Hermes Trismegistos

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Hermes Trismegistos (or Trismegistus) was a mythological author of an extensive body of esoteric lore dating from the early centuries CE, probably originating in the blend of Greek philosophy and Egyptian religion that characterized Alexandria, Egypt. His name means "three times great Hermes." The body of writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistos is one of the most significant sources for various alchemical, philosophical, esoteric and spiritual teachings, including astrology. The "Hermetic" literature named for him passed down through various scholars and occult practitioners during subsequent centuries, with many additions, and greatly influenced the theosophists who contributed to modern esoteric astrology.

A 17th century view of Hermes Trismegistos explaining the sun and moon polarities

Various mythical or legendary claims have been made for the true identity of Hermes Trismegistos, but historical and linguistic evidence points to different anonymous authors writing books in Greek over several centuries, including many books that have been lost. These authors perhaps visualized Hermes Trismegistos as an ancient sage, the Greek god Hermes, or perhaps more esoterically, the capacity of the human mind. Ancient authors frequently attributed greater prestige and antiquity to their supposed sources, such as gods, kings, or revered philosophers, than they themselves possessed. "Sources" appearing in the early Hermetic volumes include Aesclepius (the Greek version of the Egyptian Imhotep, a deified physician;) and the Egyptian gods Ammon and Thoth. The early Hermetic volumes, however, also indicate considerable influence from contemporary philosophical writings based on the work of Pythagoras and Plato.

Some Hermetic principles that appear in modern esoteric astrology are:

  • The doctrine "as above, so below" indicating correspondences between celestial and human events based upon their fundamental unity.
  • The belief that planets control human destiny, yet the spiritually adept may transcend their influences.
  • The 11th house traditionally is the house of the "good spirit", the Agathodaimon, who figures prominently in the Hermetic literature.
  • Decans or divisions of each zodiac sign into 3 parts. The Egyptians used them extensively in their medical astrology.
  • Houses or "places"
  • More foundational is the concept of gnosis, or knowledge gained through spiritual awareness vs. reason and observation.

Hermetic teachings were intended to lead the student to gnosis as an experiential state of the vast unity of humanity and the cosmos, rather than as a literal set of instructions, creeds, or practices.

References

Tamsyn Barton, 1994, Ancient Astrology, Routledge.

Gary Lachman, 2011, The Quest for Hermes Trismegistus: From Ancient Egypt to the Modern World, Floris Books.

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