Quick and Dirty Overview of Hermetic Philosophy

A Quick and Dirty Overview of Hermeticism and Hermetic Philosophy

Editor’s Note:  This material was pulled together quickly for total newbies [editorial comments are in brackets].  It was compiled in large part from the Wikipedia entry for this topic from the spring or summer of 2016.  New students should be aware of its limitations.  Advanced students should feel free to submit comments and feedback that will help to improve it.  In the meantime, it offers a meaningful introduction for beginners:

“Hermeticism / Hermetic Philosophy” — the name is derived from the mythical figure of Hermes Trismegistis.

[Hermes — the Greek god identified with the Egyptian “Thoth” after Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 322 BC.]

Hermes Trismegistus (Ancient Greek: Ἑρμῆς ὁ Τρισμέγιστος, “thrice-greatest Hermes”; Latin: Mercurius ter Maximus) is the purported author of the Hermetic Corpus, a series of sacred texts from the 2nd or 3rd century, AD, that are the basis of Hermeticism.

In Hermeticism, the ultimate reality is referred to variously as God, the All, or the One. This philosophy teaches that there is a transcendent God, or Absolute, in which we and the entire universe participate . . .

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.

“As above, so below.” [The Tarot “Magician” portrays this Hermetic concept. Compare, Matthew 6:10, “Thy kingdom come thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…”]

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.”

Thus, whatever happens on any level of reality (physical, emotional, or mental) also happens on every other level.  [This claim and others in this overview from Wikipedia warrant considerable elaboration and qualification.]

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 man may understand the other.

“The Great Work”
(Latin: ‘Magnum opus’) is an alchemical term for the process of working with the ‘prima materia’ to create ‘the philosopher’s stone’.  It has been used to describe personal and spiritual transmutation in the Hermetic tradition, attached to laboratory processes and chemical color changes, used as a model for ‘the individuation process’ (cf. Carl Jung).”

[End of quoted material – The image below is of a 15th century floor inlay in the 13th century Cathedral of Siena: Hermes Mercurius Trismegistus, thought at the time to be contemporary of Moses]

  1. Quick and Dirty Overview of Hermetic Philosophy
  2. The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus
  3. Plato, Plotinus, and the Great Chain of Being

–> Next Up:  6. Archetypical Psychology and Spirituality