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Hermes or Thoth, 1624 Frankfurt - vn Stolcenbeerg
Hermes Trismegistus and the creative fire that unite the polarities.

D. Stolcius vn Stolcenbeerg, Viridarium chymicum, Frankfurt, 1624


Although the Hermetic system has undeniably influenced much of the best of Christian thought, the most abiding impact of Hermeticism on Western culture came about by way of the heterodox mystical, or occult, tradition. Renaissance occultism, with its alchemy, astrology, ceremonial magic, and occult medicine, became saturated with the teachings of the Hermetic books. This content has remained a permanent part of the occult transmissions of the West, and, along with Gnosticism and Neoplatonism, represents the foundation of all the major Western occult currents. Hermetic elements are demonstrably present in the school of Jacob Boehme and in the Rosicrucian and Masonic movements, for example.

It was not long before this tradition, wedded to secret orders of initiates and their arcane truths, gave way to a more public transmission of their teachings. This occurred initially by way of the work of H.P. Blavatsky and her Theosophical Society in the late nineteenth century.

G.R.S. Mead, a young, educated English Theosophist who became a close associate of Mme. Blavatsky in the last years of her life, was the main agent of the revival of Gnostic and Hermetic wisdom among the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century occultists. Mead first became known for his translation of the great Gnostic work Pistis Sophia, which appeared in 1890-91. In 1906 he published the three volumes of Thrice Greatest Hermes, in which he collected all the then-available Hermetic documents while adding insightful commentaries of his own.10 This volume was followed by other, smaller works of a similar order. Mead's impact on the renewal of interest in Hermeticism and Gnosticism in our century should not be underestimated.

A half-century later, we find another seminal figure who effectively bridged the gap between the occult and the academic. The British scholar Dame Frances A. Yates may be considered the true inaugurator of the modern Hermetic renaissance. Beginning with a work on Giordano Bruno and continuing with a number of others, Yates not only proved the immense influence of Hermeticism on the medieval Renaissance but showed the connections between Hermetic currents and later developments, including the Rosicrucian Enlightenment - itself the title of one of her books.

While some decades ago it might have appeared that the line of transmission extending from Greco-Egyptian wisdom might come to an end, today the picture appears more hopeful. The discovery and translation of the Nag Hammadi Library generated a great interest in matters Gnostic that does not seem to have abated with the passage of time. Because of the close affinity of the Hermetic writings to the Gnostic ones, the present interest in Gnosticism extends to Hermeticism as well. Most collections of Gnostic scriptures published today include some Hermetic material.

Gnosticism and Hermeticism flourished in the same period; they are equally concerned with personal knowledge of God and the soul, and equally emphatic that the soul can only escape from its bondage to material existence if it attains to true ecstatic understanding (gnosis). It was once fashionable to characterize Hermeticism as "optimistic" in contract to Gnostic "pessimism," but such differences are currently being stressed less than they had been. The Nag Hammadi scriptures have brought to light a side of Gnosticism that joins it more closely to Hermeticism than many would have thought possible.

There are apparent contradictions, not only between Hermetic and Gnostic writings, but within the Hermetic materials themselves. Such contradictions loom large when one contemplates these systems from the outside, but they can be much more easily reconciled by one who steps inside the systems and views them from within. One possible key to such paradoxes is the likelihood that the words in these scriptures were the results of transcendental states of consciousness experienced by their writers. Such words were never meant to define supernatural matters, but only to intimate their impact upon experience.

From a contemporary view, the figure of Hermes, both in its Greek and its Egyptian manifestations, stands as an archetype of transformation through reconciliation of the opposites. (Certainly Jung and other archetypally oriented psychologists viewed Hermes in this light.) If we are inclined to this view, we should rejoice over the renewed interest in Hermes and his timeless gnosis. If we conjure up the famed image of the swift god, replete with winged helmet, sandals, and caduceus, we might still be able to ask him to reconcile the divisions and contradictions of this lower realm in the embrace of enlightened consciousness. And since, like all gods, he is immortal, he might be able to fulfill our request as he did for his devotees of old!



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admin  [Jun 14, 2009 at 02:41 PM]