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Hermeticism: Its Mysterious History and Influence

What is Hermeticism? What time period does Hermeticism come from? Even today, these pressing questions are quite difficult to answer as Hermeticism has been made up of various mythological elements gathered over several thousand years. Thrice-Greatest-Hermes or Hermes Trismegistus is an amalgam of the Greek god Hermes, a god who dates back to Hellenistic times, and also the god Thoth or Tahuti, a god of Wisdom in ancient Egypt dating back as far as 5000 years ago to the city Hermopolis sharing mythic association to the name of Thoth. Just like Gnosticism and Buddhism, Hermeticism has no human founder or founders. The various writings in the Hermetica or Corpus Hermeticum containing references to the Greco-Egyptian Hermes deity over time came to be known as the Hermetica. Many of these writings have the name "Hermes" or Hermes-Thrice-Great attributed to them, just as various Gnostic texts have mythic author names such as Judas or Mary. It was very much customary in the early centuries prior to and after the advent of Christ to attribute metaphorical authors to mystic texts rather than assign literal names of the writers or editors. So generally speaking, in our modern age, we would consider these texts which make up the Hermetica to be largely anonymous.
Now, what were the practices associated with these texts? What do they intend to teach or offer the aspirant? While it is not entirely clear what were the intended practical uses of the texts at very early periods, we have learned that various occult groups have developed their own rituals and meditations around certain philosophical ideas contained within the writings. So, one would assume that these texts were not meant to be used to found various Dogma or Religions, rather they would have been intended to inspire and lead the aspirant to an enlightened state of mind apart from the control of outside forces. There have been several occult groups over the recent centuries which have taken central elements of these writings and used them to develop their own practices of initiation and various other rituals.

The writings of the Hermetica themselves remained unmentioned and seemingly forgotten all throughout the Middle Ages until they saw their re-emergence in the Renaissance when the texts went through several translations, most notably by Florentine Scholar Marsilio Ficino who translated the text from Greek to Latin around 1464 AD after the text being rediscovered by Cosimo De Medici (source). Since then, many people have later felt the influence of Hermeticism occur time and again. Influences of Hermeticism can be seen in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which formed in the late 19th century. The founding members of the Golden Dawn developed an order of spiritual hierarchy and initiation quite similar to structure of the Masonic Lodges, however unlike Freemasons, women were granted equal initiation alongside men. Their practices and writings remained largely hidden until former members of the Order later published what they had been taught during their initiations. Another Hermetic influence can be found in one of the Golden Dawn's preeminent members: Aleister Crowley. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was Crowley's very first entry into the world of the Occult in 1898 (source) and from there he gained much of his spiritual knowledge to later go on to found his own magical order of the A∴A∴ (Argenteum Astrum) in 1907 (source), and then his subsequeont influence on the practices of the order of the OTO, starting in 1913, when Crowley began composing works for the order, including his Gnostic Mass (source).

The writings of the Hermetica bare a remarkable spiritual resemblance to what one can find in the Gnostic writings of the early 1st and 2nd century AD. The process of overcoming the influence of the Seven Spheres or Seven Planets which can be seen in the Hermetic text "On Daemons" and others, finds its parallel in the Gnostic work of "The Gospel of Philip" in which there are sort of sacraments made to free the soul from controlling agents. The Initiator and the Initiate were both to undergo radically altered states of consciousness leading them to free their mind from the restrictive powers of the universe. This went against the very controlling impulses of Government and Religion which sought to control the individual, and not necessarily liberate his Mind as much as offer salvation of his soul in return for his obedience to the Church and Government. As a result of these writings being indirect usurpers of world authorities, both the thinkers and writings of Hermeticism and Gnosticism suffered great persecution and destruction. In the year 391 AD, the Christian Emperor Theodosius I had ordered the destruction of all writings Non-Christian and Pagan which included the Library of Alexandria which held the large portion of Hermetic writings at that time (source). Several Gnostic writings were buried in Egypt, notably the texts which make up the Nag Hammadi Library, to avoid destruction by Christian mobs or Christian leaders at that time. Later, in the Albigensian Crusade by the Catholic church in 1209-1229, several Gnostic writings were destroyed and many members residing in Southern France were killed (source).

In recent years there have been many different publications detailing more commentary on Hermeticism and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Perhaps, once we unearth more writings or gain access to other unknown or forgotten texts, we will have more information regarding the mysterious origins of Hermeticism and its related mythos.