There is an inspired, possibly divinely inspired set of writings that have brought civilization, culture, activity of thought, and receptiveness to humane feeling whenever and wherever they have surfaced throughout history.
This set of writings has been difficult to find recently except in scholarly treatises with more footnotes than main content. And the footnotes are usually by people who have little idea of what they are dealing with. I speak of the set of writings known as the Hermetica, since the Greeks gave them that name in the 2nd century C.E.
The coincidence of the appearance of these works in any place, and the immediate increase in intellectual and spiritual energy in that place, is a fascinating tid-bit of history, not usually covered in any history courses. So here is a small attempt to show how we see the rise of culture and humanity in total accord with the value given to this set of works.
It began in Ancient Egypt as many things did. The legends say that Thoth or Tehuti was a supernaturally gifted human, possibly divine, who taught the Egyptians just about everything they knew. He invented hieroglyphics, and wrote their 42 books of the sacred sciences: architecture, astronomy, astrology, arithmetic,alchemy, geometry, grammar, religion, music, art, logic, medicine, magic and much else. Since the work of Zecharia Sitchin on the ancient civilization of Sumer, the story seems less and less a legend and more and more like ancient history.
He was apparently promoted to godship, if indeed he hadn’t been a god in disguise, and you can see him in the famous Judgement of Ani papyrus from the Book of the Dead. He is the one with the face of an Ibis, recording the proceedings on a tablet. . On the Tarot card Star, in an orthodox deck you will see the Ibis on the bush that represents the brain and the nervous system.
The Ancient Greeks were totally in awe of the knowledge and wisdom of the Egyptians, particularly in the fields of architecture, chemistry, spirituality and magic, and considered themselves as mere children when compared to them. The great Greek mystic and mathematician Pythagoras, whose theorem is the basis of modern engineering, spent 22 years in Egypt being taught their Mysteries by the priests of Isis and Osiris. These names that we now use for those gods are the words used by the Greeks. Plato himself was initiated by the Egyptian priesthood into the secret knowledge of what we now call karma and reincarnation.
The Macedonian general, Alexander the Great was born of a virgin and sired by the god Jupiter, according to the historians of the day. When he accepted his destiny and conquered most of the known world, he took along naturalists and scientists on his campaigns. His personal tutor was the encyclopaedic scientist and logician, Aristotle. He and his associate generals valued knowledge above all else, and the capital of the Empire, named Alexandria, became in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, the center of the learning of the world.
People of every nation, language and religion were found there. Ptolemy 1st was the general in charge and he founded the greatest museum in the world and the greatest library in the world. It had over 500,000 scrolls. His intention was to have a copy of every piece of writing that any scholar had produced. The library contained the works of Euclid on geometry, and the works of Archimedes on engineering and mathematics. It contained the Healing Medicine works of the Buddhists. Scholars from India and China worked there, without need of a passport.
Students at the university were familiar with the work of Aristarchus who demonstrated that the Earth goes round the Sun, and not vice versa. . They could read Erastothenes, who calculated the circumference of the world with extraordinary accuracy. They knew the Earth was a sphere. They knew about the precession of the equinoxes and about the Moon being the cause of the tides. Scientifically it was the cutting edge of the knowledge of the world, and the tutors there were the ones who were making the discoveries.
In music, art and architecture the principles used by the Ancient Egyptians were studied, and the religious discoveries of the great mystics of all religions were blended with the amazing ideas of Thoth, who was so revered by the Greek scholars that they named him after their own god Hermes, and because he was totally proficient in all the arts and sciences they honored him as Hermes Trismegistus, Thrice Great Hermes. The works inspired by Hermes were called the Hermetica, and were the basis of the philosophy and outlook of the university of Alexandria during this amazing period in history.
This marvellous place flourished until the cult of Christianity clawed its way to political prominence with the deal its leaders made with the Emperor Constantine, and eventually the Holy Roman Empire was established. The Christians did not even notice the culture, the arts, the science, the inspired atmosphere of learning that emanated from Alexandria. All they noticed was that the people there were not Christians. These eminences of civilization and education were insultingly called pagans by the new religion.
In 415 C.E. the eminent Greek woman philosopher Hypatia was pulled from her litter in Alexandria by a mob of Christians looking for prominent pagans. They stripped her naked, held her down, and while she was still alive scraped all the flesh from her bones with scallop shells from the fish market. Then they collected the pieces of her remains and burned them in public. The leader of these thugs was later made into a saint by Holy Church. His name became St. Cyril.
An interesting book could be written about this habit of the Church. When King Olaf of Norway converted to Christianity, he immediately adopted the fanatic intolerance of his new faith, and had all the rune masters in Norway tied to stakes at low tide, so they drowned at high tide, and no blood was spilled. Thus he avoided the blood curse on anyone killing a rune master, and rid the land of people whom the priests regarded as competition. For this great feat he too was made a saint. You may even know some churches dedicated to the memory of St. Olaf.
The greatest library in the world was burned, because it was pagan. Absolutely irreplaceable knowledge and wisdom went up in flames because of the wrong label. The bakehouses of Alexandria were kept going for six months using the manuscripts as fuel for the ovens, while the Christians rejoiced in their victory.
Eventually a Christian Emperor, Theodosius closed down the pagan temples throughout the Empire and began a systematic burning of the pagan books. The Earth became flat again. The Sun went round the Earth. People no longer learned about reincarnation. Ignorance prevailed and the Church actively discouraged reading among the faithful, and continued to do so for many centuries.
Pagan scholars and spiritual leaders of all kinds left the areas where learning and freedom of thought were persecuted and made their way into the Arab countries, taking their knowledge of the works and ideas of Hermes with them.
In a couple of centuries the Muslim world became established as the world leaders in the sciences, the arts, architecture, medicine, astronomy and all the achievements of a civilized people. The university of Baghdad was founded in the 9th century and the Greek classics in philosophy, mathematics, theatre and literature were translated into Arabic. The Hermetica became the inspiration of such mystical groups as the Sufis and the Sabeans. Once again the freedom of thought and investigation began to produce amazing discoveries. The new calculating was named al-gebra, the wonderful chemical knowledge of the Egyptians, allied with the spiritual work, became al-chemy. Indeed the word alchemy means ‘the matter of Eypt’ whose ancient name was Khem.
But the intolerance that is apparently in the DNA of all religions that stem from Abraham, grew into prominence. Fundamentalist Muslim Caliphs began seeking out heretics and executing the leaders among the scholars, and the spiritual elite.
So once again, those that could move did so, and this time the Hermetica found itself in a little tolerant city state in Italy named Florence. Once again the magic worked, and there was an enormous flowering of culture and learning. In 1438 the entire works of Plato were translated into Latin for the Florentians. They were astounded to realize that 2000 years before there had been this amazing intellectual and artistic civilization in Greece. Remember always that we would have known nothing about the extraordinary achievements of the Ancient Greeks if the Muslim world hadn’t put them into Arabic.
Then other pagan classics of science and mathematics were translated, and Cosimo de’ Medici, a patron of learning, founded a new Platonic Academy in Florence and sent agents all over the known world looking for other works.
One of Cosimo’s agents came back with an ancient manuscript of the lost works of Hermes Trismegistus, and everyone was astounded at the possibility that now they had the works of the master sage himself. Cosimo had his scholars stop everything that they were doing and concentrate on translating the Corpus Hermeticum. It was done in time for him to have it read to him shortly before he died.
The great ones of Florence who were inspired by Hermetica and the newly accessed, ancient pagan literature are household words today: Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo , Botticelli, Raphael, and many more. All were familiar with the new discoveries of the old writings. The artists began to make paintings and sculptures of the stories of the pagan gods and goddesses, and the energizing power of the concepts of the Hermetica began to loosen the limitations of the minds of the Florentians.
The period after the burning of the library of Alexandria, and the book burnings of the the Emperor Theodosius was aptly named the Dark Ages, when invincible ignorance and Church dogma replaced freedom of thought. It lasted about a thousand years.
When the Hermetica inspired Arabic translations reached Florence and were done into Latin, the reaction was so remarkable that it has become known as the Renaissance, the Rebirth, the end of the Dark Ages.. The ancient Egyptian and Greek wisdom arrived in Florence just about the time of the first printing presses. The pagan wisdom was printed and enthusiastic scholars began to take their newfound inspirations all over Europe. One named Reuchlin, went to Germany. Two of his students were Martin Luther and Erasmus, who began to think for themselves about religious matters. Luther was the one who started the movement called the Protestant Reformation.
In this he had the backing of a military elite called the Teutonic Knights. This body included many renamed Knights Templar, whose movement had been persecuted with the help of a Pope. They had long memories about the injustice of the tribunal of the Pope finding the Templar leaders innocent of the charges of heresy brought by the King Phillipe who wanted the Templar treasure. The injustice came about because the Pope did not act on the finding, being afraid of political complications. So the Templar leaders, including Jacques de Molay (1314) were roasted alive, though the Church knew of their innocence. The Knights backed Luther as a part of their long term plan of revenge for the treachery of the Church and the French monarchy. Their monarchy plan ended when Louis XVI was guillotined. A man jumped onto the scaffold, flicked the blood of the King over the crowd, and shouted, "Jacques de Molay…thou art avenged." The plan for the destruction of the Church is still active.
Hermetica inspired Thomas Linacre who founded the Royal College of Physicians in London. The great mathematician Nicholas Cusa and the very famous alchemist Paracelsus owed their inspiration to the Hermetica. The epoch making Copernicus studied the Egyptian Greek material in his university, and when he wrote his heretical masterpiece proving again that the Sun is the center of our little universe, not the Earth, it was with a sentence from Hermes Trismegistus that he introduced his concept…."The Sun is the visible God."
He had the good sense not to have the book published until he knew he was dying. The Church knew from the Bible that the Earth was flat and the Sun went round it, so the works of Copernicus were definitely heretical. And we know what happened to Galileo when he chose actually observing Jupiter’s moons through a telescope rather than sticking to the Church dogma about no planet but Earth having a moon.
The Hermetic way of treating knowledge is as one thing. All knowledge is related to all knowledge. The Renaissance scholars treated every area of life as grist for the mill. This is why we call a very versatile and knowledgeable person a Renaissance man. Look at Leonardo’s notebooks for evidence of interest in everything.
Once again, the Church found this wave of freedom of thought intolerable. So in 1492 they made a deal with the King of France and the Republic of Florence was crushed. But this time the genie was out of the bottle. The printing press had made the new teachings available everywhere. The ripples of the new/ancient pagan wisdom began to spread. Italian art, music, and learning began to be famous everywhere.
In Catholic Spain, also in 1492, Queen Isobella gave the Jews, Gypsies, and Muslims the choices: leave Spain, convert, or die. They left, and Spain has been the intellectual backwater of Europe since then. The mountains of gold that the Church squeezed from the Indian workers of South America destroyed the intellectual life of Spain as effectively as throwing out the people with brains And the Spanish Catholics carried on the tChurch tradition of destroying pagan knowledge by burning the books of the Mayans, whose mathematics and city architecture made anything in Spain look primitive. But they were pagans.
The greatest expansion of culture and knowledge that England ever experienced occurred in the reign of Elizabeth I where the Hermetica had a tremendous effect. The explorer and writer Sir Walter Raleigh, who brought tobacco back from the New World knew of the work. So did the great poets John Donne and Christopher Marlowe. The peerless Shakespeare and the scientist Francis Bacon were all inspired by the new learning. And it was not a minor factor that Spain was dedicated to conquering England and making it into a Catholic nation. The crushing of the immense Spanish Armada by the outnumbered British seamen, with help from convenient storms in 1588, put a stop to that plan.
One of the greatest scholars in England at the time was Dr. Dee, an alchemist and mathematician. John Dee was the court magician and astrologer of Queen Elizabeth and is well known in occult circles for his discovery of Enochian magic, using the scryer Kelly. What is less well known is that he was the first person to translate the whole of the works of Euclid into English. He and his library were renowned throughout the non-Catholic world. And he made many journeys to Prague when the first European commentaries on the Hermetica were being written. Like many scholars of the day he was a fluent reader of Arabic in which the first translations of the classics had been made.
Prague was the capital of what was then called Bohemia, a liberal republic in which scholars of every nationality and religion were welcomed. Many of them sought sanctuary and protection there while the religious wars between Protestants and Catholics were in full and savage swing all around them. Even now the word Bohemian is connected with being tolerant of one’s fellow humans.
And it was in Prague that the concept arose of a third religion that could unite the warring factions. The premise of Hermetics that there was one Divine mind running everything, and that the human mind was part of it and could become aware of it, seemed to many in Prague to be the obvious solution to the religious factions.
Some scholars there became convinced that since Moses had been brought up as an Egyptian priest and magician, the Jewish religion, and therefore the Christian religion and Islam, all stemmed from the same roots, which were those related in the writings of Hermes. So a new/old religion was proposed, based on the Thrice Great Hermes of the Greeks.
One of the people who travelled through Europe pointing out the advantages of this perspective was Giordano Bruno who accepted the Copernicus idea of the Sun as the center of our system and taught it as an allegory of the sunrise on a New Age of Peace and Reason and Unity. He saw this so clearly that he believed that the three major Abraham based religions could with ease unify under the umbrella of Hermes.
He was very courageous, as is evidenced by the fact that he went back from the safety of Prague to Italy to promulgate this obvious idea. Of course he was soon arrested by the Roman Catholic Church as a heretic. He was tortured for eight years to get him to say something different. But he wouldn’t. So in another monument to dogma over truth and reason, he was publicly burned alive in Rome in the year 1600.
So the idea of a new religion was crushed by the incumbents, but the principles of it were used by men of outstanding ability such as Sir Isaac Newton, one of the last major alchemists in Europe who used the mind methods of the alchemists to solve the problems of planetary motion.
He translated the Emerald Tablet of Hermes himself, for his own use, and I still use his translation in conjunction with my own for contemplation on the principles of alchemy. The Tablet is the famous summary that includes the words…That which is above is as that which is below, and that which is below is as that which is above, for the performance of the miracles of the One Thing…..this is usually contracted into …As above so below…by non alchemical writers.They miss out the part that shows where the magick originates.
After Elizabeth I the ultra conservatives of the court of James I made a point of distancing themselves from anything to do with the magical atmosphere of the court of Elizabeth. Dee was denigrated and died alone and without a reputation. And the new Protestantism which quickly became as dogmatic and rigid as its enemy Catholicism, worked hard to discredit the Hermetica writings. Under the patronage of the Crown the fine scholar Casaubon published an analysis of the text of the Hermetica which showed correctly that it had been written by many different hands in 2nd century Alexandria, and was not therefore the original work of the great Hermes.
This fact was used by the Protestants to diminish the authority of the Hermetica. Casaubon went further and said that all the works were forgeries because they were signed by Hermes. It is possible that he knew the half truth he was teaching. In the 2nd century people who wrote what they considered to be a work inspired by something or someone greater than themselves signed it, as a mark of respect, with the name of the inspirer, and were content to give up any claim to credit for their work.
But not even Casabon’s criticisms could deny the historical facts of the resurgence of mental freedom and culture wherever these writings had been valued. And since he wrote in 1614 before hieroglyphics had been translated, he was not to know that the 5000 year old Pyramid texts do indeed say, and sometimes in the same words, the same thing as the Hermetica. It is clear now that it was compiled by scholars who knew the Egyptian material from some source and were inspired by it.
He also wrote before the excavation of Sumer. This excavation of this Middle Eastern city has shown pretty clearly that humans were definitely taught certain things that they didn’t know before, by someone or something. The city of Sumer contained more than 30 firsts in archaeological history. Among them were two storey buildings, a city laid out in a grid pattern, a written language, and accounting system for merchants, the wheel, astronomy and astrology tables of planetary positions, arithmetic, a library, a city government with two houses to balance each other, a judicial system, a pharmaceutical science, and on and on. Before Sumer none of these things. After Sumer, all of these things.
Even the sceptic Carl Sagan acknowledges that someone or something gave humans a big boost in their evolutionary progress. Zecharia Sitchin who can read all the old languages has translated hundreds of the Sumerian clay tablets and has written books about who these beings were, and what they did. Even the original identity of Hermes is there, and where he came from. It is all recorded on thousands of clay tablets as history. (Hundreds of these were looted from the Baghdad Museum in during the current Iraq adventure, although it had been agreed that troops should protect it from looters stealing priceless treasures to sell to Japaneses and American collectors. The oil ministry had full protection of course.)
And the Egyptians got their knowledge from Sumer. So, though Casaubon’s sponsored criticisms were cogent at the time, they are much less so now. And then there is the matter of the early followers of Yeheshuah, called Jesus in the Greek.
Their ideas were very influenced by the work of Jesus which seems to have had an Egyptian lineage involved. The Secret Gospel of Mark was used by the followers of Jesus in Alexandria, and it was material taught to an inner group of initiates of the Jesus Mysteries. And when the Nag Hammadi scrolls were discovered in 1945 they included not only the gospels that were used by the early followers of Jesus: The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of the Hebrews. The Gospel of Mary. Pistis Sophia and other works that the Church thought it had destroyed, but many fragments of the Hermetica, which insisted on experience rather than faith.
At the Council of Nicaea in 325 the Church made its deal with the Emperor Constantine and by a majority vote Jesus became the Savior, the Son of God. And Messiah, which was a title given to all the kings of the Jews, meaning ‘anointed’ was given a new significance and used also in the Greek Christos, which means the same thing. . It was the 4th century before these beliefs were Church doctrines please note.
The Emperor gave orders that a standard set of gospels should be prepared. This was done. It is our current four, and included all the theological novelties just agreed on at the Council, as though they had been the Church beliefs from the beginning. The other gospels quickly disappeared through official Church action.
But the Nag Hammadi find turned them up again. It became clear that Jesus was, like every other Jewish man, a married man with children. It became clear that women were considered as spiritual equals to men. Many of the lies promulgated for 2000 years to give the Church the power of life or death, were shown to be just that. Here I must mention that the majority vote at the Council occurred because those who disagreed with the new findings, and there were many spiritual giants who did, were exiled.
But in the early days of the Nazarene movement, before it turned into Christianity, the Gnostics revered the works in the Hermetica, because they resonated with what their Master had taught.
As soon as the Church became politically powerful it persecuted the Gnostics to destruction. No dissent of freedom of expression was allowed. Conformity or death was the formula then, and has been followed for centuries since. Now the true facts are gradually coming to light in spite of the stalling tactics of the Church for over forty years on matters such as the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Pope even apologized for the 2000 year old lie that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. This lie began in 325 when the Council could not tell the Emperor of Rome, who was there, that it was the Romans who crucified Jesus as a political activist.
And even better, which is why I wrote this article, the basic teachings of the Hermetica are once again available to the lay public, in a summary edition without millions of footnotes by people desperate to discredit it. I refer to Hermetica, The Lost Wisdom of the Pharaohs. It is published by Penguin Books and is dedicated to the memory of Giordano Bruno, as is very appropriate. It is written by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy.
The former is an honors graduate in Philosophy, has learned from many initiates all over the world and has written other books on mystical philosophy. The latter is a research worker in the roots of the Western mystery tradition, working on a Masters in Classical Civilizations at my mathematics alma mater, Birkbeck College of London University. He has spent many of his years studying the philosophy of Hermes Trismegistus and how it has impacted the modern world.
Reading it has been like a cool shower to me after a lifetime of confrontation with the enemies of freedom of thought and experience in matters spiritual. It has done for Hermes what Normandie Ellis did for the Book of the Dead and for Isis. Most highly recommended for anyone interested in how Ancient Egypt is impacting their own lives. But you will have to read it more than once to appreciate how it affected some of the greatest minds and hearts of human history. And this time it is easier reading, and you are less likely to be ‘hauled (alive) over the (burning) coals,’ if you get my drift
.Douglas Buchanan This essay is #23 from Volume 2 Tid-Bits