Neamul nostru Lodge No.377, Iași



  1. Hermes Trismegistus

hermes_with_sun_and_moonMost authors would date Hermes Trismegistus around 4th century B.C. Although we can’t be sure about an eventual historical figure of Hermes Trismegistus, the origins of the philosophical-religious trend called hermeticism are closely linked to the Greek-Egyptian syncretism of the gods Hermes and Thoth, as well as to a period of development and prosperity of Alexandria. P. A. Riffard dates Greek-Egyptian hermetism between 323 B.C. or the end of 3rd century B.C. and c. 300 A.D. [12]. A. Faivre, in [4], when presenting hermetism, mentions that Alexandria, founded in 332 B.C., had known a rapid growth and became one of the most important cities in Antiquity. He characterizes hermetism as one of the four new, sometimes rival religions between the 2nd and 4th century A.D.: her­metism, gnosticism, neoplatonism and Christianity, noting the fact that they shared important concepts.

The result of the above mentioned syncretism yields the mythical aura of Hermes Trismegistus. His first name, Hermes, is borrowed from the Greek god. The fundamental attributes of the Greek Hermes esoterically relate to the principle of transcending Duality to reach Unity. Thus, Hermes is a messenger god, both “horizontally”, between the figures of the Greek pantheon, and, more importantly, “vertically”, between man and divinity. Hermes is considered a psychopomp, guiding the soul of man in the afterlife, and, with a similar function, a god of travel and borders of any kind. The “folkloric” attributes of patronage over thieves and liars can be interpreted symbolically as a Promethean attitude, as well as, paradoxically, a secretive disposition of guarding mysteries from profane curiosity. In the same spirit, the foreword to the “Virgin of the World” from [1] asserts that: “Hermes, the Divine and the Confessor, was jokingly called by the Greeks the Thief (…). But in this manner they subtly hinted at his power and art of understanding and assimilating ideas”.

Protector of shepherds and in general herders, Hermes appears again as a guide, and also a spiritual one, if we relate to the first chapter of Corpus Hermeticum, titled „Poimandrēs”, which literally translates as “shepherd of men”. A patron of orators, poets, athletes and merchants, god of measurement and invention, Hermes seems to synergize dynamism and prudence, action and contemplation, will and knowledge. The foreword to the “Virgin of the World” from [1] enumerates the accessories of Hermes: “the staff, wings, sword and hat, denoting magicians’ science, adventurer’s courage, heroes’ will and adepts’ discretion”. Card XII in the Mantegna Tarocchi deck is called Mercurio [3], and portrays, next to the god, the severed head of Argos, with the symbolic meaning of escaping the chains of Fate through hermetic knowledge, transcending the 12 houses of the Zodiac in the ascension under the sign of the Decad, or, finally, the triumph of Life over death.

Some attributes of Hermes are highlighted in the medieval allegorical writing “Marriage of Philology and Mercury” by Martianus Capella, in which Jupiter asserts that Mercury is “our lyre, our speech, our kindness,/ and true genius”[1], but also an interpret of the human mind. In early Renaissance, G. Boccacio mentions Mercury in “De genealogia deorum” as master of the wind („ventos agere Mercurii est”), suggesting the power, flexibility and lucidity of the human Intellect. Finally, the name of Hermes is the etymological root of words such as “herma”, “hermetic” as in “hermetic seal” and “hermeneu­tics”.

The Egyptian homologue of Hermes, the ibis-headed god Thoth, is similarly represented as a mediator of and between gods, a judge of the dead and inventor of magic, writing (i.e.  the hieroglyphs) and science.

Having reasonably well explained the first name of our protagonist, we will now focus on the Greek epithet of “Trismegistus”, meaning “thrice great”. The foreword of [1] presents the opinion of the author of “Chronicon Alexandrinum” (47 A.D.), who believes that although Hermes teaches the unity of God, he also claims the existence of three supreme powers. This opinion is shared by Suidas, in his 10th century encyclopedia, “Suda”. The principle of this interpreta­tion is that of trinity within unity, a fundamental idea spread in the most important religions, traditions and philosophies. In the Emerald Tablet (in Latin “Tabula Smaragdina”), the 12th (and last) point states: “Hence I am called Hermes Trismegist, having the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world”. The three parts are believed to be: alchemy, astrology and theurgy. We remind that, esoterically, the subject of alchemy is not an external operation, but an internal transmutation, and astrology is not interpreted as divination, but in a symbolic manner. Regarding theurgy, Faivre, in [4], defines it as: “the knowledge of a theory and practice that enables us to connect with the gods not only through the elevation of our intellect, but also by concrete rites and material objects that summon the divine influence when and where we desire, even allowing the vision of angelic entities”.

The comparison and influences between the god Mercury-Hermes-Thoth and the legendary Hermes Trismegistus are analyzed by A. Faivre in [3], chapter 3, “From Hermes-Mercury to Hermes Trismegistus: The Confluence of Myth and the Mythical”. Strabo, a writer/historian from Antiquity, considers Hermes the lawgiver of Egypt, teaching the Theban high priest philosophy and astronomy, and in the early Christian era, Church Father Saint Augustine mentions in “De civitate Dei” that Hermes Trismegistus is the grandson of the first Hermes (the god), invoking a quote from “Asclepius”: “For thy forebear, Asclepius, the first discoverer of medicine, to whom there is a temple hallowed on Libya’s Mount, hard by the shore of crocodiles, in which his cosmic man reposes, that is to say his body; for that the rest [of him], or better still, the whole (if that a man when wholly [plunged] in consciousness of life, be better), hath gone back home to heaven,-still furnishing, [but] now by his divinity, the sick with all the remedies which he was wont in days gone by to give by art of medicine. Hermes, which is the name of my forebear, whose home is in a place called after him, doth aid and guard all mortal [men] who come to him from every side”[2].


  1. The Hermetic Opus

The hermetic literature is generally called “Hermetica”. In the restricted sense of the term, we will only focus the works attributed to Hermes Trismegistus. According to Clement of Alexandria („Strômates”, VI, 4), Hermes was the author of 42 treaties, 10 of which discuss religion, 6 medicine, 4 astrology and astronomy, 10 cosmography, geog­raphy and ritual. A. J. Festugičre divides hermetic literature into “popular” and “savant” hermetism. The former includes works such as “Liber Hermetis”, “Kyranides” and the “Mithras Liturgy”. The latter is composed of “Corpus Hermeticum”, a collection of 17 treaties written in Greek. A. Faivre suggests that it represents the most famous hermetic work, which will leave an indelible mark on Western thought, together with “Asclepius” and “Fragments from Stobaeus”. In what follows we will only focus on this second kind of hermetic work.

Corpus Hermeticum was first accessible to the Western scholars due to Marsilio Ficino, one of the most important humanist philosophers of Renaissance, who translated the text in Latin in 1463. There have been many other translations, we will only mention the French translation of A.J. Festugičre [5], and the English one of G. R. S. Mead [10], which although it is not the best (cf. its introduction), is however in public domain, thus freely available to anyone.

  1. A. Riffard [12] promotes A. J. Festugičre’s opinion that “Corpus Hermeticum” gives rise to two schools of thought: the first one, optimistic, and monistic, which sees the world as a good model and recommends man to contemplate it in order to reach Divinity (treaties V, VIII, IX), and the second one, pessimistic and dualistic, which sees the world as evil, created by the Demiurge, and not God, and from whose materi­alism we must detach in order to attain Unity (treaties I, IV, VI, VII, XIII). Faivre, in [4], advances a very similar idea: “The optimistic and pessimistic aspect, which share their inspiration from «Hermetica», can be traced in modern hermeticism; an optimistic aspect in the sense that it is possible to unite with the divine through a mental represen­tation of the universe and a pessimistic aspect due to the emphasis of the Fall on the current state of the Nature“.
  2. A Selection of Hermetic ideas

3.1 Corpus Hermeticum

We shall focus on the first treaty of Corpus Hermeticum, titled “Poemandres, the Shepherd of Men” after the interlocutor of Hermes: “2. And I do say: Who art thou? He saith: I am Man-Shepherd, Mind of all-masterhood; I know what thou desirest and I’m with thee everywhere”[3]. The premise of the dialogue is the desire of Hermes to gain superior knowledge: “I long to learn the things that are, and comprehend their nature, and know God”, to which Poemandres answers: “Hold in thy mind all thou wouldst know, and I will teach thee”[4]. His answer can be interpreted as an urge towards conscience and ascension, with man’s effort being mirrored in the descent of divine knowledge, thus accessible to the initiate.

Poemandrēs narrates an elemental cosmogony, and reveals his role in it: “That Light, He said, am I, thy God, Mind, prior to Moist Nature which appeared from Darkness; the Light-Word (Logos) [that appeared] from Mind is Son of God. (…) Know that what sees in thee and hears is the Lord’s Word (Logos); but Mind is Father-God. Not separate are they the one from other; just in their union [rather] is it Life consists”[5]. The “Son of God” represents the archetypal world, matrix of the future material creation. One could compare the Hermetic cosmogony with the biblical Genesis when considering the symbols of the Light (“Fiat lux”) and the Word (“In principio erat verbum”). The sublime connection between them is meant to be understood and realized by the divinely exalted Hermes. “Life” in this context means the manifestation of an immortal soul, free from the chains of Fate. In what follows, Nature “received the Word (Logos), and gazing on the Cosmos Beautiful did copy it, making herself into a cosmos, by means of her own elements and by the births of souls”[6].

The creation of Man is also similar to the biblical version: “But All-Father Mind, being Life and Light, did bring forth Man co-equal to Himself, with whom He fell in love, as being His own child; for he was beautiful beyond compare, the Image of his Sire”[7]. Additionally, Man instantly becomes creator himself: “[Man] too wished to enform; and [so] assent was given him by the Father”[8]. Man’s nature is defined by duality: “And this is why beyond all creatures on the earth man is twofold; mortal because of body, but because of the essential Man immortal. Though deathless and possessed of sway o’er all, yet doth he suffer as a mortal doth, subject to Fate. Thus though above the Harmony, within the Harmony he hath become a slave. Though male-female, 2 as from a Father male-female, and though he’s sleepless from a sleepless [Sire], yet is he overcome [by sleep]”[9].

Material creation and its offspring are initially androgynous, and only afterwards split according to gender. Poemandres teaches Hermes the meaning of “Nosce te ipsum”: “he who knows himself, go unto Him”, and “if then thou learnest that thou art thyself of [paragraph continues] Life and Light, and that thou [only] happen’st to be out of them, thou shalt return again to Life”, such that “the man who hath Mind in him, let him learn to know that he himself [is deathless]”[10]. Not every man has Mind, but only the virtuous and the worthy. Finally, the ascension of Hermes entails passing through Seven Spheres, and in each of them defeating a characteristic Vice. Hermes concludes: “But I recorded in my heart Man-Shepherd’s benefaction, and with my every hope fulfilled more than rejoiced. For body’s sleep became the souls awakening, and closing of the eyes-true vision, pregnant with Good my silence, and the utterance of my word (logos) begetting of good things”[11].


3.2 Asclepius

The Greek original of  the Hermetic text “The Perfect Sermon or The Asclepius” is lost, and only a Latin version has survived. The Hermetic discourse begins with presenting the principle of correspondence between unity and totality: “«All» is of «One» or «One» is «All». So closely bound is each to other, that neither can be parted from its mate.”[12]. This idea, recalling the famous second part of the Emerald Tablet, is further expanded by Hermes in relation to the divine name(s): Indeed, I have no hope that the Creator of the whole of Greatness, the Father and the Lord of all the things [that are], could ever have one name, even although it should be made up of a multitude – He who cannot be named, or rather He who can be called by every name. For He, indeed, is One and All; so that it needs must be that all things should be called by the same name as His, or He Himself called by the names of all”[13].

Notice the courage of the Trismegist in assigning a name to the divinity (“ it needs must be that all things should be called by the same name as His”), refusing an agnostic and passive attitude. The whole text is written from an optimist perspective, one of the many possible examples being the description of the human condition: “man is a mighty wonder,-an animal meet for our worship and for our respect. For he doth pass into God’s Nature, as though himself were God. This genus [also] knows the genus of the daimons, as though man knew he had a [common] origin with them. He thinketh little of the part of human nature in him, from confidence in the divineness of [his] other part”[14]. Similarly, “[man] hath his place in the more blessed station of the Midst; so that he loves [all] those below himself, and in his turn is loved by those above”[15]

Yet another hermetic idea is the opinion of Hermes on philosophy, a term whose meaning would perhaps be closer to what we understand now by theosophy: “For I will tell thee, as though it were prophetic-ly, that no one after us shall have the Single Love, the Love of wisdom-loving, which consists in Gnosis of Divinity alone,– [the practice of] perpetual contemplation and of holy piety. For that the many do confound philosophy with multifarious reasoning”[16].

Finally, Asclepius also highlights the hermetic perspective on vice and virtue, in relation with man and his destiny. Regarding virtue, Hermes states that: “Now of that dual nature, – that is to say of man, – there is a chief capacity. [And that is] piety, which goodness follows after. [And] this [capacity] then, and then only, seems to be perfected, if it be fortified with virtue of despising all desires for alien things”. To avoid equivocation, we also cite the explanation that follows the cited text: “For alien from every part of kinship with the Gods are all things on the Earth, whatever are possessed from bodily desires, – to which we rightly give the name «possessions», in that they are not born with us, but later on begin to be possessed by us; wherefore we call them by the name posses­sions”[17]. Regarding evil and vice, although the World, i.e. the second God, is unborn, perfect, yet Matter “produces bad as well [as good]”[18]. Consequently, “God ought to have freed the World from bad in every way; for so much is it in the World, that it doth seem to be as though it were one of its limbs. This was foreseen by Highest God and [due] provision made, as much as ever could have been in reason made, then when He thought it proper to endow the minds of men with sense, and science and intelligence. For it is by these things alone whereby we stand above the rest of animals, that we are able to avoid the snares and crimes of ill”[19].  In another part of Asclepius, Hermes gives a warning: “when unknowingness and ignorance persist, all vicious things wax strong, and plague the soul with wounds incurable; so that, infected with them, and invitiated, it swells up, as though it were with poisons,-except for those who know the Discipline of souls and highest Cure of intellect”[20].


3.3 Fragments from Stobaeus

Our short presentation will focus on selected ideas from the treaty “The Virgin of the World” (Kore Kosmou), a title which recalls the role of Persephone in the Eleusinian mysteries. Isis, in her dialogue with Horus, describes divinity as “God the Monarch, the universal Orderer and Architect”[21], emphasizing both the exoteric and esoteric knowledge of Hermes: “’Tis they who will, says Hermes, learn to know the secrets of my records all, and will make separation of them; and some they will keep for themselves, while those that are best suited for the benefit of mortal men, they will engrave on tablet and on obelisk”[22].

Hermes appears also as a civilizing hero: “’Tis they alone who, taught by Hermes in God’s hidden codes, became the authors of the arts, and sciences, and all pursuits which men do practise, and givers of their laws. ‘Tis they who, taught by Hermes that the things below have been disposed by God to be in sympathy with things above, established on the earth the sacred rites o’er which the mysteries in Heaven preside”[23].

[1]  „nam nostra ille fides, sermo, benignitas / ac verus genius. fida recursio / interpretesque menae mentis, o noűs socer”, cited in [3], Ch. I „Hermes in the Western Imagination, “The Meta­morphoses of Hermes in the High Middle Ages”, p. 24.


[2]  [10], The Perfect Sermon (The Asclepius), XXXVII, 3 and 4.


[3] [10], I Poemandres, the Shepherd of Men, 2.


[4] [10], I Poemandres, the Shepherd of Men, 3.


[5]  [10], I Poemandres, the Shepherd of Men, 6.


[6]  [10], I Poemandres, the Shepherd of Men, 8.


[7]  [10], I Poemandres, the Shepherd of Men, 12.


[8]  [10], I Poemandres, the Shepherd of Men, 13.


[9]  [10], I Poemandres, the Shepherd of Men, 15.


[10] [10], I Poemandres, the Shepherd of Men, 21.


[11] [10], I Poemandres, the Shepherd of Men, 30.


[12] [10], Asclepius, I, 1.


[13] [10], Asclepius, XX, 2.


[14] [10], Asclepius, VI, 1.


[15] [10], Asclepius, VI, 2.


[16] [10], Asclepius, XII, 3.


[17] [10], Asclepius, XI, 1.


[18] [10], Asclepius, XV, 2.


[19] [10], Asclepius, XVI, 1 and 2.


[20] [10], Asclepius, XXII, 1.


[21] [10], I. Excerpts by Stobaeus, Excerpt XXV. The Virgin of the World, I, 36.


[22] [10], I. Excerpts by Stobaeus, Excerpt XXV. The Virgin of the World, I, 36.


[23] [10], I. Excerpts by Stobaeus, Excerpt XXV. The Virgin of the World, I, 36.