Back to topics

Back to the alchemists

Hermes Trismegistus


Hermes

The legendary founder of the western alchemical tradition. He was also believed to have been a priest in the Old Egyptian Kingdom. To the Greeks, he was One of the twelve deities who dwelt on Mount Olympus, the God of commerce, and a messenger of the Gods.

The writings attributed to Hermes have been dated to the first centuries after Christ. The Asclepius and the Corpus Hermeticum which are attributed to Hermes Trismegistus and are the most important of the Hermetica which have come down to the present day, were probably written somewhere between 100 and 300 A.D. They were certainly not written in antiquity by an Egyptian priest, as the Renaissance believed, but by various unknown (probably Greek) authors and they reflect contemporary popular Greek philosophy, a mixture of Platonism and Stoicism, combined with some Jewish and possibly Persian influences."

Bernard of Trevisa states that:

"They said Hermes came to the valley of Hebron, and there found seven stone tables, on which a summary of the seven
liberal Arts had been inscribed before the Flood; for this same Hermes flourished both before and after the Flood, and is identified with Noah.
Then this Art found its way into Persia, Egypt, and Chaldaea. The Hebrews called it the Cabbala, the Persians Magia, and the Egyptians Sophia,
and it was taught in the schools together with Theology; it was known to Moses, Abraham, Solomon, and the Magi who came to Christ from the East."

The magical system known as Hermetism, of which high magic and alchemy are thought to be twin branches, trace back to Hermes. The name Trismegistus means "thrice crowned", and is the title given by the Greeks to the Egyptian god Thoth or Tehuti, lord of learning and wisdom. Thoth governed mystical wisdom, magic, writing and healing; Hermes represented universal wisdom and was the patron of magic. Both gods are associated with sacred writings and Thoth was credited with all the sacred books. Both Thoth and Hermes revealed the healing arts to mankind as well as magic, writing, astrology, science, and philosophy. Thoth wrote the record of the weighing of the souls in the Judgment Hall of Osiris. Hermes led the souls of the dead to Hades.

According to legend Hermes Trismegistus is said to have provided the wisdom of light in the ancient mysteries of Egypt. "He carried an emerald, upon which was recorded all of philosophy, and the caduceus, the symbol of mystical illumination.

Trismegistus left behind the wisdom of the Hermetica, 42 books that have profoundly influenced the development of Western occultism and magic.

The Emerald table of Hermes Trismegistus:

True, without error, certain and most true: that which is above is as that which is below, and that which is below is as that which is above,
to perform the miracles of the One Thing. And as all things were from One, by the mediation of One, so from this One Thing come all things
by adaptation. Its father is the Sun, its mother is the Moon, the wind carried it in its belly, the nurse thereof is the Earth.
It is the father of all perfection and the consummation of the whole world. Its power is integral if it be turned to Earth.
Thou shalt separate the Earth from the Fire, the subtle from the coarse, gently and with much ingenuity. It ascends from Earth to heaven
and descends again to Earth, and receives the power of the superiors and the inferiors.
Thus thou hast the glory of the whole world; therefore let all obscurity flee before thee. This is the strong fortitude of all fortitude,
overcoming every subtle and penetrating every solid thing. Thus the world was created. Hence are all wonderful adaptations,
of which this is the manner. Therefore am I called Hermes the Thrice Great, having the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world.
That is finished which I have to say concerning the operation of the Sun.

Hermes is also associated in Greek mythology with the story of the opening of Pandora's box. In one version of the creation story in Greek mythology, Prometheus and Athena fashioned man out of clay and fire in a likeness to the Gods. In another version, Prometheus and Epimetheus were given the task by the Gods to arrange the features of the new creatures including man. Epimetheus undertook the task but in his enthusiasm for the other creatures, he forgot to give man any advantages at all. Prometheus, seeing the unfortunate state of man stole wisdom from Athena and fire from Hephaestus and gave them to the human race.

Zeus also punished the human race for accepting the gifts of Prometheus: Wisdom and fire, which Prometheus stole from Athena and Hephaestus. He ordered Hephaestus to fashion a beautiful woman from a mixture of earth and water. However, Hermes was charged with putting malicious and lying words into her heart. Zeus named her Pandora. Epimetheus fell in love with her and presented her for mankind to see. When Pandora opened her box all the evils of the world spilled out. However, last to come out was hope.


Acknowledgements and further reading:

Sean MartinAlchemy, the Philosopher's StoneWildwood House
Gilchrist, CherryAlchemy, The Great WorkThorsons
Innes, BrianThe Search For The Philosopher's Stone Orbis
Klossowski de Rola, StanislasAlchemy, The Secret ArtThames and Hudson
Redgrove, StanleyAlchemy Ancient and ModernAres

Back to top

Ken James 2008