Skip to content

Trismegistos Bibliography Meaning

This article is about religious and occult teachings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus. For related terms, see Hermetic (disambiguation).

Hermeticism, also called Hermetism,[1][2] is a religious, philosophical, and esoteric tradition based primarily upon writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus ("Thrice Great").[3] These writings have greatly influenced the Western esoteric tradition and were considered to be of great importance during both the Renaissance[4] and the Reformation.[5] The tradition claims descent from a prisca theologia, a doctrine that affirms the existence of a single, true theology that is present in all religions and that was given by God to man in antiquity.[6][7]

Many writers, including Lactantius, Cyprian of Carthage,[8]Augustine,[9]Marsilio Ficino, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Giordano Bruno, Campanella, Sir Thomas Browne, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, considered Hermes Trismegistus to be a wise pagan prophet who foresaw the coming of Christianity.[10][11]St. Thomas Aquinas reported that Trismegistus arrived at something akin to the doctrine of the Trinity.[12]

An account of how Hermes Trismegistus received the name "Thrice Great" is derived from the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, wherein it is stated that he knew the three parts of the wisdom of the whole universe.[13] The three parts of the wisdom are alchemy, astrology, and theurgy.

The Poimandres, from which Marsilio Ficino formed his opinion, states that "They called him Trismegistus because he was the greatest philosopher and the greatest priest and the greatest king."[14] The Suda (10th century) states that "He was called Trismegistus on account of his praise of the trinity, saying there is one divine nature in the trinity."[15]

Much of the importance of Hermeticism arises from its connection with the development of science during the time from 1300 to 1600 AD. The prominence that it gave to the idea of influencing or controlling nature led many scientists to look to magic and its allied arts (e.g., alchemy, astrology) which, it was thought, could put Nature to the test by means of experiments. Consequently, it was the practical aspects of Hermetic writings that attracted the attention of scientists.[16]

Isaac Newton placed great faith in the concept of an unadulterated, pure, ancient doctrine, which he studied vigorously to aid his understanding of the physical world.[17] Many of Newton's manuscripts—most of which are still unpublished[17]—detail his thorough study of the Corpus Hermeticum, writings said to have been transmitted from ancient times, in which the secrets and techniques of influencing the stars and the forces of nature were revealed, i.e. As Above, So Below.


The term Hermetic is from the medieval Latin hermeticus, which is derived from the name of the Greek god Hermes. In English, it has been attested since the 17th century, as in "Hermetic writers" (e.g., Robert Fludd).

The word Hermetic was used by John Everard in his English translation of The Pymander of Hermes, published in 1650.[18]

Mary Anne Atwood mentioned the use of the word Hermetic by Dufresnoy in 1386.[19][20]

The synonymous term Hermetical is also attested in the 17th century. Sir Thomas Browne in his Religio Medici of 1643 wrote: "Now besides these particular and divided Spirits, there may be (for ought I know) a universal and common Spirit to the whole world. It was the opinion of Plato, and is yet of the Hermeticall Philosophers." (R. M. Part 1:2)

Hermes Trimegistus supposedly invented the process of making a glass tube airtight (a process in alchemy) using a secret seal. Hence, the term "completely sealed" is implied in "hermetically sealed" and the term "hermetic" is also equivalent to "occult" or hidden.[21]


Main article: Hermetica

Late Antiquity[edit]

Further information: Hellenistic religion and Decline of Hellenistic polytheism

In Late Antiquity, Hermetism[22] emerged in parallel with early Christianity, Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, the Chaldaean Oracles, and late Orphic and Pythagorean literature. These doctrines were "characterized by a resistance to the dominance of either pure rationality or doctrinal faith."[23]

The books now known as the Corpus Hermeticum were part of a renaissance of syncretistic and intellectualized pagan thought that took place from the 3rd to the 7th century AD. 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. Their predominant literary form is the dialogue: Hermes Trismegistus instructs a perplexed disciple upon various teachings of the hidden wisdom.


Plutarch's mention of Hermes Trismegistus dates back to the 1st century AD, and Tertullian, Iamblichus, and Porphyry were all familiar with Hermetic writings.[24]

After centuries of falling out of favor, Hermeticism was reintroduced to the West when, in 1460, a man named Leonardo de Candia Pistoia[25] brought the Corpus Hermeticum to Pistoia. He was one of many agents sent out by Pistoia's ruler, Cosimo de' Medici, to scour European monasteries for lost ancient writings.[26]

In 1614, Isaac Casaubon, a Swissphilologist, analyzed the Greek Hermetic texts for linguistic style. He concluded that the writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus were not the work of an ancient Egyptian priest but in fact dated to the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD.[27][28]

Even in light of Casaubon's linguistic discovery (and typical of many adherents of Hermetic philosophy in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries), Thomas Browne in his Religio Medici (1643) confidently stated: "The severe schools shall never laugh me out of the philosophy of Hermes, that this visible world is but a portrait of the invisible." (R. M. Part 1:12)

In 1678, however, flaws in Casaubon's dating were discerned by Ralph Cudworth, who argued that Casaubon's allegation of forgery could only be applied to three of the seventeen treatises contained within the Corpus Hermeticum. Moreover, Cudworth noted Casaubon's failure to acknowledge the codification of these treatises as a late formulation of a pre-existing oral tradition. According to Cudworth, the texts must be viewed as a terminus ad quem and not a terminus a quo. Lost Greek texts, and many of the surviving vulgate books, contained discussions of alchemy clothed in philosophical metaphor.[29]

In the 19th century, Walter Scott placed the date of the Hermetic texts shortly after 200 AD, but W. Flinders Petrie placed their origin between 200 and 500 BC.[30]

Modern era[edit]

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 (titled 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.[31]

According to Geza Vermes, Hermeticism was a Hellenistic mysticism contemporaneous with the Fourth Gospel, and Hermes Tresmegistos was "the Hellenized reincarnation of the Egyptian deity Thoth, the source of wisdom, who was believed to deify man through knowledge (gnosis)."[32]

Gilles Quispel says "It is now completely certain that there existed before and after the beginning of the Christian era in Alexandria a secret society, akin to a Masonic lodge. The members of this group called themselves 'brethren,' were initiated through a baptism of the Spirit, greeted each other with a sacred kiss, celebrated a sacred meal and read the Hermetic writings as edifying treatises for their spiritual progress."[33]


In Hermeticism, the ultimate reality is referred to variously as God, the All, or the One. God in the Hermetica is unitary and transcendent: he is one and exists apart from the material cosmos. Hermetism is therefore profoundly monotheistic although in a deistic and unitarian understanding of the term. "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."[34]

Its philosophy teaches that there is a transcendentGod, 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.

Prisca theologia[edit]

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.[6][7] 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[35] 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.[36][37]

"As Above, So Below."[edit]

The actual text of that maxim, as translated by Dennis W. Hauck from The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, 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."[38] Thus, whatever happens on any level of reality (physical, emotional, or mental) also happens on every other level.

This principle, however, is more often used in the sense of the microcosm and the macrocosm. The microcosm is oneself, and the macrocosm is the universe. The macrocosm is as the microcosm and vice versa; within each lies the other, and through understanding one (usually the microcosm) a person may understand the other.[39]

The three parts of the wisdom of the whole universe[edit]

Alchemy (the operation of the Sun): Alchemy is not merely the changing of lead into gold.[40] It is an investigation into the spiritual constitution, or life, of matter and material existence through an application of the mysteries of birth, death, and resurrection.[41] The various stages of chemical distillation and fermentation, among other processes, are aspects of these mysteries that, when applied, quicken nature's processes in order to bring a natural body to perfection.[42] This perfection is the accomplishment of the magnum opus (Latin for "Great Work").

Astrology (the operation of the stars): Hermes claims that Zoroaster discovered this part of the wisdom of the whole universe, astrology, and taught it to man.[43] In Hermetic thought, it is likely that the movements of the planets have meaning beyond the laws of physics and actually hold metaphorical value as symbols in the mind of The All, or God. Astrology has influences upon the Earth, but does not dictate our actions, and wisdom is gained when we know what these influences are and how to deal with them.

Theurgy (the operation of the gods): There are two different types of magic, according to Giovanni Pico della Mirandola's Apology, completely opposite of each other. The first is Goëtia (Greek: γοητεια), 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).[44]

Theurgy translates to "The Science or Art of Divine Works" and is the practical aspect of the Hermetic art of alchemy.[45] Furthermore, alchemy is seen as the "key" to theurgy,[46] the ultimate goal of which is to become united with higher counterparts, leading to the attainment of Divine Consciousness.[45]

Posthumous lives[edit]

Reincarnation is mentioned in Hermetic texts. Hermes Trismegistus asked:

O son, how many bodies have we to pass through, how many bands of demons, through how many series of repetitions and cycles of the stars, before we hasten to the One alone?[47]

Good and evil[edit]

Hermes explains in Book 9 of the Corpus Hermeticum that nous (reason and knowledge) brings forth either good or evil, depending upon whether one receives one's perceptions from God or from demons. God brings forth good, but demons bring forth evil. Among the evils brought forth by demons are: "adultery, murder, violence to one's father, sacrilege, ungodliness, strangling, suicide from a cliff and all such other demonic actions."[48]

This provides evidence that Hermeticism includes a sense of morality. However, the word "good" is used very strictly. It is restricted to references to God.[49] It is only God (in the sense of the nous, not in the sense of the All) who is completely free of evil. Men are prevented from being good because man, having a body, is consumed by his physical nature, and is ignorant of the Supreme Good.[50]

A focus upon the material life is said to be the only thing that offends God:

As processions passing in the road cannot achieve anything themselves yet still obstruct others, so these men merely process through the universe, led by the pleasures of the body.[51]

One must create, one must do something positive in one's life, because God is a generative power. Not creating anything leaves a person "sterile" (i.e., unable to accomplish anything).[52]


A creation story is told by God to Hermes in the first book of the Corpus Hermeticum. It begins when God, by an act of will, creates the primary matter that is to constitute the cosmos. From primary matter God separates the four elements (earth, air, fire, and water). Then God orders the elements into the seven heavens (often held to be the spheres of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the Sun, and the Moon, which travel in circles and govern destiny).

"The Word" then leaps forth from the materializing four elements, which were unintelligent. Nous then makes the seven heavens spin, and from them spring forth creatures without speech. Earth is then separated from water, and animals (other than man) are brought forth.

The God then created androgynous man, in God's own image, and handed over his creation.

Man carefully observed the creation of nous and received from God man's authority over all creation. Man then rose up above the spheres' paths in order to better view creation. He then showed the form of the All to Nature. Nature fell in love with the All, and man, seeing his reflection in water, fell in love with Nature and wished to dwell in it. Immediately, man became one with Nature and became a slave to its limitations, such as sex and sleep. In this way, man became speechless (having lost "the Word") and he became "double", being mortal in body yet immortal in spirit, and having authority over all creation yet subject to destiny.[53]

Alternative account[edit]

An alternative account of the fall of man, preserved in the Discourses of Isis to Horus, is as follows:

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.[54]

As a religion[edit]

Tobias Churton, Professor of Western Esotericism at the University of Exeter, states, "The Hermetic tradition was both moderate and flexible, offering a tolerant philosophical religion, a religion of the (omnipresent) mind, a purified perception of God, the cosmos, and the self, and much positive encouragement for the spiritual seeker, all of which the student could take anywhere."[55] Lutheran Bishop James Heiser recently evaluated the writings of Marsilio Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola as an attempted "Hermetic Reformation".[56]

Religious and philosophical texts[edit]

Hermeticists generally attribute 42 books to Hermes Trismegistus,[citation needed] although many more have been attributed to him. Most of them, however, are said to have been lost when the Great Library of Alexandria was destroyed.[citation needed]

There are three major texts that contain Hermetic doctrines:

  • The Corpus Hermeticum is the most widely known Hermetic text. It has 18 chapters, which contain dialogues between Hermes Trismegistus and a series of other men. The first chapter contains a dialogue between Poimandres (who is identified as God) and Hermes. This is the first time that Hermes is in contact with God. Poimandres teaches the secrets of the universe to Hermes. In later chapters, Hermes teaches others, such as his son Tat and Asclepius.
  • The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus is a short work which contains a phrase that is well known in occult circles: "As above, so below." The actual text of that maxim, as translated by Dennis W. Hauck, 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".[38] The Emerald Tablet also refers to the three parts of the wisdom of the whole universe. Hermes states that his knowledge of these three parts is the reason why he received the name Trismegistus ("Thrice Great" or "Ao-Ao-Ao" [which mean "greatest"]). As the story is told, the Emerald Tablet was found by Alexander the Great at Hebron, supposedly in the tomb of Hermes.[57]
  • The Perfect Sermon (also known as The Asclepius, The Perfect Discourse, or The Perfect Teaching) was written in the 2nd or 3rd century AD and is a Hermetic work similar in content to The Corpus Hermeticum.

Other important original Hermetic texts include the Discourses of Isis to Horus,[58] which consists of a long dialogue between Isis and Horus on the fall of man and other matters; the Definitions of Hermes to Asclepius;[59] and many fragments, which are chiefly preserved in the anthology of Stobaeus.

There are additional works that, while not as historically significant as the works listed above, have an important place in neo-Hermeticism:

  • The Kybalion: Hermetic Philosophy is a book anonymously published in 1912 by three people who called themselves the "Three Initiates", and claims to expound upon essential Hermetic principles.
  • A Suggestive Inquiry into Hermetic Philosophy and Alchemy was written by Mary Anne Atwood and originally published anonymously in 1850. This book was withdrawn from circulation by Atwood but was later reprinted, after her death, by her longtime friend Isabelle de Steiger. Isabelle de Steiger was a member of the Golden Dawn.

A Suggestive Inquiry was used for the study of Hermeticism and resulted in several works being published by members of the Golden Dawn:[60]

  • Arthur Edward Waite, a member and later the head of the Golden Dawn, wrote The Hermetic Museum and The Hermetic Museum Restored and Enlarged. He edited The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Paracelsus, which was published as a two-volume set. He considered himself to be a Hermeticist and was instrumental in adding the word "Hermetic" to the official title of the Golden Dawn.[61]
  • William Wynn Westcott, a founding member of the Golden Dawn, edited a series of books on Hermeticism titled Collectanea Hermetica. The series was published by the Theosophical Publishing Society.[62]
  • Initiation Into Hermetics is the title of the English translation of the first volume of Franz Bardon's three-volume work dealing with self-realization within the Hermetic tradition.


When Hermeticism was no longer endorsed by the Christian church, it was driven underground, and several Hermetic societies were formed. The western esoteric tradition is now steeped in Hermeticism. The work of such writers as Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, who attempted to reconcile Jewish kabbalah and Christian mysticism, brought Hermeticism into a context more easily understood by Europeans during the time of the Renaissance.

A few primarily Hermetic occult orders were founded in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance.

Hermetic magic underwent a 19th-century revival in Western Europe,[63] where it was practiced by groups such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Aurum Solis, and Ragon. It was also practiced by individual persons, such as Eliphas Lévi, William Butler Yeats, Arthur Machen, Frederick Hockley, and Kenneth M. Mackenzie.[64]

Many Hermetic, or Hermetically influenced, groups exist today. Most of them are derived from Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, or the Golden Dawn.


Main article: Rosicrucianism

Rosicrucianism is a movement which incorporates the Hermetic philosophy. It dates back to the 17th century. The sources dating the existence of the Rosicrucians to the 17th century are three German pamphlets: the Fama, the Confessio Fraternitatis, and The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz.[65] Some scholars believe these to be hoaxes and say that later Rosicrucian organizations are the first actual appearance of a Rosicrucian society.[66] This argument is hard to sustain given that original copies are in existence, including a Fama Fraternitatis at the University of Illinois and another in the New York Public Library.[citation needed]

The Rosicrucian Order consists of a secret inner body and a public outer body that is under the direction of the inner body. It has a graded system in which members move up in rank and gain access to more knowledge. There is no fee for advancement. Once a member has been deemed able to understand the teaching, he moves on to the next higher grade.

The Fama Fraternitatis states that the Brothers of the Fraternity are to profess no other thing than "to cure the sick, and that gratis".

The Rosicrucian spiritual path incorporates philosophy, kabbalah, and divine magic.

The Order is symbolized by the rose (the soul) and the cross (the body). The unfolding rose represents the human soul acquiring greater consciousness while living in a body on the material plane.

Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn[edit]

Main article: Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn

Unlike the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was open to both sexes and treated them as equals. The Order was a specifically Hermetic society that taught alchemy, kabbalah, and the magic of Hermes, along with the principles of occult science.

The Golden Dawn maintained the tightest of secrecy, which was enforced by severe penalties for those who disclosed its secrets. Overall, the general public was left oblivious of the actions, and even of the existence, of the Order, so few if any secrets were disclosed.[67]

Its secrecy was broken first by Aleister Crowley in 1905 and later by Israel Regardie in 1937. Regardie gave a detailed account of the Order's teachings to the general public.[68]

Regardie had once claimed that there were many occult orders which had learned whatever they knew of magic from what had been leaked from the Golden Dawn by those whom Regardie deemed "renegade members".[citation needed]

The Stella Matutina was a successor society of the Golden Dawn.

Esoteric Christianity[edit]

Hermeticism remains influential within esoteric Christianity, especially in Martinism.[citation needed] Influential 20th century and early 21st century writers in the field include Valentin Tomberg and Sergei O. Prokofieff.[citation needed] The Kybalion somewhat explicitly owed itself to Christianity, and the Meditations on the Tarot was one important book illustrating the theory and practice of Christian Hermeticism.[citation needed]

Mystical Neopaganism[edit]

Hermeticism remains influential within Neopaganism, especially in Hellenism.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^Audi, Robert (1999). The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 378. ISBN 0521637228. 
  2. ^Reese, William L. (1980). Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion. Sussex: Harvester Press. pp. 108 and 221. ISBN 0855271477. 
  3. ^Churton p. 4
  4. ^"Hermeticism" The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions
  5. ^Heiser, James D., Prisci Theologi and the Hermetic Reformation in the Fifteenth Century, Repristination Press, Texas: 2011. ISBN 978-1-4610-9382-4
  6. ^ abYates, F., Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, Routledge, London, 1964, pp 14–18 and pp. 433–434
  7. ^ abHanegraaff, W. J., New Age Religion and Western Culture, SUNY, 1998, p 360.
  8. ^Jafar, Imad (2015). "Enoch in the Islamic Tradition". Sacred Web: A Journal of Tradition and Modernity. 36: 53. 
  9. ^Augustine, City of God, 4.8.23,
  10. ^Yates, F., Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, Routledge, London, 1964, pp 9–15 and pp 61–66 and p. 413
  11. ^Heiser, J., "Prisci Theologi and the Hermetic Reformation in the Fifteenth Century", Repristination Press, Texas, 2011 ISBN 978-1-4610-9382-4
  12. ^Summa TheologicaI q. 32 a. 1 ("Whether the trinity of the divine persons can be known by natural reason?") arg. 1:

    Trismegistus says: "The monad begot a monad, and reflected upon itself its own heat." By which words the generation of the Son and procession of the Holy Ghost seem to be indicated.

  13. ^Scully p. 322.
  14. ^Copenhaver, Hermetica, p. xlviii
  15. ^Copenhaver, Hermetica, p. xli
  16. ^Tambiah (1990), Magic, Science, Religion, and the scope of Rationality, pp. 25–26
  17. ^ abTambiah (1990), 28
  18. ^Collectanea Hermetica Edited by W. Wynn. Westcott Volume 2.
  19. ^See Dufresnoy, Histoire del' Art Hermetique, vol. iii. Cat. Gr. MSS.
  20. ^A Suggestive Inquiry into Hermetic Philosophy and Alchemy by Mary Anne Atwood 1850.
  21. ^"Online Etymology Dictionary". 
  22. ^van den Broek and Hanegraaff (1997) distinguish Hermetism in late antiquity from Hermeticism in the Renaissance revival.
  23. ^van den Broek and Hanegraaff (1997), p. vii.
  24. ^Stephan A. Hoeller, On the Trail of the Winged God—Hermes and Hermeticism Throughout the Age, Gnosis: A Journal of Western Inner Traditions (Vol. 40, Summer 1996).
  25. ^This Leonardo di Pistoia was a monk "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-01-01. Retrieved 2007-01-27. , not to be confused with the artist Leonardo da Pistoia who was not born until c. 1483 CE.
  26. ^Salaman, Van Oyen, Wharton and Mahé,The Way of Hermes, p. 9
  27. ^Tambiah (1990), Magic, Science, Religion, and the Scope of Rationality, pp. 27–28.
  28. ^The Way of Hermes, p. 9.
  29. ^"Corpus Hermeticum". 
  30. ^Abel and Hare p. 7.
  31. ^The Way of Hermes, pp. 9–10.
  32. ^Vermes, Geza (2012). Christian Beginnings. Allen Lane the Penguin Press. p. 128. 
  33. ^Quispel, Gilles (2004). Preface to The Way of Hermes: New Translations of The Corpus Hermeticum and The Definitions of Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius. Translated by Salaman, Clement; van Oyen, Dorine; Wharton, William D.; Mahé, Jean-Pierre. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions. 
  34. ^"The Divine Pymander: The Tenth Book, the Mind to Hermes". 
  35. ^Yates, F., Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, Routledge, London, 1964, p 27 and p 293
  36. ^Yates, F., Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, Routledge, London, 1964, p52
  37. ^Copenhaver, B.P., "Hermetica", Cambridge University Press, 1992, p xlviii.
  38. ^ abScully p. 321.
  39. ^Garstin p. 35.
  40. ^Hall The Hermetic Marriage p. 227.
  41. ^Eliade The Forge and the Crucible p. 149 and p. 155–157
  42. ^Geber Summa Perfectionis
  43. ^Powell pp. 19–20.
  44. ^Garstin p. v
  45. ^ abGarstin p. 6
  46. ^Garstin p. vi
  47. ^The Way of Hermes p. 33.
  48. ^The Way of Hermes p. 42.
  49. ^The Way of Hermes p. 28.
  50. ^The Way of Hermes p. 47.
  51. ^The Way of Hermes pp. 32–3.
  52. ^The Way of Hermes p. 29.
  53. ^The Poimandres
  54. ^Scott, Walter (1 January 1995). "Hermetica[: The Ancient Greek and Latin Writings which Contain Religious Or Philosophic Teachings Ascribed to Hermes Trismegistus. Introduction, texts, and translations. Volume 1". Kessinger Publishing – via Google Books. 
  55. ^Churton p. 5.
  56. ^Heiser, James D., Prisci Theologi and the Hermetic Reformation in the Fifteenth Century, Repristination Press: Texas, 2011. ISBN 978-1-4610-9382-4
  57. ^Abel & Hare p. 12.
  58. ^Walter Scott, Hermetica Volume 1, pg 457
  59. ^Salaman, Van Oyen, Wharton and Mahé, The Way of Hermes
  60. ^"A Suggestive Inquiry into Hermetic Philosophy and Alchemy" with an introduction by Isabelle de Steiger
  61. ^"Hermetic Papers of A. E. Waite: the Unknown Writings of a Modern Mystic" Edited by R. A. Gilbert.
  62. ^"'The Pymander of Hermes' Volume 2, Collectanea Hermetica" published by The Theosophical Publishing Society in 1894.
  63. ^Regardie p. 17.
  64. ^Regardie pp. 15–6.
  65. ^Yates, Frances (1972). The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. ISBN 0-7100-7380-1.
The Magician displaying the Hermetic concept of "As Above, So Below."
Rose Cross of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn

Hermes Trismegistus (Ancient Greek: Ἑρμῆς ὁ Τρισμέγιστος, "thrice-greatest Hermes"; Latin: Mercurius ter Maximus; Hebrew: חרם תלת מחזות‬) is the purported author of the Hermetic Corpus, a series of sacred texts that are the basis of Hermeticism.

Origin and identity[edit]

Hermes Trismegistus may be a representation of the syncretic combination of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth.[1] Greeks in Hellenistic Egypt recognized the equivalence of Hermes and Thoth.[2] Consequently, the two gods were worshiped as one, in what had been the Temple of Thoth in Khemnu, which the Greeks called Hermopolis.[3]

Both Hermes and Thoth were gods of writing and of magic in their respective cultures.[citation needed] Hermes, the Greek god of interpretive communication, was combined with Thoth, the Egyptian god of wisdom, to become the patron of astrology and alchemy. In addition, both gods were psychopomps, guiding souls to the afterlife. The Egyptian priest and polymathImhotep had been deified long after his death and therefore assimilated to Thoth in the classical and Hellenistic period.[4] The renowned scribe Amenhotep and a wise man named Teôs were co-equal deities of wisdom, science, and medicine; and, thus, they were placed alongside Imhotep in shrines dedicated to Thoth-Hermes during the Ptolemaic period.[5]

A Mycenaean Greek reference to a deity or semi-deity called ti-ri-se-ro-e (Linear B: 𐀴𐀪𐀮𐀫𐀁; Tris Hḗrōs, "thrice or triple hero")[6] was found on two Linear B clay tablets at Pylos[7] and could be connected to the later epithet "thrice great", Trismegistos, applied to Hermes/Thoth. On the aforementioned PY Tn 316 tablet—as well as other Linear B tablets found in Pylos, Knossos, and Thebes—there appears the name of the deity "Hermes" as e-ma-ha (Linear B: 𐀁𐀔𐁀), but not in any apparent connection with the "Trisheros". This interpretation of poorly-understood Mycenaean material is disputed, since Hermes Trismegistus is not referenced in any of the copious sources before he emerges in Hellenistic Egypt.

The majority of Greeks, and later Romans, did not accept Hermes Trismegistus in the place of Hermes.[citation needed] The two gods were regarded as distinct. Cicero enumerates several deities referred to as "Hermes": a "fourth Mercury (Hermes) was the son of the Nile, whose name may not be spoken by the Egyptians"; and "the fifth, who is worshiped by the people of Pheneus [in Arcadia], is said to have killed Argus, and for this reason to have fled to Egypt, and to have given the Egyptians their laws and alphabet: he it is whom the Egyptians call Theyt".[8] The most likely interpretation of this passage is as two variants on the same syncretism of Greek Hermes and Egyptian Thoth (or sometimes other gods): the fourth (where Hermes turns out "actually" to have been a "son of the Nile," i.e. a native god) being viewed from the Egyptian perspective, the fifth (who went from Greece to Egypt) being viewed from the Greek-Arcadian perspective. Both of these early references in Cicero (most ancient Trismegistus material is from the early centuries AD) corroborate the view that Thrice-Great Hermes originated in Hellenistic Egypt through syncretism between Greek and Egyptian gods (the Hermetica refer most often to Thoth and Amun).[9]

The Hermetic literature among the Egyptians, which was concerned with conjuring spirits and animating statues, inform the oldest Hellenistic writings on Greco-Babylonian astrology and on the newly developed practice of alchemy.[10] In a parallel tradition, Hermetic philosophy rationalized and systematized religious cult practices and offered the adept a means of personal ascension from the constraints of physical being. This latter tradition has led to the confusion of Hermeticism with Gnosticism, which was developing contemporaneously.[11]

As a divine source of wisdom, Hermes Trismegistus was credited with tens of thousands of highly esteemed writings, which were reputed to be of immense antiquity. Plato's Timaeus and Critias state that in the temple of Neith at Sais there were secret halls containing historical records which had been kept for 9,000 years. Clement of Alexandria was under the impression that the Egyptians had forty-two sacred writings by Hermes, writings that detailed the training of Egyptian priests. Siegfried Morenz has suggested, in Egyptian Religion: "The reference to Thoth's authorship... is based on ancient tradition; the figure forty-two probably stems from the number of Egyptian nomes, and thus conveys the notion of completeness." The Neo-Platonic writers took up Clement's "forty-two essential texts".

The Hermetica is a category of papyri containing spells and initiatory induction procedures. The dialogue called the Asclepius (after the Greek god of healing) describes the art of imprisoning the souls of demons or of angels in statues with the help of herbs, gems, and odors, so that the statue could speak and engage in prophecy. In other papyri, there are recipes for constructing such images and animating them, such as when images are to be fashioned hollow so as to enclose a magic name inscribed on gold leaf.

Thrice Great[edit]

Fowden asserts that the first datable occurrences of the epithet "thrice great" are in the Legatio of Athenagoras of Athens and in a fragment from Philo of Byblos, circa AD 64–141.[12] However, in a later work, Copenhaver reports that this epithet is first found in the minutes of a meeting of the council of the Ibiscult, held in 172 BC near Memphis in Egypt.[13] Hart explains that the epithet is derived from an epithet of Thoth found at the Temple of Esna, "Thoth the great, the great, the great."[2] The date of Hermes Trismegistus's sojourn in Egypt during his last incarnation is not now known, but it has been fixed at the early days of the oldest dynasties of Egypt, long before the days of Moses. Some authorities regard him as a contemporary of Abraham, and claim that Abraham acquired a portion of his mystical knowledge from Hermes himself (Kybalion).

Many Christian writers, including Lactantius, Augustine, Giordano Bruno, Marsilio Ficino, Campanella, and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, considered Hermes Trismegistus to be a wise pagan prophet who foresaw the coming of Christianity.[14][15] They believed in a prisca theologia, the doctrine that a single, true theology exists, which threads through all religions. It was given by God to man in antiquity[16][17] and passed through a series of prophets, which included Zoroaster and Plato. In order to demonstrate the verity of the prisca theologia, Christians appropriated the Hermetic teachings for their own purposes. By this account, Hermes Trismegistus was either a contemporary of Moses,[18] or the third in a line of men named Hermes, i.e. Enoch, Noah, and the Egyptian priest king who is known to us as Hermes Trismegistus[19] on account of being the greatest priest, philosopher, and king.[19][20]

This last account of how Hermes Trismegistus received that epithet is derived from statements in the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, that he knows the three parts of the wisdom of the whole universe,[21] the three parts being alchemy, astrology, and theurgy. It was Marsilio Ficino who stated that "they called him Trismegistus because he was the greatest philosopher and the greatest priest and the greatest king".[22]

Another explanation, in the Suda (10th century), is that "He was called Trismegistus on account of his praise of the trinity, saying there is one divine nature in the trinity."[23]

Hermetic writings[edit]

The Asclepius and the Corpus Hermeticum are the most important of the Hermetica, the surviving writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus. During the Renaissance, it was accepted that Hermes Trismegistus was a contemporary of Moses. However, after Casaubon's dating of the Hermetic writings as being no earlier than the second or third century AD, the whole of Renaissance Hermeticism collapsed.[24] As to their actual authorship:

... they were certainly not written in remotest antiquity by an all wise Egyptian priest, as the Renaissance believed, but by various unknown authors, all probably Greeks, and they contain popular Greek philosophy of the period, a mixture of Platonism and Stoicism, combined with some Jewish and probably some Persian influences.[25]

Hermetic revival[edit]

For the main article, see Hermeticism. For the texts of the Corpus Hermeticum, see Hermetica.

During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance the Hermetica enjoyed great prestige and were popular among alchemists. The "hermetic tradition" consequently refers to alchemy, magic, astrology, and related subjects. The texts are usually divided into two categories: the philosophical and the technical hermetica. The former deals mainly with philosophy, and the latter with practical magic, potions, and alchemy. Magic spells to protect objects, for example, are the origin of the expression "hermetically sealed".[citation needed]

The classical scholar Isaac Casaubon, in De rebus sacris et ecclesiasticis exercitationes XVI (1614), showed, through an analysis of the Greek language used in the texts, that those texts believed to be of ancient origin were in fact much more recent: most of the philosophical Corpus Hermeticum can be dated to around AD 300. However, the 17th century scholar Ralph Cudworth argued that Casaubon's allegation of forgery could only be applied to three of the seventeen treatises contained within the Corpus Hermeticum.[26]

Islamic tradition[edit]

See also: Idris (prophet)

Sayyid Ahmed Amiruddin has pointed out that Hermes Trismegistus is the builder of the Pyramids of Giza[27] and has a major place in Islamic tradition. He writes, "Hermes Trismegistus is mentioned in the Quran in verse 19:56-57:'Mention, in the Book, Idris, that he was truthful, a prophet. We took him up to a high place'". The Jabirian corpus contains the oldest documented source for the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, translated by Jābir ibn Hayyān (Geber) for the HashemiteCaliph of BaghdadHarun al-Rashid the Abbasid. Jābir ibn Hayyān, a Shiite, identified as Jābir al-Sufi, was a student of Ja'far al-Sadiq, Husayn ibn 'Ali's great grandson. Thus, for the Abbasid's and the Alid's, the writings of Hermes Trismegistus were considered sacred, as an inheritance from the Ahl al-Bayt and the Prophets. These writings were recorded by the Ikhwan al-Safa, and subsequently translated from Arabic into Persian, Turkish, Hebrew, Russian, and English. In these writings, Hermes Trismegistus is identified as Idris, the infallible Prophet who traveled to outer space from Egypt, and to heaven, whence he brought back a cache of objects from the Eden of Adam and the Black Stone from where he landed on earth in India.[28]

According to ancient Arab genealogists, the Prophet Muhammad, who is also believed to have traveled to the heavens on the night of Isra and Mi'raj, is a direct descendant of Hermes Trismegistus. Ibn Kathir said, "As for Idris...He is in the genealogical chain of the Prophet Muhammad, except according to one genealogist...Ibn Ishaq says he was the first who wrote with the Pen. There was a span of 380 years between him and the life of Adam. Many of the scholars allege that he was the first to speak about this, and they call him Thrice-Great Hermes [Hermes Trismegistus]".[28]Ahmad al-Buni considered himself a follower of the hermetic teachings; and his contemporary Ibn Arabi mentioned Hermes Trismegistus in his writings. The Futūḥāt al-Makkiyya of Ibn Arabi speaks of Hermes's travels to "vast cities (outside earth), possessing technologies far superior then ours"[29] and meeting with the Twelfth Imam, the Ninth (generation) from the Third (al-Husayn the third Imam) (referring here to the Masters of Wisdom from the Emerald Tablet), who also ascended to the heavens, and is still alive like his ancestor Hermes Trismegistus".[30]

A late Arabic writer wrote of the Sabaeans that their religion had a sect of star worshipers who held their doctrine to come from Hermes Trismegistus through the prophet Adimun.[31]

Antoine Faivre, in The Eternal Hermes (1995), has pointed out that Hermes Trismegistus has a place in the Islamic tradition, although the name Hermes does not appear in the Qur'an. Hagiographers and chroniclers of the first centuries of the Islamic Hegira quickly identified Hermes Trismegistus with Idris,[32] the nabi of surahs 19.57 and 21.85, whom the Arabs also identified with Enoch (cf. Genesis 5.18–24). Idris/Hermes was termed "Thrice-Wise" Hermes Trismegistus because he had a threefold origin. The first Hermes, comparable to Thoth, was a "civilizing hero", an initiator into the mysteries of the divine science and wisdom that animate the world; he carved the principles of this sacred science in hieroglyphs. The second Hermes, in Babylon, was the initiator of Pythagoras. The third Hermes was the first teacher of alchemy. "A faceless prophet," writes the Islamicist Pierre Lory, "Hermes possesses no concrete or salient characteristics, differing in this regard from most of the major figures of the Bible and the Quran."[33] A common interpretation of the representation of "Trismegistus" as "thrice great" recalls the three characterizations of Idris: as a messenger of god, or a prophet; as a source of wisdom, or hikmet (wisdom from hokmah); and as a king of the world order, or a "sultanate". These are referred to as müselles bin ni'me.

Imad Jafar, in his essay "Enoch in the Islamic Tradition", writes:

The lore that developed around Idrīs’ legendary gnosis led to him being further identified with Hermes Trismegistus (Hirmīs) ... whereby Muslims began to acknowledge Idrīs as the founder of alchemy as well....

In the Illuminationistic philosophy of the renowned Persian Islamic sage and saint Suhrawardī (c. 1154-1191), Idrīs was revered fundamentally as the teacher of the ancient sages amongst the Hindus, Persians, Babylonians, Egyptians, and Greeks up to the time of Aristotle.... When these Greco-Alexandrian wisdom sciences and the gnostic lore of the Sabaeans of Harrān – who regarded Hermes as their prophet and his writings as their scriptures – spread amongst the Islamic community, Idrīs was immediately identified ... with the founder of Hermeticism ... Mulla Sadra (1571-1636), one of the greatest Muslim sages of the later period, who said: "Know that Wisdom (hikmah) began originally with Adam and his progeny Seth, Hermes, who is Idrīs, and Noah, because the world is never deprived of a person upon whom the science of Unity and eschatology rests. And it is the greatest Hermes who propagated it (hikmah) throughout the regions of the world and different countries manifested it and made it emanate upon the ‘true worshipers’. He is indeed the ‘Father of philosophers’ and the master of those who are the masters of the sciences".[15]

Bahá'í writings[edit]

Bahá'u'lláh, founder of the Bahá'í Faith, identifies Idris with Hermes in his Tablet on the Uncompounded Reality.[34] He does not, however, specifically name Idris as the prophet of the Sabians.

New Age revival[edit]

Modern occultists suggest that some Hermetic texts may be of Pharaonic origin, and that the legendary "forty-two essential texts" that contain the core Hermetic religious beliefs and philosophy of life, remain hidden in a secret library.[35][citation needed]

Spiritualist writer Tom DeLiso claims that Hermes Trismegistus taught him in out-of-body states[36] and that Hermes Trismegistus is a newer incarnation of Thoth. Both are conscious energy constructs without bodies.[37]

The book Kybalion, by "The Three Initiates", addresses Hermetic principles.[38][citation needed]

Within the occult tradition, Hermes Trismegistus is associated with several wives, and more than one son who took his name, as well as more than one grandson.[39][citation needed] This repetition of given name and surname throughout the generations may at least partially account for the legend of his longevity, especially as it is believed that many of his children pursued careers as priests in mystery religions.[39][citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^Budge, E.A. Wallis (1904). The Gods of the Egyptians Vol. 1. pp. 414–5. 
  2. ^ abHart, G., The Routledge Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses, 2005, Routledge, second edition, Oxon, p 158
  3. ^Bailey, Donald, "Classical Architecture" in Riggs, Christina (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Roman Egypt (Oxford University Press, 2012), p. 192.
  4. ^Artmann, Benno (22 November 2005). "About the Cover: The Mathematical Conquest of the Third Dimension"(PDF). Bulletin (New Series) of the American Mathematical Society. 43 (2): 231. Retrieved 7 August 2016. 
  5. ^Thoth or the Hermes of Egypt: A Study of Some Aspects of Theological Thought in Ancient Egypt, p.166-168, Patrick Boylan, Oxford University Press, 1922.
  6. ^"Heroes and HERO cults I | V(otum) S(olvit) L(ibens) M(erito)". 2008-05-14. Retrieved 2015-06-25. 
  7. ^[1]Archived September 15, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^De natura deorum III, Ch. 56
  9. ^"Cicero: De Natura Deorum III". Retrieved 2015-06-25. 
  10. ^Fowden 1993: pp65–68
  11. ^"Stages of Ascension in Hermetic Rebirth". Retrieved 2015-06-25. 
  12. ^Fowden, G., "The Egyptian Hermes", Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1987, p 216
  13. ^Copenhaver, B. P., "Hermetica", Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1992, p xiv.
  14. ^Heiser, James D. (2011). Prisci Theologi and the Hermetic Reformation in the Fifteenth Century (1st ed.). Malone, Tex.: Repristination Press. ISBN 978-1-4610-9382-4. 
  15. ^ abJafar, Imad (2015). "Enoch in the Islamic Tradition". Sacred Web: A Journal of Tradition and Modernity. XXXVI. 
  16. ^Yates, F., "Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition", Routledge, London, 1964, pp 14–18 and pp 433–434
  17. ^Hanegraaff, W. J., "New Age Religion and Western Culture", SUNY, 1998, p 360
  18. ^Yates, F., "Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition", Routledge, London, 1964, p 27 and p 293
  19. ^ abYates, F., "Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition", Routledge, London, 1964, p52
  20. ^Copenhaver, B.P., "Hermetica", Cambridge University Press, 1992, p xlviii
  21. ^(Scully p. 322)
  22. ^Copenhaver, Hermetica, p. xlviii
  23. ^Copenhaver, Hermetica, p. xli
  24. ^Haanegraaff, W. J., New Age Religion and Western Culture, Brill, Leiden, New York, 1996, p 390
  25. ^(Yates Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition pp. 2–3)
  26. ^Cudworth, Ralph - The True Intellectual System of the Universe. First American Edition by Thomas Birch, 1837. Available at Googlebooks.
  27. ^
  28. ^ abProphets in the Quran: An Introduction to the Quran and Muslim Exegesis, p.46. Wheeler, Brannon. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2002
  29. ^Thomson, Ahmad. Dajjal, page 10
  30. ^"Sayyid A. Amiruddin | An Authorized Khalifah of H.E Mawlana Shaykh Nazim Adil al-Haqqani". Retrieved 2015-06-25. 
  31. ^Stapleton, H.E.; R.F. Azo & M.H. Husein (1927). Chemistry in Iraq and Persia in the Tenth Century AD: Memoirs of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Volume 8. Calcutta: Asiatic Society of Bengal. pp. 398–403. 
  32. ^Kevin Van Bladel, The Arabic Hermes. From pagan sage to prophet of science, Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 168 "Abu Mas'har’s biography of Hermes, written approximately between 840 and 860, would establish it as common knowledge."
  33. ^(Faivre 1995 pp. 19–20)
  34. ^"Hermes Trismegistus and Apollonius of Tyana in the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh". Retrieved 2015-06-25. 
  35. ^Clive,, Prince,. The forbidden universe. ISBN 9781472124784. OCLC 952966194. 
  36. ^"You Create your Reality! -FAQ". Retrieved 2015-06-25. 
  37. ^"You Create your Reality! -FAQ". Retrieved 2015-06-25. 
  38. ^Initiates., Three (c. 2000). The kybalion : a study of the hermetic philosophy of ancient Egypt and Greece. Yogi Publication Society, Masonic Temple. ISBN 9780911662252. OCLC 48179182. 
  • Ebeling, Florian, The secret history of Hermes Trismegistus: Hermeticism from ancient to modern times [Translated from the German by David Lorton] (Cornell University Press: Ithaca, 2007), ISBN 978-0-8014-4546-0.
  • Festugière, A.-J.,La révélation d'Hermès Trismégiste. 2e éd., 3 vol., Paris 1981.
  • Fowden, Garth, 1986. The Egyptian Hermes: A Historical Approach to the Late Pagan Mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (Princeton University Press, 1993): deals with Thoth (Hermes) from his most primitive known conception to his later evolution into Hermes Trismegistus, as well as the many books and scripts attributed to him.
  • Yates, Frances A., Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition. University of Chicago Press, 1964. ISBN 0-226-95007-7.
  • Lupini, Carmelo, s.v. Ermete Trismegisto in "Dizionario delle Scienze e delle Tecniche di Grecia e Roma", Roma 2010, vol. 1.
  • Merkel, Ingrid and Allen G. Debus, 1988. Hermeticism and the Renaissance: intellectual history and the occult in early modern Europe Folger Shakespeare Library ISBN 0-918016-85-1
  • CACIORGNA, Marilena e GUERRINI, Roberto: Il pavimento del duomo di Siena. L'arte della tarsia marmorea dal XIV al XIX secolo fonti e simologia. Siena 2004.
  • CACIORGNA, Marilena: Studi interdisciplinari sul pavimento del duomo di Siena. Atti el convegno internazionale di studi chiesa della SS. Annunziata 27 e 28 settembre 2002. Siena 2005.
  • Aufrère, Sydney H. (2008) (in French). Thot Hermès l'Egyptien: De l'infiniment grand à l'infiniment petit. Paris: L'Harmattan. ISBN 978-2296046399.
  • Copenhaver, Brian P. (1995). Hermetica: the Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius in a new English translation, with notes and introduction, Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995 ISBN 0-521-42543-3.
  • Hornung, Erik (2001). The Secret Lore of Egypt: Its Impact on the West. Translated by David Lorton. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0801438470.

External links[edit]

Pages from a 14th-century Arabic manuscript of the Cyranides, a text attributed to Hermes Trismegistus