The Hermetic Tradition

The Hermetic tradition is a set of philosophical and religious beliefs based primarily upon the writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, who is put forth as a wise sage and Egyptian priest, and who is commonly seen as synonymous with the Egyptian god Thoth. The Hermetic tradition commonly attributes forty two books to his credit. However, most of these books are reported to have been destroyed when the Great Library of Alexandria was razed.

The Hermetic tradition arose out of the confluence of Egyptian and Greek cultures in Alexandria in Ptolomaic Egypt. The earliest roots of the Hermetic tradition are found in the astronomical, spiritual traditions of Sumeria, then in Chaldea and Egypt before reaching Europe with the Greek and Roman empires. In Greece, this early wisdom found its way into the Pythagoraen tradition and filtered into the Orphic, Delphic, and Elusenian mysteries. In Rome, it arrived from Egypt with the Hermetic and Gnostic traditions, then spread through the Mythraic and the Isiac mysteries, later giving rise to Neo-Platonism.

The Hermetic tradition, being opposed by the Church, became a part of the occult underworld, intermingling with other occult movements and practices. The infusion of Hermeticism into occultism has given it great influence in Western magical traditions. Hermeticism's spiritual practices were found very useful in magical work, especially in Theurgic (divine) practices as opposed to Goëtic (profane) practices, due to the religious context from which Hermeticism sprang forth. Using the teachings and imagery of the Jewish Qabalah and Christian mysticism, Hermetic Theurgy was used effectively and in a context more easily understood by Europeans in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Hermetic magic underwent a flowering in Western Europe, when the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was founded in 1888.

Primary Hermetic Works

There are three major works which are widely known texts for Hermetic beliefs:

The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus is a short work which coins the well known term in occult circles "As above, so below." As the story is told, this tablet was found by Alexander the Great at Hebron supposedly in the tomb of Hermes. The actual text of that maxim is "That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracle of the One Thing." The tablet also references the three parts of the wisdom of the whole universe, to which Hermes claims his knowledge of these three parts is why he received the name Trismegistus (thrice great, or Ao-Ao-Ao meaning "greatest"). This “Ao” is reflected in the initials given to our order by S.L. MacGregor Mathers, A.O., thus showing that we are not only a Rosicrucian order but also a Hermetic one.

The Corpus Hermeticum is the body of work most widely known Hermetic text. It is composed of sixteen books that are set up as dialogues between Hermes and a series of others. The first book involves a discussion between Poimandres (also known as Nous and God) and Hermes, supposedly resulting from a meditative state, and is the first time that Hermes is in contact with God. Poimandres teaches the secrets of the Universe to Hermes, and later books are generally of Hermes teaching others such as Asclepius and his son Tat. The four classical elements of earth, water, air, and fire are used often in alchemy, and are alluded to several times in the Corpus Hermeticum.

The Kybalion: Hermetic Philosophy, is a book published in 1912 CE anonymously by three people calling themselves the "Three Initiates". Many of the Hermetic principles are explained in the book.

Hermetic World View

In the Hermetic belief system, all is in the mind of The All. Hermeticism acknowledges that there exist many gods, but that these deities, along with all other beings, exist within, and are created by, The ALL. As expressed in the Kybalion: "We have given you the Hermetic Teaching in regarding the Mental Nature of the Universe - the truth that 'the Universe is Mental - held in the Mind of THE ALL.' Everybody and Everything in the universe is part of this entity. As everything is mental, it is also a vibration. All vibrations vibrate from the densest of physical particles, through mental states, to the highest spiritual vibrations. In Hermeticism, the only difference between different states of physical matter, mentality, and spirituality is the frequency of their vibration. The higher the vibration, the further it is from base matter. The goal of Hermetic practice is to transmute the base matter of the physical body into ever more refined and pure forms of energy and consciousness.

Hermetic Spiritual Practice

One account of how Hermes Trismegistus received the name "Trismegistus," meaning "Thrice Great," is because, as he claims in The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, he knows the three parts of the wisdom of the whole universe. These are the Hermetic triad (Trivium Hermeticum) of spiritual practices: alchemy, astrology, and theurgy, by means of which spiritual attainment is accomplished in the Hermetic Tradition.

Alchemy - The Operation of the Sun - For Hermeticism, Alchemy is not simply the changing of physical lead into physical gold. Hermetic initiates derided those ‘alchemists’ trying to manufacture gold as mere ‘puffers,’ unable to understand the subtle allegories of Hermetic alchemical texts. Behind allegorical stages of chemical distillation and fermentation in order to quicken Nature's processes and to bring a natural body to perfection., lies the alchemical art of transmutation (Ars Transmutoria). In this “Great Work” (Opus Magnum) of Hermetic alchemy, the first matter (Prima Materia), which is the physical body (symbolized by lead = Saturn, Chronos, ruled by time) is transmuted into higher ever more rarified forms of energy, creating a ‘body of light’ (symbolized by gold = Sun, a solar body), with the ultimate goal of achieving conscious immortality (Divine Consciousness) in a single incarnation. This is accomplished by means of a powerful elixir of life called the Philosophers Stone, which, when ingested, transmutes the physical body and purifies its vibration. The composition of the Philosopher’s Stone remains one of the most carefully guarded secrets of the Hermetic tradition. Alchemical texts clearly state, however, that the Philosophers Stone is created by purifying Mercury into Philosophical Mercury. This Mercury, whose true nature remains concealed from non-initiates by allegory, is transmuted and purified by “cooking” it with the subtle fires of the physical body, including love and sexuality. The actual techniques of the royal art (Ars Royal) of alchemy remain the most powerful and secret part of the Hermetic tradition and are carefully guarded in the highest grades of Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Alchemy is seen as the "key" to theurgy, the ultimate goal of which is to become united with higher counterparts, leading to Divine Consciousness.

Theurgy (Magic) - The Operation of Moon - Theurgy translates to "The Science or art of Divine Works." There are two different types of magic, according to Giovanni Pico della Mirandola's Apology, completely opposite of one another. The first is Goëtia, black magic reliant upon an alliance with evil spirits (i.e. demons). The second is Theurgy, divine magic reliant upon an alliance with divine spirits (i.e. angels, archangels, gods). In the practice of Hermetic theurgy, these are invoked in order to awaken elemental, planetary, an zodiacal forces in the physical and energetic bodies. Theurgy is the practical aspect of the astrology. Ritual magic and all modern magical traditions ultimately derive from Hermetic theurgy.

Astrology - The Operation of the Stars – the three disciplines of the Trivium Hermeticum; alchemy, theurgy, and astrology are completely interdependent on one another. Hermetic astrology is not a mere passive tool for fortune telling as astrology is understood in modern times, but rather actively employs stellar influences for spiritual development using alchemy and theurgy. Hermetic alchemy and theurgy are likewise dependent on astrological cycles. Thus Hermetic theurgy can be understood as a sort of astrological magic.

Hermetic Brotherhoods

The Rosicrucian tradition was a flowering of the Hermetic tradition. The Gold und Rosenkreutz order, practiced all three aspects of the Trivium Hermeticum (alchemy, theurgy, and alstology). The Theurgical aspect was later developed by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in 1888. This tradition is carried on in the S.L. MacGregor Mathers' Alpha et Omega, which practices all three disciplines of the Trivium Hermeticum and holds the highest initiatic keys to Hermetic Inner Alchemy.