Biographical Sketch by Universal Theosophy
Entries from Theosophical Glossaries
Hermes Trismegistus (Gr.). The “thrice great Hermes”, the Egyptian. The mythical personage after whom the Hermetic philosophy was named. In Egypt the God Thoth or Thot. A generic name of many ancient Greek writers on philosophy and Alchemy. Hermes Trismegistus is the name of Hermes or Thoth in his human aspect, as a god he is far more than this. As Hermes-Thoth-Aah, he is Thoth, the moon, i.e., his symbol is the bright side of the moon, supposed to contain the essence of creative Wisdom, “the elixir of Hermes”. As such he is associated with the Cynocephalus, the dog-headed monkey, for the same reason as was Anubis, one of the aspects of Thoth. (See “Hermanubis”.) The same idea underlies the form of the Hindu God of Wisdom, the elephant-headed Ganesa, or Ganpat, the son of Parvati and Siva. (See “Ganesa”.) When he has the head of an ibis, he is the sacred scribe of the gods; but even then he wears the crown atef and the lunar disk. He is the most mysterious of gods. As a serpent, Hermes Thoth is the divine creative ‘Wisdom. The Church Fathers speak at length of Thoth-Hermes. (See “Hermetic”.)
Hermetic. Any doctrine or writing connected with the esoteric teachings of Hermes, who, whether as the Egyptian Thoth or the Greek Hermes, was the God of Wisdom with the Ancients, and, according to Plato, “discovered numbers, geometry, astronomy and letters”. Though mostly considered as spurious, nevertheless the Hermetic writings were highly prized by St. Augustine, Lactantius, Cyril and others. In the words of Mr. J. Bonwick, “They are more or less touched up by the Platonic philosophers among the early Christians (such as Origen and Clemens Alexandrinus) who sought to substantiate their Christian arguments by appeals to these heathen and revered writings, though they could not resist the temptation of making them say a little too much”. Though represented by some clever and interested writers as teaching pure monotheism, the Hermetic or Trismegistic books are, nevertheless, purely pantheistic. The Deity referred to in them is defined by Paul as that in which “we live, and move and have our being”—notwithstanding the “in Him” of the translators.
Set or Seth (Eg.). The same as the Son of Noah and Typhon—who is the dark side of Osiris. The same as Thoth and Satan, the adversary, not the devil represented by Christians.
Thoth (Eg.). The most mysterious and the least understood of gods, whose personal character is entirely distinct from all other ancient deities. While the permutations of Osiris, Isis, Horus, and the rest, are so numberless that their individuality is all but lost, Thoth remains changeless from the first to the last Dynasty. He is the god of wisdom and of authority over all other gods. He is the recorder and the judge. His ibis-head, the pen and tablet of the celestial scribe, who records the thoughts, words and deeds of men and weighs them in the balance, liken him to the type of the esoteric Lipikas. His name is one of the first that appears on the oldest monuments. He is the lunar god of the first dynasties, the master of Cynocephalus—the dog-headed ape who stood in Egypt as a living symbol and remembrance of the Third Root-Race. (Secret Doctrine, II. pp. 184 and 185). He is the “Lord of Hermopolis”—Janus, Hermes and Mercury combined. He is crowned with an atef and the lunar disk, and bears the “Eye of Horus”, the third eye, in his hand. He is the Greek Hermes, the god of learning, and Hermes Trismegistus, the “Thrice-great Hermes”, the patron of physical sciences and the patron and very soul of the occult esoteric knowledge. As Mr. J. Bonwick, F.R.G.S., beautifully expresses it: “Thoth . . . has a powerful effect on the imagination . . . in this intricate yet beautiful phantasmagoria of thought and moral sentiment of that shadowy past. It is in vain we ask ourselves however man, in the infancy of this world of humanity, in the rudeness of supposed incipient civilization, could have dreamed of such a heavenly being as Thoth. The lines are so delicately drawn, so intimately and tastefully interwoven, that we seem to regard a picture designed by the genius of a Milton, and executed with the skill of a Raphael.” Verily, there was some truth in that old saying, “The wisdom of the Egyptians”. . . . “When it is shown that the wife of Cephren, builder of the second Pyramid, was a priestess of Thoth, one sees that the ideas comprehended in him were fixed 6,000 years ago”. According to Plato, “Thoth-Hermes was the discoverer and inventor of numbers, geometry, astronomy and letters”. Proclus, the disciple of Plotinus, speaking of this mysterious deity, says: “He presides over every species of condition, leading us to an intelligible essence from this mortal abode, governing the different herds of souls”. In other words Thoth, as the Registrar and Recorder of Osiris in Amenti, the Judgment Hall of the Dead was a psychopompic deity; while Iamblichus hints that “the cross with a handle (the thau or tau) which Tot holds in his hand, was none other than the monogram of his name”. Besides the Tau, as the prototype of Mercury, Thoth carries the serpent-rod, emblem of Wisdom, the rod that became the Caduceus. Says Mr. Bonwick, “Hermes was the serpent itself in a mystical sense. He glides like that creature, noiselessly, without apparent exertion, along the course of ages. He is . . . a representative of the spangled heavens. But he is the foe of the bad serpent, for the ibis devoured the snakes of Egypt.”
Typhon (Eg.). An aspect or shadow of Osiris. Typhon is not, as Plutarch asserts, the distinct “Evil Principle” or the Satan of the Jews; but rather the lower cosmic “principles” of the divine body of Osiris, the god in them—Osiris being the personified universe as an ideation, and Typhon as that same universe in its material realization. The two in one are Vishnu-Siva. The true meaning of the Egyptian myth is that Typhon is the terrestrial and material envelope of Osiris, who is the indwelling spirit thereof. In chapter 42 of the Ritual (“Book of the Dead”), Typhon is described as “Set, formerly called Thoth”. … Typhon is a later name of Set, later but ancient—as early in fact as the fourth Dynasty; for in the Ritual one reads: “O Typhon-Set! I invoke thee, terrible, invisible, all-powerful god of gods, thou who destroyest and renderest desert”. Typhon belongs most decidedly to the same symbolical category as Siva the Destroyer, and Saturn—the “dark god”. In the Book of the Dead, Set, in his battle with Thoth (wisdom)—who is his spiritual counterpart—is emasculated as Saturn-Kronos was and Ouranos before him. …
Book of the Dead. An ancient Egyptian ritualistic and occult work attributed to Thot-Hermes. Found in the coffins of ancient mummies.
Pillars of Hermes. Like the “pillars of Seth” (with which they are identified) they served for commemorating occult events, and various esoteric secrets symbolically engraved on them. It was a universal practice. Enoch is also said to have constructed pillars.
Pymander (Gr.). The “Thought divine”. The Egyptian Prometheus and the personified Nous or divine light, which appears to and instructs Hermes Trismegistus, in a hermetic work called “Pymander”.
Smaragdine Tablet of Hermes. As expressed by Eliphas Lévi, “this Tablet of Emerald is the whole of magic in a single page”; but India has a single word which, when understood, contains “the whole of magic”. This is a tablet, however, alleged to have been found by Sarai, Abraham’s wife (!) on the dead body of Hermes. So say the Masons and Christian Kabbalists. But in Theosophy we call it an allegory. May it not mean that Sarai-swati, the wife of Brahmâ, or the goddess of secret wisdom and learning, finding still much of the ancient wisdom latent in the dead body of Humanity, revivified that wisdom? This led to the rebirth of the Occult Sciences, so long forgotten and neglected, the world over. The tablet itself, however, although containing the “whole of magic”, is too long to be reproduced here.
—Theosophical Glossary, H. P. Blavatsky
Hermes (Greek) Greek god, son of Zeus and Maia, the third person in a triad of Father-Mother-Son, hence the formative Logos or Word. He is equivalent to the Hindu Budha, the Zoroastrian Mithra, the Babylonian Nebo — son of Zarpa-Nitu (moon) and Merodach (sun) — and the Egyptian Thoth with the ibis for his emblem; also to Enoch and the Roman Mercurius, son of Coelus and Lux (heaven and light). Among his emblems are the cross, the cubical shape, the serpent, and especially his wand, the caduceus, which combines the serpent and cross. The name has been used generically for many adepts. To Hermes were attributed many functions, such as that of inspiring eloquence and healing, and he is the patron of intellectual, artistic, and productively agricultural pursuits. The nature and functions of this divinity express themselves to our mind as light, wisdom, intelligence, and quickness — especially in an intellectual sense. He was the messenger of the gods, and also the psychopomp or conductor of souls to the netherworld. In his lower aspects he is often made to serve as the inspirer of gross misuses of intelligence such as clever theft — thus illustrating that even the noblest qualities have their dark side.
Hermes Trismegistus Hermes thrice-great; the name of Hermes or Thoth the divinity in his human aspect as a high initiate. A mythical name for adepts adopted by several writers on so-called Hermetic subjects, with which the early Christian Fathers and the Gnostics show that they were acquainted. See also PYMANDER
Thoth, Thot (Greek) Tehuti (Egyptian) Egyptian goddess of wisdom, equivalent to the Greek Hermes, Thoth was often represented as an ibis-headed deity, and also with a human head, especially in his aspect of Aah-Tehuti (the moon god), and as the god of Mendes he is depicted as bull-headed. Although best known in his character of the scribe or recorder of the gods, holding stylus and tablet, this is but another manner of showing that Thoth is the god of wisdom, inventor of science and learning; thus to him is attributed the establishment of the worship of the gods and the hymns and sacrifices, and the author of every work on every branch of knowledge both human and divine. He is described in the texts as “self-created, he to whom none hath given birth; the One; he who reckons in heaven, the counter of the stars; the enumerator and measurer of the earth [cosmic space] and all that is contained therein: the heart of Ra cometh forth in the form of the god Tehuti” — for he represents the heart and tongue of Ra, reason and the mental powers of the god and the utterer of speech. It has been suggested that Thoth is thus the equivalent of the Platonic Logos. Many are his epithets: his best known being “thrice greatest” — in later times becoming Hermes Trismegistus.
In The Egyptian Book of the Dead, the deceased must learn to master everything he encounters in the underworld, and does this through the instruction of Thoth, who also teaches the pilgrim the way of procedure. Finally when the deceased reaches the stage of judgment, it is Thoth who records the decree pointed out to him by the dog-headed ape on the balance, the scales of which weigh the heart against the feather. The gods receive the verdict from Thoth, who in turn announce it to Osiris, enabling the candidate to enter the realm of Osiris, as being one osirified. Thus Thoth is the inner spiritual recorder of the human constitution, who registers and records the karmic experiences and foretells the future destiny of the deceased, showing that each person is judged by himself — for Thoth here is the person’s own higher ego; as regards cosmic space, Thoth is not only the cosmic Logos, but its aspect as the intelligent creative urge inherent in that Intelligence.
Thoth was also arbiter of the gods as in the battle between the god of light and the god of darkness, restoring the equilibrium which had been destroyed during the conflict. Similarly in the fights between Horus and Set, when the evil has a temporary ascendancy, Thoth restores harmony. Interestingly,
“Thoth remains changeless from the first to the last Dynasty. . . . the celestial scribe, who records the thoughts, words and deeds of men and weighs them in the balance, liken him to the type of the esoteric Lipikas. His name is one of the first that appears on the oldest monuments. He is the lunar god of the first dynasties, the master of Cynocephalus — the dog-headed ape who stood in Egypt as a living symbol and remembrance of the Third Root-Race” (TG 331).
Trismegistus (Greek) Thrice greatest; a title given to the mysterious personage after whom the Hermetic philosophy is named. In Egypt, he is equivalent to the god Thoth, but the title was also a generic name assumed by many ancient Greek writers on philosophy and alchemy. This title was likewise given to the supreme initiator in the ancient Mystery-system and therefore corresponding directly, both as regards function and position, to what in theosophical philosophy is called the mahachohan. The title, therefore, applies both to the divinity and its human representatives. See also HERMES; PYMANDER
Caduceus (Latin) A herald’s staff; specially, the wand of Mercury or Hermes, god of wisdom, corresponding to Thoth. It consists of a rod or tree with two serpents wound in opposite directions round it, their tails meeting below, and their heads approaching each other above.
At the top of the rod in the Greek version is a knob, in the earlier Egyptian form a serpent’s head, from which spring a pair of wings. From the central head between the wings grew the heads of the entwined serpents (spirit and matter), which descended along the tree of life, crossing the neutral laya-centers between the different planes of being, to manifest where the two tails joined on earth (SD 1:549-50). The analogy is found in every known cosmogony, all of which begin with a circle, head, or egg surrounded by darkness. From this circle of infinity — the unknown All — comes forth the manifestations of spirit and matter. The emblem of the evolution of gods and atoms is shown by the two forces, positive and negative, ascending and descending and meeting. Its symbology is directly connected with the globes of the planetary chain and the circulations of the beings or life-waves on these globes, as well as with the human constitution and the afterdeath states. Significantly, in ancient Greek mythology, Hermes is the psychopomp, psychagog, or conductor of souls after death to the various inner spheres of the universe, such as the Elysian Plains or the Meads of Asphodel. The Caduceus also signifies the dual aspect of wisdom by its twin serpents, Agathodaimon and Kakodaimon, good and evil in a relative sense.
Cynocephalus [from Latin canus dog + cephalus head] The dog-headed ape (Simia hamadryas) which in Egyptian mythology was called Amemet (eater of the dead) whose master was Thoth or Tehuti. In the Judgment scene in The Egyptian Book of the Dead, Amemet is represented as seated by Thoth, ready to inform his master when the pointer marks the middle of the beam on the balance, when the heart is being weighed in the scales. After Thoth makes his announcement to the gods concerning the result of the weighing of the heart, the company of the gods decree that Amemet shall not be permitted to prevail over the successful candidate.
“There was a notable difference between the ape-headed gods and the ‘Cynocephalus’ . . ., a dog-headed baboon from upper Egypt. The latter, whose sacred city was Hermopolis, was sacred to the lunar deities and Thoth-Hermes, hence an emblem of secret wisdom — as was Hanuman, the monkey god of India, and later, the elephant-headed Ganesha. The mission of the Cynocephalus was to show the way for the Dead to the Seat of Judgment and Osiris, whereas the ape-gods were all phallic” (TG 92).
“The dog-headed ape was a glyph to symbolise the sun and moon, in turn, though the Cynocephalus is more a Hermetic than a religious symbol. For it is the hieroglyph of Mercury, the planet, as of the Mercury of the Alchemical philosophers, ‘as,’ say the Alchemists, ‘Mercury has to be ever near Isis, as her minister, as without Mercury neither Isis nor Osiris can accomplish anything in the great work.’ Cynocephalus, whenever represented with the Caduceus, the Crescent, or the Lotus, is a glyph of the ‘philosophical’ Mercury; but when seen with a reed, or a roll of parchment, he stands for Hermes, the secretary and adviser of Isis, as Hanuman filled the same office with Rama” (SD 1:388).
Ibis Universally venerated throughout Egypt, especially at the city of Khemennu (Hermopolis), where the bird was associated with the moon. According to Herodotus (2:75), the ibis was particularly venerated because of destroying the winged serpents which came flying from Arabia in spring. The black ibis is especially venerated; there is also a commoner sort which is white and black, which “was sacred to the moon, because the latter planet is white and brilliant on her external side, dark and black on that side which she never turns to the earth. . . . Hermes, as shown by Abenephius (Se cultu Egypt.), watched under the form of that bird over the Egyptians, and taught them the occult arts and sciences” (SD 1:362), Thoth (Tehuti) being represented as ibis-headed. This bird is equivalent to the albatross and the kalahamsa or mythical white swan of eternity or time.
Maat (Egyptian) The goddess personifying physical and moral law, order, and truth, regarded as the feminine counterpart of Thoth (Tehuti). She is represented as standing with Thoth in the boat of Ra when the sun god first rose above the waters of the primeval spatial abyss of Nu. She is called the daughter of Ra, the eye of Ra, lady of heaven, queen of the earth, and mistress of the Underworld, who guides the course of the sun. The type and symbol of the goddess is the ostrich feather; the word maat is represented by the hieroglyph of the feather and means primarily that which is orderly and direct, hence in a moral sense, right, truth, justice, including a reference to the fact that these supreme attributes weigh light as a feather in the scales of judgment, and yet are as weighty in importance as the universe itself. Maat was regarded by the Egyptians, in connection with her moral power, as the greatest of goddesses, for she was the chief lady of the Judgment Hall, into which the deceased must enter (called the Hall of Maati, “double truth”).
Nebo, Nabu, Nabi’ (Hebrew) Nĕbō The proclaimer by prophecy; one of the chief deities of the Chaldean or Babylonian pantheon, the god of wisdom, recognized as fully by the ancient Hebrews as by the Chaldeans. The name and function of the divinity correspond to the Greek Hermes, the Egyptian Thoth, and the Hindu Budha, all of which are related to the regent of the planet Mercury.
Pillars of Hermes, Enoch Refers to an allegory told of Hermes or Thoth, the Father of Wisdom in ancient Egypt, who it is said concealed his books of wisdom under a pillar, and then found that the wisdom had become transferred onto two pillars of stone.
Josephus tells a similar story about Enoch, saying that the pillars of Enoch were still in existence in his day, and that they were built by Seth. Blavatsky comments: “and so they may have been, only neither by the Patriarch of that name, the fabled son of Adam, nor by the Egyptian god of Wisdom — Teth, Set, Thoth, Tat, Sat (the later Sat-an), or Hermes, who are all one, — but by the ‘sons of the Serpent-god,’ or ‘Sons of the Dragon,’ the name under which the Hierophants of Egypt and Babylon were known before the Deluge, as were their forefathers, the Atlanteans.
“What Josephus tells us, therefore, must be allegorically true, with the exception of the application made of it. . . . These two ‘pillars,’ however, are the prototypes of the two ‘tables of stones’ hewn by Moses at the command of the ‘Lord’ ” (SD 2:530).
Pymander [from Greek Poimandres shepherd of men] The logoic divine intelligence, or thought divine; the best known of the surviving portions of the Hermetic books, the writings of Hermes Trismegistus; also a title of Hermes himself. “The Egyptian Prometheus and the personified Nous or divine light, which appears to and instructs Hermes Trismegistus, in a hermetic work called ‘Pymander’ ” (TG 266).
Said to be an abridgment of one of the Books of Thoth by a Platonist of Alexandria, remodeled in the 3rd century after old Greek and Phoenician manuscripts by a Jewish Qabbalist and called the Genesis of Enoch (SD 2:267); said also to have been disfigured by Christian Qabbalists. Pymander as Hermes is described as the oldest and most spiritual of the logoi of the Western continent.
Recorders Members of a class of sacred writers, initiators, and recorders of the archaic teachings, as for instance, Enoch, Hermes, and Thoth. Cosmogonically, the lipikas or recorders of karma.
Smaragdine Tablet The emerald tablet, alleged mystically to be of the Egyptian Hermes or Thoth, on which was inscribed, according to the Hermeticists, “the whole of magic in a single page.” In a letter to the Sophists, Paracelsus says: “The ancient Emerald Table shows more art and experience in Philosophy, Alchemy, Magic, and the like than ever could be taught by you or your crowd of followers.” Masons and Christian Qabbalists alleged it to have been found on the dead body of Hermes by Sarai, Abraham’s wife; this allegory may mean that Sarasvati (wife of Brahma and a legendary prototype of Sarai) found much of the ancient wisdom latent in the dead body of humanity and revivified it. It is also said that the Emerald Tablet was found at Hebron, the city of the kabeiroi or cabiri (the gibborim, the Four Mighty Ones), by an Essenian initiate (TG 302, SD 2:556). It exists only in a late Latin form referred to in the 7th century.
Hermes was the Greek god of mystical thinking and interpretations, corresponding to the Egyptian Thoth, both divinities being overseers or hierophants of works of initiation concealing the archaic secrets of the god-wisdom. Thus the ascription to Hermes of profoundly mystical allegories is properly assigned, whoever their actual writers may have been.
A fundamental law of interpretation — analogy — is expressed in the Emerald Tablet in the famous aphorism, “That which is above is as that which is below; and that which is below, is as that which is above, for performing the marvels of the Kosmos. As all things are from the One, by the mediation of the One so all things arose out of this One Thing by evolving . . .”
H.P.B. on Thoth-Hermes
“Hermes, the god of Wisdom, known in Egypt, Syria, and Phoenicia as Thoth, Tat, Adad, Seth, and Sat-an (the latter not to be taken in the sense applied to it by Moslems and Christians), and in Greece as Kadmus. The kabalists identify him with Adam Kadmon, the first manifestation of the Divine Power, and with Enoch. There were two Hermes: the elder was the Trismegistus, and the second an emanation, or “permutation” of himself; the friend and instructor of Isis and Osiris. Hermes is the god of the priestly wisdom, like Mazeus.” (Isis Unveiled I:xxxiii)
“Isis and Osiris are said, in the Egyptian sacred books, to have appeared (i.e., been worshipped), on earth, later than Thot, the first Hermes, called Trismegistus, who wrote all their sacred books according to the command of God or by “divine revelation.” The companion and instructor of Isis and Osiris was Thot, or Hermes II., who was an incarnation of the celestial Hermes.” (Isis Unveiled II:49)
“Seth, Adam’s third son, and the forefather of all Israel, the ancestor of Noah, and the progenitor of the “chosen people,” is but Hermes, the god of wisdom, called also Thoth, Tat, Seth, Set, and Sat-an; and that he was, furthermore, when viewed under his bad aspect, Typhon, the Egyptian Satan, who was also Set.” (Isis Unveiled I:554)
“Hermes, or rather Thot, was a generic name. Abul Teda shows in “Historia Anti-Islamitica” five Hermes, and the names of Hermes, Nebo, Thot were given respectively in various countries to great Initiates. … It is not the proper name of any one living man, but a generic title of many adepts.” (Secret Doctrine II:210fn & 211)
“And here we may as well mention the works of Hermes Trismegistus. Who, or how many have had the opportunity to read them as they were in the Egyptian sanctuaries? In his Egyptian Mysteries, Iamblichus attributes to Hermes 1,100 books, and Seleucus reckons no less than 20,000 of his works before the period of Menes. Eusebius saw but forty-two of these “in his time,” he says, and the last of the six books on medicine treated on that art as practiced in the darkest ages; and Diodorus says that it was the oldest of the legislators Mnevis, the third successor of Menes, who received them from Hermes.
“Of such manuscripts as have descended to us, most are but Latin retranslations of Greek translations, made principally by the Neo-platonists from the original books preserved by some adepts. Marcilius Ficinus, who was the first to publish them in Venice, in 1488, has given us mere extracts, and the most important portions seemed to have been either overlooked, or purposely omitted as too dangerous to publish in those days of Auto da fe.” (Isis Unveiled I:406-07)
“There are then forty-two books of Hermes indispensably necessary; of which the six-and-thirty containing the whole philosophy of the Egyptians are learned by the forementioned personages; and the other six, which are medical, by the Pastophoroi (image- bearers),—treating of the structure of the body, and of diseases, and instruments, and medicines, and about the eyes, and the last about women.” (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, Book VI, Chapter IV)
“The forty-two Sacred Books of the Egyptians mentioned by Clement of Alexandria as having existed in his time, were but a portion of the Books of Hermes. Iamblichus, on the authority of the Egyptian priest Abammon, attributes 1200 of such books to Hermes, and Manetho 36,000.” (Isis Unveiled I:33)
“It was Ammonius who first taught that every religion was based on one and the same truth; which is the wisdom found in the Books of Thoth (Hermes Trismegistus), from which books Pythagoras and Plato had learned all their philosophy. And the doctrines of the former he affirmed to have been identical with the earliest teachings of the Brahmans—now embodied in the oldest Vedas.” (Isis Unveiled I:444)
Thoth, Divine Scribe
Thoth, Divine Scribe
N. A. Lewis
The Theosophical Forum, January, 1947
Who is this Thoth, of whom so many explanations are made, and who remains, even so, mysterious, inscrutable? We find references to him everywhere in occult writings, and his name is coupled with that of Hermes sometimes, and sometimes with that of Mercury, which gods—or demigods—or teachers—he resembles in his attributes. Above all, we find him associated with secret wisdom and magical arts. He seems, as much as Isis, to be a patron of the occult tradition. There is a legend of the Books of Thoth, which are (supposedly) lost, which contained all the truths, all the records, of mankind. The modern pack of Tarot cards is popularly called The Book of Thoth, although there is reason to doubt that this is the same kind of book as the above-mentioned Books. The legend of the Emerald Tablet of Hermes is probably closely related to this tradition.
We may imagine that Egypt had its Chain of Thoth before the Chain of Hermes received that name.
Thoth is said to have brought to man practically every art and science of civilization, but perhaps the very keyword of his contribution is symbol. With the ability to represent by pictures, diagrams, metaphors, and algebras the cumbersome objects of the material world, man can plan mentally and with a pencil and paper what he would otherwise have to try out physically with much labor, time, and expense, or not at all. Obviously the greatest mastery of time and space—or even of subjective matters —is to be achieved only through the creative use of symbols. Money, too, under the patronage of the later Mercury, is certainly an example of the common utility of symbol, a system obviating the clumsy methods of barter. Movies, with their projection of a large image from a tiny film, show another function of Thoth. We might call reduction to abstraction for efficiency in storing or transporting the principle behind these various functions.
It was under the tutelage of Thoth that the Egyptians evolved their system of hieroglyphs, a very well integrated one, since it entered into every department of their lives. It is hard to tell their art from literature, their literature from art. In other words, their word for a thing, their symbol in writing, was very close to being a picture of the thing itself. It is the reverse of this relationship which is so remarkable; since any object or event was the living hieroglyph for a certain idea. A study of their hieroglyphs reveals that positions of the body, wearing of collars, aprons, etc., colors of clothing, types of headdress, in fact almost everything in life, stood as a symbol of sound and meaning to the educated Egyptian. On this basis, as we may guess, the Mysteries were subtly and secretly taught in the temples, and at least some degree of intuition must necessarily have been attained by all who were able to read.
In this connection, it might be well to bring forth a distinction encountered in later mythology between the natures of Apollo and Mercury. Apollo, it is said, was given the power of expression by means of words and sentences, the gift of language, but to Mercury went the gift of expression by omens, symbols, and all sorts of means. In this way, for example, an event could be brought to pass in the life of a man or woman, that he or she might read it, and come to know some message from the god. This last is the way of Thoth. Those who know Nature’s Alphabet, so to say, and who read from the open pages of Life, are studying the universal knowledge under his guidance. It is given to some great teachers and spiritual leaders to instruct their pupils in this way, pointing out sentences and paragraphs in a hieroglyphic text that is the Divine Life itself. Such teachers are our Masters, whose methods of “bringing to a crisis” and of demonstrating by example and experience are well known to students of their letters.
But there is another face of the matter! Thoth is also the Recorder, the Scribe of Millions of Years. Where and what are these records? Of course, in his language every scratch on a stone, every wrinkle on a cheek, every smudge on a window is a word of power; but these are at best temporary! Must it not mean that he is the keeper of the astral, or perhaps the akasic records? Then he lives in the realm of models and archetypes, he is the warden of the noumenal world, which contains not just the present forms of things, but their every form in all variations, and their eternal forms also. It is to him we must go, if we would have any definite knowledge of the past, present, or future. He has the power, as lord of those realms, over our memory and over our every thought. Indeed, if we credit the occult history of an early migration of priests from the vicinity of Egypt to Britain, we may ask if our English word thought may not be closely related to his name, which even today is sometimes written Thot.
He has been called, in ancient inscriptions, “Lord of Khemennu, self-created, to whom none hath given birth, god One”; “he who reckons in heaven, the counter of the stars, the enumerator of the earth and of what is therein, and the measurer of the earth”; and “the heart of Ra which cometh forth in the form of the god Thoth.” He appears as an ibis, or a human being with the head of an ibis, often carrying the sceptre of divine power and the ankh or crux ansata, emblem of life. Sometimes he wears the crown of the crescent moon and disk, and sometimes he wears a crown of a solar significance; it must be remembered that he must surely be related in one of his aspects to the planet Mercury. Perhaps it is because of the several astronomical relationships which he symbolizes that he is called Trismegistos, or “thrice great.”
Probably an Atlantean survival from remotest antiquity is the dog-headed ape—or sometimes just a rather intelligent-looking ape—who accompanies Thoth. This ape seems to be specially related to Thoth in his moon-god aspect. One may guess his significance to be some feature of the lower nature of man, which might be under the care of Thoth.
In the Book of the Dead (supposedly written by Thoth, by the way), it is this ape who sits on the balance of the scales at the “Weighing of the Heart,” and reports to Thoth, the recording angel, the behavior of the scales. In this ceremony, the heart of “Osiris, the deceased,” is weighed in the one pan of the scales against the Feather of Truth in the other. This feather is said to represent his words or deeds, or what has been committed by the “deceased,” a true report of his life, in other words.
Thoth was very helpful to those who faced the terrors of the underworld. He was master of dreams and trances. More important, he stood as guide of the dead; and by means of the “words of power” he gave them (be it remembered that the Egyptians had a special kind of written language) they were able to pass through safely to the Boat of a Million Years, or to the Fields of Peace of Osiris.
According to Budge, in Gods of the Egyptians, Thoth had particular rule over the lunar month, especially the new moon, and in a lesser way the full moon, and over the winter half of the year. The Zodiac of Denderah shows Thoth as a god of the sign Capricorn; although Kircher, in his Oedipus Aegyptiacus, names Hermanubis, a psychopompic variation of Thoth, as ruler of the sign of Cancer. Be that as it may, the Fourth of January is named the Day of Hermes, under certain conditions (see Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, G. de Purucker, page 211). In the general astronomical and astrological confusion as to the cosmic identity of our Thoth-Hermes-Mercury deity, we must not lose sight of one paramount fact; as an association of ideas this figure is most enlightening. To consider in what ways all of his many phases and aspects may be reconciled and synthesized is to gain some deeper understanding of our own mentation and psychological processes. His attributes are those of our understanding itself.
The minds of some are tombs in which the resurrection of Osiris is to take place. May their dead eyes read the beautiful story of truth which is written upon the walls! May they come to know the sound in their ears of those words which stand as men, making offerings to the gods! May they translate into the speech that carries with it radiant light the stories written in autumnal colors upon their very garments! May Thoth guide them and guard them, and bring them to know that glory which first he wrote, and which will remain written to the end of time!
Hermes Magazine, January, 1980
Theos causes Aeon;
Aeon causes Kosmos;
Kosmos causes Chronos;
Chronos causes Genesis.
The essence of Theos is Agathon—THE GOOD;
that of Aeon is identity;
that of Kosmos is order;
that of Chronos is change;
that of Genesis is life and death.
The energies of Theos are Nous and Psyche;
those of Aeon are immortality and duration;
those of Kosmos are restoration and substitution;
those of Chronos are growth and decay;
those of Genesis are quality and magnitude.
So, Aeon is in Theos;
Kosmos is in Aeon;
Chronos is in Kosmos;
Genesis is in Chronos.
Mists of time and mortal memory obscure awareness of the high and holy beings actively involved in the secret and sacred story of human evolution. Though their ubiquitous presence lies like a luminous arc across the illusory events of time, they leave no biographical tracings in mundane chronicles. Myth and legend essentially retain the efflorescence of their lives, veiled in the code languages of the Mystery temples and disfigured by generations of sectarian priests, pietists and scholars. Where details may be known, they are shrouded in archaic constellations of mystic metaphor and symbolic fable. In India, Narada and Vyasa appear in every age and cycle. In Mesoamerica, Quetzalcoatl was revered as god, archetypal man and ruler. In Chaldea, Oannes the Initiate was portrayed as a human-headed fish. And in Egypt, Hermes-Thoth sweeps through countless centuries as god, king, priest, teacher and Initiate.
The golden thread passing through and uniting all the guises of Hermes-Thoth is his veiled embodiment and vital teaching of primordial Wisdom. In the Egyptian Book of the Dead, comprised of a variety of texts treating after-death states and the forces leading to diverse conditions of rebirth, Thoth is depicted in the great solar barque of Ra, standing opposite Maat. Here Ra is the solar creative force, the spirit of the Invisible Sun, while Thoth is its hidden wisdom and Maat, the feminine aspect of Thoth, is the law of noumenal Nature. According to the oldest known Egyptian cosmogony, Thoth utters the divine Word through which the whole cosmos emerges. When Atum, the golden sphere of light, arose in the incomprehensible Abyss of Nothingness, it differentiated itself into three creative aspects—Thought, Will and Command. While Ra is the divine idea of the universe to be, Thoth is the mysterious ideation which gives rise to the Word—Maat, the Law.
Thoth was called “Lord of Khemennu, the Self-Created One, to whom none hath given birth, the first god”. As lord of Khemennu, later called Hemopolis, Thoth is lord of the City of Eight, chief of the eight great gods, whose correspondences include the seven sacred planets and the eighth sphere of the fixed stars. Like Hermes, the intimate friend of Apollo, Thoth is the wisdom that pervades all the spheres and descends in embodied form to earth. Thus Thoth is called “He who reckons in heaven, the Counter of the stars, the Enumerator of the earth and of what is contained therein, the Measurer of the Earth”. Thoth is the Logos. He is invoked as “the Heart of Ra that cometh forth in the form of Thoth”. As the judicious personification of wisdom and compassion, Thoth is portrayed as the scribe of the gods, the keeper of records, the recording judge of the dead. Thoth is the Lord of Books and “Mighty in Speech”, for he has the power of the spoken Word, the force of creative action. Known as Tehuti in ancient times, the name was sometimes thought to derive from tehu, a name for the ibis, and ti, signifying the qualities and powers of the tehu. As scribe, Thoth was shown with the head of an ibis, a mystery to the uninitiated, intimating the fluttering of Spirit over the waters of precosmic matter, the motion which brings order to chaos. The Egyptians also derived the name from tekh, a sign for the heart. Though the connection of Thoth, primordial Wisdom, with the ibis and the heart remains a mystery to all save those who know, one cannot refrain from thinking of the spiritual injunction, “Bestride the Bird of Life if thou would’st know.” The commentary from the Nadavindu Upanishad declares, “A Yogi who bestrides the Hansa (thus contemplates on Aum) is not affected by karmic influences or crores of sins.”
Thoth is Aah, the Great Lord, the Lord of Heaven, who measures out the seasons and cycles and lays down the ultimate divisions of time. Thoth-Aah, therefore, stands behind all temporal distinctions and was called the Maker of Eternity and Creator of Everlastingness. As god of wisdom and the Logos in the cosmos, Thoth is also the reflection of that wisdom in the world and in the enlightened mind. Hermes-Thoth abides in the moon, the light whose borrowed radiance descends to earth to illumine the ways of men who dwell in darkness. His home in the bright side of the moon is the essence of creative wisdom, sometimes called the elixir of Hermes, but his abode in the moon’s dark half is the secret wisdom of the highest Initiates. When a human being crossed the threshold of the Egyptian mysteries, he became Hermes, the human embodiment of the god at one level of consciousness. The coadunition of souls allows each being to reflect the pervasive Thoth on some plane of manifestation. When the second sacred degree of initiation was passed, the disciple became Hermes Twice-Great. When the third stage was reached, the individual realized his essential consubstantiality with the god and called himself—with full knowledge of what he was saying—Hermes the Thrice-Great, one with Hermes Trismegistus, Termaximus, Thrice-Greatest Hermes, the highest embodiment of wisdom possible in the world of gross manifestation.
Vettius Valens bemoaned the fact that he did not live in the days of the divine dynasties when Initiate-Kings ruled by the light of the sacred sciences and sages saw clearly the invisible Hermetic table of the unseen universe. In those days, Vettius says, individuals became self-consciously immortal through love of the Mysteries and were called Walkers of the Sky. The incarnation of Thoth as Hermes Trismegistus taught humanity all the arts and sciences, including writing, astronomy, astrology, agriculture, metallurgy, alchemy and jurisprudence. Thereafter, each soul who awoke to the mysteries of being and non-being became one in consciousness with Hermes and taught in his turn. These great beings are the pillars of humanity, rooted in the human virtues. They support the protecting canopy of Divine Wisdom under which the complex and largely unrecorded story of human evolution proceeds. These Teachers of Humanity left writings which were preserved amongst the Egyptians for millennia, but as successive generations slowly distorted the teachings through forgetfulness and the flux of dynastic preference for one theology or another, an incomplete body of writings fell into Alexandrian hands. There they were sometimes adapted to reflect more clearly the Pythagorean-Platonic tradition, and sometimes mutilated to justify Christian dogma.
By the fourth century the collection of philosophical and ethical treatises known as the Corpus Hermeticum had been gathered together. Deeply appreciated by Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Lactantius and St. Augustine, they were lost to public memory with the closure of the Platonic Academies in Athens and Alexandria. Then, during the Italian Renaissance the Medicis sent agents throughout the Mediterranean world in search of classical wisdom. The Hermetic writings were brought to the Florentine Academy, where Pico della Mirandola and Marsilio Ficino translated and circulated them. These few fragments of the pristine wisdom provided the foundation for the mystical philosophies of Nicholas of Cusa and Giordano Bruno, inspired the alchemical science of the Rosicrucians and made possible the profound teachings of Robert Fludd and the early endeavours of the Royal Society. After being denounced as fourth-century forgeries in the late sixteenth century, their influence waned under the spreading overgrowth of mechanistic science, but in the twentieth century more discerning scholarship has detected strains of ancient doctrines among the heavily overlaid texts. In some treatises Hermes Trismegistus is taught by Thoth-Hermes, in others he instructs one of his sons, Tat or Asclepius, who are both disciples and yet aspects of himself. From the viewpoint of spiritual consciousness, the series of emanations from the Logos in the cosmos can be depicted as a personified genealogy, the Hermetic chain of teachers and their disciples.
The first treatise, called the Poimandres or Pymander, intimates the exalted state of consciousness required for the acquisition of the deepest knowledge.
Once when I had begun to think upon the things that exist and when my thoughts had soared high aloft, my bodily senses had been restrained by a kind of sleep which is not that of weariness or overindulgence in food. It seemed there came to me a Being of vast and boundless magnitude and who called me by name, saying, ‘What do you yearn to hear and see, to learn and come to know by thought?’
‘Who are you?’ I said.
‘I am’, he said, ‘Poimandres, the Mind (Nous) of the Sovereignty.’
‘I would learn of the things that exist’, I answered, ‘and I wish to understand their nature and gain knowledge (gnosis) of Deity. These are the things I desire to hear.’
‘I know what you wish’, Poimandres said, ‘for in truth I am with you everywhere. Keep in mind all that you would learn, and I will teach you.’
In a state of profound meditation Hermes had come into contact with an aspect of himself that transcends all parameters of time, location and personality. His deep desire to comprehend Being, rather than the ephemeral realm of becoming, invoked that which knows and can reveal the mystery. Within ‘the boundless magnitude’ a cosmogonical representation is projected for Hermes to behold.
I beheld a boundless view: all was changed into a mild and joyous light, and I marvelled when I saw it. Eventually there came to be in one region a descending darkness, terrible and grim. I saw the darkness become a watery substance unspeakably tossed about, giving forth smoke as from a fire. I heard it make an indescribable sound of lamentation, for it emitted an inarticulate cry. But from the light there came forth sacred Speech which established itself upon the fluid substance. This Speech seemed to be the Voice of the light.
Hermes does not fathom what he has seen, as Poimandres explains.
That light is I, Nous, the first god, who was before the watery substance appeared out of this darkness, and the Word which emanated from the light is the son of God. . . . Learn my meaning by looking at what is within yourself, for in you also Speech is son, and the mind is father of the Word. They are not separate from one another, for Life is the union of Word and Mind.
The scene disappears to be replaced by a vast congeries of forces and powers, all part of the original Light, forming the architectonics of the world. This is the archetype of the visible universe. The prime Nous, Poimandres, “the Mind which is Life and Light”, gives rise to a second Nous, a creative force which makes from fire and air seven cosmocratores or administrators of the cosmic order. These correspond to the seven sacred planets of the visible universe, whose intelligent revolutions constitute destiny. After forming these beings, who contain the watery substance which will become Nature, the Word is withdrawn and Nature is left devoid of reason. But the first Mind gave birth to Anthropos, archetypal man, who is consubstantial with itself, and in this sense made in the image of God. Anthropos took his place in the abode of the second, creative Mind, and there beheld the creation of his brother.
When Anthropos looks upon blind Nature, Nature responds to that which is like itself in origin and forms herself into a mirror. Thus Anthropos looks upon himself, and taking that image for Nature, is drawn towards her. He passes through each of the seven spheres of the planets and gains their powers as he moves. Yet since he is one with Nous, the first god, originator of the creative Mind, his descent is self-limitation and a fall from his true being. As he descends through the sphere of Saturn, he learns to think ‘I’ in a separative sense and thus is cursed by the lie in the soul. The sixth sphere, Jupiter, gives him the wish to expand and acquire a richer sense of the personal selfhood. Mars adds impulse and rashness to this urge, and the fourth sphere of the sun gives him a false sense of arrogance at his success. The third region of Venus adds lust to impulse, and the second, Mercury, gives the cunning necessary to pursue it. With the capacity for deceit firmly fixed in the fallen Anthropos, he passes through the zone of the moon, the symbol of increase and decrease, fluctuation and change, and thus man falls into Nature, deprived and depraved by that which promised fulfilment.
Poimandres has not revealed an accidental anthropogenesis, however, a pointless tragedy called human existence, for the immersion of man in Nature gives Nature articulation. Nature is no longer blind, but made intelligible and intelligent through the mystic marriage. Man is not bound to keep to the bride’s abode; he may return whence he came and all Nature will be elevated in the process.
If, being made of Light and Life, you learn to know that you are made of them, you will go back into Light and Life. . . . Let the man who has mind in him recognize himself.
By turning towards the divine Self, one can rise through the seven spheres and gain their virtues, their redemptive powers. In turning from the world of change, one gains the steadiness required for ascent. From Mercury comes intelligence to see the way, and from Venus the embracing love of all that lives. One then enters the realm of the sun, acquiring self-rule and therefore the rule of all Nature. This enables the energy of Mars to rise to sublimest heights, past Jupiter, where the domains of self are discovered to be the universe itself, and ultimately through Saturn, where “the universe grows ‘I'”.
And thereupon, having been stripped of all that was wrought upon him by the structure of the heavens, he ascends to the substance of the eighth sphere, being now possessed of his own proper power. . . . This is the Good, this is the consummation for those who have acquired gnosis.
In Hermes Trismegistus the primordial revelation has become a living reality, who abides with Nous even while imprisoned in the tenement of flesh. He is the Teacher par excellence, for he is one with the permanent individuality in each and all. In the text A Secret Discourse, Tat, the son of Hermes, asks, “What is real, Trismegistus?” Hermes answers:
That is real which is not sullied by matter, my son, nor limited by boundaries, that which has neither colour nor shape, which is without a vesture, is luminous, is apprehended by itself alone, changeless and unalterable, that which is good.
When Tat doubts that he has the power to apprehend the incorporeal, Hermes teaches that the power is within: “Will it, and it comes to be.” This rebirth in the real Self requires a purification of one’s whole being. Hidden within the twelve signs of the zodiac lies the secret tenfold circle of the stars. Similarly within the twelve torments of the soul are ten liberating powers.
Ignorance, my son, is one of the torments. The second is grief, the third is incontinence, followed by desire, injustice, covetousness, error, envy, fraud, anger, rashness and, the twelfth, malice.
Reflection reveals in this passage the logical outlines of a psychology of self-destruction. But within the human being are purificatory powers which may be summoned to banish the torments. The first is knowledge of one’s divine nature, which cuts ignorance at the root. This will give joy to banish grief, and joy is the basis of continence. Endurance is now possible, and through this power desire is overcome. With the transcendence of desire one reaches “the tribunal on which Justice sits enthroned”. The sixth power is unselfishness, which will eradicate every trace of covetousness, and this is the foundation of truth which removes error. Thus the Good appears, and before it all the torments flee and are destroyed.
This earthly tabernacle, my son, has been put together by the working of the zodiac, which produces manifold forms of one and the same thing to lead men astray. As the signs of which the zodiac consists are twelve in number, the forms produced by it, my son, fall into twelve divisions. But at the same time they are inseparable, being united in their action; for the reckless vehemence of irrational impulse is indivisible. It is with good reason, then, that they all depart together, as I said before. And it is also in accordance with reason that they are driven out by ten Powers, that is, by the Decad; for the Decad, my son, is the number by which soul is generated. Life and Light united are a Unit; and the number One is the source of the Decad.
When the Logos appears within, man becomes a god, and “it is no longer a body of three dimensions that he perceives, but the incorporeal”. Tat, having been shown all these things, says:
I see myself to be the All. I am in heaven and in earth, in water and in air. I am in beasts and plants. I am a babe in the womb, and one that is not yet conceived, and one that has been born. I am present everywhere.
And Hermes endorses this realization in the simple response, “Now, my son, you know what rebirth is.” Hermes is shown bearing the caduceus, emblem of the teaching of ascent and descent, of the power to work in the world and abide in universal consciousness. This is the wand of the Magician, whose power lies in the ability to focalize the Logoic light in the world of passing shadows. The power of the Magician is the potency latent in every human being, the forces of Nature which reflect the Logos in the cosmos, the son of the first Nous. Man shares the highest sphere when he chooses to assume his proper station. The path of human evolution is at once magical and ethical, ontological and psychological, for all is ultimately the reflection of one Substance-Principle. In the words of the Smaragdine Tablet, the veiled key to alchemy and self-regeneration:
What is below is like that which is above, and what is above is similar to that which is below to accomplish the wonders of one thing.
As all things were produced by the mediation of one being, so all things were produced from this one by adaptation.
Its father is the sun, its mother is the moon.
It is the cause of all perfection throughout the whole earth.
Its power is perfect if it is changed into earth.
Separate the earth from the fire, the subtile from the gross, acting prudently and with judgement.
Ascend with the greatest sagacity from the earth to heaven, and then descend again to earth, and unite together the power of things inferior and superior; thus you will possess the light of the whole world, and all obscurity will fly away from you.
This thing has more fortitude than fortitude itself, because it will overcome every subtile thing and penetrate every solid thing.
By it the world was formed.
Traditional Biographical Sources
There is no single traditional biographical source for Thoth-Hermes. Instead, information comes to us via numerous inscriptions, references and notes from Egyptian hieroglyphics to neoplatonic texts.
Modern Biographical Sources
Thoth: The Hermes of Egypt, by Patrick Boylan
On the Trail of the Winged God: Hermes and Hermeticism Throughout the Ages, by Stephan A. Hoeller
The Virgin of the World of Hermes Mercurius Trismegistus, by Anna Kingsford (1885) | Review by T. Subba Row
“… it may be shown that all the fundamental truths of nature were universal in antiquity, and that the basic ideas upon spirit, matter, and the universe, or upon God, Substance, and man, were identical. Taking the two most ancient religious philosophies on the globe, Hinduism and Hermetism, from the scriptures of India and Egypt, the identity of the two is easily recognisable. This becomes apparent to one who reads the latest translation and rendering of the “Hermetic Fragments” just mentioned, by our late lamented friend, Dr. Anna Kingsford. Disfigured and tortured as these have been in their passage through Sectarian Greek and Christian hands, the translator has most ably and intuitionally seized the weak points and tried to remedy them by means of explanations and foot-notes. (Secret Doctrine I:285)
“… whenever speaking of Egyptian Monotheism, one ought to speak of the Gods ‘One’ of Egypt, and not of the one god” (Maspero, in the Guide au Musee de Boulak.) It is by this feature, pre-eminently Egyptian, that the authenticity of the various so-called Hermetic Books, ought to be tested; and it is totally absent from the Greek fragments known as such. This proves that a Greek Neo-Platonic, or even a Christian hand, had no small share in the editing of such works. Of course the fundamental philosophy is there, and in many a place—intact. But the style has been altered and smoothed in a monotheistic direction, as much, if not more than that of the Hebrew Genesis in its Greek and Latin translations. They may be Hermetic works, but not works written by either of the two Hermes—or rather, by Thot (Hermes) the directing intelligence of the Universe (See ch. xciv., Book of the Dead), or by Thot, his terrestrial incarnation called Trismegistus, of the Rosetta stone.” (Secret Doctrine I:675)
The Corpus Hermeticum, translated by G. R. S. Mead
Hermetica: The Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius, translated by Brian P. Copenhaver
The Divine Pymander, translated by Dr. John Everard
Commentary on the Pymander, by G.R.S. Mead
“How truly esoteric and consonant with the Secret Doctrine is “Pymander the Thought Divine” of Hermes, may be inferred from its original and primitive translations in Latin and Greek only. On the other hand how disfigured it has been later on by Christians in Europe, is seen from the remarks and unconscious confessions made by de St. Marc, in his Preface and letter to the Bishop of Ayre, in 1578. Therein, the whole cycle of transformations from a Pantheistic and Egyptian into a mystic Roman Catholic treatise is given, and we see how Pymander has become what it is now. Still, even in St. Marc’s translation, traces are found of the real Pymander — the “Universal Thought” or “Mind.”” (Secret Doctrine II:491)
“Tradition declares that on the dead body of Hermes, at Hebron, was found by an Isarim, an initiate, the tablet known as the Smaragdine. It contains, in a few sentences, the essence of the Hermetic wisdom. To those who read but with their bodily eyes, the precepts will suggest nothing new or extraordinary, for it merely begins by saying that it speaks not fictitious things, but that which is true and most certain.” (Isis Unveiled I:507)
The Hermetic Book of Numbers or Book of the Keys (not extant) (see also Chaldean Book of Numbers)
“We are not aware that a copy of this ancient work is embraced in the catalogue of any European library; but it is one of the “Books of Hermes,” and it is referred to and quotations are made from it in the works of a number of ancient and mediaeval philosophical authors. Among these authorities are Arnoldo di Villanova’s “Rosarium philosoph.”; Francesco Arnolphim’s “Lucensis opus de Iapide.” Hermes Trismegistus’ “Tractatus de transmutatione metallorum,” “Tabula smaragdina,” and above all in the treatise of Raymond Lulli, “Ab angelis opus divinum de quinta essentia.”” (Isis Unveiled I:254)
“… the Chaldean Book of Numbers, the original of which, if now extant, is certainly not to be found in libraries, as it formed one of the most ancient Books of Hermes, the number of which is at present undetermined.” (Isis Unveiled I:32-33)
See: Isis Unveiled II:281, 298, etc.
Selected Quotes attributed to Thoth-Hermes
The Tabula Smaragdina
Tradition declares that on the dead body of Hermes, at Hebron, was found by an Isarim, an initiate, the tablet known as the Smaragdine. It contains, in a few sentences, the essence of the Hermetic wisdom. To those who read but with their bodily eyes, the precepts will suggest nothing new or extraordinary, for it merely begins by saying that it speaks not fictitious things, but that which is true and most certain.
“What is below is like that which is above, and what is above is similar to that which is below to accomplish the wonders of one thing.
“As all things were produced by the mediation of one being, so all things were produced from this one by adaptation.
“Its father is the sun, its mother is the moon.
“It is the cause of all perfection throughout the whole earth.
“Its power is perfect if it is changed into earth.
“Separate the earth from the fire, the subtile from the gross, acting prudently and with judgment.
“Ascend with the greatest sagacity from the earth to heaven, and then descend again to earth, and unite together the power of things inferior and superior; thus you will possess the light of the whole world, and all obscurity will fly away from you.
“This thing has more fortitude than fortitude itself, because it will overcome every subtile thing and penetrate every solid thing.
“By it the world was formed.”
—Translated by H.P. Blavatsky (From Isis Unveiled, 1:507)
Selected Quotes on Thoth-Hermes
Who is Thoth-Hermes?"Hermes, the god of Wisdom, known in Egypt, Syria, and Phoenicia as Thoth, Tat, Adad, Seth, and Sat-an (the latter not to be taken in the sense applied to it by Moslems and Christians), and in Greece as Kadmus. The kabalists identify him with Adam Kadmon, the first manifestation of the Divine Power, and with Enoch. There were two Hermes: the elder was the Trismegistus, and the second an emanation, or 'permutation' of himself; the friend and instructor of Isis and Osiris. Hermes is the god of the priestly wisdom, like Mazeus."—H.P. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, I:xxxiii
Hermes, the power common to all"Hermes, the God who presides over language, was formerly very properly considered as common to all priests; and the power who presides over the true science concerning the Gods is one and the same in the whole of things. Hence our ancestors dedicated the inventions of their wisdom to this deity, inscribing all their own writings with the name of Hermes."—Iamblichus, On the Mysteries, trans. Thomas Taylor.
Hermes the God who presides over language. The Egyptians celebrated two Hermes, the former of which is here signified by Iamblichus. This deity is the source of invention, and hence he is said to be the son of Maia; because search, which is implied by Maia, leads invention into light. He bestows too mathesis on souls, by unfolding the will of his father Jupiter; and this he accomplishes as the angel or messenger of Jupiter. Proclus in MS. Comment. in Alcibiad. observes that:
“this deity is the inspective guardian of gymnastic exercises; and hence hermæ, or carved statues of Mercury, were placed in the Palaestræ; of music, and hence he is honoured as the lyrist λυραιος among the celestial constellations; and of disciplines, because the invention of geometry, reasoning, and discourse is referred to this God. He presides, therefore, over every species of erudition, leading us to an intelligible essence from this mortal abode, governing the different herds of souls, and dispersing the sleep and oblivion with which they are oppressed. He is likewise the supplier of recollection, the end of which is a genuine intellectual apprehension of divine natures.”
The ancient pillars of Hermes. These pillars, according to Amm. Marcellinus, lib. xxii. were concealed prior to the deluge in certain caverns, which were called συριγγες, syringes, not far from the Egyptian Thebes. The second Hermes interpreted these pillars, and his interpretation formed many volumes, as Iamblichus informs us in Section viii. of this work. These pillars are mentioned by Laertius in his Life of Democritus; by Dio Chrysostom in Orat. 49; by Achilles Tatius on Aratus; and by others of the ancients.—Notes by Thomas Taylor on The Mysteries by Iamblichus.
Hermes, the Kosmic Thought"Now, my wondrous child Horos, all this could not happen among mortals, for as yet they did not exist; but it took place in the universal Soul in sympathy with the mysteries of heaven. This was Hermes, the Kosmic Thought. He beheld the universe of things, and having seen, he understood, and having understood, he had the power to manifest and to reveal. That which he thought, he wrote; that which he wrote, he in great part concealed, wisely silent and speaking by turns, so that while the world should last, these things might be sought"—Isis, from the Kore Kosmou (Virgin of the World), trans. Anna Kingsford.
Hymn to Mercury, Orpheus (trans. Thomas Taylor)
Hermes, draw near, and to my pray'r incline,
Angel of Jove, and Maia's son divine;
Prefect of contests, ruler of mankind,
With heart almighty, and a prudent mind.
Celestial messenger of various skill,
Whose pow'rful art could watchful Argus kill.
With winged feet 'tis thine thro' air to coarse,
O friend of man, and prophet of discourse:
Great life-supporter, to rejoice is thine
In arts gymnastic, and in fraud divine.
With pow'r endu'd all language to explain,
Of care the loos'ner, and the source of gain.
Whose hand contains of blameless peace the rod,
Corucian, blessed, profitable God.
Of various speech, whose aid in works we find,
And in necessities to mortals kind.
Dire weapon of the tongue, which men revere,
Be present, Hermes, and thy suppliant hear;
Assist my works, conclude my life with peace,
Give graceful speech, and memory's increase.
Note: Proclus, in his admirable Commentary on the First Alcibiades ... gives us the following information respecting Mercury, which as the reader will easily perceive greatly elucidates some parts of this hymn.
“Mercury is the source of invention; and hence he is said to be the son of Maia; because search, which is implied by Maia, leads invention into light. He bestows too mathesis on souls, by unfolding the will of his father Jupiter; and this he accomplishes, as the angel or messenger of Jupiter. He is likewise the inspective guardian of gymnastic exercises; and hence hermae, or carved statues of Mercury, were placed in the Palaestrae; of music, and hence he is honoured as λυραιος, the lyrist among the celestial constellations; and of disciplines, because the invention of geometry, reasoning, and language is referred to this God. He presides, therefore, over every species of erudition, leading us to an intelligible essence from this mortal abode, governing the different herds of souls, and dispersing the sleep and oblivion with which they are oppressed. He is likewise the supplier of recollection, the end of which is a genuine intellectual apprehension of divine natures.”
Hermes Trismegistus, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1882)
Still through Egypt’s desert places
Flows the lordly Nile,
From its banks the great stone faces
Gaze with patient smile.
Still the pyramids imperious
Pierce the cloudless skies,
And the Sphinx stares with mysterious,
Solemn, stony eyes.
But where are the old Egyptian
Demi-gods and kings?
Nothing left but an inscription
Graven on stones and rings.
Where are Helios and Hephæstus,
Gods of eldest eld?
Where is Hermes Trismegistus,
Who their secrets held?
Where are now the many hundred
Thousand books he wrote?
By the Thaumaturgists plundered,
Lost in lands remote;
In oblivion sunk forever,
As when o’er the land
Blows a storm-wind, in the river
Sinks the scattered sand.
Something unsubstantial, ghostly,
Seems this Theurgist,
In deep meditation mostly
Wrapped, as in a mist.
Vague, phantasmal, and unreal
To our thought he seems,
Walking in a world ideal,
In a land of dreams.
Was he one, or many, merging
Name and fame in one,
Like a stream, to which, converging,
Many streamlets run?
Till, with gathered power proceeding,
Ampler sweep it takes,
Downward the sweet waters leading
From unnumbered lakes.
By the Nile I see him wandering,
Pausing now and then,
On the mystic union pondering
Between gods and men;
Half believing, wholly feeling,
With supreme delight,
How the gods, themselves concealing,
Lift men to their height.
Or in Thebes, the hundred-gated,
In the thoroughfare
Breathing, as if consecrated,
A diviner air;
And amid discordant noises,
In the jostling throng,
Hearing far, celestial voices
Of Olympian song.
Who shall call his dreams fallacious?
Who has searched or sought
All the unexplored and spacious
Universe of thought?
Who, in his own skill confiding,
Shall with rule and line
Mark the border-land dividing
Human and divine?
Trismegistus! three times greatest!
How thy name sublime
Has descended to this latest
Progeny of time!
Happy they whose written pages
Perish with their lives,
If amid the crumbling ages
Still their name survives!
Thine, O priest of Egypt, lately
Found I in the vast,
Weed-encumbered, sombre, stately,
Grave-yard of the Past;
And a presence moved before me
On that gloomy shore,
As a waft of wind, that o’er me
Breathed, and was no more.