Hermeticism: an Introduction.
Hermeticism is the name given to the philosophy or philosophical approach that stems from the teachings of Hermes Trismegistus. This is the Greek name given to the ancient Egyptian god Thoth, who is credited with having taught the people how to read and write (using hieroglyphs) and also the basic ideas of mathematics. Thoth/Hermes himself is said to have penned a number of books including those on which are based the funerary texts that we today know by the name of The Egyptian Book of the Dead. This is the origins of Hermeticism but it actually includes very much more than this brief summary would suggest. Among the lost texts of the ancient Greeks that were rediscovered at the time of the Renaissance was a collection of writings attributed to Hermes known as the Corpus Hermeticum. These were soon translated into Latin and were to have a profound influence on the course of men’s thinking. Included in the collection were writings about the nature of the universe and man’s place within it. Even more mystical was the description of how Hermes himself received his knowledge: through an out-of-the-body initiation during which he was instructed by a god-like being called Poimandres (or Pymander), a name meaning ‘Shepherd of Men’. This being identifies himself with the Higher Mind and could be identified by Christians as a projection or premonition of Christ himself. This correspondence was further strengthened by the fact that in the ancient Egyptian tradition Thoth/Hermes was the scribe of the gods. At the ‘Weighing of the Heart’ ceremony he recorded the details of each soul’s life in a book and like Jesus Christ in the Christian tradition, determined if he or she was worthy to go to Heaven. Over time the name Hermeticism took on a broader meaning than simply the study of the Hermetica. It was applied to all the secret teachings of Egypt—or rather what were imagined to be the secret teachings of Egypt—including astrology, alchemy and the making of medicinal potions: something for which Egyptian doctors were famous. The study of mathematics, especially geometry, was also ‘Hermetic’ as it was believed that numbers were sacred and that knowledge of them gave power. Taken in its widest sense, Hermeticism is the western equivalent of the eastern philosophical system we know as yoga. It is not itself a religion but a practical means towards the ends of religion, i.e. enlightenment or union with God. In this faculty will be included papers on all these aspects of Hermeticism, which though seldom mentioned these days is the real, esoteric tradition of the west. It is also recommended that members read the original texts contained in the Hermetica, a good edition of which has been published by Adrian and is currently available.