When today we speak of something being hermetically sealed, we use the name of Hermes Trismegistos, who in a special process cemented and rendered airtight by sealing with clay the Philosopher’s Egg, the vessel in which the transformation of gold was said to take place.
“The Three Hermeses … these three were in later ages confounded and fused into one, known as Hermes Trismegistus.”
“… there is a connection between a theoretical mythic archtype of Hermes and the number three -*Sladek 1988.”
“… the Trismegistus was so called because he described the creator’s three essential characteristics: existence, wisdom and life.”
As to Hermes, the Legend is not altogether without some histoical support ahhough the story is in the Legend mythical, but of that character which pertains to the historical myth.
He was reputed to be the son of Taut or Thoth, whom the Egyptians deified, and placed his image beside those of Osiris and Isis. To him they attributed the invention of letters, as well as of all the sciences, and they esteemed him as the founder of their religious rites.
Hodges says, in a note on a passage of Sanchoniathon, (1) that “Thoth was an Egyptian deity of the second order. The Graeco- Roman mythology identified him with Hermes or Mercury. He was reputed to be the inventor of writing, the patron deity of learning, the scribe of the gods, in which capacity he is represented signing the sentences on the souls of the dead.” Some recent writers have supposed that Hermes was the symbol of Divine Intelligence and the primitive type of Plato’s ” Logos.” Manetho, the Egyptian priest, as quoted by Syncellus, distinguishes three beings who were callcd Hermes by the Egyptians. The first, or Hermes Trismegistus, had, before the deluge, inscribed the history of all the sciences on pillars; the second, the son of Agathodemon, translated the precepts of the first; and the third, who is supposed to be synonymous with Thoth, was the counsellor of Osiris and Isis. But these three were in later ages confounded and fused into one, known as Hermes Trismegistus. He was always understood by the philosophers to symbolize the birth, the progress, and the perfection of human sciences. He was thus considered as a type of the Supreme Being. Through him man was elevated and put into communication with the gods.
The Egyptians attributed to him the composition of 36,525 books on all kinds of knowledge. (2) But this mythical fecundity of authorship has been explained as referring to the whole scientific and religious encyclopoedia collected by the Egyptian priests and preserved in their temples.
Under the title of Hermetic books, several works falsely attributed to Hermes, but written, most probably, by the Neo-Platonists, are still extant, and were deemed to be of great authority up to the 16th century. (3)
It was a tradition very generally accepted in former times that this Hermes engraved his knowledge of the sciences on tables of pillars of stone, which were afterward copied into books.
Manetho attributes to him the invention of stylae, or pillars, on which were inscribed the principles of the sciences. And Jamblichus
(1) Cory’s “Ancient Fragments,” edited by E. Richmond Hodges, Lond., 1876, p. 3. (2) Jamblichus, citing Selencos, “de Mysteries,” segm. viii., c. 1. (3) Rousse, Dictionnaire in voc. The principal of these is the “Poemander,” or of the Divine Power and Wisdom.
says that when Plato and Pythagoras had read the inscriptions on these columns they formed their philosophy. (1)
Hermes was, in fact, an Egyptian legislator and priest. Thirty- six books on philosophy and theology, and six on medicine, are said to have been written by him, but they are all lost, if they ever existed. The question, indeed, of his own existence has been regarded by modern scholars as extremely mythical. The Alchemists, however, adopted him as their patron. Hence Alchemy is called the Hermetic science, and hence we get Hermetic Masonry and Hermetic Rites.
At the time of the composition of the Legend of the Craft, the opinion that Hermes was the inventor of all the sciences, and among them, of course, Geometry and Architecture, was universally accepted as true, even by the learned. It is not, therefore, singular that the old Masons, who must have been familiar with the Hermetic myth, received it as something worthy to be incorporated into the early history of the Craft, nor that they should have adopted him, as they did Euclid, as one of the founders of the science of Masonry.
The idea must, however have sprung up in the 15th century, as it is first broached in the Cook MS. And it was, in all probability, of English origin, since there is no allusion to it in the Halliwell poem.
The next important point that occurs in the Legend of the Craft is its reference to the Tower of Babel.
(1) Juxta antiquas Mercurii columnas, quas Plato quondam, et Pythagoras cum lectitas-sent, philosophism constituerunt. Jamblichus, ” de Mysteries,” segm. i., c. 2.
“The world, too, was so created. And so proceed the wonderful processes of which this is one. I have been called Thrice Greatest Hermes because I possessed three parts of wisdom. And now is ended that which I have said of the preparation of gold.”
[From The Goldmakers, by K. K. Doberer; pages 17 to 19.]
“The first Latin texts on alchemy were translated from Arabic in the 12th century, and included the Septem tractatus Hermetis Sapientia Triplicis and the Liber de Compositione Alchemiae of Morienus”.
There are three major works which are widely known texts for Hermetic beliefs: (excerpt from Wikipedia)
- The Corpus Hermeticum is the body of work most widely known and is the aforementioned Greek texts. These sixteen books are set up as dialogues between Hermes and a series of others. The first book involves a discussion between Poimandres (also known as Nous and God) and Hermes, supposedly resulting from a meditative state, and is the first time that Hermes is in contact with God. Poimandres teaches the secrets of the Universe to Hermes, and later books are generally of Hermes teaching others such as Asclepius and his son Tat.
- The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus is a short work which coins the well known term in occult circles “As above, so below.” The actual text of that maxim, as translated by Dennis W. Hauck is “That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracle of the One Thing”. The tablet also refers to the three parts of the wisdom of the whole universe. Hermes claims his knowledge of these three parts is why he received the name Trismegistus (thrice-great, or Ao-Ao-Ao meaning “greatest”). As the story is told, this tablet was found by Alexander the Great at Hebron supposedly in the tomb of Hermes.
- The Kybalion: Hermetic Philosophy is a book published in 1912 CE anonymously by three people calling themselves the “Three Initiates.” Many of the Hermetic principles are explained in the book.
There are additional works that, while not as well known as the three mentioned above, have an important place in Hermeticism and its study.