Hermes Trismegistus tells us, is a ‘divine being’ and ‘is not to be counted amongst the other creatures on earth’. He really belongs among the gods, or ‘to speak the truth boldly, the true man is above the gods, or at least fully their equal in power’- This is because while the gods are fixed in their place in the great cosmic scheme, man, according to Hermes, is free to rise to the heights, or plunge to the depths, partaking of all the universe offers. Man isn’t limited to one niche in the macrocosm, whether that of the angels or the apes, for the simple reason that he is a microcosm, a little universe himself.
Another aspect of Egyptian religion that seems to have found its way into Plato’s Philosophy and also into the Hermetic books, is the Duat, the name the Egyptians gave to the spirit world. Although it is usually presented as an ‘underworld’ one arrives at in the ‘afterlife’, the Duat is really just an ‘overworld’ and a ‘beforelife’.
Yet although it is the ‘destination’ of all that is old and worn out’, it is also the ‘origin of all that is fresh and new’. Is contains all the forms which belong to the past or the future, and in this, Nalder argues, it is more like Plato’s world of archetypal forms; thus, by studying Philosophy — which for Plato and his followers was not, as it is today, a circumscribed academic exercise, but more like a transformational path — one could enter the spirit world while still living.
Consciousness or gnosis is in a perpetual struggle against atavistic chaos, or the cerebral cortex in battle with the old brain.
Our science wants to penetrate the mysteries of life through its ordinary means of comprehension, it arrives at remarks like that of astrophysicist Steven Weinberg, who famous announced that ‘the more the universe seems comprehensible the more ir also seems pointless’.
Unlike today, they read their horoscopes, not in order to predict their future, but in order to master it.
Our word ‘aeon’ means an immense period of time, but for the Hermeticist ‘Aion’ meant that he had achieved an existence outside if space and time. This state, in which one imagined ‘the dawn of existence in the womb’ or that of ‘the soul before entering the body’ and ‘after leaving it’, was not mere fantasy but a way of ‘seeing the invisible’, of anticipating the Great Beyond, a real training for immortality.
The problems and complexities of life have a purpose: we learn about ourselves from them, and trying to avoid them is the same as avoiding self-knowledge. A similar view was expressed by the philosopher Jean Gebser when he wrote that ‘Everything that is happening to me is a challenge to have insight into it’.
WB Yeats: Whatever we build in the imagination will accomplish itself in the circumstances of our lives’.
When Bruno railed against the fools who failed to see the significance of his ideas, his favorite insult was to call them ‘grammarian pedants’. Urbane Humanism can’t help but throw a wet towel on the aspirations of the mage.
Following the Church’s rejection of Hermes, the Protestant attack on magic, and Casaubon’s Humanist debunking of the primordial status of the Corpus Hermeticum, Hermetic science had to disguise itself. No longer is only the knowledge pursued by the Hermetics ‘occult’, meaning ‘occluded’, that is unseen; now its proponents must be too. And as I’ve suggested elsewhere it is with this turn of events that modern occultism beggins.
Originally madness meant in some way being privy to the gods. This in itself is an interesting turnaround. Where before madness meant proximity to the gods, today talk of the gods is seen as a sign of madness.
Rilke wrote that ‘ Nowhere can the world exist but within’. In response to what he saw as the ‘emptying’ of the world of significance through the rise of the rationalistic reductive view, Rilke like many other late-Romantic souls, turned inward. So Rilke recognized that his task — the task of the poet — was to save the visible, outer world from complete meaningless, by taking into his own soul. The microcosm would save the macrocosm, by sheltering it within itself. (…) With that intimacy gone, it is up to the poet, with his alchemical powers, to transmute the things of the earth into a new kind of existence.
The Imaginal World is not the world of make believe or of fantasy. It is an objective world perceived inwardly, with the mind’s eye.
That hypnagogia is produced by a ‘return’ to earlier forms of consciousness, housed in the ‘old brain’, gives new meaning to the notion of ‘ancient wisdom’.
When nihilism first raised its disturbing head in the second half of the nineteenth century, it caused a kind of panic in the collective consciousness. Now it is taught at universities and hardly causes a stir. When the notion that the world is meaningless — somethings science tells us as well — is accepted with as little reaction as a remark about the weather, we can be sure that something has gone wrong with our perception of things.