The Path – June 1886

THE HERMETIC PHILOSOPHY: I

Fragments of the Ancient Wisdom Religion have come down to us from the remotest past, through many channels, and in various forms.

The study of philology alone will be inadequate to discover the true meaning of ancient sacred writings, though it may very greatly assist the labors of those who have already gained a clue to the Secret Doctrine. The Theosophist and the Antiquarian differ very widely, and though the former has sometimes been accused of searching out obsolete doctrines and magnifying the achievements of the past, but little observation will be required to reveal the fact, that that for which they search may be very old because it is valuable, but never valuable merely because it is old. In short that of which they are in search may truly be said to never fade, and ne'er grow old, though it is often lost sight of. Occultism is not a new craze as some suppose, it is not simply a line of the marvelous, it is rather the profoundest of all sciences, conforming in its methods of research and the character of its results to those of all sciences. The naturalist does not hesitate to construct from a single tooth or a few fragments of bone, the entire animal and assign to it its proper place, declare its habits, modes of life, size, &c., &c., even though he fixed its era centuries ago, and no one nowadays questions the general correctness of the result; the study of comparative anatomy and the science of biology testify all this. In like manner and by similar methods may one familiar with the science of occultism, which deals with the operation of uniform laws in the higher realms of nature, arrive at exact data from very small beginnings, and with this advantage, viz., that he has the means at hand to verify his conclusions, which the naturalist has not, for in this realm there are no extinct species, the elements of human nature, and the laws which underlie their unfoldment and manifestation are the same now, as thousands of years ago.

It is the custom of many who are entirely ignorant of this higher science to deny its existence and ridicule its cultivators. Just as an uneducated and conceited boor would ridicule an Agassiz for attempting to reconstruct an animal from its thigh bone. When, therefore, one entirely ignorant not only of the principles but of the existence of such a thing as occult science, examines ancient records in which it is concealed, he will arise from his task possibly better satisfied with his own possessions as contrasted with the "ignorance" of past ages, but seldom wiser for his endeavor. Few persons nowadays are ignorant of the form of most ancient hierarchic writings, as consisting of, or containing a double meaning under the garb of allegory or parable. It is moreover becoming quite generally known that many of these ancient records are of vital importance to us of the present day, as containing the very knowledge of which we stand most in need, and the amount of attention they are receiving may be determined by observing the interest in, and almost unprecedented sales of such works as Arnold's Light of Asia, while the labors of men like Max Muller in rendering the ancient scriptures into English have made it possible for everyone to gain some familiarity with the religious casts of antiquity. Bearing in mind these general observations, let us briefly examine one of the most ancient, most famous, and yet least comprehended sources of ancient wisdom. As to the questions who was Hermes? which Hermes? when did he write? we have these points for the philologists and historians, quoting here the remark of Iamblichus in his treatise on the Mysteries: "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," and "the late learned Divine Doctor Everard" in the preface to his translation of the Divine Pymander 1650, contends that Hermes Trismegistus lived a long time before Moses, that he had "perfect and exact knowledge of all things contained in the world," * * "that he was the first that invented the art of communicating knowledge to the world by writing, that he was King of Egypt, that he styled himself the son of Saturn, and that he was believed to have come from heaven, and not to have been born on earth." (1)

The above writer goes on to say that Hermes did excel in the right understanding of, because he attained to, the knowledge of the quintessence of the whole universe, otherwise called the Elixir of the philosophers, which secret many ignorantly deny, many have sought after, and some have found. A description of this great Treasure is said to have been found engraved upon a Smaragdine Tablet in the valley of Hebron after the flood. (2)

To the modern reader, all this sounds very queer, a bundle of contradictions and vagaries, taxing reason and even credulity. But suppose we are told, that it was designed for exactly that purpose, that only they who were determined to find the truth, and who therefore had faith that it existed somewhere, were expected to walk around or dig under this stumbling-block. If we turn now to Isis Unveiled p. 507, Vol. I, we shall find the inscription said to have been found on the tablet.

FOOTNOTES:

1. See Introduction to The Divine Pymander p. Vl-et. seq. edition 1650. (return to text)

2. Ibid. (return to text)

 


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