By Robert Zoller
Why Hermeticism? The Hermetic Gnosis, known through the Corpus Hermeticum and its primary ancillae, the many texts containing instruction in the practical arts of Alchemy. Astrology and Magic, is of considerable interest in a wide variety of fields–the history of science, the history of ideas, the history and philosophy of religion, mathematics, chemistry and medicine, as well as chronology and calendrics, astrology, alchemy, magic, political science, semiotics and psychology.
Why the Hermetic Gnosis?
From the Hellenistic Period to the present day the Hermetic Gnosis has exerted a powerful and formative, although often indirect, influence on western science, society and thought. The Corpus Hermeticum‘s first libellus, the Pymander, with its cosmogonic myth, its declaration of the divine origin of Man, and its eight-staged spiritual ascent has long been an important literary source for mystical initiation. Its peculiar concept of spiritual rebirth, for instance in Libellus II, The Basin, contains Persian, Greek and Egyptian Gnostic features interwoven in an early universalism characteristic of the cosmopolitanism of the Hellenistic Age. Its exhortation to spiritual refinement is noble. Its declaration that ignorance of God is the greatest evil in men is an expression of its wisdom, as is its cultivation of the Agathosdaimon, cosubstantial with God, existing potentially as Mind in Man (Libellus XII). So also its assertion of the unity of mankind (Libellus XII), its belief in transmigration of souls (Libellus XIII), the Sun as the source of life (Libellus XVI). and the idea of heliocentricity (Libellus XVI, Asclepius 29), which Copernicus recognized as a source and encouragement for his own mathematical theory. The Encomium on Man found in Asclepius 1, (6a) was the impetus behind Pico della Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man and the model for Shakespeare’s expression in Hamlet, Act II:
“What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god!”
Consideration of the sources of the scientific revolution of the 12th century and the mathematical innovations of the 13th to 17th centuries shows again and again the intimate relation between the origins of modern mathematics and the arts of magic and astrology. Throughout the Middle Ages, both Geometry and Numerical Calculation often suffered from suspicion as Mathesis, or Magic. As late as the Renaissance, the fields of Algebra and Cryptography were considered to be parts of the “Black Arts.” Astronomy was not considered as a discipline fully separate from Astrology until the late 17th century. The same is true of Chemistry and Alchemy. The multifaceted realm of Magic is still not fully understood, many feeling that it is safer to deny its influence rather than to attempt to investigate its roots. Yet in the last two centuries we have seen hypnosis separated from spell-casting and “animal magnetism,” and the rise of such technologies and techniques as flight, brainwashing, advertising, robotics, artificial intelligence, and semiotics–all disciplines originally subsumed under the heading of Magic–renamed and set loose into society in the name of Science. Underlying all of these areas was Hermeticism–either in practice or in theory. Hermetic science produced all sorts of antecedents in these areas: makers of astrolabes and of moving and singing statuary; curious chemical processes for making stained glass and mineral medicines; and innovative reckoners, unbreakable ciphers and double entry bookkeeping.
The field of political science has also been witness to the cogency of Hermetic Philosophy. Frances Yates has shown, in Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, in The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, and in her Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age, the role of Hermeticism as a stimulus to Utopian political theory. Students of Freemasonic and Rosicrucian symbolism and history will quickly recognize much that is pertinent in the symbolic content of the Hermetic Gnosis.
While the Corpus Hermeticum does not expressly deal with the subject of economics as a separate discipline, it is inescapable that political visions have at least tacit or unexpressed economic correlates. The Hermetic Gnosis is no exception and much of western history can be viewed as an attempt to articulate and enact an efficient hermetic economy–an attempt which seems only now, in the last phases of the 20th century, to be reaching fruition.
There is more to astrology than psychology, prediction of events or cosmology. Astrology is a symbolic representation of reality and as such has great sociological, sacerdotal and political relevance which presently remains untapped. What is needed is a thorough study of the way in which these potentials were formerly channeled to the greatest benefit in the fields of theology, science and politics. Only in this way will we be able to fully and accurately gauge their future potentials. Some aspects of this study have been undertaken by academic institutions (e.g. the Warburg Institute in connection with the history of art) but other areas remain untouched (e.g. the disciplined and directed use of astrology as a means of channeling social awareness) which are best approached and more penetratingly studied by rogue scholars whose acumen is not coopted by considerations of position, funding or tenure. Finally, astrology is essentially the study and creative manipulation of time. By means of the principles of this art one may live harmoniously in accordance with the cycles of nature or determine nature toward specific events by initiating action at appropriate moments.
Magic is a term of surprising ambiguity, equivocation and scope. In common parlance it means anything from wishing a thing into being to the manufacture and application of magical objects for the realization of specific desires. Between these two extremes there are many areas of hermetic endeavor also termed “magical”. For instance, the exploitation of unknown or misunderstood modalities for the realization of chosen goals was classically considered as magic. The discovery and future exploitation of such modalities provides us with sufficient reason for studying the magic of the past and present. Beyond this, many questions remain, for instance, in the field of psychology. What is the nature of paranormal experience? How does clairvoyance and distant viewing work? What constitutes a prophetic dream? What theory may be put forward to account for such knowing? How are we to view the commonly reported near-death experiences? What are the mechanisms which account for mass movements? Are they all determined solely by economic and class causes? Can they be manipulated? Is the higher evolution of man a possibility and to what degree is it contingent upon technological advance? Many more such questions that do not comfortably conform to accepted categories, or deny accepted formalization, or for which modern science has no answers might be asked.
While the ancients sought to transmute lead into gold, the modern rogue scholar seeks to understand the way alchemy interfaced with early chemistry and the idea of science, always on the lookout for abandoned mines and forgotten quarries where veins of ore may remain to be mined, refined and coined. Only the most self-satisfied and short-sighted would suggest that all that may be known is known or that human learning may not yet add to its treasury. Being guided by the theory which posits an inner as well as an outer alchemy, the rogue scholar endeavors to learn the secrets of creation from the writings of those who read the Book of Nature and to create new means of expression for the fruits of such knowledge.
Collectively these four trees of our Hermetic Orchard comprise the labor of our intellectual and philosophical husbandry. The fruit of these trees will be the spiritual sustenance of the future. It is our purpose to cultivate the garden with love and diligence so that the harvest may be of the highest quality and only the best fruits offered in thanksgiving.
Copyright ©1994 by Robert Zoller