The place to begin, I think, is obviously with the question "Who is Hermes Trismegistus?" What are we talking about here? I mean, this sounds so incredibly exotic to people. The Renaissance had the concept of what it called the Presqui Poaloque (sp?) and if my Latin and Greek irritates you, you have to understand you're dealing with a boy from a coal mining town in Colorado, so I do mangle these things. The Presqui Paoloque were Orpheus, Moses, and primarily Hermes Trismegistus. Hermes Trismegistus was the primary source, from the point of view of the Renaissance, of this whole mysterious tradition and, you recall from last night's lecture, this is based on a misunderstanding. The Renaissance believed that Hermes Trismegistus was older than Moses. We know now, thanks to Issac and Marik Casaubon, two philologists of the early 17th century, that definitely the Hermetic corpus was composed between the first and second centuries after Christ. The method of the Casaubons was to examine the philosophical language of the Corpus Hermeticum and show that there were words and phrases there that were post-Platonic and derivative of philosophers whose dates we have fully in hand.
Now, if you go to an occult bookstore you will find that, to this date, this error persists. There are people who still want to claim that this stuff is older than dyanstic Egypt. There are even books, I was in Shambala weeks ago, claiming to teach you how to change lead into gold. Well, from my point of view this just evokes a small smile. The old errors persist. The Puffers are still at it. But what Hermes Trismegistus is is a character who appears in many guises in these hermetic dialogs. The hermetic hymns are usually couched in the form of dialogs between Hermes and his son Thoth and Thoth takes the position of the uninitiated ingenue who is sitting at the feet of the master. Thoth asks questions: what is the true nature of the world, what is the true nature of man, and Hermes answers and the general form of these texts, with exceptions, because there are 20 of them, is an intellectual dialog which builds to an ecstatic revelation and then in the wake of the ecstatic revelation there is a hymn of praise to Hermes Trismegistus. Trismegistus means thrice-blessed and is sometimes called Hermes Triplex to distinguish this Hermes from all the other Hermes of early, middle and late Greek thinking. Hermes is of course the messenger god, the god of scribes. The reason this Ibis-headed being holding a staff is embossed on the cover of each of these books is because this is how Hermes Trismegistus, Thoth Hermes was imagined. He was associated with the scribe god of the Egyptian pantheon.
The two distinguishing factors that stand out, at least for me, that I think you need to incorporate into your thinking about hermeticism, two very important concepts. The first is the divinity of human beings-an extraordinarily radical idea in the context of late Hellenistic thinking. We all operate under the spell of the concept of the fall of man. Man is an inferior being, errors were made in the Garden of Eden and that we are far, far from the nature of divinity. All magic, and all magic in the West is derivative from this tradition, takes the position that man is a divine being, men and women are divine beings. The Corpus Hermeticum actually refers to man as God's brother and this is a double-edged perception. It gives tremendous dignity to the human enterprise but it also raises the possibility of the error of pride and hubris.
In the Renaissance, Marcello Ficino boiled this notion down to the aphorism "man is the measure of all things." And you may notice that this is the position of science, that man is the measure of all things, that it is up to us, we can decide the course of the cosmos. All magic stems from this position. This is why the church was so concerned to stamp out magic-because it assigns man an importance that the church would rather reserve for deity. So that's the first great division between Christian thinking and hermetic thinking. An entirely different conception of what human beings are and when we get into the text, I'll read you some of these passages.
Now, the second distinguishing factor, and notice that position on man empowers tremendous freedom, man is the measure of all things, the second distinguishing factor in hermeticism is the belief that we can control fate, that we can escape from cosmic fate. The late Hellenistic mindset, and what you get in the Gnostics, is the belief that because of astrology, because of the stars, we are subject to control from these exterior forces. In most Gnostic thinking the whole concern is to somehow evade what is called the hemarmeny (sp?), cosmic fate. And in the Gnostic systems, the only way it can be done is by ascending through the shells of cosmic, ordering forces-the archons, the planets, the planetary demons, and so forth and so on, and then beyond the hemarmeny, which is actually thought of as a place in space that you burst through when you transcend fate. What the hermetic thought is is that these fates become personified as the decans, as stellar demons, and then it is held that there is a magic, a magical system, which is possible where you can call these archangels to your side and work with them and not be subject to the inevitable working of the cosmic machinery and this burst like a revelation over the late Hellenistic world because there was such philosophical and emotional and political exhaustion that this comes, this is a counterpoint to the message of the New Testament, which is a similar message, that you can be saved in the body, that you can escape the inevitable dissolution and degradation laid upon us by time. So, these are the two distinguishing factors: the divinity of man and the possibility of using magic to evade the machinery of fate.
So, I want to read some of the Corpus Hermeticum to you to give you the flavor of it, but before I do, I want to say something about the history of these texts. You're all familiar, more or less I'm sure, with Apuleius' The Golden Ass, which is a novel of initiation which is late Roman. Apuleius also put together what is called the Asclepius and the Asclepius is true hermetic literature that was not lost. It was the only one that was available throughout the Dark and Middle ages. All the rest was lying untranslated in Syrian Monasteries until Gemistus Plethon in 1490 brought these manuscripts to Florence, to the court of the Di Medicis and then the translation project began. The only other hermetic material that was accessible throughout the high Gothic period was a book of magic called the Picatrix. And the Picatrix was probably written in the 1200's although this elicits screams of dissent from the burning-eyed faction. But reason dictates that we consider Picatrix 12th century so only the Asclepius and the Picatrix represented this strain of thought before the 1460's. And the importance of hermetic thinking can be seen by the fact that Gimistis Platho brought Plato to the Florentine council as well as Hermes Trismegistus. And when Marcello Ficino sat down to do this translation work Cosumo Di Medici said "Plato can wait, I'm getting old. You do the Hermetic Corpus first. That's much more important. We'll sort out this Plato business in a few years." And so it was done. It was completed in 1493 and in 1494 Cosumo died so he never saw the translations of Plato but felt that the Corpus Hermeticum was more important. I mention this to show you the importance that was attached to this stuff.
Here is one of the key passages on man's nature. This is from Book one of the Corpus Hermeticum: "But mind the father of all, he who is life and light gave birth to man, a being like to himself and he took delight in man as being his own offspring for man was very goodly to look on, bearing the likeness of his father. With good reason then did God take delight in man for it was God's own form that God took delight in and God delivered over to man all things that had been made." This is the basis of the Ficinian statement man is the measure of things. "And man took station in the Maker's sphere and observed the things made by his brother who was set over the region of fire. And having observed the Maker's creation in the region of fire he willed to make things for his own part also. And his father gave permission having in himself all the workings of the administrators." This is a reference to the angel heirarchary "And the administrators took delight in him and each of them gave him a share of his own nature."
So man is the brother of God and a creature at home with the angels. This idea is echoed in the Asclepius which you'll recall was available throughout the Middle Ages. "The range of man is yet wider than that of the demons" meaning the angels - this term is transposable in its hermetic thought "The individuals of the human kind are diverse and of many characters. They, like the demons, come from above and, entering into fellowship with other individuals they make for themselves many and intimate connections with all other kinds" and then the famous passage "man is an honor then, Asclepius, honor and reverence to such a being. Man takes on him the attributes of a god as though he were himself a god. And he is familiar with the demonkind for he comes to know that he is sprung from the same source as they. And strong in the assurance of that in him which is divine, he scorns the merely human part of his own nature. How far more happily blended are the properties of man then those of other beings. He is linked to the gods inasmuch as there is in him a divinity akin to theirs. He scorns that part of his own being which makes him a thing of earth and all else with which he finds himself connected to by heaven's ordering he binds to himself with the tie of his affection."
So this is an incredibly radical conception of what it means to be human. So radical that it is unwelcome even in the present context. Notice the modern feeling of this stuff. This is not biblical rhetoric. This is philosophical discourse as we know it and carry it out ourselves. This is a passage on the adept and initiation. Let me see who's speaking here, Thoth speaks to Pimondres, this is book one, "But tell me this too, said I, God said 'let the man who has mind in him recognize himself' but have not all men mind?" And then Pimondres replies "Oh man, said mind to me speak not so, I even mind come to those men who are holy and good and pure and merciful and my coming is a succor to them and forthwith they recognize all things and win the father's grace by loving worship and give thanks to him praising and hymning him with hearts uplifted to him in filial affection." Again the reference to being God's brother in filial affection. "And before they give up the body to death which is proper to it they loathe the bodily senses knowing what manner of work the senses do." This introduces the theme of asceticism.
Like the Gnostics, there is in much of hermetic literature a kind of horror of the earth, a desire to ascend and to get away from it. Scott makes the distinction between what he calls pessimistic Gnosis and optimistic Gnosis. And within the 20 texts of the Corpus Hermeticum you get vacillation on this point. In some cases the Mandaean, the Cebian(?) tendency is there and the world soul is invoked and the whole of creation is seen as a living being involved in this soteriological process, this process of salvational mechanics through magic. In other texts this Gnostic horror of matter is strongly stressed. It's very clear that the Hellenistic mind was ambivalent on this point. Even as we are ambivalent on this point. It's a real question, are we here to be the caretakers of the earth or are we strangers in the universe and is our task to return to a forgotten and hidden home no trace of which can be found in the Saturnine world of matter. It's very hard to have it both ways. You're going to have to take a position on that and these people were forced into the same dilemma. There's no middle ground between those two positions and so that dichotomy, that conundrum, haunted a lot of hermetic thinking.
Here is the hermetic creation myth. This is book three, paragraphs one through a few, and you'll see the comparison and similarities with the Christian creation myth but with extraordinary differences. "There was darkness in the deep and water without form and there was a subtle breath, intelligent, which permeated the things in chaos with divine power. Then, when all was yet undistinguished and unwrought, there was shed forth holy light and the elements came into being. All things were divided one from another and the lighter things were parted off on high, the fire being suspended aloft so that it rose unto the air and the heavier things sank down and sand was deposited beneath the watery substance and the dry land was separated out from the watery substance and became solid. And the firey substance was articulated with the gods therein and heaven appeared with its seven spheres and the gods, visible in starry forms, with all their constellations and heaven revolved and began to run its circling course riding upon the divine air. And each god by his several powers set forth that which he was bidden to put forth. And there came forth four-footed beasts and creeping things and fishes and winged birds and grass and every flowering herb, all having seed in them according to their diverse natures for they generated within themselves the seed by which their races should be renewed." And then it goes on to describe the birth of man.
This kind of thinking is what alchemy seized upon in it's ambitions. One way of thinking of what alchemy came to attempt is, the thinking went like this - since man is God's brother, the purpose of man is to intercede in time and it was believed that ores, precious metals and things like this grew in the earth. It was a thorough going theory of evolution that reached right down into the organic realm. It was thought that gold deposits in the earth would actually replenish themselves over time. It's passages like this that give permission for that kind of thinking. In line with that, we're now in book four and remember the tone changes slightly from book to book, they were, after all, written over a 300 year period by various people.
"You must understand that God is pre-existent, ever existent, and that he alone made all things and created by his will the things that are. And when the creator had made the ordered universe, he willed to set and order the earth also and so he sent down man, a mortal creature made in the image of an immortal being, to be an embellishment of the divine body for it is man's function" - here it comes, the purpose of man according to book four - "for it is man's function to contemplate the works of god and for this purpose he was made, that he might view the universe with wondering awe and come to know its maker. Man has this advantage over all other living beings, that he possess mind and speech. Now speech, my son, God imparted to all men but mind he did not impart to all. Not that he grudged it to any, for the grudging temper does not start from heaven above, but comes from being here below in the souls of those men who are devoid of mind." This introduces the concept of an elect, or a perfectee, a heirarchy of human accomplishment and understanding and this is also basic to Gnosticism. It's not for everyone, they're saying, it's for the pure of heart and what pure of heart means depends on the school you're looking at. For some, it was mathematical accomplishment. For others, it was contact with the logos, for others it was the ability to resist the temptations of the senses. But there was always the sense of the higher and lower possibilities within the human experience. Questions?
I'm still back in the last lecture we shared on plant intelligence. So I'm listening to all this divinity of man and wondering where the position of the plant realm or the planning(?) was. There was one section where you read that, so...
Yes. This is the opening of book 12 and this is a heavy Mandaean sensitivity, this sensitivity to life. This whole cosmos, and notice how this transcends even the Buddhist point of view because in Buddhism plants have no soul, this is a tremendous failure in the Buddhist perception as far as I'm concerned, o.k., this is book 12 - "Now this whole cosmos, which is a great god and an image of he who is greater and is united with him and maintains its order in accordance with that will, is one mass of life and there is not anything in the cosmos, nor has been through all time, from the first foundation of the universe, neither in the whole, nor among the several things contained within it that is not alive. There is not, and has never been, and never will be in the cosmos, anything that is dead. For it was the father's will that the cosmos, as long as it exists, should be a living being and therefore it must needs be a God also. How then, my son, could there be dead things in that which is a God, in that which is an image of the father, in that which is one mass of life. Deathness is corruption and corruption is destruction. How then can any part of that which is incorruptible be corrupted or any part of that which is a God be destroyed." And there are other passages. Ah, this is a good one. This is book 18, "For as the sun, who nurtures all vegetation also gathers the first fruits of the produce with his rays as it were with mighty hands, plucking the sweetest odors of the plants, even so we too, having received into our own souls, which are plants of heavenly origin, the efflux of God's wisdom must in return use his service for all which springs up in us."
Now, this conception that the human soul is a plant is a unique idea. I don't know of another tradition, Those of us who were in Ojai heard Johanes Wilbur(sp?) talk about how, among the Amazon Indians, the wural(sp?), men actually marry trees. They actually take trees as their wives, a tree, and it is a man's job throughout his life to take care of this tree with the same tenderness and affection which he lavishes on a living wife. This is a more radical conception than that. This is the conception that the most important part of us is a plant. It reminds me of the joke that I occasionally make in these groups, the notion that animals are something invented by plants to carry them from place to place. Well, according to this, that's right on. So, the sensitivity to the vegetative nature is so great that it raises the plant to be the pith essence, the soul of man, the brother of God! So you see the valuation of the vegetative universe is of an extremely radical type.
The upper echelon of humanity that was given the mind, was that predetermined at birth or can someone develop a mind?
No, it is not predetermined. It is something that is acquired through cultivation of a relationship to, in the hermetic language, nous, the higher mind, and in the Gnostic language logos, the informing spirit. Nothing is predetermined in the hermetic system because through magic we can overcome the energies of cosmic fate. This is the great good news of hermeticism, that we are not subject to fate. We should probably talk a little about this logos concept. This is something which seems very alien to modern people unless they are psychedelically sophisticated. The logos was the sine qua non of Hellenistic religion and what it was was an informing voice that spoke in your head or heart, wherever you want to put it, and it told you the right way to live. You get this idea even in the later Old Testament where it's said that the truth of the heart can be known. It's no great dilemma to know good from evil, you simply inquire of your heart, "is it good or evil?" and you will discover a voice which will tell you and all the great thinkers of this Greco-Hellenistic period sought and cultivated the logos. Plato had his demon. Everyone sought the informing voice of the nous, that's what it's called in Neo-Platonism and then in hermeticism and then in Gnosticism, the logos.
For modern people, well no, for me, the only way I've ever had this experience is through the presence of psychedelic substances and then it is just crystal clear, there's just no ambiguity about it. Somehow, it's possible for an informing voice to come into cognition that knows more than you do. It is a connection with the collective unconscious, I suppose, that is convivial, conversational, that just talks to you about the nature of being in the world and the nature of your being in the world. It's puzzling to us because it seems so remote, for us a voice in the head or the heart is pathology and you may know the famous story of, in the first century, some fishermen were off the shore of the island of Argos in the Mediterranean Sea and they heard a great voice from the sky and the voice said, "great Pan is dead." Well, people like Lactantius and Euseibus, these patristic fathers, the people who built Christianity, who took the Gospels and turned them into a world religion, they took this annunciation from the sky of the death of Pan as the annunciation of the change of the Aeon.
By the Aeon, I mean these roughly 2,000 year periods that are associated with the equinocial procession. Do you all understand how this works? That over 26,000 years, the helical rising of the solsticial sun slips slowly from one house to another and around AD100, there's argument because these things are never precise, the age of Picses began and the previous Aeon ceased and the cosmic machinery, the great gears of the largest scale of the cosmic machinery, clicked past a certain point and into the age of Picses and this was then taken as very fortuitous for Christianity because Christ was associated with the sign of the fish and it was seen as a Picsean movement. I believe that it's entirely possible that the logos in that rough moment in time fell silent and it has been silent for 2,000 years so what we have is the exegesis of text and Noetic archeology of the sort we're carrying on here. Now, a phenomenon as trivial and hyped on(?) as channeling can be seen as the reawakening of the logos. The long night of Picsean silence is ending and the spirit of nous is again moving in the world, speaking in the minds of the adepts and the heirophants who have the techniques and the will to connect with this stuff. I don't know how I got off on that. But obviously this kind of literature can be seen as the last message from the fading logos. The last statements before the change of the Aeons rendered this control language very difficult and non-intuitive and somewhat incomprehensible.
Reading...you broke off, and I had a puzzlement about the use of the word mind. What, in this context, does this refer to?
It's Scott's translation of this word nous. It simply means this universal, permeating intelligence.
The statement there is that it is only available to an elite through...
Through asceticism and desire, intent. There are proscriptions, they lived a life of purity, although their definitions of purity varied widely.
Man is brother of God and yet we have to earn it. This seems kind of a denial of that.
That's right. This persists right up to this moment. The quote I always love is from Thomas Hobbes' Levaithan. Hobbes was the great theoritician of modern government and social systems and he was basically a paranoid S.O.B. and he says in the Levaithan "man to man is likened to an errant beast and man to man is likened to a god." It's absolutely true, you know, our noblest aspirations and our most hideously dehumanizing activities take place in the context of our relationship to other people. This is what the alchemists were trying to do - separate the gold from the dross. They were trying to take the errant beast, and when we look at alchemical art we will see dragons, dogs, pigs, we will see the errant beast and we will see the angelic beings that are trying to be separated out of our nature. This is within each and every one of us. Man to man is likened to a god and man to man is likened to an errant beast.
This question has to do with mind. According to my understanding of some of the Platonic tradition and Neo-Platonic thought, this has to do with the divided line in Plato. You can divide that line...into five stages of knowing. You start with the senses as being agency or avenue, knowing something about something like contact...most external form of knowledge...the level above the senses is designated as the instincts, it's an inactive knowing, in that sense a biologically active knowing that we have. The third stage is described as sometimes estimation, this is, an approximation(?), yes, this characterized mainly sort of logical activity and then the next level of cognitive activity is reason and this reason is not the type of reason we normally engage in, it's a very different, a very creative type of activity. Above the reason is what they call intuition or intellect or nous and that's put in as the fifth...
And would that be revelation?
Reason is a creative activity and one can generate and think things through with creative ability. One goes through activity and stages of the activity and things(?) transpire over time and one comes to complete understanding of the thing one is trying to grasp and sometimes that's described as discursive activity although the logical activity is discursive. So you're moving through a process...pieces, the nous or the intellect of the higher mind grasp things in totality. It doesn't engage in...
In reseosination(?). You raise an important point which further complicates the picture, but it's how it was, folks. The reference here is to Neo-Platonism which is a kind of parallel tradition to what we're talking about. Plato had at least a couple of phases in the evolution of his thinking. The young Plato is a rational thinker but the later Plato, apparently after he fell under the influence of Pythagorean schools, becomes a full-blown mystic and then in the late Roman empire, almost a thousand years after Plato, we have to remember, in our minds these people get squeezed together like they could all have dinner together, but Plotinus is as far from Plato as we are from King Connaught so you have to bear in mind the scale of history. But, so 900 - 1,000 years after Plato a Byzantine school of philosophy arouse around Porphery, Plotinus and Procelus as the major exponents and they worked with the late Plato and elaborated a beautiful mystical cosmology. This is what I did a workshop on here a year ago and many of those ideas and terms parallel conceptually the stuff in the Corpus Hermeticum and if you're of a certain intellectual bent you may find yourself more comfortable with the Neo-Platonists than this. This tends to be emotional, evocative, poetic and while there's great poetry in Plotinus there's also very tight thinking that goes along with it.
And there are other traditions, I'm making it simple for you, there was a whole tradition called the Caldean oracles and this was a collection of 100 or more fragments all of which were the great commentaries of Eusebius in 30 volumes. The Amblicus(?) is one of them. That's all lost, we don't have that material and it is in a way the most mysterious of these traditions because it just didn't survive and it may be that that, the Caldean Oracles is the missing link to push this stuff several centuries back into time because the Caldean Oracles may actually be pre-Platonic. There's considerable evidence of that. But these are very arcane matters. You have to give yourself over to a lifetime of learning these languages and the philology of these languages to penetrate this stuff.
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