The Corpus Hermanicum

One of the aims of The World Knot is to demonstrate not only the metaphysical soundness but also the universality of the form of religion that asks us to investigate our own awareness in order to discover the truth about reality. It appears again and again all over the planet, and always it takes the same shape. There is an ambiguousness about God. There is a language of paradox and contradiction. There is the claim of a world beyond the phenomenal world and an immortality that is achievable for all of us, a state of blissful peace that surpasses all understanding of our intellect. There is the claim that this is not a theory. The methods and practices, many and various though they are, can be seen to always serve the same purpose, and the descriptions of the goal of these practices, however much they may seem to vary between ages and cultures in their imagery and language, are always capable of an interpretation that would justify the phrase ‘the perennial philosophy’ or ’the doctrine of mysticism’.

Here is a part of the entry for Hermeticism taken from one of many gems found in my local second-hand bookshop, An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Mysticism and the Mystery Religions by John Fergusson. (Thames and Hudson, London, 1976).

“From Egypt there have survived eighteen tractates, generally known as the Corpus Hermanicum, the scriptures of a small mystic sect which honoured the Egyptian god Thoth, identified with the Greek Hermes under the title Trismegistos ‘Thrice-Greatest’. They date from the first century A.D. They bring together wisdom from Egypt, Greece and Asia. Two of the tractates, the first, Poimandres (Shepherd of Men), and the thirteenth, The Secret Discourse on the Mountain, are of special importance. All are concerned to declare a divine revelation. Initiation began with a call to repentance: this is what the seventh tractate is about. So in Poimandres: ‘Repent, you who have journeyed with error and joined company with ignorance; rid yourself of darkness and grasp light; forsake corruption and partake of immortality.’

Then came personal instruction. The intiate was required to turn away from, ignorance, grief, intemperance, sensuality, injustice, avarice, folly, envy, deceit, anger, impetuosity and malice, and to embrace knowledge of God, joy, self-control, continence, righteousness, generosity, truth, goodness, life and light. This involved ascetic self-discipline. ‘It is not possible, my son, to attach yourself both to things mortal and to things divine. They are two sorts of things, the corporeal and the incorporeal; that which is mortal is of one sort; and that which is divine is the other sort; and he who wills to make his choice is left free to choose the one or the other.’ From this discipline the initiate passed to silent meditation: ‘Do not speak, but keep solemn silence; so will the mercy come down on us from God.’ ‘Then only will you see the vision, when you cannot speak of it, for the knowledge of it is deep silence, and suppression of all the senses.’ The climax was an ecstatic vision of LIGHT, delightful and joyous: that Light is described as ‘the first God’. ‘This alone, the knowledge of God, is man’s salvation; this is the ascent to Olympus; by this alone can a soul become good.’ The experience is one of rebirth. ‘I can tell you nothing but this; I see that by God’s mercy there has come to be in me a form which is not fashioned out of matter, and I have passed out of myself and entered into an immortal body! I am not now the man I was; I have been born again in spirit, and the bodily shape which was mine before has been put away from me. I am no longer an object coloured and tangible, a thing of spatial dimensions; I am now alien to all this, and all that you perceive when you gaze with bodily eyesight. To such eyes as yours, my son, I am not now visible.’ The result of this rebirth is a sense of identity with all creation, with earth, water and air, animals and plants. More, it is to enter into God. ‘We must not be frightened of affirming that a man on earth is a mortal god, and that a god in heaven is an immortal man.’

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