and republished in "Theosophical Siftings" - Volume 5- 1892-1893
[Page 3] HERMES
MERCURIUS TRISMEGISTUS, the
Egyptian Thot, who was identified as early as the time of Plato with the Grecian Hermes, is not generally regarded
as the real author of the Hermetic works popularly ascribed to him: and although these latter are considered
to embody real Egyptian doctrine they are accorded, on the strength of internal evidence, a Grecian origin.
Says H.P.B. in the Secret Doctrine, "They may be Hermetic works,
but not works written by either of the two Hermes, or rather, by Thot (Hermes) the directing intelligence of
the Universe, or by Thot, his terrestrial incarnation called Trismegistus of the Rosetta Stone". The Egyptian
Thot according to Suidas lived before the time of the Pharoahs about 400 years previous to Moses; the probability
however is that this was a generic name assumed by initiates, and is as old as thought itself. This view finds
its confirmation in the fact that Jambhchus asserts Hermes to be the author of 20,000 works, and Manetho even
speaks of 36,525, being the same number as that which he assigns to his several dynasties of Kings. Clemens Alexandrinus
mentions as extant in his time, that is in the second century, forty-two books of Hermes containing all knowledge,
human and divine. "This Prince", writes the author of "A suggestive enquiry into the Hermetic
Mystery", "is highly celebrated by antiquity for his wisdom and skill in the secret operations of Nature
and for his reputed discovery of the quintessential perfectability of the Three Kingdoms in their homogeneal
Unity; hence he is called the 'Thrice Great Hermes' having the spiritual intelligence of all things in the
Dr. Anna Kingsford, in her introduction to "The Virgin of the
points out that the panoply with which Greek art invests Hermes is symbolical of the function of the understanding.
He has four implements, the rod, the wings, the sword and the cap, denoting the science of the magian, the
courage of the adventurer, the will of the hero and the discretion of the adept. There is a certain analogy
between these attributes and those with which Krishna is sometimes represented in Indian art, and which are
the sceptre, the lotus, the cup, and a kind of circular disk: while it is curious to notice the rapport which
seems to exist between the four suites of the Tarot cards, sometimes called "The Book of Thoth",
and the symbolical attributions referred to. In addition to these symbols Hermes is invariably represented
grasping the Crux Ansata, the great Egyptian symbol of spiritual [Page 4] life,
and which it will be remembered bears a sort of resemblance to the astronomical sign of Venus.
The great esteem in which the Hermetic writings were held in the early
days of the Christian Church, as evinced by the writings and records of the early fathers of the Church, is
very significant to the student of the Christian genesis. St. Augustine, Lactantius, Cyril and others prized
them very highly, invoking their testimony on behalf of the Christian mysteries; though how far the books
called Hermetic today are genuine records of the books current even in the early days of our era is by no means
But however the learned may disagree — and they do vary considerably — as
to the real origin of these works, the fact remains that Egypt must be regarded as the earliest home of Hermetic
philosophy, receiving it no doubt in her turn from Aryan sources at some very remote period. The great renown
of Egypt for its wealth, wisdom, and magic skill, is universally attested by contemporaneous history, and the
subsequent decline of its high civilisation is one of those enigmas of the past, due no doubt to the mysterious
working of cyclic Law. It was this land of mystery and fable that attracted the greatest of Grecian philosophers,
Pythagoras, Thales, Democritus, and Plato, who all achieved their initiation there. For what is now a region
of the dead was then the great centre of a mysterious civilisation, virtually governed by its priesthood, the
members of which, there is good reason to believe, were not only very learned, but actual initiates: they boasted
descent from divine ancestors and claimed historical records, which, like those of the Phoenicians, were said
to stretch over a period of some thirty thousand years. And what relics of its former splendour have survived
the Egypt of old ? Tombs, principally, from which the petrified dead come forth at the behest of our nineteenth
yielding up perchance in last witness a few papyri which are regarded as incredible and legendary on the interpretation
of the learned ! Who in the face of the conditions of life today, and in the light of the past, cannot appreciate
the significance of the prophecy of Hermes in Asclepios in that beautiful passage: "To thee I cry, O most
sacred River, to thee I announce the coming doom! Waves of blood, polluting thy divine waters, shall overflow
thy banks: the number of the dead shall surpass that of the living; and if indeed a few inhabitants of the
land remain, Egyptians by speech, they will in manner be aliens! ... In those days the religious man will be
thought mad; the impious man will be hailed as a sage; savage men will be deemed valiant; the evil-hearted will
be applauded as the best of men. The soul and all that belongs thereto, whether born mortal or able to attain
eternal life, . . . will be matters for ridicule and will be esteemed foolishness". With the exception
of the modern discovery of the [Page 5] Ritual of the Dead, which has thrown so much
light upon the religion of Egypt, the Hermetic books in so far as they are a real Egyptian survival form the
only bond of union between Christendom and the priests of Chemi.
Towards the close of the third century, we learn that the Egyptians
employed their transmuting skill in the manufacture of gold and silver with such success that the envy of the
Emperor Diocletian was excited and orders were issued for the destruction of all Hermetic and alchemical works,
as it was feared Egypt would become too rich to remain tributary to Rome. On this point there is an interesting
note in the SecretDoctrine, "Had
not Diocletian burned the esoteric works of the Egyptians in 296, together with their books on alchemy; Caesar
700,000 rolls at Alexandria, and Leo Isaurus 300,000 at Constantinople (18th century); and the Mahomedans all
they could lay their sacrilegious hands on, the world might know today more of Atlantis than it does. For alchemy
had its birth-place in Atlantis during the fourth race and had only its renaissance in Egypt".
The workings of Karma are strange and it is significant evidence of
the presence of Kali Yuga to trace the vicissitudes through which philosophic thought passed from the first
down to the seventh century of our era. In the remarkable revival of mysticism which took place at Alexandria
under the name of Neo-platonism a union was effected between the doctrines of Persia and Egypt and those of
Greece. This great school founded by Plotinus and maintained after him by Porphyry, Jamblichus, Hierocles and
Proclus — each of these leaders professing a genuine knowledge
of the Theurgic art and of experimental physics on the Hermetic ground — had no doubt an enormous effect
upon Hermetic Philosophy in conjunction with the numerous Gnostic schools of the period. Indeed during this epoch
of history the arena of thought was vitalised with the highest activities, and possibilities full of hope for
the cause of spiritual humanity seemed to hold forth. But the realization of these was denied and the lethal
influence of the Iron Age subsequently asserted. Dr. Menard says — "The multiplicity of the sects
springing up in our days can give but a slight notion of that astonishing intellectual chemistry which had established
its chief laboratory at Alexandria. Humanity had put up to competition vast moral and philosophical issues, the
origin of evil, the destiny of souls, their fall and their redemption; “the prize offered was the dictatorship
of consciences. The Christian solution prevailed".
The intellectual developments of Alexandria seem to have culminated
in an environment eminently hostile, and a reaction subsequently took place attendant with all the persecutions
incidental to those times: in such wise that the prudent sons of the light divine were forced to remain quiescent
and hide their knowledge before the increasing ascendancy of a materializing Church. [Page
Notwithstanding, however, the taking of Alexandria by the Arabs in
the year 640 A.D., and the death-blow Hermetic and occult science thereby sustained, in face too of the obscurations
of true spiritual wisdom consequent upon sacerdotal domination and its relentless persecutions, it never appears
to have been left without a witness, and hence it is from that time onwards we find individuals springing up
in every age and country in Christendom testifying with one accord to the truth of Hermetic methods and the
value of the ancient Wisdom.
With these few remarks I shall now proceed to roughly shadow forth some of the more salient features of this
Great Philosophy and the nature of the teaching involved.
The principle of correspondence is the key-note of the Hermetic writings;
the celebrated precept of the Smaragdine Tablet, "As above so below", is indeed that of every
system worthy of the name which has sought to establish the great Truth of the Unity of the Universe. Thus
it is that a parallelism is traced between man the microcosmos and the macrocosmos or greater world. The whole
solar system of the macrocosm with its hierarchy of gods and elemental powers is regarded as resumed in the
human system of the microcosm, and it will be at once seen in the light of the foregoing remark that the Hermetic
writings are thus susceptible of several modes of interpretation, and therein indeed are they truly Hermetic.
The ancient writers who were responsible for these works, seem to have possessed the faculty of saying several
different things at the same time and of veiling their real meaning under the guise of an obvious sense, to
a very marked degree, and when it is considered how difficult authorship of this order must be, it will be
conceded that "Pymander", "the
Virgin of the World", and "Asclepios", present some of the most curious specimens of this
manner of work extant.
Some of the Hermetic writings, in fact the principal part, take the
form of discourses between Hermes and Tatios, Asclepios, etc. : while the "Virgin of the World",
is a dialogue between Isis and Horus. In this latter book it is worthy of remark that Osiris, although spoken
of, is not himself represented as speaking; he is the divine ideal subsisting as the potential type for the
realization of which the Universe was manifested. Osiris is called the "crucified one", and we find
Isis saying, "At length I understood ... that
the secrets of Osiris were hidden near the symbols of the cosmic elements". In another aspect Osiris is
the Sun at the winter solstice and thus represents the triumph of Apophis, the principle of darkness, and hence
Horus, who is the renewed aspect of the former principle, is called "the avenger of his father'' : he is
the child of the woman of Revelations who was "to rule the nations with a rod of iron". Horus is represented
as the conqueror of Typhon, as Apollo was of Python, when the [Page 7] Sun in the
Upper Hemisphere, or at the summer solstice, causes the Nile to leave its bed and inundate the country. Then
the physical evils and the sterility of which Typhon is the principle disappear or are healed. Isis symbolises
the Moon and is thus the divinity of Astral Nature, the great Karmic agent, the regulator of destiny, and the
executive of judgment; in the light of this fact too, the connection between the woman and the (astral) serpent
in Genesis becomes apparent, and many other analogies more or less striking occur, Hermetic philosophy containing
the key to Christian symbolism.
Broadly speaking, Hermetic Cosmogony establishes a threefold division,
dealing with what is described as "The
ineffable mysteries of the Earth, the Heavens, and of the sacred fluid which lies between". The Heavens
were the archetype of the Earth, and the intermediate spaces the medium of transmission of the celestial influx. "O
my Son", says Hermes, "matter becomes; formerly it was, for matter is the vehicle of becoming. Becoming
is the mode of activity of the uncreate and foreseeing God. Having been endowed with the germ of becoming, matter
is brought into birth, for the creative force fashions it according to the ideal forms".
In "Pymander", as in the "Sepher Yetzirah" a
more or less detailed analogy is traced between the component parts of the sense constitution of Man and the
various signs of the Zodiac. This is a point of great interest, for according to the system under exposition
the Heavens are in the Earth after an earthly manner, and the faculties of our senses and of our physical nature
are but the more or less faithful reflections of a divine ideal. But reflection involves reversal, and thus
it is said "Nothing good upon Earth; nothing
evil in Heaven. . . . Whatsoever is in Heaven is unalterable, all upon Earth is alterable . . Nothing in Heaven
is servanted; nothing upon Earth free. . . Nothing unknown in Heaven, nothing known upon Earth".
Hence it came about that the vital life principle was considered to
fulfil its successive functions in the human constitution in similar fashion to the apparent motion of the
Sun, the life-giver, through the celestial signs, and in this way an interesting analogy is established: "This
Tabernacle, O Son", says Hermes, "consists
of the Zodiacal circle".
From the most ancient times a connection has been traced between the
four elements of Fire, Air, Earth, and Water, and the Zodiac, and this is of course a feature of the science
of Astrology as handed down to our own day. The real nature of these four elements in terms of the microcosm
is not altogether apparent; this symbology, however, seems to have applied to the spiritual, mental, psychic
and physical planes of human existence, and it is to be noted that the alchemistical symbols of these elements
are all formed of a triangle inverted or upright, which is a reference to the three-fold [Page
8] constitution of each element, viz., fixed, mutable and volatile.
Furthermore Sound and Rhythm are closely allied therewith, each of these elements symbolising certain rates of
vibration. Still further within, however, according to this ancient teaching, and as the noumenon of everything
manifest, lay the subtle and tenuous Aether; this all pervading essence of the Universe alone contained the
principle of permanence, to that were ascribed the divinest virtues, it was the celestial pleroma of the Gods,
the bosom of the Virgin Mother Isis, and the very Soul of the Deity. This Aether was regarded as of a three-fold
constitution, and is together with the four lower elements identical with the Theosophical Septenary.
No one in reading the Hermetic books can fail to be struck by the
deeply religious tone running through them: Ignorance of God is described as the greatest of all evils, and
with becoming reverence and a refined subtility of reasoning the position of Man in his relations with the
Supreme Being, his pre-natal and post-mortem states are treated of.
The whole philosophy is pervaded by an exalted Pantheism which forcibly
resembles the Sacred Books of a still older race, the Aryan. Thus in "Pymander", we find Tatios
saying "I am in Heaven, in the Earth,
in the Water, in the Air; I am in living creatures, in plants '' . . everywhere"; and again "O
father, I now see the Universe and myself in the Mind".
Compare this with the Catechism in which the Master is made to ask the Pupil:
"Lift thy head, O Lanoo: dost thou see one or countless lights
above thee, burning in the dark midnight sky ? "
"I sense one flame, oh, Surudeva, I see countless undetached sparks shining in it".
And it will be seen that the spirit of both is identical.
The Universal Consciousness is everywhere diffused, though the modes
thereof are many. It has two aspects, the unmanifest and the manifest, which latter is the external Universe,
the "second God" of Hermetic
doctrine, and the "word made flesh". Hence it is said in the "Divine Pymander": — "He
needeth not to be manifest; for He subsisteth eternally. But in that He is One, He is not made nor generated,
but is unapparent and unmanifest. But by making all things appear, He appeareth in all and by all; but especially
is He manifested to or in those wherein He willeth".
Far too reverent were the old initiates to attempt to anthropomorphize
their conception of the Deity, or to define and thereby dethrone. All things manifest to the senses, as everything
subjective, were regarded as graduated phrases of the One Life. Many indeed were the Gods, fixed and wandering,
great the number of Immortals as of mortals, myriads the lives composing the one life, but the old Kabbalistic
aphorism, " Aleph with each,
[Page 9] Aleph with all," is alike the spirit of Hermetic Philosophy. For,
it is said, "From One Soul
of the Universe are all those souls which in the World are tossed up and down, as it were, and severally divided".
"Concerning the void", says Hermes, "to which so much
importance is attached, my judgment is that it does not exist, that it never has existed and never will exist.
For all the various parts of the Universe are filled, as the earth also is complete and full of bodies" .
. . And again, "For God is all and
all come forth from Him and depend on His Will: . . Apart from Him nothing has been, nothing is, nothing will
Passing then from this more metaphysical aspect it will be interesting
to examine the Hermetic view of the constitution of Man, and of the nature and destiny of the Soul. Now the
spiritual and permanent part of our nature is viewed as directly opposed to the physical senses, and hence
it is that we find a distinction drawn between Knowledge (i.e., true Spiritual knowledge) and Sense, — "For
Sense is of things that surmount it, but Knowledge is the "end of Sense". Explaining the nature
of THE SUPREME BEING, Trismegistus says, "For the
knowledge of it is a divine Silence and the rest of all the senses; for neither can he that understands that
understand anything, nor he that sees that, see anything else, nor hear any other thing, nor in sum move the
body. . . . For shining steadfastly upon and round the whole mind it enlighteneth all the Soul; and loosing it
from the bodily senses and motions, it draweth it from the body, and changeth it wholly into the essence of God.
. . . For it is possible for the Soul . . to be deified while yet it lodgeth in the body of Man, if it contemplate
the beauty of the Good".
This teaching is of course identical with that of the older Indian systems; while apart from its philosophic
merit it is couched in its translated form in terms of easy comprehension.
Of the nature of the spiritual principles of Man as classified in
this system, it is difficult to speak with any degree of confidence, as the exposition is purposely obscured.
There was of course the broad threefold division of Spirit, Soul and Body, and there is a remarkable passage
in "Pymander" explaining and drawing a
distinction between the two former principles. "The Spirit" says our author, " being diffused
and going through the veins, arteries, and blood, both moveth the living creature, and after a certain manner
beareth it. Wherefore some also have thought the Soul to be the blood, being deceived in Nature, not knowing
that first the spirit must return into the Soul, and then the blood is congealed and the veins and arteries emptied
and then the living thing dieth: and this is the death of the body".
The word "Soul" seems to be used in the Hermetic writings in a sense which is quite analogous to the
Theosophical teaching about Buddhi, [Page 10] the Higher and Lower Manas: three sorts
of Souls are referred to,
viz, the divine, human and irrational. We are further informed that "Every Soul is immortal and always
in movement". This expression "always in movement" is very curious and occurs frequently. Hermes
moreover informs Ammon that "The divine Soul abides in a divine form, it is therein that she has her energy
; therein she moves and acts. When this Soul separates herself from mortal creatures, she forsakes her irrational
parts and enters into the divine form; and as she is always in motion she is borne along in the universal movement".
This divine Soul is thus the Sutra-atma or string upon which the pearls of life are thread; the immortal ego
possessing the memories of the past and the fruition of all experience.
I have already indicated that the four elements of the ancients play
a most important part in the constitution of man according to these teachings. Any consideration, however,
of the number of principles is of course dependent upon how the matter is regarded: for instance, if the fourfold
classification be adopted, that, viz., of Spirit, Soul, Astral body and physical body, this is an eminently
practical attribution: while the more detailed Theosophical (and equally Hermetic) Septenary is preferable
for purposes of study, offering as it does greater facility of comparison and careful analogy with the larger
world or Macrocosm.
But a closer examination of the few Hermetic writings which have been
preserved to us reveals a fourfold and even a tenfold classification and while the latter is not altogether
apparent it is reasonable to assume it to be analogous to the Kabbalistic scheme of the Sephiroth, which it
will be remembered the Jews brought with them out of Egypt, evidence of its Egyptian origin. The powers of
darkness are represented as being driven away by the Ten Powers. "For the number of Ten, O Tat, is the
begetter of Souls, and there Life and Light are united where the number of Unity is born of the Spirit".
As H, P. B. was ever pointing out, the secret knowledge of the Wise
of which Theosophy has been the special exponent to the Western World has never been really absent from the
traditions of men, — which indeed it
dictated. In Hermetic philosophy the main teachings of Theosophy are fully borne out, a fact that an attentive
study of the subject cannot fail to reveal: and it is exceedingly helpful to the student to approach familiar
ground from such an old World standpoint.
Much space in the Hermetic writings is taken up with a description
of the progressive manifestation exteriorly of the Universe and the parallel development or emergence of life
upon the physical plane: the description of this work and the method of its execution by the agency of working
Gods, Titans and builders is eminently the teaching of Theosophy today; while the way in which the planets,
or rather the Regents thereof, contribute [Page 11] each their special quota to
the building up of the human being is very suggestive. Indeed the passage bearing upon this point is well worth
reproduction here; it is as follows: — "And when he (the Lord of the Universe)
spake to them of the creation of man, asking of each what he would bestow upon the race about to be born, the
Sun first replied: — 'I will illuminate Mankind'. Then the Moon promised enlightenment in her turn, adding
that already she had created Fear, Silence, Sleep and Memory. Kronos announced that he had begotten Justice and
Necessity. Zeus said 'In order to spare the future race perpetual wars, I have generated Fortune, Hope and Peace'.
Ares declared himself already father of Conflict, impetuous Zeal and Emulation. Aphrodite did not wait to be
called upon, 'As for me, O Master', she said, 'I will bestow upon Mankind Desire with voluptuous joy and laughter,
that the penalty to which our sister Souls are destined may not weigh on them too hardly'. These words of Aphrodite,
O my son, were welcomed gladly. 'And I', said Hermes, 'will endow human nature with Wisdom, Temperance, Persuasion
and Truth: nor will I cease to ally myself with invention. I will ever protect the mortal life of such men as
are born under my signs, seeing that to me the Creator and Father has attributed in the Zodiac signs of Knowledge
and Intelligence, above all when the movement which draws thereto the Stars is in harmony with the physical forces
This is only one of many analogies, all more or less parallel with the tenets of the Secret
The transmigration of Souls, or, as it is better expressed, "Re-incarnation", is
a prominent feature of Hermetic Doctrine, and in reviewing the vast body of alchemical and occult literature
with which Christendom has been deluged since the 7th or 8th century of our era, it is surprising to notice
how little this most vital truth seems to have been taught. In fact the theory of Re-incarnation, so eminently
the explanation of the many anomalies of human life, has been more or less lost sight of; and this is the more
astonishing when the great reverence with which the canonical scrolls of Hermes have been ever regarded by
occult students, is borne in mind. Doubtless if this teaching had been as fully disseminated in the West as
it has been from time immemorial in the East, the conditions of existence in Christendom had been ameliorated
and the historical records of the last eighteen centuries less full of strife and more nearly approaching those
of the peaceable Buddhist nations. For the remarkable and practical effect on daily life of anything like a
due regard for this truth is one of the most actively spiritualizing factors in the world of thought. For inseparably
connected therewith is the application of the law of cause and effect to the moral world, and we find the doctrine
of Karma as clearly set forth in the Hermetic writings as anywhere in the [Page 12] sacred
books of the East. In the "Virgin of
the World" Osiris, the Supreme Self, is thus represented as addressing the Souls about to be incarcerated
in fleshly bodies: — "It is not according to chance that I have ordained your destiny. If you act
ill, it will be worse. It will be better if your action are worthy of your birth. It is myself and not another
who will be your witness and your judge. ... In different bodies, as I have already told you, your rebirths will
be different. Dissolution shall be a benefit, restoring your former and happy condition. But if your conduct
be unworthy of me, your prudence becoming blinded and guiding you backwards, will cause you to take for good
fortune chat which is really a chastisement and to dread a happier lot as though it were a cruel injury".
This process of Re-incarnation is necessary in order that the ego
may learn the great lessons of experience, and, focusing the divine spirit within the Soul, achieve its immortality;
while it is clearly set forth that "he
that through the error of love, loveth the Body, abideth wandering in darkness, sensible, suffering the things
of death". For from the moment of the Soul's association with matter it is hampered by the sensual attractions
of its mortal part and prone to forgetfulness. Not until the astral nature is thoroughly purged and purified
in the fiery ordeal of suffering can the Soul conceive the great treasure, at once the stone of the wise and
the principle through which regeneration is effected. "Ceaseless whirling on the wheel" of the astral
serpent is only surmounted by the passage of the Soul through the "four states" symbolised by the
four 'elements' and thence into the Seven Worlds, "the Worlds of Rest Eternal". Such perfection
necessarily involves the ebb and flow of many lives: for this spiritual efflorescence is the accretion of Time.
In this connection an interesting correspondence has been indicated by Mr. Maitland, who points out that just
as the body uses up and sheds many times its external covering of integument, plumage, shell or hair, to say
nothing of its artificial clothing, so the Soul wears out and sheds many bodies.
According to Hermetic doctrine, the lapse of human Souls into animal
bodies is impossible, for the Soul "is
not to be compared to any brute beast upon the Earth, but to them that are above in Heaven, that are called Gods".It
is however pointed out that. "If you become guilty of graver crime, if you turn away from the end for
which you have been formed, then indeed you shall dwell neither in Heaven, nor in human bodies, but thenceforth
you shall pass into those of animals without reason". This statement is however qualified by Hermes, who
says to Horus, " And such a Soul, O Son, hath no mind; wherefore neither must such a one be called Man".
This terrible contingency it is which is referred to in Christian writings as the "second death",:
for the law of progress alike renders retrogression possible, and thus the great question of responsibility is
Another of the more prominent of the Hermetic teaching is
the insistance on absolute purity both of body and mind as essential to the process of regeneration. The elevation
of the Spiritual side of our Nature is only possible at the expense or rather the transmutation of the animal
and passional instincts, and hence it is that "a pure diet without animal flesh" is enjoined in "Asclepios" as
a most necessary condition to the fulness of beatific vision. This precept is at once that of divine compassion
and the pure life: it is however dictated by something more than mere sentiment, and has a profound occult
significance owing to the fact that the blood; alike of Man and Animal is highly charged with a certain astral
nature, which from a spiritual point of view disturbs the magnetic harmony of the human organism which ingests
it. In the process of the great work, the human will has to be united with the divine, and if the magnetic
elements of our natures remain insurgent to the central will of the system this is impossible of attainment.
Speaking of the triumph over the passions and the elevation of the true rector to his original rule, Hermes
says, "For thou must
first forsake the body before the end, and get the victory in this contention and strifeful life, and when thou
hast overcome, return".
Another feature of the Hermetic works is the doctrine of Nature or
Elemental Spirits, which is to be found covertly laid down in various places. And in "Asclepios" the
whole rationale of Idol worship is clearly and lucidly stated in a way which cannot fail to enlighten the reader. "Our
ancestors", says Hermes, "wandering
astray in matters of faith concerning the Gods, and unable to lift their minds to the Divine knowledge and religion,
discovered the art of making Gods; and, having discovered it, they invested their products with appropriate virtues
drawn from the nature of the world. And as they could not make Souls, they evoked the Spirits of Genii and Angels,
and endowed with them the holy Images and sacraments, thus enabling their idols to exercise power for good or
These genii or elementals which thus assisted in the manufacture of idols are stated to dwell with man, i.e.,
in the lower air, and are thus the dwellers of the elements of mediaeval romance.
Thus far these observations have been confined to what I may call
the general scheme of this system. For to go into its more detailed and practical aspects within the limits
of a short article of this kind is impossible. There is, however, a more fascinating aspect in connection with
the subject, and this has reference to the alchemical teachings of Trismegistos. No paper on Hermetic Philosophy
can afford to omit reference to the celebrated Smaragdine Tablet of which Eliphas Levi writes: "This
tablet of Emerald is the whole of magic in a single page". A
very celebrated Hermetic relic and a singular confirmation of Theosophical doctrine, it is well worthy of careful
attention at the hand of every occult student. Read aright, it is [Page 14] said
to contain the secret of the lapis philosophorum. "The culmination of the secret work", says
H.P.B., "is spiritual
perfect man at one end of the line: the union of the three elements is the occult solvent in the Soul of the
World, the cosmic Soul or astral light, at the other, and on the material plane it is hydrogen in its relation
to the other gases".
The treatise "Minerva Mundi", attributed to Hermes Tria,
contains, under the most poetical and profound allegories, the dogma of the self-creation of beings, or of
the law of creation that results from the accord of two forces, those which the alchemists called the fixed
and the volatile, and which are in the absolute, liberty and necessity. There are two magnetic currents in
the human constitution, as there are the two forces, centrifugal and centripetal, in the greater world, or
macrocosm, and it is these two currents, passive and active, which have from all time been symbolised by the
cross. "When",says Levi, "the alchemists tell us that
little time or money is required to accomplish the work of occult science, when above all they affirm that a
single vase is necessary, when they speak of the grand and unique athanor that everyone may put in use, which
is at everybody's hand, and that everyone possesses without knowing it, they make allusion to alchemy philosophic
and moral, — in fact a strong and decided will can in a short space of time arrive at absolute independence,
and we all possess the alchemical instrument which serves to separate the subtil from the gross and the fixed
from the volatile. This instrument as complex as the world, and of mathematical precision, is indicated by sages
under the emblem of the Pentagram or five pointed star, which is the sign absolute of human intelligence. I will
imitate the wise in not naming it, it is too easy to divine".
To fix the volatile in the Hermetic language means to materialize the Spirit; to volatilize the fixed is to
To separate the subtil from the gross is to free our soul from all
prejudice and vice. This is effected by the use of the philosophical Salt, i.e., of Wisdom; of Mercury, i.e.,
of personal aptitude and labour; and of Sulphur, which represents the vital energy, and the ardour of the Will.
Thus we succeed in changing into spiritual gold such things as are of least value, and even the foul things
of the earth.
It is needless to point out the value of any system which, seeking
to elevate the eternal and permanent above the temporal and evanescent, establishes a true basis of morality
by illuminating the intellect with the effulgence of the spiritual gnosis. For the Hermetic philosophy is no
crude conception of the Deity, or mere barren contemplation of the Soul and religious things: — the direct
repository of a primeval revelation and a channel through which the Secret Doctrine has been transmitted, it
has ever attracted the attention of the most luminous and percipient minds in [Page 15] the
past. And if a callous world today fails to appreciate and understand the beauty and grandeur of these conceptions,
it is because the race itself is retrograde, or perchance the law of progress works by an alternating movement
which will render the present oblivion about things spiritual but the prelude to a clearer and more universal
illumination. The awe and reverence which the Mysteries inspired of old was neither the result of superstition
nor ignorance, it was but a due appreciation of the spiritual side of our nature. The body was regarded as
but the prison chamber of the Soul, the place of ordeal and house of correction. The Saptaparna, or Man plant,
had its roots in Heaven, for as is said in "Pymander", " The earthly
Man is a mortal God, and the Heavenly God is an Immortal Man". The Soul had lost its wings, clogged by
the viscosity of matter; it would recover them when it extricated itself from matter and recommenced its upward
flight. But the Heaven of the Seven Virtues and the pure light was not attainable by those who allowed the body
to waylay the Soul, or who succumbed in the conflict with their lower nature: while the goal of the "good
fight" was the immortality of the Gods.
The Egyptian Priests related that Hermes dying said: "Hitherto
I have been an exile from
my true country: now I return thither. Do not weep for me: I return to that celestial land where each goes
in his turn. There is God. This life is but a death".
Hermetic philosophy is at once a union of the reason and the religious instinct: it offers a key to unlock the
mysteries of being and is a testimony to the eternal aspiration of the religious sentiment in man to become united
with the Divine.