What I learned today: Hermeticism

September 1, 2010 § Leave a comment

Today I endeavored to get a better grasp on Hermeticism. Before I did some active research, I only knew a bit about the Golden Dawn, and that Hermeticism is an old tradition that encompasses a whole bunch of practices, and incorporates alchemy, theurgy and magick. I also knew that the ubiquitous quote “As Above, So Below” comes from the Emerald Tablet.

Well, now I can thankfully say I know a lot more!

Hermeticism is a religious, philosophical, magical tradition that takes its name from the prophet/God Hermes Trismegistus. He took the latter part of his name, Trismegistus, from Thoth – Thoth was often referred to in Egyptian texts as “Ao, Ao, Ao” which means “great, great, great” hence “Trismegistus” meaning “thrice great”. (That’s only one theory, but it’s my favorite. Some scholars believe he was called thrice great because he was the greatest philosopher, greatest priest, and greatest king. Others think it is a reference to H.T.’s reverence for the Trinity. It’s anyone’s guess, I suppose). Before Hermes was adopted as a name for the god of knowledge in Greek mythology, it served as a generic term for “God”.

The existence of Hermes Trismegistus is a bit rumoured – wikipedia refers to his works as “pseudapigraphical” which kind of makes you wonder who actually wrote them. I’d have to read a whole lot more to be able to speculate as to the author of Hermeticism’s primary texts, which include:

  • Corpus Hermeticum – a dialogue with Hermes and other Gods
  • The Emerald Tablet – the source of “As above, so below”
  • The Kybalion – not written by Hermes Trismegistus, but by a group of authors known only as the “Three Initiates” in 1908

Hermeticism thrived in Hellenic culture and ancient Hermeticism was primarily based out of Alexandria. Since Alexandria was such a hub of diversity and culture, Hermeticism itself is syncretic and incredibly open to other traditions and new ideas. Modern Hermetics still believe that Hermeticism is a living, evolving tradition that will perpetually assimilate concepts from other beliefs as they fit. This may well be my favorite part of Hermeticism – I love the flexibility and tolerance inherent in it, despite how old it is.

Lighthouse at Alexandria

Hermeticism can be considered polytheistic, though followers believe that all Gods/Goddesses are manifestations/extensions of the one divinity. By nature, Hermetics are seekers of truth, light and wisdom, and dedicate themselves to what they consider “The Great Work” which is to re-unite with the Divine.

Hermetics believe that there are three parts of the wisdom of the whole universe:

  • Alchemy
  • Astrology
  • Theurgy

Through these (and also meditation/ritual/other practices) is how the practitioner reunites with the Divine.

That’s about as much as I’ve gathered so far. I know it’s not an exceptional amount, but there’s an exhaustive amount of literature on Hermeticism (considering the fact that so much sprouted from it, particularly the Golden Dawn, and then further organizations sprouted from that, and then more…and on..). I’m aware this is such a limited coverage of the topic, and at some later point I’ll do a “Hermeticism Part II” to do it a bit more justice.

I have to say so far I’m a fan. I’d like to know more about the origin of the texts themselves, since Hermes Trismegistus seems to be a bit of a mysterious character. Past that vagueness though, it’s all good principles – respect and reverence for nature, working towards being reunited with the Divine, incorporating a variety of practices and beliefs. All things I can agree with.

Coming soon: I will actually write my posts on Reiki, Druidry and Thelema (the Thelema one will inevitably be a multi-parter, and I’d also like to attempt to read the Book of the Law again before I claim to have any grasp of the topic). I’m also thinking of writing a post on Scientology, because I know nothing about it and I’d like to disagree with something in this blog for once!


Ipsa scientia potestas est,



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