by Julian Ochoa

The corpus Hermeticum was translated in 1471, from then until the 16th century, 16 editions were printed. This body of knowledge was the inspiration of many great men, Giordano Bruno, and Pico de la Mirandola took advantage of studying these manuscripts[6]. Scholars during this period claimed that Hermeticism was compatible with Christianity, but for Giordano Bruno, Hermeticism was a little bit different. According to Bruno, Hermeticism was literally the teachings of the ancient Egyptians and since Egypt was older and had its own magical and mythical past, he deemed Christianity and Judaism as decadent versions of the older Egyptian religion[7].

Bruno thought that with the Hermetic knowledge he attained he could bring about change in Europe. He was clinging to an old prophecy in the corpus that said, that Egypt would fall and be taken over by darkness and ignorance, but that in a distant future the ancient religion would rise again to be a light unto the world. Bruno thought the age he lived in was right to bring about these changes, but his ideas were radical for his time. One of many of Bruno`s arguments was that Jesus tried to restore the ancient Egyptian religion; Bruno also believed that the earth and all the planets revolved around the sun, not the established theory of the time that stated that earth was the centre of all the cosmos, such ideas led him into trouble and to an unfortunate end[8].

Depending on the scholarly source, the number of hermetic texts varies from 1000 to 20,000, but all agree that the most common number of texts to be attributed to Hermes is 42. Since there are so many texts attributed to Hermes, it is possible that Hermes was not one person alone, but several writers that wrote different texts throughout the ages and put Hermes Trismegistus as the author; Marcilio Ficino only managed to get 15 texts out of Constantinople. Mainstream scholarship can trace the origins of the texts as far back as the 1st or 4th centuries A.D. The Gnostic gospels found in Nag Hammadi contains a text of a conversation between Hermes and Asclepius. In addition, there is a side note from a scribe from those times apologizing for not copying more hermetic texts. This implies the possibility that there were many more texts between the 1st and 4th centuries. Zosimus of propolis a Greek- Egyptian mentioned the hermetic texts in the third century; in the 6th century John Stobi edited some hermetic writings[9].

One of the most famous hermetic texts is the Tabula Smaragdina also known as the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus. From this text comes the most famous dictum “As above so below”. The Emerald Tablet is the key to alchemy, astrology and all other occult lore, Eliphas Levi says that the emerald tablet contains all the magic you need to know[10]. There are a few legends about the origins of the emerald tablet, one is that Sarah, Abrahams wife found the tablets in a cave where Hermes dead body was holding the tablets, another one says that Alexander the Great found the emerald tablet under the sphinx, one says that Apollonius of Tyana Wrote the emerald tablet.

There are many myths about who was Hermes Trismegistus, therefore one has to take Hermes as an allegory. One account says Hermes lived before the flood and wrote all the teachings in stele so they could survive the catastrophe. After the flood, another Hermes wrote the ancient wisdom into books and another built the Egyptian pyramids and other cities, another Hermes was Enoch, Adam’s grandson. Who had written all the Antediluvian wisdom into two columns which survived the flood, these columns were used to set up the new temple which was built by Noah, another Hermes built initiatic temples under the Egyptian cities. Cicero the Roman statesman wrote of five Hermes and that one had traveled to Egypt from Greece to teach letters and laws. St Augustine says hermes was contemporary with Moses, In the Islamic tradition, Hermes is known as Idris[11].

Like Zoroaster which was a Title given to Persian initiates of high degree, Hermes was also a Title given to high initiates. Thoth-Hermes was more of a ritualistic personification of an idea,  a concept which, with time became a person. It is unknown when Thoth/Hermes appeared as a person, but Thoth and Hermes do appear in mystery dramas, stories and rituals which are part of allegorical stories[12].

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the city of Alexandria fell into the hands of different forces, in order to survive the test of time, traditions like hermeticism had to be taken to safer places.  Many of the hermetic teachings survived under the Islamic empires,  and out of the Islamic traditions the Druze religion emerged, the Druze religion contains hermetic and Neoplatonic teachings, Plato and Proclus are Druze saints. Hermetic ideas traveled from Alexandria to Baghdad, its most ardent followers lived in a town near Baghdad called Harran. Harran was a community where Hermeticism was its main religion, once this community collapsed, the Hermetic texts and ideas were taken to Constantinople, from there the corpus was taken to Florence.

Hermes Trismegistus as Sage or God was known as the builder of nations, messenger of the gods, God of merchants and thief’s, responsible for medicine, chemistry, law, art, writing, astrology, music, magic, rhetoric, philosophy, mathematics, some called him the 1000 thousand times great. Manly Palmer Hall said that Hermes was the author of the book of Thoth, a book about human regeneration. Some say that his teachings were also transmitted via the tarot cards. Levi said that all the temples in Egypt contain in its walls some of his teachings[13].

Hermeticism came to Europe during the renaissance via the Alexandrian age. The most crucial time for Hermeticism and Egyptian religion happened during the age of Alexander the great. With the creation of Alexandria and the Ptolemaic succession, many people from as far as India and Greece congregated in Alexandria. Where the biggest library of the ancient world instructed all its seekers. During the Ptolemaic age, all sorts of religions mixed; Egyptian religions, Greek, Roman, Jewish, eastern religions, and later Christianity; people from different religions lived in harmony, sharing ideas that slowly gave birth to new and different traditions. The God Hermes was likened to Thoth out of which Thoth-Hermes came about, all the teachings of both gods were combined into a new tradition[14].

There are debates about whether the Hermetic tradition has any similarities to Egyptian religious and philosophical ideas, what is certain is that, it is not part of the Amonistic or Osirian philosophies. Nor do they have anything to do with the teachings of Akhenaten. Hermeticism could not have been written before Greek philosophy as the hermetic concepts are very similar to Greek philosophy[15].

The discovery that Hermeticism was possibly born in late antiquity caused controversy in renaissance Europe. The reformation was happening, one Christian scholar had studied the Corpus Hermeticum and concluded that the writings were not ancient but were from around the 1st to the 3rdcenturies. This finding disillusioned many and the hermetic writings went into hiding. This just meant that Hermeticism was no longer mainstream, Rosicrucianism emerged in the 1600s which created a new space for hermetic studies.

Mysteriously Rosicrucianism emerged causing a sensation across Europe, but since the brotherhood was nowhere to be seen, it was considered a hoax. Nevertheless, both traditions survived and influenced the creation or the enrichment of many groups, most particularly in the late 1600s when masonic lodges were popping up across Europe[16]

By the 1700s freemasonry was the new esoteric tradition which would give space for its members to study Hermeticism and Rosicrucianism. In the 1800s writers like Eliphas Levi wrote about hermeticism, masonic writers linked freemasonry to hermeticism as part of an unbroken linage back to ancient Egypt and beyond. In 1877 H.P. Blavatsky, Co-founder of the Theosophical Society had published ISIS unveiled to which she dedicated around 30,000 words to hermeticism. Later biographers and critics have said that ISIS unveiled was a book inspired by western teachers and that her later book the Secret Doctrine was inspired by eastern Masters. Isis unveiled, was written to compare the similarities between the western and eastern traditions. Some say ISIS unveiled is a hermetic text. It can be said that for HPB to compare the east and west She had to use the hermetic tradition as it touched on ideas that are possibly older than Christianity or any other western esoteric idea. It can be argued that Hermeticism influenced Christianity and all the other traditions that came out of the west. Blavatsky explains that hermeticism is part of the ancient wisdom, she compared Hermes to Buddha and Jesus, Blavatsky went on to say that the Hermetic teachings were Vedantic in origin[17].

Since the late 1800s hermeticism has seen a type of revival, many groups have adopted Hermes name, The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor which was operated by French Occultist Max Theon, and Scottish freemason Peter Davidson. The Hermetic Society, was created by Anna Kingsford a member of the Theosophical Society in London, out of that society the Hermetic Order of the golden dawn came about. Many other groups have come out since then using hermeticism as their name or inclination.

Many books on hermeticism have been written. Most stories surrounding hermeticism are related to men, or groups of men, but so far women have women have not been considered participants in this tradition, however writers like Blavatsky and Anna Kingsford have not been mentioned and another more obscure writer Mary Anne Atwood left two books about hermeticism, Atwood wrote A suggestive inquiry into hermetic mystery. Atwood along with her father were working on hermetic ideas, her father wrote a long poem about hermeticism. When she finished writing the book her father read it and said the book was an abomination and requested that all the copies of the book be burnt. He was envious of his daughter’s work as he was not a good writer. Luckily for future generations someone had bought one of Atwood`s copies and that copy was reprinted after Mary Anne’s Death.

Hermeticism has been used to denote most part the western mystery tradition. Since the Dawn of the Theosophical Society, there have been critics that say that the Society has only focused on eastern teachings, however if one looks carefully at Blavatsky`s writings they are all inclusive. The Hermetic tradition has been argued to be one of the most important traditions to represent the spiritual linage of the west. It doesn’t matter what date is attributed for the birth of hermeticism, if it’s the ancient Egyptian line or the Ptolemaic / Alexandrian age, hermeticism is not truly western or eastern, Hermeticism comes from old syncretism’s, the roots of which come from the ancient wisdom. The Ancient Wisdom, Theo-Sophia  or Hermeticism, is so ancient that it doesn’t make sense to give it a label of east or west, perhaps it is only good to add a label to it just as a point of reference[18].


  • Besant, A, Giordano Bruno, The Theosophist office, (1913).
  • Blavatsky, H.P, ISIS Unveiled 1877, Global Grey (2013).
  • Blavatsky, H.P, The Secret Doctrin, Theosophical University Press Online Edition, (1888).
  • Encyclopedia Brittanica,(2021) Hermetic Writtings,2021: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Hermetic-writings
  • Hall, M.P, The Secret Teachings of all ages, H.S Crocker Incorporated, (1928).
  • Lachman, G, The Quest for Hermes Trismegistus, Floris Books, (2011).
  • Yates, F, Giordano Bruno and The Hermetic Traditio, Routledge and Kegan Paul (1964).


[1] Cambridge Dictionary,2021 Hermetic, january 2021.

[2] Lachman, G, The Quest for Hermes Trismegistus, Floris Books, (2011) pg: 11-12

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid, pg: 10.

[5] Encyclopedia Britannica 2021 Hermetic Writtings, january 2021: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Hermetic-writings

[6] Lachman, G, The Quest for Hermes Trismegistus, Floris Books, (2011) pg:9

[7] Ibid: pg: 158-9

[8] Yates, F, Giordano Bruno and The Hermetic Tradition. Routledge and Kegan Paul (1964) Pg: 96

[9] Hall, Manly, P, The Secret Teachings of All ages, The life and Teachings of Thoth Hermes Trimegistus, H.S Crocker Inc, (1928) Pgs: 90-91

[10] Ibid.

[11] Lachman, G, The Quest for Hermes Trismegistus, Floris Books, (2011) pg:14

[12] Blavatsky, H.P, The Secret Doctrine, Theosophical University Press online Edition, 1888, pg:308.

[13] Hall, Manly, P, The Secret Teachings of All ages, The life and Teachings of Thoth Hermes Trimegistus, H.S Crocker Inc, (1928) Pg: 91

[14] Lachman, G, The Quest for Hermes Trismegistus, Floris Books, (2011) pg:15.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Yates, France, Giordano Bruno and The Hermetic Tradition, Routledge and Kegan Paul (1964) pg:407.

[17] Blavatsky, H.P, Isis Unveiled 1877, Global Grey (2013)pgs:486-7

[18] Ibid.

This paper was first published in the website: Truth Rises ( August 2020) https://truthrises.org/2020/08/12/an-introduction-into-hermeticism/