Hermes Trismegistus and The 7 Great Hermetic Principles

Hermes Trismegistus and The 7 Great Hermetic Principles
Hermeticism

Whose Religion?

Currently, there are an estimated 10,000 distinct religions worldwide; but it is understood that that number could have been much higher in the past when there were not so many established religious organizations. About 84% of the world’s population is affiliated with Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, or some form of folk religion.

Religion is a fascinating topic based on faith and beliefs in the unknown. Perhaps the most interesting thing about religion itself is that you can pick any one of them and, if you studied it deep enough, you’ll realize that you can trace its origins to earlier historical periods of time.

 Most religions do not need evidence-based facts for them to exist, as they rely mostly on faith and worship of a supreme deity or deities. They tend to be based on mythological legends or tales that have been distorted through the ages and sprinkled with historical facts from the time they were conceived.

While some religions are based on unquestionable faith, others are based on the principle of knowledge and understanding. Be it through questioning the teachings of said religion, or the beliefs and principles of the sages that taught them.

Common World Religions
Common World Religions

Other faiths base their beliefs on the principle of patterns and geometry. While others believe that there exists a secret knowledge in the world, usually concealed among many other religions and that this secret information stems from the hidden, or the occult, whether it is in the meaning of Gematria, or in the magic of alchemical symbols and/or astrological signs.

Religion is usually described as a set of philosophical beliefs generally defined within a socio-cultural system that also includes a set of established behaviours in terms of ritualistic practices.

Within this context, is worth exploring the philosophical doctrine of Hermeticism, a religion that never died but whose main apotheosis period spanned many centuries between c. 300 BCE – 1200 CE.

Hermeticism and the Egyptian God Thoth

Hermeticism is part of the many philosophies that are under the umbrella term ‘Occultism’, which simply means hidden. And it implies finding meaning in the information that has been sealed, closed off, or simply hidden from the public.

Hermeticism or Hermetism is a philosophical system based on the teachings of the ancient Egyptian God known as Thoth. In Egyptian mythology, the god Thoth was often depicted as having many forms, but the most well-known was that of a humanoid with the head of an Ibis bird or sometimes depicted with the head of a baboon primate since animals were sacred to him. Other times he is seen wearing the Atef crown or a double crown.

Depiction of Thoth as a baboon (c. 1400 BC), in the British Museum
Depiction of Thoth as a baboon (c. 1400 BC), in the British Museum

Thoth was a very important god in Egyptian mythology. He was one of the main deities of the Ogdoad, a set of eight primordial gods (four male and four female), that were set to reside atop Hermopolis. Both in Greek and Roman mythology, the 8 primordial gods would become 12 and their place of residence will be changed from the Hermopolis to Mount Olympus in Greece and the Roman Pantheon respectively.

Thoth, in one of his forms as an ibis-headed man
Thoth, in one of his forms as an ibis-headed man

Thoth is often described as the scribe of the gods, as well as the god of wisdom, writing, hieroglyphs, science, magic, and art. In his baboon or ibis form, Thoth appears in the Egyptian underworld, Duat, as the god of equilibrium balancing scales that weighted the deceased’s heart against a feather, representing the principle of equilibrium.

Anubis, Thoth and Ammit seen during the "Weighing of the Heart"
Anubis, Thoth, and Ammit seen during the “Weighing of the Heart” – Papyrus of Hunefer – To the left, Anubis brings Hunefer into the judgement area. Anubis is also shown supervising the judgement scales. Hunefer’s heart, represented as a pot, is being weighed against a feather, the symbol of Maat, the established order of things, in this context meaning ‘what is right’. The ancient Egyptians believed that the heart was the seat of emotions, intellect, and character, and thus represented the good or bad aspects of a person’s life. If the heart did not balance with the feather, then the dead person was condemned to non-existence, and consumption by the ferocious ‘devourer’, the strange beast shown here which is part-crocodile, part-lion, and part-hippopotamus.

The god Thoth is associated with the Moon and was seen as a ‘Moon God’. As such, he is credited with being able to provide light at night and making calculations in early astrology/astronomy for the heavens and the Earth, the stars, and everything in between them.

Thoth was a self-born god like Ra, and just like him, was a ‘creator of all things’. He was a wise god who always oversaw the eternal conflicts between good and evil. In Egyptian mythology, Thoth held many titles:

– “He who measures the heavens, the stars, and the Earth”

– “Accountant of time and seasons”

– “God and master of balance”

– “The Lord of the heavenly and divine body”

– “The scribe of the divine pantheon”

– “The voice of Ra”

– “The author of all works on all branches of human and divine knowledge”

– “He who has understood all that is hidden under the heavenly vault”

Parallels Between The Teachings of Thoth and Other Religions

One interesting myth attributes Thoth with creating the 365-day calendar. According to the myth, Thoth gambled with the god Khonsu (the Moon) for 1/72 of its light (360/72 = 5), or 5 days, and won.

In modern Astronomy, The precession of equinoxes traces out a pair of cones joined at their apices in a cycle of approximately 26,000 years, which is 1 degree every 72 years (an approximation to the nearest integer).

Thoth, sitting on his throne wearing the Atef Crown
Thoth, sitting on his throne wearing the Atef Crown

The number 72 plays a key role in the 3 main Abrahamic Religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), as well as playing a central part in many other religions that developed in other regions of the globe.

In Jewish tradition, the descendants of Noah spoke 72 languages. “72 is also the number of groups of three-letter words, 216 in all, of God’s holy names. The so-called 72-lettered name of God was said to have been invoked by Moses to split the Red Sea.” There are also 72 angels that each act as a heavenly guardian or prince over a nation.

In the early Eastern Christian traditions, 72 was the number of disciples set forth by Jesus as early emissaries according to the Gospel of Luke. In the book of Genesis, Jacob’s ladder leading to the heavens was set at a 72-degree angle. And 72 were the number of hours that Jesus suffered crucified before he was taken down to prepare for burial.

72 was the number of languages spoken at the Tower of Babylon.

In early Islamic teachings, 72 is the number of sects or denominations that are doomed to Hell, according to Hadith (Sayings of the prophet Muhammad). The Prophet Idris, which tends to be associated with Enoch, the counterpart of Hermes Trismegistus (the Greek version of the Egyptian god Thoth), was said to have spoken 72 languages.

In Chinese philosophy, Confucious had 72 disciples who mastered his teachings.

In ancient Indian Jainism, Mahavira was able to attain Nirvana after his death at the age of 72.

In Cao Đà of Vietnam, 72 is the number of planets between heaven and hell.

Mentioning every known religion with the 72 number as a commonality would take entire books. Nonetheless, there is a key element that is common in all of them when mentioning the number 72. And that is that where one falters, they all falter. What is meant by this is when the number 72 is mentioned, other texts and/or variations of the same scripture including interpretations will say the number is either 70 or 72.

This strangeness of whether something is 70 or 72 is prevalent among all the above-mentioned religions, and many others outside of the scope of this text. Almost as if they were all given a blueprint with information, but somehow nobody could quite remember the exact numbers, and each of them had to content themselves declaring that it was either 70 or 72.

Hermes Trismegistus

Throughout the expansion of the Greco-Roman Empires, Thoth became known in the West as Hermes Trismegistus.

The word Hermetic means ‘sealed’ or ‘airtight.’ And it originates from the idea that the God Hermes was said to have invented a magic seal that could keep vessels airtight.

It is worth noting that many scholars regard Hermes Trismegistus or Thoth as a real historical figure that lived sometime in the past during the Egyptian dynasties. Others regard the figure of Hermes as two or three distinct figures that would later become known as Hermes Trismegistus.

Hermes Trismegistus - Liber Hermetis
Hermes Trismegistus – Liber Hermetis

Trismegistus means ‘Three times the Great’. The word ‘Tri’ from Greek means three and the word ‘Megistus’, also derived from Greek, means the “biggest” or the “greatest”. A less known fact is that he had also been named Tris Hḗrōs, “thrice or triple hero”.

Hermes Trismegistus, floor mosaic in the Cathedral of Siena
Hermes Trismegistus, floor mosaic in the Cathedral of Siena

The figure of Hermes Trismegistus can also be found in both Islamic and Baháʼí writings. In those traditions, Hermes Trismegistus has been associated with the prophet Idris.

Persian Astrologer Albumasar (787–886), named Idris ‘Three Times the Wise’ because he had a threefold origin.

  • The first origin was that he was a “civilizing hero”.  An initiator into the mysteries of the divine science and wisdom that animate the world, whose principles he carved into hieroglyphs.
  • The second Hermes was, in Babylon. He was the initiator of Pythagoras.
  • The third Hermes was the first teacher of alchemy.

The Sabians of Harran sect also believed that their doctrine descended from Hermes Trismegistus.

In Christianity the counterpart of the prophet Idris is Enoch. Interestingly, Enoch was such a controversial figure in early Christianity that his teachings were never included in the Bible and are part of some 40 Apocryphal Gospels that were excluded from the Biblical canon, that is, teachings that the Church did not accept as part of the genuine apostolic tradition. 

In Greek mythology, Hermes was the son of Zeus and Maia, a nymph and one of the daughters of Atlas, who were known as the Pleiades. Hermes is said to have been the only child of that union; though he had many half-siblings by way of Zeus such as Vulcan, Minerva and Proserpina.

Fresco of Mercury-Hermes in Pompeii, 1st century
Fresco of Mercury-Hermes in Pompeii, 1st century

Hermes Trismegistus is known as Mercury in Roman mythology. He is one of the 12 Dii Consentes within the ancient Roman pantheon which is akin to being one of the 12 Greek Gods living atop the pantheon of Mount Olympus.

Mercury (or Hermes) was born in a cave in Arcadia (Southern Greece) and functioned as an emissary of the gods. He is often depicted as having a pair of wings attached to his heels and to his helmet that gave him tremendous speed in his task of carrying messages. He also carries a caduceus in his hand, which features two snakes winding around a winged stuff and it is identified as the symbol of thieves, outlaws, merchants, and commerce. Hermes is also the god of Wisdom, the Messenger of the Gods, and the benefactor of mortals.

The God Mercury, and by extension Hermes, is not only associated with being a trickster and the God of messengers, commerce, good fortune, thievery, and fertility but he is also associated with War.

Greco-Roman Depiction of the God Hermes-Mercury
Grecco-Roman Depiction of the ‘Three-Times-The-Great’ God wearing a winged helmet, winged shoes, and carrying a caduceus.

Mercury, the element, was known during The Middle Ages as Quicksilver. Many alchemists of the time mention Silver and Sulphur as the base elements of the metaphysical properties needed as the main intangible principles of the spirit of matter. The pairing of these two elements was seeing a strongly correspondent male-female dichotomy already present in Western thought.

Mercury was seen as the passive female principle while sulfur was seen as possessing the ability to create change and it was associated with the Sun, as the male principle always prevalent in traditional Western thought.

Core Hermetic Literature

The core Hermetic literature is often divided into three (sometimes four), large bodies of work. The Corpus Hermeticum, The Emerald Tablet, The Asclepius, and to a lesser degree, the Stobaean Excerpts.

Hermetica

The Hermetica is a collection of texts usually attributed to the figure of Hermes Trismegistus. The oldest known records date to the second and third century BCE. Collections of these texts can be found in Greek, Arabic, and Latin. Though surviving copies have also been found in Coptic, and Armenian.

The Hermetica treatises are a set of relatively coherent set of religious and philosophical beliefs that mostly focus on anthropology, cosmology, astrology, earthquakes, mineralogy, botany, astrological botany, theology, medicine, pharmacology, and alchemical magic.

Pages from a 14th-century Arabic manuscript of the Cyranides, a text attributed to Hermes Trismegistus
Pages from a 14th-century Arabic manuscript of the Cyranides, a text attributed to Hermes Trismegistus

There are also many of these texts calling for ‘The Way of Hermes’, a way of life characterized by spiritual rebirth and divinization in the form of a heavenly ascent.

During the Middle Ages, as Islam grew in the East and Christianity in the West, the ‘Way of Hermes’ was relegated to the ‘fringes’ of knowledge, only seen by those who were able to read and write, and even among them, only a small percentage, known as Initiates, were allowed into the Occult or Hermetic teachings of Hermes Trismegistus.

The texts are extremely varied in content, depending on which culture they came from, which main religion was attached to the texts at the time of writing, and also, which period of history it was written on. After all, there is (that we know of), at 1000 years of Occult Hermetic Religion based on the teachings of the Egyptian god Thoth.

A contentious effort was made in the fifteen century to translate into Latin a well-known Hermetic compendium known as the Corpus Hermeticum. The Corpus Hermeticum contained 17 Greek pseudepigraphical writings attributed to the legendary figure of Hermes Trismegistus. It was also heavily influenced by Hellenistic philosophy (especially Platonism and Stoicism) and also by Jewish ideas.

Corpus Hermeticum: first Latin edition, by Marsilio Ficino, 1471, at the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, Amsterdam.
Corpus Hermeticum: first Latin edition, by Marsilio Ficino, 1471, at the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, Amsterdam.
The Emerald Tablet

The Emerald Tablet, also known as Smaragdine Tablet or the Tabula Smaragdina, is a cryptic Hermetic text regarded as the foundation of European and Islamic alchemy, and it is associated with the creation of the philosopher’s stone and the artificial production of gold.

A 17th-century edition of The Emerald Tablet - Tabula Smaragdina
A 17th-century edition of The Emerald Tablet – Tabula Smaragdina

The Emerald Tablet texts are attributed to the legendary figure of Hermes Trismegistus. They first appear in medieval Arabic sources around the 8th century AD, based on earlier Greek or Syrian sources believed to be from c. 15–100 AD. The Oldest known source for this text is ‘The Secret of Creation and the Art of Nature’ (known in the original Arabic as The Sirr al-khalīqa wa-ṣanʿat al-ṭabīʿa or Kitāb al-ʿilal).

The ‘Theory of Creation’ deals with the sulfur-mercury theory of metals, and it will serve to lay the foundation for all metallic theories until a new wave of thought came about in the eighteenth century.

The story of the book, according to legend, tells that it was discovered inside a vault underneath a statue of Hermes Trismegistus in Tyana, and that, inside the vault, there was a corpse sitting on a golden throne holding the Emerald Tablet.

An imaginative 17th-century depiction of the Emerald Tablet from the work of Heinrich Khunrath, 1606.
An imaginative 17th-century depiction of the Emerald Tablet from the work of Heinrich Khunrath, 1606.

Many more books of Arabic Magical Hermetica appeared during the 8th and subsequent centuries, which were eagerly translated to Latin and form the basis of ‘The Emerald Tablet’. These compendiums did not only deal with the transmogrification of metals, but also with an array of pseudo-Aristotelian sciences and the monad of Pythagorean philosophy and the anima mundi.

The circled dot was used by the Pythagoreans and later Greeks to represent the first metaphysical being, the Monad or the Absolute.
The circled dot was used by the Pythagoreans and later Greeks to represent the first metaphysical being, the Monad or the Absolute.

The Monad philosophy dealt with the concept of ‘original substance’, which is defined as sometimes as a ‘Supreme Being’ or deity. Anima mundi refers to the World Soul, which is connected to all living things via a system of intrinsic thought, in much the same way that the soul is connected to the human body.

The texts of the Emerald Tablet heavily influenced famous physicians and natural philosophers from Europe such as Roger Bacon, Cornelius Agrippa, and Isaac Newton, who actually translated some of the works of the Emerald Tablet.

Latin text of the Emerald Tablet, from Johannes Petreius, De Alchemia, Nuremberg, 1541.
Latin text of the Emerald Tablet, from Johannes Petreius, De Alchemia, Nuremberg, 1541.
The Asclepius

The Asclepius is a collection of sixth-century Armenian aphorisms that are likely based on earlier Greek teachings of the first century AD.

The Asclepius collection is also known as The Perfect Sermon, The Perfect Discourse, or The Perfect Teaching, which contains the core teachings of the religio-philosophical Hermetica.

The Stobaean Excerpts

The Stobaean Excerpts, by Macedonian Joannes Stobaeus, is a 5th-century Greek Anthological compilation of poetry, rhetoric, history, and philosophical literary texts made to educate his son Septimius.

The Stobaean Excerpts deal mostly with the concept of God, the Universe, the concept of time, truth, the soul, and the causation of events.

There are many other works of Hermetic Literature that have been lost through the ages and we only know they existed at some point because direct quotations have been preserved by various historical authors.

Of other books, only small fragments remain of what once were long Hermetic treatises. Among these, the most well-known ones are the Scriptures of Nag Hammadi, The Oxford and Vienna Fragments, and the Book of the Rebuke of the Soul.

Hermeticism and The Occult

When Hermeticism was no longer endorsed by the Christian church, it was driven underground, and several Secret Societies were formed during The Middle Ages and early Renaissance whose core principles were based on Hermetic philosophy.

Many more Hermetic societies were formed between the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Mostly The Rosicrucian Order, The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, The Thelemic Orders, The Builders of the Adytum, The Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, and the Typhonian Order.

The two main Hermetic societies that were formed were The Rosicrucian Order and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. For both of which most members were also Freemasons.

The Rosicrucian Order dates back to the 17th century and it is based on Hermetic philosophy, Kabbalah, and Divine Magic. Once a member has been deemed able to understand the teachings, he can move through the ranks to access more knowledge.

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was founded in the late 19th century and it is based mostly on Enochian teachings. Their foundational documents are the ‘Cipher Manuscripts, a compendium of 60 folios of unknown and disputed origin that encompass the teachings of Hermetic Qabalah, astrology, occult tarot, geomancy, and alchemy.

Folio 13 of the Cipher Manuscripts
Folio 13 of the Cipher Manuscripts

The Thelemic Order and Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn became extremely infamous during the 19th and 20th centuries due to their most controversial members:  Aleister Crowley and Anton Szandor LaVey.

Anton Lavey became the founder of the Church of Satan. LaVey melded ideological influences from Friedrich Nietzsche, Ayn Rand, Social Darwinism, and the Enochian Keys, drawing its rituals from the collective works of the supernatural horror fiction writings of H.P Lovecraft.

Anton Lavey became an extremely controversial figure both as a leader of his cult and because he was allegedly involved in an assassination plot.

Because of all the controversies surrounding his life and the foundation of the Church of Satan, Hermeticism and the teachings of Hermes Trismegistus, and Thoth have also become associated in the mind of the public with Satanism, Luciferianism, and ritualistic offerings. Despite the fact that the main 3 Abrahamic religions, but most especially Christianity, derive their core beliefs from the ancient Egyptian God Thoth.

Hermetic Revival and ‘The Kybalion’

Hermeticism went through a revival in the early years of the 20th century thanks to the publication of ‘The Kybalion: A Study of the Hermetic Philosophy of Ancient Egypt and Greece’ in 1908. There has been much speculation about the author or authors of The Kybalion, with most believing it was the work of one William Walker Atkinson.

The Kybalion A Study of the Hermetic Philosophy of Ancient Egypt and Greece’
The Kybalion: A Study of the Hermetic Philosophy of Ancient Egypt and Greece’

The Kybalion book is signed simply as the ‘Three Initiates’, and its popularity is now the basis of modern Occultism, New Age, and New Thought currents of philosophical and spiritual movements.

The aim of The Kybalion was to concentrate on the main Hermetic principles, and it manages to do so in what is now called ‘The 7 Great Hermetic Principles’.

The 7 Great Hermetic Principles

The original works attributed to the Egyptian God Thoth (and by extension Hermes Trismegistus and Mercury), covered an array of topics from metaphysical discussion such as the ‘original source of life’ to sciences such as Astronomy and Metallurgy.

Nevertheless, modern literature has reduced, quite successfully, the entire Hermetic philosophy to 7 key aspects, as defined in The Kybalion.

The modern understanding of these principles is summarized in the following 7 points:

The Principle of Mentalism

“The All is Mind; The Universe is Mental.”

This principle explains the concept of energy, power, and matter as being subordinate to the Mind.

The general understanding of this principle is akin to mental projection in which you can shape reality using your thoughts. It is believed that God is consciousness or thought, and the universe is a manifestation of the mind of God. Therefore, it is possible to control and change reality using our own thoughts.

The Principle of Correspondence

“As above, so below; as below, so above.”

As above so below
“As above so below” – The Principle of Correspondence

This principle embodies the truth that there is always a correspondence between the laws and phenomena of the various planes of being and life. The branches within Christianity that believe the Earth is encapsulated by a dome and is unique in the Universe, also believe in the principle of ‘as above, so below’. So what is found in Heavens above, is also found under or underneath the Earth, or as other interpretations would have it, in the core or centre of the Earth.

In simple terms, they believe that there is a secondary sky at the center of the Earth, along with its many counterpart layers that form another Earth within the core, including other humanoid beings.

 Modern interpretations of the Principle of Correspondence see it as a relationship between the exponential and logarithmic world of the Macrocosms and Microcosms, as observed by modern scientific understanding.

The Principle of Vibration

“Nothing rests; everything moves; everything vibrates.”

At an atomic level, stillness or rest does not exist. Elementary particles all possess intrinsic qualities that obey the position-momentum uncertainty. They spin and they vibrate. Movement is easy to discern in gases and liquids, but at an atomic level, heavy stationary objects such as rocks are proven to vibrate with different frequencies.

Vibration can also be influenced by thoughts, whether positive or negative. A modern example of this is how the crystallization patterns of water are affected by different types of music.

The Principle of Polarity

“Everything is dual; everything has poles; everything has its pair of opposites; like and unlike are the same; opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree; extremes meet; all truths are but half-truths; all paradoxes may be reconciled.”

The Principle of Polarity is closely related to the Principle of Correspondence.

It states that everything in nature possesses a dual quality, male or female, positive or negative. Everything that exists in nature has its equal opposite, and the only difference between the pairs is just a difference of degree.

At a metaphysical level, it can also be interpreted as the idea that within every good there is also a root of evil and within all the evil there is also a root of good within it.

The Principle of Rhythm

“Everything flows, out and in; everything has its tides; all things rise and fall; the pendulum-swing manifests in everything; the measure of the swing to the right is the measure of the swing to the left; rhythm compensates.”

The Principle of Rhythm basically states that in a way, everything has a ‘heartbeat’ that is in tune with everything around it. This manifest through a continuous cycle of high and low tides, or as a pendulum swinging right and left. This principle controls the cycle of creation and destruction, rise and fall, and life and death. What you own now will disappear, and what you have lost will eventually come back to you.

The Principle of Cause and Effect

“Every cause has its effect; every effect has its cause; everything happens according to law; chance is but a name for law not recognized; there are many planes of causation, but nothing escapes the law.”

The Principle of Cause and Effect is sometimes known as the Principle of Casualty. In a philosophical way, it explains why certain things happen to you, whether positive or negative and they are highly dependent on your interactions with the outside world.

This is another way of stating Newton’s Third Law of Motion that “for every action (force) in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

The Principle of Gender

“Gender is in everything; everything has its masculine and feminine principles; gender manifests on all planes.”

The principle of Gender is highly linked with the Principle of Polarity. It states that there are opposites commonly identified as being feminine or masculine in nature.

 The iconographic representation of this principle could be represented by the Western understanding of a Yin-Yan.

Yin - Yang - Representation of the Principle of Gender
Yin-Yang – Representation of the Principle of Gender

Next time you pick up your Holy Scriptures, see how much you can identify in them from the ancient works of Thoth and Hermes Trismegistus.

2 thoughts on “Hermes Trismegistus and The 7 Great Hermetic Principles c. 300 BCE – 1200 CE.

  1. Интерестные факты о которых не знала раньше, особенно принцип причины следствия, принцип пола, понятие гендера.Философские темы всегда актуальны и особенно познавательны для молодого поколения! Мир вокруг нас удивителен,каждый с этим согласится. Чем больше знаем фактов, тем больше понимаем, что ничего не знаем…

  2. Thanks to “Hermetica” I got to know this current and made an incursion into the spiritual, it really helped me a lot in the constant struggle against depression and emotional instability, at first it is tedious and dense to try to interpret so much verbiage and metaphors, but once understood and applied it is very useful, greetings!

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