What is Hermetic Philosophy?

The Emerald TabletThe conventional wisdom has it that the beginning of this philosophy was first written on an Emerald Tablet also known as the Smaragdine Tablet. It’s author was Hermes Trismegistus (Hermes the Thrice- Greatest), a legendary Hellenistic combination of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth. However it was not until sometime between the sixth and eighth centuries that it appeared in an Arabic text that was later translated into Latin in the 12th Century. In the 18th century, Isaac Newton, who had a deep interest in alchemy in addition to his more scientific endeavours, made an English translation  describing the first three of the original fourteen statements  in these words:

  1. ‘Tis true without lying, certain & most true.
  2. That which is below is like that which is above & that which is above is like that which is below to do the miracles of one only thing.
  3. And as all things have been & arose from one by the mediation of one: so all things have their birth from this one by adaptation.

And what is interesting about that translation and all the previous ones is that the original Latin word in number was three was “mediatione” which, it seems is better translated not as “meditation “or “mediation” but as “contemplation. But why that did not happen I have no idea.”

In this century, Deepak Chopra writing in SynchroDestiny ( Random House, London, 2005) presented a modern version of some of the principles, which he described as insights, to which he added some of his own:

  1. Everything is a manifestation of spirit.
  2. As spirit becomes manifest, it does so in such a way that the whole is contained in every part. (Today’s science calls this the holographic model).
  3. Everything is vibration, that consciousness consists of vibrations of various frequencies, resulting in all the forms and phenomena of the universe.
  4. Change is the only constant. Everything is impermanent
  5. Everything, whether it is an experience, an attitude or an object, contains its opposite.
  6. There is a rhythm to everything
  7. Every event has infinite causes that lead to an infinity of effects.
  8. The creative energy of the universe is also reflected as a sexual energy: all things that exist are born of this energy.
  9. We can direct primal energy through the power of attention and intention.
  10. We can achieve harmony through those forces and elements in the cosmos that we call masculine and feminine, yin and yang, Shiva and Shakti.
  11. The inner nature of every being, no matter how evil it may seem to be, is love. Love, therefore, is the ultimate truth at the heart of all creation, (which, synchronistically, is the central thesis of my whole web-site).

Next, on the internet, a US based group known as The Light Party presented their Seven Hermetic Principles this way:

  1. The Principle of mentalism: The “All” is mind, the universe is mental.
  2. The Principle of correspondence: “As above, so below; as below, so above.”
  3. The Principle of vibration:“nothing rests, everything moves; everything vibrates”.
  4. The Principle of polarity: everything is dual; everything has its pair of opposites; like and unlike are all the same; opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree; extremes meet; all truths are but half-truths; all paradoxes must be reconciled.
  5. The Principle of rhythm: everything flows, out and in; everything has its tides; all things rise and fall; the pendulum swing manifests in everything; the measure of the swing to the left is the measure of the swing to the right; rhythm compensates.
  6. The Principle of cause and effect: “Every cause has its effect; every effect has its cause; everything happens according to law; chance is but a name for law not recognized; there are many planes of causation, but nothing escapes the law.
  7. The Principle of Gender: “Gender is in everything; everything has its masculine and feminine principle; Gender manifests on all planes.

To which they add these thoughts:

Hermetic alchemy is the art and science of self-transformation through knowledge…. Alchemy also means union with God.

Real Healing is the integration of mind and body with spirit (consciousness) and in knowing that you are one with God.


However,  my good friend John Azar recently drew my attention to the website of The Temenos Academy in England, whose patron is HRH The Prince of Wales and who have created a retreat centre in Egypt which they have named the New Hermopolis. Of the original one in Egypt they have this to say:

The sum of the knowledge produced by Hermopolis is contained in the Corpus Hermiticum. It is a collection  of manuscripts that were recovered in the city of Alexandria in the first century AD but date to much earlier times. They are seventeen texts in total, written, in Greek, Latin and Coptic and represent the intellectual, philosophical and reflections of ancient Egypt which revolves around the harmony of man and the universe….

The principles of alchemy are derived from the Hermetic philosophy, particularly the connection between wisdom, transformation and healing. All are seen as part and parcel of a self-perfecting journey consisting of a series of alchemical steps taking place within man’s body, mind and soul.

Hermeticism also had its impact on the gnostic tradition with is emphasis on the higher/spiritual growth of man through knowledge. This found expression in the spiritual forms of religions …. All …. [of which] … have the Unity of Being as a fundamental principle despite the multitude of expressions and share the same desire of helping humanity evolve into greater perfection.

It is possible, therefore to conclude that the philosophy of the Hermopolis is nothing short of a spiritual classic that contained the basic tenets of humanism namely

  • The unity of being that transcends race, creed and all forms of expression.
  • The belief in the creative potential of all humans.
  • The belief in the possible transformation and self re-making through knowledge.