~ The Emerald Tablet,
a text attributed to one ‘Hermes Trismegistus’ supposedly written c. first three centuries AD
In alchemy the most common name you will hear is ‘Hermes Trismegistus’, sometimes called the ‘thrice-greatest’. His name is attached to various texts which were later compiled into the Corpus Hermeticum. Catholic priest and humanist philosopher Marsilio Ficino 1433-1499, born and died Italy, was responsible for translating many of these texts into Latin. Over a hundred different editions were published between 1500 and 1641. The ORIGINAL authorship is unknown. Some sources point to Neo-Pythagorean philosopher Apollonius of Tyana who lived in the 1st century AD, but they exist regardless. Fragments of texts were also found at Nag Hammadi with the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Depiction above supposedly taken from one of many books
by Zadith Ben Hamuel aka Muhammed ibn Umail al-Tamimi ca. 900-960 AD;
alchemist, hermit, mystic,
born Spain(?), lived Egypt(?).
The image itself can be found on the internet along with the caption:
“Hermes Trismegistus: Clasical God, “De Chemica Senioris”, 1566“
What is important to note about Hermes is that when the so-called Golden Tractate was first discovered in the first few centuries it was commonly believed by church people and therefore laypeople that Hermes had lived at the same time as Moses which is the time of the old testament or before. A very crucial point to remember as it is this belief that led people to put so much trust and faith in Hermes’ teachings. It wasn’t until the medieval period when people finally put this theory to bed and the texts which eventually made up the Corpus were dated to the first few centuries.
Early depictions of Hermes take us back to the Ancient Greeks who were the first to give us the god Hermes. He was generally depicted with winged boots and a winged hat. In this representation he has a somewhat different caduceus than have seen before. In my opinion this depiction, with just these aspects, could represent someone in pursuit of the Great Work, and not the god himself. But alas, in the pursuit of gold one does indeed become that god.
“Thou layest unspotted souls to rest;
Thy golden rod pale spectres know;
Blest power! By all thy brethren blest,
~ From Odes by Horace 65-8 BCE,
born and died in Italy
Above we have a Greek depiction of him decorated onto a vase. Two soldiers don wings and masks while carrying a dead or dying man. Hermes weighs over the proceedings with his caduceus rod and winged hat. Hermes was known to be the ‘guide of souls’ so this depiction is likely Hermes guiding this human’s soul to the afterlife.
In this image we have a depiction of Hermes which is taken from the Twelve Keys of Basil Valentine, pictured is the second ‘key’. ‘Basil Valentine’ was supposedly a 15th century figure who many works are apocryphally attributed to. German salt manufacturer Johann Tholde 1565-1614, was responsible for publishing many documents that bore the name dating back to 1599. The texts were likely named after Gnostic teacher Valentinus 100-160 AD, who founded a school in Rome and promoted the spiritual quest for gnosis (‘knowledge’) but whose works are largely extant.
One interpretation of the image shows us two travellers in their battle toward alchemical union. Hermes holds two caduceus’ ready to hand to whoever is able to attain the illumination they seek.
My own interpretation shows us Hermes as the adept himself who has already achieved union yet must continue to stay off internal demons (the two attacking figures with weapons) which remain active regardless of wisdom or ‘enlightenment’. The wings at the forefront enclose the three figures showing us this is one process. The universe? The stone? Or just the adept himself? The sun and moon stand behind him, working in Hermes’ favour. He is depicted here as human, but is he? He has wings on his back, and also a crown on his head, above which we have the alchemical symbol for Mercury, which represents the metal that is transmuted to gold, something that can only be done via the stone. Mercury is also represented as other aspects of the Magnum Opus (the ‘great work’) and sometimes even the entire process itself. It also symbolises fluidity as the ‘water of life’.
Illustration from A Key to Physic, and the Occult Sciences, 1794
by Ebenezer Sibley 1751-1799,
physician, astrologer, and occult writer,
born and died England
“Whoever does not shy away from the dangers of the most profound depths and the newest pathways […] may follow and reach […] a greater find a more certain possession. all to whom is an adventure – whether an adventure of love or of spirit – [Hermes] is the common guide.”
~ From Hermes: Guide of Souls 1943,
by Karol Kerenyi 1897-1973,
scholar of philology,
born Romania, died Switzerland
“Trismegistus in his vision of the creation, did first see a pleasing gladsome light, but in terminated. Afterwards appeared a horrible sad darkness, and this moved downwards, descending from the eye of the light, as if a cloud should come from the sun. This darkness (saith he) was condensed into a certain water, but not without a mournful inexpressible voice or sound, as the vapours of the elements are resolved by thunder. After this (saith that great philosopher), the holy word came out of the light, and did get upon the water, and out of the water he made all things.”
~ Thomas Vaughan 1621-1666,
philosopher, writer on natural magic,
born and died England;
quoted in the Dictionary of Alchemy by Mark Haeffner
Hermes, as the Greeks portrayed him, was the son of Zeus, messenger and scribe of the gods: which means that the word of god comes to us through him. He was also the god of transitions and boundaries.
He is actually the Greek interpretation of the Egyptian god Thoth (associated with the arbitration of godly disputes, the arts of magic, the system of writing, numbers, the development of science and the judgment of the dead, but began as the maintainer of the universe), whose place of worship (at least one of them) was Hermopolis.
The Romans subsequently translated him into their god of Mercury, fulfilling the relevance to alchemy. And thus the cycle completes itself as any and all roman gods became the god of Yahweh and the Abrahamic sects.
Hermes being known as the guide of souls doesn’t just link him to Thoth, but also to many other psychopomps throughout mythology. The Greek ψυχοπομπός, psuchopompos literally means ‘guide of souls’. These psychopomps are spirit guides escorting you from one life to another. Anubis originally took this position for the Egyptians; as well as Hermes, the Greeks had Charon (the ferryman of Hades) and Hecate; the Romans had Mercury; the Etruscans had Vanth. In Haitian voodoo a figure named Papa Legba serves as the spirit mediating between the spiritual states; the shamans of multiple traditions throughout history also serve similar roles in this respect. In Hinduism Shiva takes the form of Tarakeshwara leading souls to moksha (‘samsara’, ‘liberation’), at least they had the balls to label their god realistically. Azrael is the angel of death carrying the soul up to the heavens in both Judaism and Islam. Of course in our day and age we have the Grim Reaper.
Hermes can also be seen as a trickster god; for which the Anglo Saxons have Frige; the Irish have the leprechaun; the Scottish, the Bodach, and the Welsh have Myrddin Wyllt. Myrddin ‘the Wild’ is supposed to have suffered a threefold death… an archetypal event suffered by kings, heroes and gods. The Norse god Odin has this same threefold death (from Wikipedia: “Odin is said to have hanged himself in order to learn the secrets of magic.”) We also have Agamemnon, Starkad, Siegfried, St. Columba, etc. etc. It is no coincidence that Hermes is also given this three-fold significance, being labelled the ‘thrice-greatest’. The number three is also significant in the Bible, where Noah had three sons, Job three daughters; the Ark of the Covenant contained three sacred objects; in John’s vision a triple entrance way marked all four sides of the city of the New Jerusalem; Jesus answered Satan’s threefold temptation by citing three scriptural passages. The holy St. Peter denied Jesus three times while Pilate’s men were looking for him. Of course the big one is the holy trinity: the father (god), the son (Jesus) and the holy spirit (inside every man).
These are obviously important roles in mythology, so it is no surprise that it is linked with all of this occult information.
“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise.”
~ Proverbs, Old Testament of the Bible
The Egyptian for Thoth was ḏḥwty or ḏiḥautī, modern rendering being Tehuti.
It became Thoth through the Coptic languages.
It is no surprise this word shares such a similarity to the word ‘deity’.
The Egyptian ogdoad are eight, sometimes even ten, deities worshipped as
1) the primordial deities (Nu and Naunet),
2) air, invisibility, and hidden powers (Amun and Amaunet),
3) darkness and obscurity (Kik and Kauket),
4) eternity or infinity (Huh and Hauhet).
This is the Egyptian tree of life.
“Avoiding and resolving conflicts
is one of the chief functions of Tehuti, the faculty of wisdom.
It is the total antithesis of the intellect.
While the latter derives its information from man’s worldly experiences,
the wisdom faculty gets its knowledge from god dwelling in man’s spirit.
In other words, for wisdom to manifest itself,
we must shut down our intellectual and imaginative thought processes,
in order to receive the intuition from god, dwelling within.
In this state where there are no thoughts,
consciousness enters into the same state of Hetep (Nirvana) as described by the ogdoad.
There are, therefore, no thoughts as in the syllogistic logical process that we can follow.
All that can be given are instructions
leading to the shutting down of the thought processes making the mind blank,
Satori, which is the requirement for the functioning of the wisdom faculty.
Since this faculty is not really of man, but belongs to god dwelling in one’s spirit,
the procedure can be explained as
the stilling of the thought processes of the intellect and the imagination,
in order to receive instructions from god.
It is of interest to note that the ‘Hu’ in Tehuti is the mantra (word of power)
of the wisdom goddess Chinnamasta of Black India (Indus Kush),
and of the guru (wisdom) chakra.
It operates by suppressing the formation of thought processes
by cutting the mind off from the senses.
This ties in with Kamitic spiritual science.
‘Hu’ is metaphorized as Ptah’s tongue
which utters the word of power
that initiates the process of creation.
It is also the ‘deity’ of the senses, in which capacity it plays the same role
as the mantra Hu(ng) of the guru chakra.
In other words, to shut the mind down,
it must be cut off from its ports (the senses) to the outside world.
This is of course, a brief account of the process.
The most important point to understand is that
ultimately, the most important part of the deity’s name is ‘Hu’
understood not as a word with meaning,
but as the word of power
which leads to the manifestation of wisdom in the initiate.”
~ Ra Un Nefer Amen 1944-,
pan-African leader, spiritual ‘trainer’,
Other related figures from Egyptian history include Imhotep 27th century BC who was a high priest of the sun god Ra at Heliopolis. His name means ‘the one who comes in peace, is with peace’. He was also a polymath: an architect, engineer and physician, and revered after his death as a poet and philosopher. He was deified two thousand years after his death as the god of medicine and healing, which became confusing to ‘Egyptologists’ as they mistook him for Thoth (the aforementioned god of architecture, mathematics, medicine and patron of the scribes). The Greeks linked him with Asklepios.
Tribes at Thebes which later became worshippers of Hermes began referring to him as the brother of Amenhotep 14th century BC, who was also a priest and an architect and was known to have held a number of offices under Amenhotep III too. Amenhotep was also revered after his death as a philosopher and teacher, leading tribes to come to worship him as god of healing. All of these attributes have also been attributed to both Hermes and Thoth.
Here is another depiction of Thoth; on the left he hands the key of life to what looks like a lady. On the right Thoth confers with a male individual who already holds this key to immortality. In this image Thoth is bestowing the individual on the left with the immortality which the key of life represents; it likely is a painting from a dual burial chamber where the immortality is ultimately a symbol for their ascension to a higher plane: death.
Here we have a monkey or a baboon-like creature bestowing the eye of Horus onto Thoth who is here pictured with a sun disk. This sun disk usually means that the person is now deceased or in his way to becoming so. With the addition of the static nature of his person in the image it would be safe to ascertain that he is in a mummified form in this depiction. On the right is the original stone carving which this image was recreated from.
In this piece of Egyptian hieroglyphic art we see Osiris on the left and Thoth on the right. Osiris is the king of the underworld or the afterlife. In this depiction we see Thoth (yielding two rods which are wrapped in something clearly resembling serpents) handing Osiris the ankh, which is the breath of life, the key of the Nile, the concept of eternal life. He is handing it to someone who guards the underworld, the world of the dead… Need I say more?
This representation on the right of two figures is comparable to that of Thoth and Osiris; here both are depicted as serpents. The connection between the two is distinct in the headgear.
We also have a horse winged in between the two playing with a wheel (which could be a reference to Hindu mythology). This piece actually depicts an agathodaemon which was a Greek spirit of the grain-fields: representing good luck, health and wisdom. The connection is there for you to see.
Here we have the staff of Osiris. It ties us in with Hermes as both he and Osiris are guardians or messengers of the afterlife, Hermes among other things.
You see the two snakes coiling around the staff with winged crowns, and at the tip a pinecone. Conifer pine trees are one of the most ancient plant genera on the planet, having existed nearly three times longer than all flowering plant species. Pinecones serve as a symbolic representation of enlightenment, the third eye and the pineal gland.
The pineal gland is situated at the base of the brain. This is the seat of consciousness. “The pineal gland produces melatonin, a serotonin derived hormone which modulates sleep patterns in both circadian and seasonal cycles.” (Wikipedia) This basically helps along with our day-to-day lives, from waking to sleeping. Serotonin is a neuro-transmitter which is vital to the nervous system of animals and humans, it gives us joy and happiness. And is stimulated during both dream states and hallucinogenic experiences.
“And even though [Hermes] was a man, he was most ancient and well instructed in every kind of learning – to such a degree that his knowledge of the arts and of all other things gave him the cognomen or epithet Trismegistus. He wrote books – many, indeed, pertaining to the knowledge of divine things – in which he vouches for the majesty of the supreme and single god and he calls him by the same names which we use: lord and father. Lest anyone should seek his name, he says that he is ‘without a name,’ since he does not need the proper signification of a name because of his very unity.”
~ Lactantius 240-320 AD,
author and advisor to emperor Constantine I 272-337,
born Northern Africa, died France
The connection between the Egyptians, the Greeks, and this Hermetic knowledge, is vast. Next I will analyse the connection of the serpent: something which you’ve seen many times in this post on Hermes in his magical rod which is made up of two intertwining serpents known as the caduceus. More on that next post.