“That which is below is like that which is above,
and that which is above is like that which is below.”
– Hermes Trismegistus
‘So I, Thrice-Great Hermes,
the first of men to attain All-Knowledge,
have inscribed the secrets of the gods,
in sacred symbols and holy hieroglyphs,
on these stone tablets,
which I have concealed for a future world
that may seek our sacred wisdom.
Through all-seeing Spirit,
I myself have been the witness
of the invisible things of Heaven,
and through contemplation
come to Knowledge of the Truth.’
-Fragment from the prophecies of Hermes Trismegistus
13th c. BC
Relief of Thoth and Seshat. Carved on the back of the throne of the seated statue of Ramses II, Luxor Temple, Egypt.
(Photo’s © Alfred Molon)
Thoth was represented as a man with the head of an ibis or a baboon. He was the god of writing and arithmetic. He was the writer of Ra, the sun god. He was also the protector and healer of the moon: the invisibility at new moon was associated with the stolen eye of Horus, which was restored by Thoth at full moon. He was the ‘Lord of the Divine Words’, in the sense that he spoke for the gods. He created through the divine Word, the Logos. He was the ‘Know it all’, who invented writing, language, the arts and sciences. Images on ancient papyri often depict him as the scribe who meticulously records everything.
The worship of Thoth probably began in Lower Egypt in the pre-dynastic period (6000 – 3150 BC) and continued until the Ptolemaic period (323 – 30 BC).
The partner most often associated with Thoth was Seshat, goddess of writing, keeper of books, and patron goddess of libraries. Whether she was his companion, wife or daughter is not known. She was also identified as the goddess of architecture, astronomy, astrology, building, mathematics and geometry. Guardian of the temple library, Heavenly Librarian, Mistress of Builders.
As goddess of measurements, she assists the king in the ritual known as ‘stretching the cord or pedj-shes’ that precedes the construction of a building, usually a temple. The ‘cord’ in question is the mason’s line that was used to measure the dimensions of the building and align the building with the stars or points of the compass.
Thoth in hieroglyphics
Thrice Great Thoth (Hermes)
Seshat in hieroglyphics
Seshat in hieroglyphics
The fixing of measure and time, and the aligning of temples and monuments is a role of enormous importance, associated with a proper alignment with the heavenly realm, the realm of the gods.
Her role, therefore, can be seen very clearly as helping society to establish a proper relationship with the divine realm, bringing it into harmony with the order of the universe. Her role in actively assisting the king in the ‘stretching of the cord’ ritual in laying the foundations of important buildings, clearly dramatises the fact that the pattern for human society stems from, and has to be aligned in appropriate harmony with, the realm of the spirit: the unseen realm, the realm of the gods.
Seshat exhorts us to recognise the realm of the gods and give the Invisible Realm its due, and to align ourselves with that Invisible Realm, to bring about a harmonious integration between the material and spiritual aspects of our own nature and of the material-spiritual universe in which we find ourselves in this incarnated life.
Seshat is depicted in a leopard skin, with a headdress of a seven-pointed star/leaf encircled by a crescent moon in the form of a bow.
She carries a long staff, made from the central rib of a palm frond leaf, with sixty-four notches and with a sacred shen symbol (of infinity) underneath. These notches represent the king’s reign. Cutting notches or making marks on a stick is the earliest of all forms of keeping a tally, and in itself would suggest an origin of time even before writing was invented.
Seshat is derived from Sefhet, which means ‘7’ in ancient Egypt.
Drawing of murals from the Memnonium in Thebes, Egypt.
Atmoo, Thoth and the goddess Seshat, who writes the name Remeses on the fruit of the persea.
(Photo © New York Public Library’s)
“I make your names permanent,
as the sky is permanent.
As long as the eternal exists, you will always exist.”
The exact meaning of the headdress is not known. One interpretation is that it is a symbolic representation of the lotus flower. The lotus flower was extremely important in ancient Egyptian symbolism, cosmology and especially cosmogony, because it opened its chalice in the morning and closed it in the evening with the rising and setting sun respectively.
One of the most striking features of this flower is undoubtedly the radial distribution of the petals around the centre. This creates regularity, repetition, uniformity and beauty. All these features are in fact properties of symmetry, one of the most fundamental principles observed in nature. The principles of symmetry seen in nature and in art can also be observed in architecture.
The features mentioned here are cited to conclude that in the form of the sign of the goddess Seshat, the geometrical principle of symmetry can be recognised.
Could the bow, a primitive representation of a caliper (compass) to make measurements?
Thoth observed and wrote down everything that happened and reported it to Ra every morning. As record keeper of the gods, he was paired with the librarian Seshat. Thoth and Seshat knew both the future and the past. They inscribed the fate of a person on stones on which their mother gave birth and the length of a reign on the leaves of the sacred Persea/Ished tree (Tree of life).
Drawing of murals from the Pantheon, Egypt.
(Photo © New York Public Library’s)
After the cult of Osiris, the followers of Horus brought a solar religion from the east. The priests of Ra, the worshippers of Amon and the followers of Aton.
The heaven of Osiris was a place where the fields were fertile, meat and drink were plentiful.
The followers of Ra, the sun god, believed in a heaven of a more spiritual nature. They hoped to take their place in this god’s ship, to travel to heaven wrapped in light and thus become bright and shining spirits.
Thoth played a prominent role when the Eye of Ra, ‘the Sun’, battled Set, the god of darkness. This evil force succeeded in casting clouds over the eye, and it was Thoth who swept them away, ‘returning the eye, alive and whole, to its lord’.
In many battles between the gods, Thoth was often the referee. His task was to prevent either god from achieving a decisive victory, he had to keep these forces in balance, the forces being light and darkness, good and evil.
Thoth was both the heart and tongue, the reason and mental power of Ra. He was the ‘logos’ according to Plato.
1st c. BC.
Plaster image, Temple of the goddess Hathor in Nitentóre (Dendera), Egypt.
God Thoth on a papyrus barque, worship the crescent in which the ‘Udjat’ Eye is depicted.
6th-3th c. BC.
Statue of Thoth as a baboon with Wadjet eye in glazed Egyptian faience.
Thoth was associated with the sun and the moon, traditionally the two ‘eyes’ of the sky god Horus. The Wadjet Eye, the so-called Eye of Horus, symbolises legitimate kingship, the structured universe and life.
This carefully shaped baboon holds the eye in front of his chest with his left hand below and his right hand above it.
(Photo © Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, USA)
13th c. BC.
Thoth and Seshat in the temple of Seti I.
(Photo © WilliamSitu)
15th c. BC.
Detail of an engraving in Red Chapel of Hatshepsut, Karnak, Egypt.
In this relief, Pharaoh Hatshepsut is assisted by Seshat, in the basic ceremony required to mark out a building site.
3th c. BC.
Baboon with wedjat eye (eye of Horus) and neb basket (symbol of divinity).
When Thoth (Tehuti) appears in the form of a monkey, he is the god of ‘balance’, the symbol of the equinoxes.
Brits national museum, England
(Photo © The Trustees of the British Museum)
19th c. AD.
Drawing on parchment of a wall painting
Thoth, twice the greatest Hermes’ by J-F Champollion (founder of Egyptology)
Brooklyn Museum Libraries, USA
16th c. BC.
Seshat & Thoth
Temple complex, Karnak, Egypt
(Photo © Aidan McRae Thomson)
6-5th c. BC.
Imprint of an Achaemenid cylinder seal
King holding two lion griffins at bay, reference to the Gilgamesh story.
Next to it are Egyptian hieroglyphs that read “Thoth is a protection over me”.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA
In the first centuries of our era, Hermes Trismegistus was regarded in the Greco-Roman world as an important teacher of ancient wisdom. His teachings were expounded in numerous writings, either by himself or his direct students. The name Hermes suggests a connection with the Greek god of the same name, the Mercury of the Romans, but it is secondary. In reality, this Hermes is the Egyptian god Thoth. The historian Herodotus (c. 450 BC) speaks of a large cult centre of Thoth in central Egypt as Hermopolis with temples in honour of Hermes.
In Plato’s Phaedrus (4th c. BC), Socrates tells of a god in Egypt called Thoth as the inventor of number, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, doubles and especially writing (hieroglyphs). Similarities between the works of Plato, such as the Timaios and the Hermetica are not surprising. According to the ancient Greek scholar Diogenes Laertius, Plato possessed books with Pythagorean teachings, based on Egyptian wisdom. Pythagoras himself spent years in the temples of Egypt and was initiated into the religion of the Egyptians.
It would be a mistake to think that Hermes Trismegistus is just the Egyptian god Thoth in a Greek robe. Thoth is an important god in the Egyptian pantheon whereas Hermes Trismegistus was mainly seen as a human being, an authoritative teacher of divine wisdom. Already Plato left open the question whether the Egyptian Thoth was a god or a divinely inspired man.
From the earliest times, Hermes was the guide and protector of travellers. His name is also derived from the stone heaps that served as boundary posts and marking points (herma, hermaion).
Trismegistus, means ‘three times greatest’. Different Hermeses were distinguished, which were always placed in a distant Egyptian past. According to the Egyptian priest Manetho (c. 280 BC), Thoth, the first Hermes, would have engraved his wisdom with hieroglyphs on stone tablets, which were then translated into Greek by the second Hermes.
Pater Hermes philosophorum, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence, Italy
Hermes Mercurius Trismegistus gives a (law) book to Moses with his right hand, while his left hand rests on a plate on which the divine word is mentioned.
At the bottom it says: “Hermes Mercurius Trismegistus contemporaneus Moysi.”
Cathedral of Siena, Italy
Within the Arabic tradition, the existence of three Hermeses is mentioned. The first Hermes was the grandson of Adam and lived before the Flood. The Hebrews regarded him as the prophet Enoch, while the Arabs regarded him as Idrīs, a prophet mentioned in the Koran. He built pyramids and cities in Upper Egypt, where he lived and warned of the destruction of the world by water and fire. To save the flourishing science from destruction during the Flood, he built a temple and engraved all his scientific knowledge by carving it into the walls. The second Hermes lived after the Babylonian Flood (ancient Egypt) and was known to have taught Pythagoras philosophy and mathematics. The third Hermes continued the tradition, again in Egypt. It is this third Hermes who is known as Hermes Trismegistus.
Hermes was thus identified with the prophet ‘Idris’ in the Koran. Etymologically, ‘d-r-s’ means, ‘passing on knowledge’. The prophet Idris is described as the first person to use the pen as in the Egyptian iconography of Thoth. Idris is thus identified with the first of the three Hermeses. The one who invented the alphabet, writing and astronomy and who built the pyramids.
Engraving of Mercury Trismegistus by Pierre Mussard, Historia Deorum fatidicorum, Venice, Italy
Islamic mystics and philosophers, too, trace their inspiration back to the Thrice Great Hermes. Because of its exalted position among the sacred writings of Egyptian spirituality, the Hermetica became the inspiration for an important undercurrent in Islamic philosophy, and the holy book for unorthodox religious groups such as the Sabians.
Another unorthodox group in the Islamic realm were the poets and mystics known as the Sufis. The twelfth-century Iranian Sufi sage Yaha Suhrawardi aimed at integrating Hermeticism within the Islamic tradition into one great philosophical and esoteric whole in Sufism.
However, the handful of extant works attributed to Hermes were not written in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, but in Greek, Latin and Coptic. It is assumed that Alexandria was the cradle of Hermetism, because of the combination of Greek, Egyptian and Jewish elements. A dating of all transmitted Hermetic works remains virtually impossible. The vast majority of Hermetic works, which have been found and/or handed down, originate from the first three centuries of our era.
There is no doubt that strong Egyptian influences are present in the hermetic literature. The Hermetics are partly Hellenistic continuations of what was already prevalent in Egypt. According to Egyptologists, the Hermetic writings contain many ancient Egyptian mythical representations, which the Alexandrian Hermeticists rendered into Greek philosophical ideas.
Thus, Alexandrian Hermeticism is a symbiosis of Greek, Egyptian and Jewish elements whose earliest development can no longer be clearly traced. The result was an entirely unique religious world view, which is not typically Greek, Egyptian or Jewish.
The books of Hermes are undoubtedly the product of many writers, not of one ancient sage. They were attributed to Hermes, even though it is a combined work of many scholars.
With the discovery of the Nag Hammadi scrolls (1945), there were also three Hermetic writings in Coptic translation that belonged to Gnostic Christians. One of these texts proved to be of great importance and gave more insight into the existence of hermetic communities with their initiations, prayers and hymns. Near the site were ancient Egyptian tombs, inhabited by the early Christian hermit Saint Pachomius, among others. The walls of these tombs are covered with hieroglyphs, attributed to Thoth. They describe a spiritual rebirth in the knowledge of God.
Within the Christian faith there are teachings that are similar to Hermetica, such as the trinity, the Logos or word of God (Atum). Hermes Trismegistus also foresaw, like the oracles of Sibylle and Orpheus, the birth of the son of God.
In the esoteric tradition of the Jews, Hermes was equated with their mysterious prophet Enoch. In the third book of Enoch, also called the Book of Heavenly Palaces, it is told how the Jewish mystic could ascend to these palaces in the seven heavens thanks to the merkavah mysticism. And where he grew into a divine figure, the Metatron. Metatron, the messenger of revelations that a mystic can take note of. Enoch, called Enoichion by the Greeks, also means ‘seer with the open eye’ or the ‘inner eye’.
Thoth, Hermes, Idris, Enoch, four individuals and all four belong to the same category of authors of sacred writings, initiators of occult and ancient wisdom. Inventors of art and science, of writing or literature. It can be said that these were generic names, applied to, and borne by, a number of individuals, in different times and centuries, peoples and countries.
Hermeticism is not a philosophical movement, but a religious one. The Hermetic wants to know and worship God and ultimately become one with him. According to the Hermetic writings, there are two ways to get to know God: the contemplation of the beauty of the cosmos, which makes us know the invisible God who made the All, and the initiation into the heavenly mysteries.
Hermeticians and Gnostics had some convictions in common. For them it was certain that the deepest core of man, his real self, is of divine origin and that only through gnosis can the return to that origin be realised. Gnosis, knowledge that is not obtained through the analytical mind, but through revelation and inner enlightenment.
The knowledge that Hermes teaches is not just an intellectual exercise. It is about focusing the mind on Atum (an ancient Egyptian name for God) in deep meditation. To transcend beyond belief, to experience directly the Spirit of the Universe. Understanding the secrets of the natural world, he is overwhelmed by a sense of awe and deep reverence for the Creator. He appreciates the perfect order of the universe, as if he were listening to a grand symphony in which all the melodies have been exquisitely combined to form one glorious harmony.
…as if he were listening to a grand symphony in which all the melodies have been exquisitely combined to form one glorious harmony..
– ‘Hermes Trismegistus’, by R. Van Den Broek
– ‘Hermes Trismegistus’, by Jacob Slavenburg
– ‘Encyclopedia of African Religion’, by Denise Martin
– ‘Star Myths of the World’, by David Warner Mathise
– ‘Math for Mystics’, by Renna Shesso
– ‘Thoth & Seshat’, by Joshua J. Mark
– ‘The development of the sign of the ancient egyptian goddess seshat down to the end of the old kingdom: analysis and interpretation’, by Dušan Magdolen
– ‘Hermes Trismegistus, the Three Times Great and Many Times Forged’, by Octavio da Cunha Botelho
– ‘Holy people of the World’, by Hugh Talat Halman
– ‘De Hermetica’, by Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy
The Kybalion first appeared in 1908 under the pseudonym of “The Three Initiates”. The book is dedicated to Hermes Trismegistus. The author of this work was eventually attributed to William Walker Atkinson. He was strongly inspired by Hinduism, more specifically Shaivism. He was strongly influenced by the Theosophical Society, Eastern philosophy and esotericism mixed with Western esoteric thinking.
Therefore, we find in the Kybalion a number of esoteric principles from Ancient Egypt, Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. Thus, it can be said that the texts in the book belong to Perennialism.
Perennialism could be called the study of all concepts and phenomena that recur in perpetuity without becoming part of time itself. Perennialism assumes that the world of the esoteric is composed of archetypes. Archetypes do not belong to the individual but to the cultural group to which he belongs. Every culture therefore has the same archetypes but they are represented by different symbols. So it is that symbols of different cultures can have the same meaning.
Some texts, such as the Kybalion, are not unambiguous and can therefore be interpreted differently. Each esoteric interpretation has the sole purpose of “making you think”. The texts are given an ‘initiating’ function.
The meaning of the word Kybalion, is unprecedented. In Greek there is the word ‘Kybeia’, which means dice. A die, when added to its numerical values that are opposite each other, always has the number seven. A reference to Thoth, the inventor of the dice game, is therefore easily made.
The prologue of the Kybalion is in analogy with the Tabula Emeraldina of Hermes Trismegistus. There too, the introductory sentence begins with:
“The secret words of Hermes. It is true! It is certain! It is the full truth! What is below is equal to what is above, and what is above is equal to what is below, so that the wonders of the One may come to pass. And as all things were made of the One, through one mediator, so all were born of this one Marriage“.
This is also the only direct reference to Hermes Trismegistus.
There are seven principles of truth; he who knows and understands them has the magic key that will open all the Gates of the Temple even before he has knocked. In the Kybalion, the writer gives seven laws that belong to perennialism.
The All is Spirit; the Universe is Thought.
‘THE LAW OF ANALOGY’
That which is Above is as it is Below; that which is Below is as it is Above.
‘EVERYTHING IS VIBRATION’
Nothing is at rest. Everything moves. Everything vibrates.
Everything is Double. All things contain two poles; all in extremis; equal and unequal have the same meaning. The opposite poles have the same nature but a different appearance. The extremes touch each other. All truths are only half truths. All opposites can be united.
Everything passes, inside and out; everything has its time; everything evolves and degenerates; the pendulum’s swing manifests everywhere; the measure of its movement to the right is equal to the measure of its movement to the left; the rhythm is constant.
‘THE LAW OF CAUSE AND EFFECT’
Every Cause has its Effect; every Effect has its Cause; everything exists in accordance with the Law; the Coincidence is only a name given to an unknown Law; there are different levels of causes; but nothing escapes the Law.
There is a gender for all that exists. Everything has a Male or Female Principle. This gender is expressed in everything that exists.
Based on and quoted from :
– ‘De Kybalion’, by M. Roggemans. Page 19, 27, 40
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