‘If you do not make yourself equal to God, you cannot understand God’Corpus Hermeticum 11:20
So it is written in the Corpus Hermeticum, the major assemblage of texts attributed to Hermes and passed down to humanity as the first major statement of the Ageless Wisdom in this era.
Hermes was very ancient, so ancient that any estimates of his dates are guesswork, but over ten thousand years ago would not be too far off the mark. So great was his impact on the ancient world and so high was the regard in which he was held that he was taken as a god by the ancient Greeks and Egyptians and called Hermes and Thoth, respectively (the Romans called him Mercury, after whom the planet is named).
Before Moses, Abraham or Zoroaster, before even the great pyramid, and regarded as the first philosopher, the first alchemist, and the first healer, Hermes’ teachings have been at the heart of every true religion, philosophical movement, science and lineage woven throughout history; all that follows is either elaboration of his teachings or unfortunately, more commonly, corruption.
It is not known exactly where Hermes was born and lived. General consensus has it that he was born and taught in Egypt, but other parts of the Near East such as Persia are possible. In any case it is highly likely that he travelled around the Near East during his life as he taught; his teachings are apparent in the religions, philosophies and science of Egypt, Greece, Babylonia and Persia.
Hermes’s teachings were passed down over centuries, most likely orally to a large extent, at least at first. We do not know when they were first written down, how extensive they were or in what language. What has survived of his teachings is probably only a small selection of what must have been an enormous volume (early Christian writers make mention of the vast number of writings attributed to Hermes). These extant writings of Hermes, such as the Corpus Hermeticum date from the first or second century AD and are written in Greek or Latin and were compiled in the city of Alexandria, then the great hub of learning, philosophy, science and religion in the ancient world, all centred around its famous library.
The fundamental teaching of Hermes is concisely expressed in another of his aphorisms, this time from his Emerald Tablet: ‘as above, so below’. The point here is that we are fundamentally Souls of Divine origin, created by God to work with Him in the expansion of the Universe. We were never meant to be human beings of flesh and blood, but rather to remain as Divine beings of light. However, due to arrogance, pride and indulgence, a part of us chooses to explore the possibilities of physical material life; that is the true meaning of ‘the Fall’, as described in detail in the first chapter of the Corpus Hermeticum. Now due to our continuing arrogance, pride and indulgence, we have created a human life that is anything but Divine, with its greed, violence, cruelty and strife.
The point of Hermes’ aphorism is that our goal is to bring the way we live on earth into accord with our Divine origins, to ground our Souls in a human body.
We do this by knowing that we are of God and in every way equal to him. Only like can truly know like; only because we are of God can we come to know Him. God lives within all of us as His Divine spark. Hermes refers to this Divine spark within all of us by the Greek word nous (which has been completely corrupted in English to mean cleverness or gumption); later writers used a different Greek word gnosis, related to English know, for this. But nous is not knowledge in the way we understand this concept. Nous in the true understanding of the term is the ‘Light of God’ and hence that of the Soul, which is of God. Hermes’ teachings present that through nous, we come back to remember the Divine being we truly are: ‘let the man endowed with nous remember himself’ Corpus Hermeticum 1:21.
Further, knowledge is derived from an understanding of the world we arrive at by perceiving it with our senses, tied as they are to our mortal body, its needs and desires, and by the idea of ourselves we build by identifying with these. In contrast, Nous is the true universal understanding of the world we achieve when we look at the cosmos through our senses guided by the Divine spark that we truly are; it is an immediate and vivid apprehension of the Divine basis of all of Reality. Nous sees with ‘the eyes of the heart’. It sees beneath the appearances of things presented to our senses to see the true Divine ‘suchness’ which is their true being, the emanation in expression of the All. Thus Nous is the emanating Light of God.
Hermes presented that all of humanity equally shares in nous, and as such, all of humanity can and ultimately will return to the Divine beings of light that we truly are and quit this plane of material existence that we, in our selfish arrogance and disregard, have chosen to enter.
Hermes offered the first example of the Living Way, to live in accord with a Soulful way of life reflecting ‘virtue, restraint and reverence’ (Corpus Hermeticum 9:4). This is the natural way when we choose to align to our nous purely, since we live in ways that are in accord with the path of our return to our Divine origins, the ways of love of God and our fellow humans. But Hermes also gave heed that nous, while always Divine in origin, can be twisted, when the ways of life that arise come from ‘the demons’ Corpus Hermeticum 9:3, the lords of the astral plane, the forces of corruption, and violence, adultery, or greed. These corruptions all arise when we succumb to their allure, the satisfaction of comfort in this, the material mortal plane, and lose sight of and ignore the true Divine planes from which we came and to which we rightly belong. As Hermes taught, ‘it is impossible to be governed by both the mortal and the Divine’ Corpus Hermeticum 4:6 and ‘you cannot conceive anything beautiful or good while you are attached to the body’ Corpus Hermeticum 11:21.
Hermes did not conceive of the body as unwholesome or something to be reviled. In the Living Way that he founded the body is not evil, but indulging in its whims is considered so, if that is done in ignorance of our true purpose to return to Divinity.
Our purpose here is not to bring a material paradise of greater comfort on earth, so that humanity can continue to slumber in ignorance of its true Divinity. That would just trap us further in our physical incarnation when we were never intended to be in incarnation. Rather it is to live Divinely without expecting perfection, until all of humanity frees itself of the fascination of incarnation and quits the need to do so.
Nous, that which knows, sees and hears, is ultimately the Light of God, but we in our ignorance and pride choose to cloud our awareness with the indulgences and diversions of the physical material world. Hermes counsels us to look through these illusions and diversions to the reality of our Divine source and live in such a way that wakes us up from such slumber:
‘O People, men born of earth, you who have given yourselves over to drink and sleep and to ignorance of God, be sober, cease being intoxicated, cease being beguiled by dull sleep’… ‘why, O men born of earth, have you given yourselves over to death, while having the power to partake in immortality?... You who have kept company with those who have wandered and have shared in ignorance, be released, escape from the dark light, take part in immortality. Put an end to destruction.’
Presenting the Divine Truth of Hermes
Hermes was one of the first to live and bring words of Truth to Earth. In this presentation Serge and Natalie Benhayon share some of the original Divine teachings through the words of Hermes.
All quoted sections of the Corpus Hermeticum from the translation by Salaman, C., van Ovin, D., Wharton, W., and Mahé, J-P. 2004. The Way of Hermes. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions.