ORC Papers & Articles
THRICE GREATEST HERMES
The Scandinavians worshipped Hermes under the name of Odin, the Teutons as Wotan, and
certain oriental peoples as Buddha.. There are two theories concerning his demise. The first
declares that Hermes was translated like Enoch, and carried without death into the presence of
God; - the second states he was buried in the valley of Ebron, and a great treasure placed in his
tomb not a treasure of gold but of books and sacred texts.
Religious belief, though, was an element of the Egyptian identity which proved especially
Thoth was among the most diverse and popular of all Egyptian gods. Like many of his
colleagues he was a composite, even an accumulation, rather than a figure cast whole and
unambiguously defined; he was a powerful national god who yet had certain specialities and
local associations. In particular, Thoth was regarded even in the most primitive period as the
moon-god; and from this lunar association arose many his distinctive functions. Just as the moon
was illuminated by the Sun, Thoth derived much of his authority from being secretary and
councillor to the solar divinity Re, the moon ruler, “ruler of the stars, distinguishes seasons,
months and years”. Thoth became the lord and multiplier of time and the regulator of individual
destinies. Indeed so important were the moon’s phases in determining the rhythms of Egyptian
national life, that Thoth came to be regarded as the origin both of cosmic order and the religious
Besides the common near eastern idea that speech has creative power, we can surely detect here
the influence of Thoth god of Magic. The Greek settlers identified Thoth with their god Hermes. Like Thoth, the classical Greek
Hermes was associated with the moon, medicine and the realm of the dead.
Moving on to the Greeks it no doubt seemed enough to say that the Greek god Hermes was
equivalent to the Egyptian god Thoth, and leave it at that. However the temptation to provide
mythological explanation could not be resisted for ever. This was one of the reasons why Cicero
was eventually able to enumerate no less than five different individuals who claimed the names
Hermes, the third being the offspring of Zeus and Mia, while in other words, the story that was
produced - and widely circulated- to explain the emergence of Hermes Trismegistus invoked a
relatively human Hermes who was recognized to be a distant messenger of the Gods. So it is not
surprising to find that people of Greek culture did not always envisage Trismegistus in the same
terms as did those of a more Egyptian background. Most of those who looked at things from a
Greek point of view had a rather different image of Hermes Trismegistus, which to some extent
played down specifically Egyptian elements and assumed that, in origin at least, Hermes had
been human. After all, Plato had queried whether even Thoth was a god or just a divine man
It is in the Greek magical papyri rather than in the Hermetica that we most clearly discern the
lineaments of Hermes Trismegistus, and the Egyptian aspects of his identity are given fullest
rein. In a country as renowned for its magic as was Egypt, that was only to be expected The
papyri present the new syncretistic Hermes as a cosmic power, creator of heaven and earth and almighty world ruler. Presiding over fate and justice, he is also lord of the night, and of death and
its mysterious aftermath- hence his frequent association with the Moon. This is a quote from one
of these magical papyri “he knows all that is hidden under the heavenly vault, and beneath the
earth”, and is accordingly revered as a sender of oracles. Many of the magical spells that are
addressed to Hermes aim to elicit arcane information, frequently by inducing the god to appear
in dreams. In this capacity , Hermes often becomes involved in the minutiae of his devotees;
everyday existence. The Hermes of the magical papyri is then a cosmic deity, but one who may
This self-identification with a god, common in the magical papyri is an authentic Egyptian trait.the familiar title “Trismegistus” acquired canonicity only in the Roman period.
The twenty third Fragment of Stobaeus which is part of the Corpus Hermeticum describes the
court of the Lord, the builder of the universe, as it existed before the presence of mortals. Hermes
appears as the “soul” (psyche) possessing a bond of sympathy with the mysteries of “ Heaven”.
He is sent by God into our lower world in order to teach true knowledge . The Lord commands
Hermes to participate in the creation of mankind as steward or administrator. The Egyptians
likened humanity to a flock of sheep. The Supreme and Inconceivable Father was the Shepherd,
and Hermes was the shepherd dog. The origins of the shepherds crook in religious symbolism
may be traced to Egyptian rituals. The three sceptres of Egypt include the shepherd’s crook,
symbolizing that by virtue of the power reposing in that symbolic staff the initiated Pharaohs
guided the destinies of their people. He is a soul that descended here as the first divine
I shall move on to the progress of alchemy and its Hermetic connections: We have many
interesting solutions to the riddle of Alchemy’s origin being advanced. One is that alchemy was
revealed to man by the mysterious Egyptian demigod Hermes Trismegistus. Hermes is credited
by the Egyptians as being the author of all arts and sciences. In honour of him all scientific
knowledge was gathered under the general title of, The Hermetic Arts.
Although alchemy was the creation of the Hellenistic and Roman mind, and most of the
surviving alchemical literature is late, none the less neither the Hermetic nor any other treatises
show much sign of the personal that is so characteristic of the period. It is only with Zosimus of
Panopolis, at the turn of the fourth century, that alchemy comes fully of age in this sense; and
Zosimus ‘s spirituality is so clearly the product of his contact with the philosophical Hermetica.
This was expounded in the later teachings of Alchemy; the art by which base metals were
supposed to be transmuted into silver and gold. While the Alchemists’s practical techniques were
rooted in the skills of the jeweller, the glass maker and such like, his theoretical pretensions
touched ultimately on the human soul in its relationship to God. Alchemists believed that it was
only possible to transmute base metals into gold by manipulating the “body and soul” of metals.
The same distinction between the body and soul of metals stimulated in some alchemists another,
more analogical line of thought, which used alchemical imagery in order to describe the
purification of the human soul and its ascent to the divine source. Then a physical process
became a generative symbol of a spiritual experience. The alchemists themselves were “
Philosophers” , and the aim of their “philosophy” or “divine art” was the dissolution of the body
and the separation of the soul from the body in order to unite with the divine presence.
It is in consequence of the great respect entertained for Hermes by the old alchemists that
Chemical writings were called “Hermetic” and the phrase “hermetically sealed” is still used to
designate the closing of a glass vessel by fusion, after the manner of the chemical manipulators.
The art of healing was originally one of the secret sciences of the priestcraft. While modern
The Hermetica is a collection of writings attributed to Thoth, The Greeks, who were in awe of
the knowledge and spirituality of the Egyptians, identified Thoth with their own God Hermes,
the messenger of the gods and guider of souls in the realm of the dead. To distinguish the
Egyptian Hermes, from their own, they gave him the title “ Trismegistus, meaning Thrice Great,
to honour his sublime wisdom. The books attribute to him became known collectively as the
The Hermetica is presented as a revelation of divine truth, not as a product of human reason; and
in the philosophical as in the technical texts those who do the revealing are the typical deities of
the Greco-Egyptian syncretism - the overall atmosphere is Egyptian . Alongside Hermes
Trismegistus himself and Isis who had long been associated in the Egyptian as well as the Greek
tradition, we find Asclepias, identified with the Egyptian Imhotep; Ammon, the God Amun,
regarded by some as one of the country’s early kings; Horus, the son of Isis; there are also
figures unique to the Hermetica: Poimandres, Tat and the priest Bitys . The origin and meaning
of the word Poimandres is unclear, though it may well be Egyptian. As for Tat he began humbly
enough as a Greek misspelling of Thoth, but ended up taking on the identity of his own as Thoth
- Hermes’s son, both bodily and spiritually.
Thoth entrusted to his chosen successors the Sacred Book of Thoth. This work contained the
secret process by which the regeneration of humanity was to be accomplished and also served
as a key to his other writings. According to legend, the Book of Thoth was kept in a golden box
in the inner sanctuary of the Temple. There was one key and this was in possession of the
“Master of the Mysteries”, the highest initiate of the Hermetic Arcanum”. He alone knew what
was written in the secret book. The book of Thoth was lost to the Ancient World with the decay
of the Mysteries.
Though most of the philosophical Hermetica is attributed to Hermes’s personal authorship or at
least feature him as teacher in conversation with a more or less stage struck pupil, there are
certain tracts which are attributed to Asclepias, and in some dialogues Tat replaces Hermes as
In this context the mysterious Poimandres is of special interest. In C.H.1, Poimandres, identified
as divine intellect, instructs none other than Hermes Trismegistus himself.
One of the greatest tragedies of the philosophic world was the loss of nearly all of the forty two
books of Hermes. These books disappeared during the burning of Alexandria, with the exception
of the forgoing.
Among the fragmentary writings believed to have come from the stylus of Hermes are two
famous works. The first is the Emerald Table, which is in reality a chemical formula of a high
and secret order, It also contains 14 Maxims attributed to Hermes, the most well known being,
“That which is above is like to that which is below, and that which is below is like to that which
is above, to accomplish the miracles of one thing”. The second is the Divine Pymander, or as
it is more commonly called The Shepherd of Men.
One outstanding point in connection with Hermes is that he was one of the few philosopher priests
of the pagan world, upon whom the early Christians did not vent their spleen.
The Divine Pymander of Hermes Mercurius Trismegistus is one of the earliest of the Hermetic
writings. While probably not in its original form, having been remodelled during the first
centuries of the Christian era. The Divine Pymander consists of seventeen fragmentary writings,
gathered together and put forth as one work. The second book, of The Divine Pymander, called
the Poimandres, or the Vision, is believed to describe the method by which the divine wisdom
was first revealed to Hermes. It was after Hermes had received this revelation that he began his
ministry , teaching to all who would listen the secrets of the invisible universe.
The Vision is the most famous of all Hermetic fragments, and contains an exposition of Hermetic
cosmogony and the secret sciences of the Egyptians regarding the culture and unfoldment of the
human soul In concluding his exposition of the Vision, Hermes quotes “The sleep of the body
is the sober watchfulness of the Mind and the shutting of my eyes reveals the true Light. My
silence is filled with budding life and hope, and is full of good. My words are the blossoms of
fruit of the tree of my soul. For this is the faithful account of what I have received from my true
Mind, that is Poimandres, the Great Dragon, the Lord of the Word, through whom I became
inspired by God with Truth. Since that day my Mind has ever been with me and in my own soul it has given birth to the Word; the Word is reason, and Reason has redeemed me. For which
cause, with all my soul and all my strength, I give praise and blessing unto God the Father, the
Life of Light. And the Eternal Good.
The Vision of Hermes, like all Hermetic writings, is an allegorical exposition of great
philosophical and mystic truths, and its hidden meaning may be comprehended only by those
who have been “raised” into the presence of the true mind.
Although largely unknown today, the writings attributed to Hermes/Thoth have been immensely
important in the history of Western thought. They profoundly influenced the Greeks and, through
their rediscovery in the fifteenth- century Florence helped to inspire the “ Renaissance” which
gave birth to our modern age. The list of people who have acknowledged a debt to the Hermetica
reads like a “Who’s Who” of greatest philosophers, scientists and artists that the West has
produced- Leonardo da Vinci, Durer, Botticelli, Roger Bacon, Paracelcus, Thomas More,
William Blake, Kepler, Copernicus, Isaac Newton, Sir Walter Raleigh, Milton, Ben Johnson,
Daniel Defoe, Shelley, Victor Hugo and Carl Jung. It heavily influenced Shakespeare, John
Donne, John Dee and all the poet philosophers who surrounded the court of Queen Elizabeth I,
as well as the founding scientists of the Royal Society in London, and even the leaders who
inspired the Protestant reformation in Europe. The list is endless with the Hermetica’s influence
reaching well beyond the frontiers of Europe. Islamic mystics and philosophers also trace their
inspiration back to the Thrice Greatest Hermes, and the esoteric tradition of the Jews equated
him with their mysterious prophet Enoch.
The Hermetica is a cornerstone of Western Culture. In substance and importance it is equal to well known eastern scriptures like Upanishads, the Dhammapada and the Tao Te Ching. yet unlike these texts which are readily available and widely read, the works of Hermes have been lost under the dead weight of academic translations, Christian prejudice and occult obscurities. This paper I hope will encourage the Fratres to seek out and read the writings of Hermes