The Changing Face of Spirituality (Part 3.4)

Hermeticism: The theological school we will discuss herein, is Hermeticism. Hermeticism comprises the purported teachings of an Egyptian Initiate known as Hermes Trismegistus (the ‘thrice-great’). Though, many claim that the teachings of Hermes predate recorded history; others, as AMORC, state that such teachings arose early in the 18th Dynasty – House of Pharaoh, and were finalized by Hermes during the short, rebellious reign of Ahkenaten.

Regardless of the source, this teaching gained significance during the Renaissance.

Plutarch refers to Hermes Trismegistus in the 1st century CE. Apparently, Tertullian, Iamblichus, and Porphyry were all familiar with Hermetic writings. The major Hermetic work is the Corpus Hermeticum, which appears to have been compiled during a period of syncretistic and intellectualized pagan thought in the 3rd and 7th centuries CE. These post-Christian Greek texts dwell upon the oneness and goodness of God, urge purification of the soul, and defend pagan religious practices such as the veneration of images. The literary form is the dialogue: Hermes Trismegistus instructs perplexed disciples upon various teachings of the hidden wisdom.

A copy of the Corpus Hermeticum was found in 1460, and reintroduced to the western world, by Leonardo de Candia Pistoia. He was one of many agents sent by Cosimo de’ Medici to scour European monasteries for lost ancient writings.

In 1614, Isaac Casaubon, a Swiss philologist, analyzed the Greek Hermetic texts, concluding that such dated to the 2nd to 3rd century CE. The 19th century scholar, Walter Scott, dates the Hermetic texts too shortly after 200 CE. The great British Egyptologist, W. Flinders Petrie, places their origin between 200 and 500 BCE. Regardless of the exact dates, this period of time produced a saw a wealth of competing writings by the Gnostics, Neoplatonists, Manichaeans, and Christians.

In 1945, Hermetic texts were found near the Egyptian town Nag Hammadi. One of these texts had the form of a conversation between Hermes and Asclepius. A second text, “On the Ogdoad and Ennead” told of the Hermetic mystery schools. It was written in the Coptic language, the latest and final form in which the Egyptian language was written

In Hermeticism, the ultimate reality is referred to as God, the All, the Absolute, the Cosmic, and the One. The Hermetic God , similar to the God of Neoplatonism, is unitary and transcendent, being One with and One apart from the material cosmos. Hermeticism is profoundly monotheistic. “For it is a ridiculous thing to confess the World to be one, one Sun, one Moon, one Divinity, and yet to have, I know not how many gods.”

Its philosophy teaches that there is a transcendent God, or Absolute, in which we and the entire universe participate. It also subscribes to the idea that other beings, such as aeons, angels and elementals, exist within the universe.

Hermeticists believe in a prisca theologia, the doctrine that a single, true theology exists, that it exists in all religions, and that it was given by God to man in antiquity. In order to demonstrate the truth of the prisca theologia doctrine, Christians appropriated the Hermetic teachings for their own purposes. By this account, Hermes Trismegistus was (according to the fathers of the Christian church) either a contemporary of Moses or the third in a line of men named Hermes—Enoch, Noah, and the Egyptian priest-king who is known to us as Hermes Trismegistus.

The Hermetic and Platonic cosmologies are partially the foundation for the later beliefs in the New Testament. God, having created the universe, then created the divisions, the worlds, and various gods and goddesses, whom he appointed to certain parts of the universe. He then took a mysterious transparent substance, out of which he created human souls. He appointed the souls to the astral region, which is just above the physical region.

He then assigned the souls to create life on Earth. He handed over some of his creative substance to the souls and commanded them to contribute to his creation. The souls then used the substance to create the various animals and forms of physical life. Soon after, however, the souls began to overstep their boundaries; they succumbed to pride and desired to be equal to the highest gods.

God was displeased and called upon Hermes to create physical bodies that would imprison the souls as a punishment for them. Hermes created human bodies on earth, and God then told the souls of their punishment. God decreed that suffering would await them in the physical world, but he promised them that, if their actions on Earth were worthy of their divine origin, their condition would improve and they would eventually return to the heavenly world. If it did not improve, he would condemn them to repeated reincarnation upon Earth.

The practical teachings of Hermeticism encompass spiritual alchemy, astrology, and theurgy (how the gods operate via the magical arts). A major consideration, likely secondary to Zoroastrianism, the competitive duality between the good and the evil, and man choice using reason and knowledge).

Though, such teachings developed out of both Hellenistic, Levantine, and Egyptian sources, in many ways they share features consistent with the Vedas and Upanishads.

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