Spiritus Hermeticum: part six
An investigation of the origins of Hermeticism and the true teachings of Hermes Trismegistus
In the first two parts of this 12-part investigation we discussed the origins of Hermeticism, the Greek and Egyptian conceptions of the God variously known as Thoth, Theuth, Tat, and Tahuti, and the origins and extent of the Corpus Hermeticum. This was followed in parts three, four and five by an examination of the actual teachings of Hermes as they have come down to us in the various Hermetic texts. In this part we delve into a portion of the Corpus Hermeticum called the Asclepios. Our principal aim, as we have explained from the beginning, 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.
In the afterwords accompanying this investigation we are meticulously dissecting the so-called Emerald Tablets of Thoth the Atlantean written by the 20th century occultist—Dr Maurice Doreal. In this afterword we continue our examination of the tablets themselves. If you have not read the previous parts now is the time to do so, for this investigation forms an ascending scale of revelation which cannot be understood by skimming through individual articles in a haphazard and piecemeal manner.
A Treatise on Initiations or Asclepios
We ended our previous discussion by telling you about the Net of temptation and its dangers. Although you won't find any mention of this mysterious 'net' in the Corpus Hermeticum we are in no doubt that it is a genuine teaching of Hermes since without it the doctrine of Regeneration discussed in part four and concluded in part five loses much if not all of its rationale. How can we be 'regenerated' if we are still tormented by the vices of ignorance, avarice, guile, anger, doubt and rashness the teacher enumerates in the dialogue with his pupil we re-constructed for you in part four? We are all tempted by the hooks, cords and weights of the Net, every minute of every day, but we are not all equally tempted. That is to say, certain types of souls (Higher Minds in our terminology) are more tempted than others or are tempted by different allurements because they have an innate attraction to them. In order to explain why this is, we turn now to that portion of the Corpus Hermeticum titled 'A Treatise on Initiations or Asclepios,' which you can find in Kingsford and Maitland's translation of The Virgin of the World. An e-text of this is available at the Internet Sacred Text Archive.
Before we examine this text it is important to point out that in the form we have it today it is most certainly not a 'Treatise on Initiations.' As we have seen in the previous parts of this investigation, the true teachings of Hermes are mixed up with many errors in the Corpus Hermeticum. The book known as the Asclepios—named after the Greek God of Healing—is no exception to this. The first error we encounter appears in the very first paragraph which reads: "It is a God who hath brought thee to us, Asclepios, that thou mayst assist at a divine discourse, and one which will be the most truly religious of all we have as yet held, or with which we have been inspired from on high."
Throughout this investigation we have repeatedly drawn your attention to the fact that there are two 'Hermes'—not one. The human teacher known as Hermes or Hermes Trismegistus and the God Thoth—the Divine Shepherd of Man—whom we told you about in part five. So what this passage really means is that the God Thoth—not the man Hermes—has made himself visible to Asclepios, because the latter was worthy and ready to behold Truth. So Thoth tells Asclepios to fetch Thoth's Son, Tat, so that he too can listen to his father's words. Asclepios then asks that Ammon might also be summoned, and Thoth replies that in view of the many explanatory writings he had in the past addressed to Ammon, that he also might attend. But, he adds, no more should be added to the audience, for the discussions will be so holy that it would be an impiety to make them known to many listeners, and the Teachings would thus be profaned. Thus, the four came together and the place was made holy by their pious awe and was filled with God's Presence. If we are to understand what follows we must also keep in mind that these four 'men' are Gods too according to the Egyptian belief, for their discourse does not take place on Earth but in a higher realm of being.
Thoth first reminds his listeners that although all human souls are immortal, they are not all of one kind. Different souls have been created in different ways, for souls differ in quality. But, all things are One just the same, for all things were in the Creator before He created them all. Thus, all things are part of Him, for He is the One who is all things. Please note that whenever 'souls' are mentioned it is what we call the Higher Mind or Self which is generally meant and not the Divine Soul discussed in our occult studies course article of the same name which, those of you who have taken the course will remember, never incarnates in a body of any kind at any time.
Thoth next tells his listeners that everything on Earth is derived from heaven. Air enters into earth and water, and fire enters into air. That which tends upward is life-giving; and that which tends downwards is subservient to it. Moreover, all that descends from on high is generative; and that which issues upward from below is nutritive. The experienced occultists among our readers may object at this point that all this is blindingly obvious so far as Gods are concerned who must surely be expected to know all the Laws of the Universe already. They would be right of course, but the Corpus Hermeticum was not written for the instruction of Gods but men; albeit not your average self-important, intellectual whose mind is firmly glued to the material plane, or even the average mystic or occultist, but those whose Minds have received the One Light of Truth and are therefore ready for this Wisdom. In saying this we may seem to contradicting what we told you earlier when we said the book was not a 'Treatise on Initiations,' but this is not so in reality, for there is an important distinction between being capable of beholding the Light and actually being initiated into the Mysteries by a qualified Master, as we discussed in our article on Initiates and Initiation.
We do not know who wrote this part of the Asclepios, but, as you will see as we proceed, it must have been someone who had access to fragments of the ancient Egyptian Mystery Teachings (if we may call them that), and was also possessed of the necessary insight and education to grasp some of the meanings of the scraps at his disposal. But his guesses were not always right, nor were his sources of information always reliable and true. All this is by way of introduction to the Asclepios itself, which contains some really fine material, excellently presented, as far as may be. So Thoth goes on, explaining the Universal Hermetic Laws to his auditors. He reminds them that the Earth alone stands fast in its own place (a teaching the real Thoth would never have promulgated as it is patently untrue), and that this Earth receives all that is generative into itself (which is true), and renders back all that it has received (also true).
One serious error seems to be that the Universe is regarded in the way we regard our Solar System, and that the One God of the Universe has Himself formed all things and beings within that Universe. As many of you will know this is quite wrong, for each Solar System, be it large or small, has its own Builder and Architects in the plural as we find described in The Secret Doctrine, The Golden Star and other books written by the genuine occultists, for there are uncountable numbers of solar systems in our own Universe alone as our telescopes reveal to us. But that all has ultimately sprung, or come forth from the Supreme Deity of the Universe is true. We must try to keep apart and separate these two conceptions of Universe and solar system, or we shall get into the same hopeless muddle as the ancient writers who compiled and translated the Corpus Hermeticum and the equally confused modern commentators upon it.
We will now quote directly from Kingsford and Maitland's translation of the text under discussion, for we want you to know the exact wording, so that you may reach your own conclusions about which parts are true and which are not without our help. Here it is; Hermes says to the three Gods or men, attending: "HEAVEN—God manifest—regulates all bodies. Their growth and their decline are determined by the sun and the moon. But He who directs heaven—the soul itself and all that exists in the world—is very God, the Creator." You will note that 'God' is not specified in this teaching. The writer speaks as if there were only One God who did everything by himself. But occult science teaches us that this is impossible. There are great hierarchies of Angels and other Ministers of God who all have to do their share in the government of our Solar System as we told you in our occult studies course. If by God the writer means the Supreme Deity of the Universe, this passage becomes still less true for the reasons we stated earlier.
Body, Mind and Soul
Later on in the Asclepios we encounter a passage which may well have given rise to the silly New Age nonsense of 'Group-Souls.' This reads: "Everything is in accordance with the designs of God; but that which originates from on high has been separated into individualities in the following manner. The types of all things follow their (representative) individualities in such way that the type is a whole; the individual is a part of the type." This is entirely wrong, for though we may belong, together with many others, to one of the Seven Rays of occult science described and explained in The Golden Star and The Secret Doctrine, each of us has his own, individual path to follow, and no two Souls, nor any multitude of them, form any sort of 'Group'. The writer continues: "Thus the Gods constitute a type, the genii also. Similarly, men, birds, and all beings which the world contains, constitute types producing individuals resembling them." This is all very well so far as it goes always provided we put the stress on the word individuals; if not—we get into a further muddle.
However, the teaching that all created beings are dependent on the Powers which created them and each individual creature is part of his own kind and they in turn generate others of the same nature as themselves by means of the powers the Gods have placed within their bodies is correct in every way. We must include all forms of plants that grow in water and on the land, for these too have individual forms and cannot produce anything else in their offspring, unless interfered with in the way of cross-breeding or genetic modification. All these beings can evolve, and do so, but occult science affirms that no creature of any sort can devolve. That is to say, it cannot return to a more primitive form of life which it inhabited earlier in its evolutionary progress. A bird, for instance, as an eternal individual being, cannot become a bacterium, having the bacterium's form as a living cloak to cover its inner self. All creatures can stand still in their development, but none can go backwards as we discuss in our occult studies course article about material and spiritual evolution.
However, the higher evolved individual can help onwards the lower, as in the case of Prometheus and his Brother Epimetheus whom we told you about when we analysed Shelley's immortal poem Prometheus Unbound. In fact, it is the duty of all to help forward those who are backward in any way; this is the work of the god-like man or woman. But though a demon can entice a Higher Mind into Hell as we learned in the story of the Jihadi and the Jinn, the deluded fanatic or evildoer may still progress upwards, though his sufferings and struggles will be very great indeed. But it is only Man who can lead onwards the lesser ones. This applies to animals too, by means of our kindness to them. Hence, a man should raise reverent eyes to heaven; tend the earth and all his duties, without running away from them at the least difficulty or setback; love all the forms below himself, even if they reject that love. In this way he is beloved of those Gods and Higher Beings which dwell in the Heavens and behold his works, his words, and his thoughts. The man who neglects his duties is doomed and judged by these same great Beings, and is compelled to reincarnate on Earth to 'enjoy' the manifold delights of further slavery after his present body perishes.
The foregoing is our own corrected version of part of the address to Asclepios by Thoth, but the next part is such a hopeless mess of contradictions and misstatements that we think it best to pick out the most important parts only. For instance, the lower self is here called 'soul', which, it is said, animals have, apart from a body. At the same time these beings are also called 'soulless'! Their 'soul' (which, at the same time they don't have!) is nourished by fire and air; their body by water and earth, which are here called the 'lower elements'. But 'Mind', which is bestowed on man only, namely the Higher Mind as we term it, is never the property of other beings, below man; and this part of the address is quite correct of course. It is by means of that 'Mind' that man can attain to a knowledge of God, and the truth concerning Him. But this is not altogether correct, for at best man can only partially apprehend God, and it is only the highest and most evolved of men and women who can have such an apprehension.
It is further stated that "For man alone is a dual creature. One of the two parts of which he consists is single, and, as the Greeks say, essential; that is, formed after the divine likeness. The part which the Greeks call Kosmic—that is, belonging to the world—is quadruple, and constitutes the body, which, in man, serves as an envelope to the divine principle. This divine principle, and that which belongs to it, the perceptions of the pure intelligence, conceal themselves behind the rampart of the body." This adds up to five principles or components (four plus one), and is mainly wrong. Man, as we point out in several of our articles, is a septenary being which we and others simplify into three parts, consisting of Soul, Higher Mind and lower mind or body. From this it is clear that the writer or writers were ignorant of the true principles of man. Hence they had no idea how to connect the fragments which had been collected together, and consequently were at a complete loss to understand them fully. And that—as we have said so often in this investigation—is the danger of all such works—both ancient and modern.
The next part deals with the reasons why God made man and sent him to Earth. As this is mostly speculation and fantasy we will pass it by. Near-truths are more dangerous than direct lies as we have also said so often before. In short, the book is a mixture of truth and speculation, and this is harder to fully understand than mere speculation by itself. Many minds have come together to produce the Asclepios, and the result is confusion and chaos, as it always must be when the many speculate upon that which is beyond their wit.
We are now told of a certain Law, as taught by Hermes, in which we are informed that: "Gross matter is the nutriment of bodies, and spirit is the nutriment of souls," meaning lower minds in this instance. "But besides these there is mind [Higher Mind], which is a gift from heaven, and one with which mankind alone are blessed—not indeed all men, but those few whose souls [lower minds] are of such quality as to be capable of receiving so great a boon." The interpolations in parenthesis are ours. This is indeed startling, as you will agree, and we fear that this fragment has been either misinterpreted, altered, or distorted by one who did not know the full significance of Soul, Higher Mind and body with its lower mind.
The statement should read as follows: enlightenment of the Higher Mind is given only to those who are capable of receiving so great a boon. There are but few whose Mind is capable of receiving the Light; for most humans function by means of the lower mind only; the Higher Mind is dormant in them and has to await the day of awakening. Only then does the Light begin to glimmer through to a small extent, and it takes very many lives before it is able to receive its full glory. Meanwhile, the struggles are fearful to behold, and it is sad to see how many fall by the wayside, over and over again, before the fierce grip of the lower mind is relaxed a little. The Path is indeed long and thorny and full of traps and snares!
The fragment goes on to say: "By the light of mind the human soul is illumined, as the world is illumined by the sun—nay, in yet fuller measure. For all things on which the sun shines are deprived of his light by the interposition of the earth, when night comes on; but when the mind has once been interfused with the soul of man, there results from the intimate blending of mind with soul a thing that is one and indivisible, so that such men's thought is never obstructed by the darkness of error."
If you bear in mind what we have said in our previous articles about the Soul, Higher Mind, and lower mind and body, the foregoing paragraph is correct. The next sentence, again, is of the greatest significance, for in it is stated that: "Hence it has been rightly said that the souls of gods consist wholly of mind." This is true too, for the gods have no need of a body, unless they wish to become visible for a moment or so, as we behold in the person of the Divine Shepherd of Man discoursing to his auditors. But, he explains, this cannot be said of all the gods, but of certain of the Highest only, and he here refers to the Sons and Daughters of Light mentioned in the afterword to our occult studies course article on Evolution, and to the Hidden Logos of our Kosmos. And he adds: "It is a weighty secret that I am about to disclose, a holy mystery I am about to reveal to you; and I pray for the Grace of Heaven to aid me as I speak. There are many kinds of gods; some of them are apprehensible by thought alone, and others are perceptible by sense.
"The gods apprehensible by thought are so called, not because it is held that they are not subject to our perception; for we perceive them more truly than we perceive those gods whom we call visible—but only if you exert to the uttermost your powers of thought. For so lofty is the doctrine of things divine, that it is beyond the reach of any effort of merely human thought; and if you do not hearken to my words with keen attention, my teaching (says Hermes) will wing its way beyond you, and flow past you, or rather, will flow back thither whence it came, and mingle with its source. Be it known to you that the intelligible Cosmos, that is to say, that Cosmos which is discerned by thought alone, is incorporeal, and that nothing corporeal can be mingled with its being—nothing, that is, which admits of determination by quality, magnitude, or number; for nothing of this kind exists in it. You cannot measure it as you would measure a body, affixing marks of length and breadth and height.
"There are then certain gods apprehensible by thought alone, who preside over all departments of the world, and are called 'Rulers over material things'; and subordinate to them are the gods perceptible by sense. These sensible gods bear the likeness of both the sources of their being; and these are they who make all things throughout the sensible world, working one through another, each pouring light into the things he makes." This refers in part to the hosts of elemental beings, among which we must include Nature Spirits of all kinds, whilst the 'light' poured into the things, or creations, of these gods is, in man, the Higher Mind together with its intuitions and capacity to stretch or reach out to higher Realms and Beings. That is, if is awake; in animals that light is of the lower mind only, with its instincts, which have to do with material conditions, and in so-called 'inanimate' things, that light is the light of its atomic nuclei.
Matter, Spirit and Space
One of the most colossal errors in the book appears in Part VII: "In the beginning were God and Matter. The elements of which the universe is composed were not then in existence, because they had not yet come into being; but they were already in that form in which they were to be generated." This silly paradox would not be out of place in Alice in Wonderland. Another priceless bit of non-information is: "Now all things which possess the faculty of generating are generative." If that were true, then there would be no need for a creating God, and we are here in the morass of thoughtless sayings spouted by the sort of scientist who denies God completely, for according to such nincompoops matter is self-generative and all is a matter of mere chance.
But the writer becomes even plainer when he says: "Matter, which is manifestly ungenerated, yet has in itself from the first the power of generating; for original fecundity is inherent in the properties of matter, which possesses in itself the power of conceiving things and giving birth to them." No need for God, then, if that writer were right. What a morass of misconceptions we have here! But the writer has not yet quite finished, for he states positively that: "Matter then is generative by itself, without the help of anything else. It undoubtedly contains in itself the power of generating all things." If that were true, Matter would be God!
The writer's speculations on the nature of Space are just as nonsensical, he writes: "Thus the space in which is contained the Universe with all things that are therein is manifestly ungenerated." We ask: why 'manifestly'? There can be nothing 'manifest' if a thing, or a universe, has not been generated. For if any thing is not manifested, in whatever way we may think about manifestation, the thing simply does not exist. This is obvious, is it not? So if the universe of matter has never been generated, where is it and where are we? But though the writer did not mean to say so, or even thought so, there is one thing we can conclude from his statement, and that is that ALL IS ILLUSION which, as many of you will know, is the ABC of occult science. Matter, as The Secret Doctrine tells us, whether as an illusion or an actuality, is dead, or sleeping, until God the Father has infused into it His Fiery Spirit. Until then it is Chaos; dust; darkness. It is the creative Fiery Spirit of God that awakens matter; manipulates it and causes it to bring forth multitudinous forms and beings. Only then can we begin to speak of the properties, magnitudes, positions and operations of matter.
Now we come to another gem of unwisdom when the writer tells us that matter contains both good and evil and that it was beyond the power of God to prevent evil from torturing us and the planet we dwell on. This erroneous notion has led a good many seekers after Truth into a lethal minefield of misunderstanding. The simple fact is that positive good and negative evil are the reverse of one another, as enshrined in the Kabbalistic motto Demon est Deus inversus. Further, no man can know the real meanings of good or evil in the ultimate, though we must try to live according to the best of our ideas about good, and ever flee from that which we know as evil. For though we do not know the laws of good and evil, we have certain intuitions and receive messages from the Soul which guide us in our quest for God. It is in the power of God to transmute evil into good if in His Wisdom He considers the time for this has come. But He does not 'stop' evil because He cannot do so, as the writer says. We cannot go wrong if we think of God as being All-wise; All-good, and All-Powerful.
And now, thank goodness, we come to another fragment which bears the seal of the real Hermes, giving forth a Teaching worthy of that divine Being. Here it is: "He whom we name God supreme, a God apprehended by thought alone, is the ruler and director of that god perceptible by sense, who embraces within himself all substances and all matter, and all things without exception that have to do with birth and production." The God supreme is the Logos of our own Solar System whilst the other 'god' is the Lord of a Ray. The fragment continues: "Spirit, which is subject to the will of the supreme God, and serves him as his instrument, is that by means of which are moved or directed all kinds of beings in the universe, each in accordance with the special character assigned to it by God." This God who assigns here is, again, a Lord of a Ray—one of many creators under the Logos of our little Kosmic atom. You can read about these Lords of the Ray in The Secret Doctrine and The Golden Star; to discuss them here would take us too far away from our theme as well as requiring long and complex explanations.
This excellent teaching is followed by: "The process is directed by God, who distributes life to all things in the universe, giving to each one of them as much as it needs. Into all things he infuses Spirit, assigning it to each in larger measure, in proportion as the things stand higher in the scale of being. These then are the primary things, the prior things, the heads of first principles of all things in the universe; for all cosmic things are contained in them, or wrought by means of them, or made of them." All this is most excellent indeed and makes up for the many errors we have pointed out to you earlier.
We now encounter a perfect teaching on what men call the Void which is absolutely correct in every way. It is only comparatively recently that scientists have been forced to abandon their theory that interstellar Space is a 'void.' So much for scientific 'progress'! Here is that remarkable teaching of Thoth. "But as to the Void, which most people think to be a thing of great importance, I hold that no such thing as the Void exists, or can have existed in the past, or will ever exist. For all the several parts of the Cosmos are wholly filled with bodies of various qualities and forms, each having its own shape and magnitude; and thus the Cosmos as a whole is full and complete. Of these bodies, some are larger, some are smaller; and they differ in the greater or lesser firmness of their substance. Those of them which are of firmer substance are more easily seen, as are also those which are larger; whereas small bodies, and those which are of less firm substance, are almost or quite invisible, and it is only by the sense of touch that we are made aware of their existence. Hence many people have come to think that these bodies do not exist, and that there are void spaces; but that is impossible. And the like holds good of what is called the extramundane, if indeed any such thing exists; for I hold that not even the region outside the Cosmos is void, seeing that it is filled with things apprehensible by thought alone, that is with things of like nature with its own divine being. And so our Cosmos also—the sensible universe, as it is called—is wholly filled with bodies, suited to its character. The shapes presented by these bodies to our sight differ in magnitude; some of these shapes are very large; others are very small, when the distance of the objects makes them appear small to us; and some things, on account of their extreme minuteness or tenuity, are wholly invisible to us, and are consequently supposed by many people to be 'non-existent.' "
You may well ask, how did the Teacher know all this without the use of microscopes or telescopes, which were not invented until many centuries, if not millennia later, confirming all that was said by Thoth thousands of years ago? The 19th century author, Bulwer-Lytton, drew upon this teaching in his occult novel Zanoni, in which we may read: "Each drop of the water in yon moat is an orb more populous than a kingdom is of men. Everywhere, then, in this immense design, science brings new life to light. Life is the one pervading principle, and even the thing that seems to die and putrefy but engenders new life, and changes to fresh forms of matter. Reasoning, then, by evident analogy: if not a leaf, if not a drop of water, but is, no less than yonder star, a habitable and breathing world,—nay, if even man himself is a world to other lives, and millions and myriads dwell in the rivers of his blood, and inhabit man's frame as man inhabits earth, commonsense (if your schoolmen had it) would suffice to teach that the circumfluent infinite which you call space—the countless Impalpable which divides earth from the moon and stars—is filled also with its correspondent and appropriate life."
And so, the Teacher continues, "you must not call anything void without saying what the thing in question is void of, as when you say that a thing is void of fire, or water, or the life. For it is possible for a thing to be void of such things as these; but the thing that seems void, however small it be, cannot possibly be empty of spirit or air. And the like must be said of Space, The word 'space' is unmeaning when it stands alone; for it is only by regarding something which is in space, that we come to see what space is; and apart from the thing to which it belongs, the meaning of the term 'space' is incomplete. Thus we may rightly speak of the space occupied by water, and fire, and so on (but not of space alone). For as there cannot be a Void, so it is impossible to determine what space is, if you regard it by itself. For if you assume a space apart from something which is in it, it will follow that there is a void space; and I hold that there is no such thing as that in the universe. If Void has no existence, then it is impossible to find any real thing answering to the word 'space' taken by itself."
How wonderful it is to find such wise words, written so very long ago! How remarkable that they have reached us almost intact. The very simplicity of this teaching stamps it with the crown of Wisdom, but such Wisdom was for the few only, for the rest will find it all so obvious that the real meaning escapes their comprehension, or the lack of any! And what of Creation, the fashioning of matter, which is dead or sleeping by itself? Is it not a firmer foundation for our peace of mind to believe that all things were fashioned and are ordered for the best, than that the whole Universe is the result of mere bungling and blundering, without any purpose or design, ill-favourably cobbled and jumbled together by the unguided agitation and rude shuffles of matter? And what about that which brings life to matter; makes it move, think, act, reproduce that life for good or ill? Can you really believe that you, a human being, are the mere result of chemical action? Anyone who does believe this is utterly incapable of any rational thought. He or she is a dead person who never came to life at all—a mindless robot—entirely worthless to God or man. Do not be swayed by those who tell you that a belief in intelligent creation and design requires 'blind faith.' All we need is the capacity to think clearly for ourselves by means of the Higher Mind, which will tell us that all is well; that we have a divine Destiny, and that we shall reach the Goal when all our preparations for the Higher life are complete. But no robot can think like this; he or she is a machine of no more than passing interest and will rust away and be forgotten by the real Man of God—Hermes, the bringer of Light and Life to the worthy.
Take this for your meditation until we resume our investigation of the true teachings of Hermes in part seven of our investigation.
© Copyright occult-mysteries.org. Article published 13 September 2020.
Updated 24 December 2022.