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Hermetic Divine triad

In Ancient Egyptian theology, divine triads were used to express the divine family-unit, usually composed out of Pharaoh (the son) and a divine couple (father & mother), legitimizing his rule as divine king. Pharaoh Akhenaten had introduced a monotheistic triad (exclusive and against all other deities) : Aten, Akhenaten and Nefertiti. In Heliopolis, the original triad was Atum, Shu and Tefnut, in Memphis, Ptah, Sekhmet and Nefertem emerged, whereas Thebes worshipped Amun, Mut and Khonsu. The trinity naturally developed into three or one Ennead.

In Hermetic triad reads as :

  • God, the Unbegotten One, the essence of being, the Father of All – the “Decad” ;
  • Nous, the First Intellect, the Self-Begotten One, the Mind or Light of God – the “Ennead” ;
  • Logos, the “son” from “Nous”, the Begotten One above the Seven Archons – the “Ogdoad”.

The One Entity or God (the “Tenth”) is known to Its creation as the One Mind or Hermes which contains the “noetic” root of every individual existing thing (cf. Plato, Spinoza). This Divine Mind (the attributes or names of the nameless God) allows all things to be sympathetic transformations (adaptations, modi) of God.

The “logos” is a “holy word”, coming forth from the Light of the Divine Nous, the Ninth Sphere of Being, situated between the Decad of God Himself and the Ogdoad of the blessed souls, fixed stars and the Deities.

(1) Decad : God Himself ;
(2) Ennead : Divine Nous & Light, Godman Hermes Autogenes ;
(3) Ogdoad : Logos or “son of God” ;
(4) Hebdomad : the Seven Governors of the world.

Hermetism is initiatory because it wants to elevate the soul to the level of its true Divine nature. Palingenesia is an ascension while alive. Rebirth implies more than just a confrontation with the Gods (as in Ancient Egypt), but a true interaction between Perfect Man and -thanks to the Presence of Mind- God. This interaction leads to a total emergence of the Divine spark in man and hence to his Deification (finally being completely his own Divine Self and thus himself “a God”, a being permanently realizing the Enneadic nature (XIII.3,10 & 14). This highest state may be attained in the afterlife, although the Ogdoadic nature may be realized while alive on Earth.

“Man is a Divine being, not to be compared with the other Earthly beings, but with those who are called Gods, up in the heavens. Rather, if one must dare to speak the truth, man truly is established above even these Gods, or at least fully their equal. After all, none of the celestial Gods will leave the heavenly frontiers and descend to Earth ; yet man ascends even into heavens, and measured them, and knows their heights and depths, and everything else about them he learns with exactitude, and, supreme marvel, he even has no need to leave the Earth to establish himself upon high, so far does his power extend ! We must thus dare to say : Earthly man is a mortal God, the celestial God is an immortal Man. And so it is through these two, the world and man, that all things exist ; but they were all created by the One.”
CH, Libellus X, 24-25.

The Hermetic triad can be traced back to Egyptian sources thus :

  • the one god alone, pre-existing before creation as the primordial ocean of Nun ;
  • the self-creative creator (in the form of Atum-Re), emerging out of the Nun (hatching out of his egg) as the origin of everything and the “father of the gods ;
  • the unique “son of god” or Pharaoh, who mediates between the realm of the deities (sky) and the realm of humans (Earth).

In this scheme, 10 ontological layers, strata or realms are posited : One supernatural Divine triad (“agennetos, autogennetos, gennetos”) and Seven natural “powers of fate” or “archons”. Hermetism is a gnosticism because it claims knowledge of God is possible. To know God one has to merge with Universal Mind, conveying a “special” light, causing a private and inner illumination or “gnosis”. The purified soul is absorbed into God and realizes its own Divinity. Hermetism is a “way of immortality” (X.7). But as an Alexandro-Egyptian gnosticism, Hermetism did not introduce “evil” in the archons : God our Father is Good and His creation (including His Deities) is beautiful, the crucial moral choice is up to the individual.

“For from thee, the unbegotten one, the begotten one came into being. The birth of the self-begotten one is through thee, giving birth to all begotten things that exists.” Robinson, 1984, p.294.

The Hermetic Divine triad is modalistic and subordinates the hierarchy of being. God (10 : the Decad) is the first and ultimate level of existence, the One existing for Unity Alone (the Absolute in its Absoluteness). God (the incomprehensible, unrevealable  and unknowable Father) is unborn, the “Logos autogenes” and the “son of Nous” born. What this is can not be said (cf. apophasis : absolute silence, no tales). Hermes (9 : the Ennead) is Self-begotten (not created or generated by God) and is the “soul” of God, the mode of God’s holding together His creation by Universal Mind (Nous) and Word (logos). The Begotten One (8 : the Ogdoad), again a level lower, has no power of Self-generation, and is part of the process of time and space (this “son” is the “world” or “logos” given by Hermes as master, teacher and father). This level of the Perfect(ed) Human beings is higher than the Deities (or at least equal to them).

The Seven Archons, ruling fate and subordinated to supernatural command, are beautiful and good (demons may exists, but there is no evil God). That evil exists at all is due to man’s nature and his slavish prostrations before his physical passions & vices. Clouding his true nature, these evils cause ignorance and make man subject to the fatal blows of the blind planetary forces, measured by astrologers and manipulated by magicians. On their own, both astrologers and magi fail to reach the Hermetic goal of life : “gnosis” or an inner awakening in the light coming forth from God’s Mind, i.e. an entrance in the supernatural strata of being (the Ogdoad, which borders the natural world, and the Ennead). 

“{O my Father}, yesterday You promised me that You would bring my mind into the eighth and afterwards You would bring me into the ninth. You said that this is the order of the tradition.” Robinson, 1984, p.292.

Resisting fate binds one to fate. Only the Divine light of “gnosis” allows the soul to move beyond nature and abide in the supernatural. Here, fate has no hold, for the Gods never leave their heaven, and, as Paracelsus would claim centuries earlier : the wise command the stars !

literary Hermeticism and the Western Tradition : a few highlights

The earliest links made between Egyptian wisdom and Christianity appear in the writings of Clement of Alexandria (150 – 215), Origen of Alexandria (185 – 254) and Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430).

“As early as Origen’s Contra Celsus (I, 28), we encounter the claim that it was in Egypt, and specifically as an adult laborer, that Jesus had learned all the magical arts with which he worked miracles and on which he based his divinity. The tradition also occurred in early rabbinic literature, but it was of course suppressed in official Christianity.” Hornung, 2001, pp.76-77.

Indeed, Morton (1978) writes :

“The rabbinic report that in Egypt Jesus was tattooed with magic spells does not appear in polemic material, but is cited as a known fact in discussion of a legal question by a rabbi who was probably born about the time of the crucifixion. The antiquity of the source, type of citation, connection with the report that he was in Egypt, and agreement with Egyptian magical practices are considerable arguments in its favor.”
Morton, 1978, pp.150-151.

The link between Egyptian wisdom, under the guise of Hermetism, Christianity and Islam is also pertinent and often forgotten. 

“The mystical powers of Hermes exerted themselves far beyond the Pagan world of Late Antiquity, transmuting medieval Christian and Islamic understanding of the relationship between rational knowledge and revelation.” Green, 1992, p.85.

This explains why, when Arab translations overflowed Europe, Hermetic concepts came along.

“The Sabaeans in Harran, who were without a sacred scripture under Islam, in order to count as a ‘people of the Book’, elevated the Corpus Hermeticum into such a holy book in the ninth century, thereby contributing to the continued existence of Hermetic texts among the Arab writers.”
Hornung, 2001, pp.53.

The first elements of literary Hermeticism were probably introduced in Western Europe by the Knight Templars (an order initiated in 1118). This powerful organization would pass on “the light of the Orient” to Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry. Both drew on the translations of the Corpus Hermeticum, available as early as 1471, but also on alchemy, centuries older.

“The first Latin texts on alchemy were translated from Arabic in the 12th century, and included the Septem tractatus Hermetis Sapientia Triplicis and the Liber de Compositione Alchemiae of Morienus. A leitmotif that occurs with respect of the Arabic and Latin alchemical texts is the discovery in an underground chamber or crypt of a stela made of marble, ebony or emerald, with mysterious writing or symbols on it.” Burnett, Ch (Ucko & Champion, 2003, p.94).

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