A life-affirming model of knowledge
Author: Guido Nerger
Issue No: TV 96
“In the animals I am, in the plants; in the womb,
before conception, after birth, everywhere”:
Hermeticism can be regarded as a third mode of knowledge alongside religion and science. Its characteristic is the connection of spirit and matter, a spiritual view of the earthly, in which divine wisdom reveals itself just as much as in the purely spiritual. This makes hermeticism the potential of a spiritually integrated ecology in which the earth and living beings are valued in their divine beauty – a positive view of this world that allows our soul to breathe a sigh of relief.
Asclepius: “The Perfect Speech
Sometime around the 3rd century AD, in a time riven by catastrophes, in which the Roman Empire faced massive internal and external tensions, from wars and revolts to pandemics and the great religious iconoclasms that ultimately led to the slow decline of the empire and thus to the fall of antiquity, an unknown sympathiser or even an unnamed follower of Hermes Trismegistos in Egypt composed a Greek text on a way of life and knowledge that also became known as the “Way of Hermes”. This original text has come down to us only through a copy made in the 11th century of a Latin translation of the Greek original, again made around the 4th century. Between this original and the Latin […] copy lie almost 1000 years of an extremely turbulent history of the Eastern Mediterranean. The surviving text material passed through many hands and it is difficult to determine what in it was part of an original Hermetic teaching and what must be regarded as adaptations, especially by Christian authors. But Greek quotations found both in Roman Christian authors and in a Coptic translation found near Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945 prove that the Latin translation entitled Asclepius, which originated somewhere in North Africa, was based on a Greek original written in Egypt entitled logos teleios: “The perfect speech”.
The Latin Asclepius is one of the most comprehensive versions of the surviving Hermetica, the collection of texts from late antiquity that has been summarised under the modern name Corpus Hermeticum. Due to its size and poetic style, the Latin Asclepius stands out among the Hermetica and can therefore be regarded as a key text of Hermeticism, this extremely secretive doctrine, which for over two thousand years was to form, more or less subliminally, one of the most vital sources of Western discourse between philosophy, religion, spirituality, esotericism, occultism, science and art. Thus, hermeticism continues to excite the minds of researchers to this day, while at the same time stimulating the imagination of many readers.
Who is Hermes Trismegistos?
At the centre of Hermetica is the legendary figure of Hermês Trismegistos (“the thrice-great Hermes”), which since late antiquity has been used as a synonym for an archaic (or even antediluvian) knowledge of the mysteries of the universe, especially the occult or, indeed, Hermetic arts such as magic, astrology, alchemy and theurgy. Hermes Trismegistos was born as a syncretic fusion of Thoth – the ancient Egyptian moon god, god of learning and writing, of science and magic, who as scribe of the gods belongs to the court of the dead in the underworld – and the Greek Hermes, that so windy god, who as a cunning trickster endows writing, language and their interpretation (hermēneía) and in general all sciences and hermetic arts, who, as psychopompós, guides the souls (psychaí) of the deceased to the underworld (hádēs), just as he, as messenger (angelos) of the Olympian gods, conveys messages and dreams (óneiroi) to the world of men, and generally, as a philanthropic god, establishes the cosmic connection between the worlds of the gods, men and the dead. As a syncretic and quasi-divine figure combining all these qualities in a dazzling supra-cultural fullness, Hermes Trismegistos was therefore regarded until the Renaissance as a philanthropic cultural hero of Hellenistic Egypt, representing the religious traditions of Egyptian antiquity during the period of Roman occupation through the Hermetica, in which he appears as a philosophical teacher and revelator.
About the author:
Guido Nerger studied Classical Studies, Religious Studies and Philosophy at the Free University of Berlin. He is currently working on his doctoral thesis on Hermeticism and Hermeticism in European Modernism and lives in Berlin.
This article was originally published on the German website: Die Ogdoadische Tradition