere in fact and at all times wherever and whenever superstition and illusion triumph over wisdom and reality.
Let us explain what all this really amounts to, without succumbing to superstition or illusion ourselves. First of all, no statue, totem, stone, or any object fashioned by man or found in Nature, is the abode of a god, demon, angel or spirit, or even a Catholic saint! But if someone firmly believes that demons, angels, spirits, saints, etc., do exist, then his or her concentration on such beings may draw into the statue or object in question certain powers in the shape of beings in the nearby parts of the Astral World. Regular readers will recall that we discussed some of the varied inhabitants of the Astral World in our Occult Studies Course, which consist of beings of all kinds ranging from blind, semi-intelligent elementals, through the disintegrating remains of human personalities—called elementaries or shells by occultists—to intelligent entities of all kinds and ranks, including human beings awaiting reincarnation. Many of these beings can and do hear the invocations of men and women on earth, and they will either help or frustrate such appeals according to their natures and limitations.
We would add that it is entirely useless to pray to any saint or angel for power or material riches, for they cannot bestow them even if they would. But they can guide the believer to some extent, and this has been often seen in the case of devout Roman Catholics who had lost some article and then light a candle before the statue of St. Anthony of Padua and often discover the missing article. Whether it is the person's own Higher or lower self that directs them, or whether they are helped by some being in the beyond is open to question, but we incline to the view that both are possible, though the former is more probable. What about demons and devils you may ask. There are many nowadays who call themselves 'magicians' who pray to or worship statues representing this or the other demon and ask him or her for help in some nefarious quest or the satisfaction of some petty, selfish desire. If they possess sufficient concentration and willpower such misguided individuals will probably be heard and answered—to their later cost. For, as we pointed out in our review of the teachings and books of Franz Bardon, the Universe does not operate on the 'free lunch' principle. There is a price to be paid for everything and everything, including the services of one's personal demon, has its price. And the bigger the service, the higher the price. But whatever the object in question, be it a statue, effigy, picture or anything else, it is only a focus point upon which the mind of the supplicant centres, thus aiding their concentration, imagination and attunement.
Side by side with the polytheism we find in the Corpus Hermeticum runs a pantheistic thread. When we read in the Poemander that: "thou art whatever I am, thou art whatever I do, thou art whatever I say," we might fancy we have in our hands some book by some Indian philosopher. Again, we have the declaration: "God is himself what he makes." All things, we are also told, are living beings, and, "He is the One life of all." Under this pantheistic monism there breaks out a dualism, which is again resolved into a unity. Search the whole world through, says Hermes, in the height and depth thereof, and you will find but two things, namely: the maker, and the product. And yet these two are in a manner one thing according to this dogma. Each is relative to the other. The maker can no more exist without the product than the product can exist without the maker. This same doctrine has also made its appearance in modern theology. Did Hermes owe it to ancient Egypt? Or did ancient Egypt owe it to Hermes, and is it true?
We don't know about you, but we can think of plenty of 'makers' who never made anything, other than good intentions. So in that sense the maker is not one with his product as he is capable of existing quite happily on his own doing absolutely nothing at all; so this teaching is not true. But it is also true that there cannot be a product without a maker, so in that sense this teaching is true. So where are we? Perhaps the solution to this contradiction lies in another Hermetic axiom which some of you may have heard of. Here it is; please pay careful attention. "Everything which comes up has been sown, but not everything that is sown comes up." The reason we have singled out these particular teachings is that in all such statements and speculations there is always some grain of truth. Unfortunately it is so overlaid with illusion and misconception that it is visible to very few eyes—those of the mind of the true philosopher. But how many of those who call themselves philosophers have the wisdom to discover a single grain of truth among the dust in which it is embedded and recognise it for what it truly is? If you have any experience at all of sifting the chaff from the wheat in such writings as the Corpus Hermeticum, you will agree with us that the ability to discern the truth is very rare indeed. What then is there of truth in the versions of so-called Hermetic wisdom we have quoted above? Let us try to find it, beginning with the words, "thou art whatever I am, etc. Here is the one grain: "He is the One Life of all." This is the only grain of truth; the rest is fancy and wishful thinking. Not much, is it?
The attempts to define the essence of God in the Corpus Hermeticum are many and varied. The one grain of truth we have extracted from this sea of speculations has been missed by almost every writer—past or present, probably because its very simplicity eludes all but the comprehension of the simple in heart and mind, who are the truly wise. Here is another shining pearl of great price whose lustre blinds the intellectual. "The essence of God is to will all things to be." This applies to all beings too of course. But it does not interfere with man's freedom of thought and action; for it is also the essence of God to give liberty to all his creations. How that liberty is used, or misused, is the responsibility of the subject, human or animal, fish or bird, insect or infusoria; all are free to use their freedom as they wish in their stupidity or wisdom. The only positive attribute of God is Goodness, Mercy, and Compassion; all the same thing.
In some books attributed to Hermes, he even hesitates to establish the being of God, since He is something behind and beyond being. This too is incorrect, and could never have been said by the real Hermes. A non-being cannot create a living, or even a dead, Universe; this is common sense. Nor is it any use to say, as so many sophists do, it all depends what you mean by 'being.' That is an evasion based on ignorance of the Hermetic Laws that govern the Universe of Spirit and matter. Let us rather say with Ecclesiasticus: "The Works of the Lord are wonderful and His Works among men are Hidden." This is a saying worthy of Hermes, and, who knows, perhaps it originated with him. Those who diligently search the works of God He has so liberally scattered all around us in plain sight will find His Goodness, Mercy, and Compassion reflected in them. As the greatest of the works of God is Nature, it is in the contemplation of Nature that we approach closest to Him, for Nature is the greatest Book of Wisdom ever written, as you can read in the short story of The Rhododendrons by J Michaud PhD.
How can the Mind know God?
Now, it has been stated by many philosophers that God cannot be known by any of the senses we possess as human beings. He cannot be seen, heard, felt, tasted or smelt. For the Atheist as well as the ignorant Agnostic, this is sufficient proof that God does not exist; there is simply no way in which He may be demonstrated to exist by any of the above means. So if He truly exists, there must be some way in which we can become aware of Him other than via the physical senses. This is logical is it not? If, on the other hand, the inability of knowing God in any way by means of the senses shows us that He does not exist, then there is no more to be said; we can put down our pen now and you can take a well-earned nap or go out and play a round of golf!
To a thinking person—if you can imagine such a rare phenomenon—you can? Good, then you will agree with us that to a thinking person the only thing which is proved here is the incapacity of the senses to know God in any way whatsoever. This shows that the five senses are not capable of having any sensations beyond those for which they have been given unto us. Can an animal know God? No; but it can know other animals, and it can become aware that there is one animal, man, who is its master. But this only shows that man is either stronger, or more intelligent, or cunning or crafty than the average animal can hope to be—if it ever hopes for anything at all beyond the satisfaction of its need for nourishment and procreation, which is open to doubt. Mind you, we know plenty of higher animals whose desires extend no further than food and sex either, so perhaps the saying that a dog-owner resembles his or her pet is true of more than just their physical appearance! So where does this leave us?
Because man is the master of the animal, vegetable and mineral worlds this does not make him a God. It only shows that he is more advanced than an animal can ever be, as an animal, for he possesses that which no animal does, a living soul, which we call the Higher Self or mind, whereas an animal has only a lower self and it's innate instincts to guide it. But is man conceited enough to believe that he is the very crown and perfection of all that is known to him by means of the senses? It would be a very foolish man indeed if he really thought so. The fact that there are many men and women who hold this strange belief—especially within the scientific community—demonstrates quite conclusively that they are as low, or lower than any animal. For the only 'mind' active in such persons is the lower mind, comparable to and truly the same, as that of a 'mere' animal, for which such arrogant and self-satisfied individuals have no sympathy or feeling whatsoever as a rule. The mind that dwells in darkness, the darkness of this world, which such minds mistake for light, cannot see beyond that darkness, any more than an animal can. Having said that, some higher animals, such as dogs and cats, and even horses do sometimes seem to be aware of things beyond the darkness which to them is light. Not knowing what this may be, they are frightened; just as the unevolved man is often frightened or alarmed when his lower senses tell him that there is 'something' present at some moments for which he cannot account.
In part four of this investigation we continue our discussion of the lower and Higher Mind. Until then, we wish you well and pray that your thoughts will ever dwell upon the Goodness, Mercy, and Compassion of God and not upon the evils and follies of men.
© Copyright occult-mysteries.org. Article published 14 June 2020. Updated 24 December 2022.