The Hermetic Philosophy

The so-called “Hermetic Philosophy” is much quoted by the older writers on the subject of Masonry, and one encounters references to it in the works of the greatest of them all, the venerable Albert Pike. Bro. Pike says of the reputed founder of the so-called Hermetic School, fromĀ Morals and Dogma, XXIII degree – Chief of the Tabernacle:

“From the bosom of Egypt sprang a man of consummate wisdom, initiated in the secret knowledge of India, of Persia, and of Ethiopia, named Thoth or Pythia by his compatriots, Taut by the Phoenicians and Hermes Trismegistus (Thrice Great Hermes) by the Greeks. In Egypt he instituted hieroglyphics; he selected a certain number of persons, whom he judged fitted to be the depositaries of his secrets, of only such as were capable of attaining the throne and the first offices in the mysteries, he united them in a body, created them priests of the living God, instructed them in the sciences and arts, especially astronomy, music (which he is said to have invented), arithmetic, and work in metals, etc . Under him, Egypt paid homage to seven principal deities” (the seven planets).

Thoth, Hermes, Egyptian, art, illustration
Note the Scorpion, sign of his station in the “South.” The Ibis hieroglyphic shows his identity with Thoth.

This is condensing into very small compass a great mass of material which has come down to us about a legendary mortal, whose every attribute as recorded is little short of miraculous, and whose supposed writings, Bro. Pike shows us, greatly influenced the early Christian fathers, particularly Saint Augustine, who held them in great reverence.

The name “Hermetic” has become synonymous with “concealment” or “mysterious.” Our naive forefathers certainly gave little trouble to the mystery mongers; but seemed to exercise their powers of credence like a professional strong man his muscles. They saw little to wonder at in the million and one familiar things that are the marvels of science today; but seemingly laid great value upon a capacity for asserting the impossible. It was the “long suit” of the wise man of once-upon-a-time to affirm “two and two make six, and to prove it I will change this stick into a serpent.”

There is no doubt, however, that the “Hermetic Wisdom” merits every eulogy that could possibly be bestowed upon it; for it was the collective science of the ancient world, so called because attributed by the Magian astronomers-or rather Astrologers; for the stars were studied for omens, not physical facts-to the influence of the planet Mercury.

The name “Mercury,” or Mercurius, was the Latin translation of the Greek Hermes. Like almost all astronomical names of both Greece and Rome, it is a corruption of the Syrian Mar Kurios (“Son of the Lord”-Sun), which in turn is a literal translation of ChR-Mes (Horns-Moses, “the Son of Horns”). The custom of referring all inspirational writings to their spiritual source was the cause of the attribution to the celestial Hermes of a stupendous volume of ancient literature. He is called “the Author of 20,000 volumes,” just as to Nebo-precisely the same planet Mercury as known 2,000 years before to the Babylonians-were attributed all the sacred writings of their priests.

The British Museum catalog of Babylonian and Assyrian antiquities states that “Almost every tablet of importance in the Royal Library of Nineveh,” most of which have been recovered by the Museum through Prof. Layard and others, “bears upon it the following words: “The palace of Ashur-Ban-i-Pal, King of Hosts, King of Assyria, who putteth his trust in the gods Ashur and Belit, on whom Nabu and Tashmetu have bestowed ears which hear and eyes which see. I have inscribed upon tablets the noble products of the work of the scribe, which none of the Kings who have gone before me had learned, together with the Wisdom of Nabu (Nebo-Hermes) so far as it existeth.'”

As Ashur-Ban-i-Pal reigned in the seventh century B . C., this is a pretty respectable date for Hermetic writings already. Among the tablets enumerated is found the world famous “Creation Tablet.”

We quote the following from Rev. Joseph Fort Newton’s book, The Builders:

The cube was a sacred emblem of the Lydian Kubele, known to the Romans in after ages as Ceres or Cybele; hence, as some aver the derivation of the word ‘Cube.’ Mercury, Apollo, Neptune, and Hercules were worshiped under the form of a square stone ; while a large black stone was the emblem of Buddha among the Hindus, of Manah Theus-Ceres in Arabia, and of Odin in Scandinavia.

Nebo in ancient Babylonia and Assyria, Thoth (later Serapis) in Egypt, Taaut in Phoenicia, Daud in Palestine, Apollo, Hermes, Mercury, among the Greeks and Romans, Odin in Scandinavia, and Buddha in India are all one and the same planet Mercury, the planet nearest to and inseparable companion to the Sun, part of the year rising heliacally – that is to say, seen for a few moments at dawn until obscured by the sun’s greater light, when it was called “Apollo”-and at another season, at evening, as the Sun’s light grows dim, when it was called “Mercury” (“Messenger of the Gods”).

Now, in the astrological arrangement by the ancient Chaldeans of the planets in the Mansions or Houses of the Zodiac the Moon and the Sun are placed side by-side-in Cancer and Leo, respectively. The “Night” house of Mercury* is in Gemini at the left of Cancer, and his “day” house is in Virgo, to the right of Leo. Therefore the center of the zodiacal east is marked by a Triad of Sun, Moon and Mercury; which those read in Alchemistic and Rosicrucian lore will not fail to recognize as the central postulate of both of those famous philosophies. They were the lesser lights of earlier rituals.

Virgo is Demeter or Ceres, and consequently the Kubele and Cybele of the “square stone”; Gemini, the twins, are the youthful Hercules and Apollo (“Strength and Beauty”); while Hermes, in the house of Demeter (Virgo), is the Divine Wisdom- for it must be remembered that to the initiate all these pagan deities were but the attributes, emanations, or perceptible qualities of the “One” God. No matter what the “profane” imagined them to be.

As the secret wisdom of the alchemists, developed from the ancient Hebrew Kabbalah, tells us, the combination of “Sulphur, salt and mercury” is that which produces the “living Gold,” mercury being denoted the “bond” that unites the other two. The alchemical signs for these three elements-or rather four, for under the first, Sulphur, was hidden “fire,” under the second, “earth,” and under (two signs of) Mercury, air and water”- were respectively the sun, moon and the planet Mercury. Alchemy was really a secret school of philosophy, teaching the same truths as Masonry once taught, only employing the terminology of the chemist and refiner of metals instead of that of the builder.

By this combination is really meant the threefold nature of man-the “soul,” which the ancients held to emanate from the sun; the “body,” which came under the special influence of the moon; and “spirit,” or mental intelligence, which was the gift of Hermes or Mercury-the “mind,” or mans, as it was called in Sanskrit, being that which specifically constituted “man.”

There is every reason to believe that this doctrine underlay the entire fabric of ancient philosophical paganism, and that the reason why it has not descended to us in the classics is just because it was the “Hermetic” or sealed wisdom. Pillars were anciently dedicated to Hermes, and the secret of the “ashlars” is closely connected with the double personality of this same old divinity. Hermes became, in the course of many transformations, the archangel Raphael, and has always been the peculiar tutelary genius of “man.”

The historical Buddha (Gautama Sakyamouni) must not be confounded with the Aryan Bzcddhi (the Divine Wisdom), still the name of the planet Mercury in India. From India, where it was once Bo-den, the Indo-Germanic races carried this divinity, as Wo-den or Odin, to the farthest confines of Scandinavia. The day of Mercury has always been what is the present Buddhist “Sabbath” Wednesday.

Symbols of the Hermetic Philosophy Sulphur-Mercury Salt
Symbols of the Hermetic Philosophy Sulphur-Mercury Salt

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