7 Hermetic Questions for… Thomas Shetler

For our next interviewee, we have chosen an expert in the field of Hermeticism, the primary owner and manager of the r/hermeticism reddit as well as r/esotericism and r/hermetics, he runs a blog that can be found at ahelperofhermes.blog, he is a nondualist with a deep appreciation for Hermetic and Vedantic wisdom, and he loves to learn and seek truths: Thomas Shetler.

Dear Thomas Shetler, we are very happy that you want to do this interview. Of course, we are very curious why you are interested in an ancient spiritual tradition like Hermeticism. Can you tell us more about that?

From a young age, I’ve always been deeply drawn to spirituality. As a member of my church community during my formative years, I gained a reputation for being very curious, often engaging in thoughtful discussions and posing insightful questions about spiritual matters with leaders and peers alike.

My journey took a significant turn in my twenties when I encountered Hermeticism through a video on the Kybalion. This discovery was the start of an intensive exploration into the Hermetic worldview. I quickly realized that the Kybalion was just a stepping stone and not authentic Hermeticism. Eager to delve deeper, I sought more substantial sources and answers.

It was during this quest that I came across the Polyphanes/Sam Block Hermetic House of Life Discord server, which became the springboard for my exploration of the Greco-Egyptian worldview. Polyphanes/Sam Block, through his website Digital Ambler and his Discord community, played a pivotal role in fueling my interest in genuine Hermeticism.

Inspired by his guidance, I immersed myself in the study of the Corpus Hermeticum, along with as many Hermetic texts, fragments, and commentaries as I could find. Through this journey, I joined like-minded communities and found like-minded people who helped me on the path I am today.

I found immense value in this ancient wisdom, recognizing its enduring truths that resonate even in our modern era. Hermeticism revealed to me a perennial understanding, echoing similar insights found in various Eastern religious traditions.

This exploration led me further into other spiritually enriching paths, such as Vedanta, where I discovered many overlapping concepts and teachings. My journey into understanding and integrating the wisdom of both Hermeticism and Vedanta through the lens of nondualism continues to be a fulfilling and enlightening pursuit.

Below you will find seven questions based on sections from the hermetic text Asclepius, also known as the Perfect Discourse. We are very curious about your personal views on the timeless wisdom of Hermes and maybe how it relates to our modern world.

This therefore is the all, as you remember; it is the essence of the all and it is the all. The soul and the cosmos being embraced by Nature are set in movement by her with such diversity of quality, evident in all images, that countless forms are known to exist by the contrast of their qualities. Yet these forms are also united so that all things appear as one whole and from the one.

Asclepius 2

Question 1: How do you view this statement about the One of – and in – All?

The statement from Asclepius resonates deeply with the core tenets of non-dualistic philosophy. The idea that “this, therefore, is the all… it is the essence of the all and it is the all” aligns with the nondualist view that there is a fundamental oneness underlying all existence. This oneness, often referred to as the Absolute, Brahman, the Tao, or simply the One, is the essential reality from which all forms and phenomena arise.

The diversity and multiplicity of the world are seen as expressions or manifestations of this singular reality. The soul and the cosmos, embraced and moved by Nature, represent the dynamic and ever-changing aspects of the One. These diverse forms and qualities are not separate or independent entities but are interconnected facets of the same underlying reality.

In this view, the contrasts and distinctions we observe in the world are not ultimate truths but rather relative expressions of the One. The countless forms and qualities are like waves on the ocean; they are distinct and diverse, yet they are all part of and arise from the same ocean. Similarly, all beings and phenomena in the universe, despite their apparent differences, are united in their essence.

This perspective encourages a profound sense of unity and interconnectedness with all things. It fosters an understanding that, at the deepest level, there is no separation between self and other, between the observer and the observed. This realization can lead to a sense of compassion, empathy, and a deep respect for all life, as one recognizes that in harming another, one is, in a sense, harming oneself.

From a practical standpoint, embracing this view of the One in All can transform how one interacts with the world. It can lead to a more harmonious, balanced way of living, where actions are guided by a sense of responsibility and reverence for the interconnected web of life. In essence, this understanding provides a foundation for living in a way that honors the sacredness and unity of all existence.

“‘Thus, O Asclepius, Man is a great miracle, a being to be adored and honoured. He passes into the nature of God as though he were God. He understands the race of daemons as he knows that he originates from the same source. He views with contempt that part of nature in himself which is human since he has put his entire trust in the divinity of the other part.

Asclepius 6

Question 2: Do you also think that man is a (divine) miracle and why?

As a nondualist, I view humanity as a profound embodiment of the divine. In this perspective, every individual is an expression of the infinite, a unique manifestation of the universal consciousness. The concept of a ‘miracle’ implies something extraordinary, yet from a nondualist point of view, the divine is not separate from the mundane; it’s intimately woven into the fabric of everyday existence.

The human capacity for self-awareness, creativity, and the ability to reflect upon and transcend our physical limitations points to a deeper, more profound aspect of our nature. We are not just biological entities; we are also spiritual beings, capable of experiencing and embodying qualities that are often associated with the divine, such as love, compassion, wisdom, and a sense of connectedness with all of existence.

The text from Asclepius emphasizes this dual nature of humanity – the human and the divine. The contempt for the human aspect stems from the recognition that our true nature is not limited to our physical form or egoic identity. By aligning with the divine aspect of our being, we transcend the limitations of our human nature and realize our true potential as a spiritual being in the biological body.

In nondualism, the divine miracle of humanity is not in our separateness or superiority to nature, but in our inseparable connection with it and our ability to recognize ourselves as an integral part of a larger, interconnected whole. This realization fosters a deep sense of reverence for life and an understanding of the sacredness inherent in all existence.

How much happier is the nature of a man when it is tempered by self-control! He is united to the gods through a common divinity. He inwardly despises that part of himself by which he is earth-bound. All other beings, to whom he knows he is necessary through divine dispensation, he binds to himself in a knot of love. He raises his sight to heaven while he takes care of the earth. Thus he is in the fortunate middle position: he loves those things that are below him and is beloved by the beings above.

Asclepius 6

Question 3: How do you view the role of man as ‘middle-manager’ of the world? And how do you possibly put that into practice?

I see the role of man as a ‘middle manager’ of the world not so much in terms of hierarchy or control, but more as a unique position of responsibility and interconnectedness. The concept of ‘self-control’ mentioned in the text is pivotal; it’s not about suppression or denial of our human nature but about understanding and harmonizing our inner world with the greater whole.

Humans, in this view, are the conscious link between the material and the spiritual realms. We have the capacity to be aware of our connection to the divine and to the earth. This awareness bestows upon us a responsibility to act as stewards of the planet, to honor and preserve the natural world, and to recognize the sanctity of all life.

In practice, this ‘middle manager’ role involves cultivating a deep sense of compassion, empathy, and respect for all beings. It means living with an awareness that our actions have a profound impact on the world around us. By raising our sight to heaven, we’re reminded of our higher purpose and our connection to the divine, while taking care of the earth represents our commitment to the well-being of our planet and its inhabitants.

To put this into practice, one might engage in actions that promote harmony, balance, and sustainability. This can be as simple as mindful consumption, respecting the environment, and being compassionate towards others, or as complex as participating in or leading initiatives that foster environmental stewardship and social justice.

Embracing this role involves a constant balancing act: being grounded in the physical world while maintaining a connection to the spiritual. It’s about finding the sacred in the mundane, recognizing that every action, no matter how small, can be an expression of the divine. This perspective encourages us to live in a way that honors our interconnectedness and fosters a deeper understanding of our place in the cosmos.

Not all men, O Asclepius, have attained true understanding, but through a rash impulse and without the true insight of reason most, pursuing an illusion, are deceived. This begets evil in minds and transforms the nature of the best living creature into that of a wild beast and makes it behave like a savage monster.

Asclepius 7

Question 4: How do you view this insight that our focus on appearances is bad and makes us behave like animals?

As someone who has an appreciation for the Vedantic understanding of reality, the passage from Asclepius speaks to a fundamental truth about human perception and behavior. The idea that many are deceived by pursuing illusions and lack true understanding resonates with the Vedantic concept of Maya, the illusion or ignorance that veils the true nature of reality.

In my practice of nondualism, the focus on appearances – the external, transient, and superficial aspects of life – is seen as a source of suffering and confusion. This preoccupation with the material world and the ego leads to a sense of separation, competition, and attachment, which are the root causes of much of the conflict and unhappiness experienced by individuals and societies.

The passage’s description of this state transforming “the nature of the best living creature into that of a wild beast” reflects how, when we are driven by base instincts, desires, and fears, we lose touch with our higher nature – our capacity for reason, compassion, and understanding. We start to behave in ways that are driven by self-interest, aggression, and a lack of empathy, much like animals driven by survival instincts. This is a strong point in much of hermetic wisdom many will find.

Overcoming this illusion involves cultivating awareness and insight into our true nature, which is not separate from the rest of existence. This involves a process of self-inquiry, meditation, and contemplation to transcend the ego and the superficial aspects of our identities. By recognizing that our true self is not limited to our individual ego but is connected with the universal consciousness, we can overcome the illusion of separateness and the resultant destructive behaviors.

Practically, this means living with mindfulness and intention, being aware of our thoughts, emotions, and actions, and how they are influenced by our attachments and aversions. It involves cultivating virtues like compassion, patience, and humility, and recognizing the unity and interdependence of all life. By shifting our focus from appearances to the underlying oneness of existence, we can align our lives with deeper truths and live in a way that is more harmonious, peaceful, and fulfilling.

Now I will speak to you as a prophet: after us there will be no one who has that simple love, which is the nature of philosophy. This consists in frequent contemplation and reverent worship by which alone the divinity may be known. Many destroy philosophy by their multifarious reasoning.

Asclepius 12

Those men who come after us will be deceived by cunning sophists and turned aside from true, pure and holy philosophy. To worship the Supreme Being with single mind and heart and to reverence what has been made of his substance, to render thanks to the divine will, which alone is infinitely full of the Good: this is a philosophy that has not been dishonoured by the perverse curiosity of the mind.

Asclepius 14

Question 5: How do you view this criticism that religion, philosophy, spirituality, or worldview is made unnecessarily complicated by many people?

I view the criticism in the Asclepius texts that religion, philosophy, spirituality, or worldview is often made unnecessarily complicated as a poignant reflection of the human tendency to intellectualize and overcomplicate what is fundamentally simple and profound. The essence of spirituality and philosophy, in many traditions, is about the direct experience of the divine, the ultimate reality, or the underlying unity of existence, rather than about complex doctrines or intellectual constructs.

The texts lament the loss of “simple love” and the pure, contemplative approach to understanding divinity, suggesting that future generations will be led astray by “cunning sophists” and “multifarious reasoning.” This echoes the nondualist perspective that true knowledge and understanding come from direct, inner experience rather than solely from intellectual analysis or debate.

The path to realizing our true nature is often obstructed by the mind’s tendency to dissect and categorize, leading to a fragmentation of what is essentially a unified whole.

In nondualism, the emphasis is on the experiential understanding of oneness and the transcendence of the egoic self. This is often achieved through practices like meditation, self-inquiry, and mindfulness, which are aimed at quieting the mind and revealing the deeper truths of our existence. The simplicity of these practices stands in contrast to the complex theological or philosophical systems that can sometimes distract from the direct experience of the divine.

Practically speaking, this criticism invites us to return to the basics of spiritual practice: reverence, gratitude, and a heartfelt connection to the divine or the ultimate reality. It encourages a focus on the inner journey and the cultivation of qualities like humility, compassion, and love for all of life, rather than getting caught up in intellectual debates or the pursuit of purely dualistic knowledge.

In essence, this perspective suggests that the true essence of spirituality and philosophy is found not in complexity but in simplicity, not in the mind’s curiosity but in the heart’s devotion. By simplifying our approach and focusing on the direct experience of the divine or the ultimate truth, we can find a deeper, more authentic connection to our spiritual nature and the world around us.

The dark will indeed be preferred to the light, and death thought better than life. No one will have any regard for heaven and a spiritual person will be deemed mad, and a materialist, wise. An angry man will be considered strong and the most evil regarded as good. ‘All the teaching about the soul that I have explained to you is that the soul is born immortal or expects to attain immortality. This teaching will not only be laughed at, but considered an illusion. It will be held as a capital offense, believe me, for a man to have given himself over to reverence of the divine mind.

Asclepius 25

Question 6: How do you view this prediction? Does it describe our current times?

I interpret this prediction from Asclepius as a warning about the potential consequences of losing touch with our spiritual nature and the deeper aspects of our existence. The passage describes a world where materialism and superficial values are exalted, while spiritual insights and the pursuit of inner wisdom are ridiculed or even condemned. From a nondualist perspective, this represents a profound disconnection from our true nature and the essential oneness of all life.

In many ways, this prediction can be seen as reflective of certain aspects of our current times. In a world often dominated by material pursuits, consumerism, and a focus on external appearances, spiritual values and the quest for inner understanding can sometimes seem undervalued or misunderstood. The emphasis on immediate gratification, power, and status can overshadow the deeper aspects of human experience, such as compassion, empathy, and a sense of connectedness.

However, it’s important to recognize that this is not the whole picture. There is also a growing awareness and interest in spirituality, mindfulness, and a search for meaning beyond material success. Many people are seeking a deeper understanding of themselves and their place in the world, and there is a resurgence of interest in ancient wisdom traditions, meditation, and practices that foster a sense of inner peace and connection.

I view the challenges described in the prediction as an invitation to re-examine our values and priorities. It suggests a need for balance between the material and spiritual aspects of life. By cultivating awareness and a deeper understanding of our interconnectedness with all existence, we can counteract the tendencies towards materialism and superficiality.

The world is good, O Trismegistus?”
“It is good, Asclepius, as I will teach you. For just as God husbands and distributes to all individuals and classes all the good things which are in the world [mundo], senses, soul and life, so the world [mundus] apportions and provides all those things which seem good to mortals: the succession of births in due season, the germination, growth and ripening of the fruits of the earth and similar things. Throughout all this God, abiding above the vault of the highest heaven, is everywhere observing all that is around.

Asclepius 27

Question 7: Do you also see the world as inherently good and filled with goodness?

The perception of the world as inherently good aligns with the understanding that the ultimate reality, or the Absolute, is the foundation of all existence and is inherently good in the Hermetic sense, similarly in nondualism, what is considered ‘good’ is often associated with that which is unchanging, eternal, and true — the underlying oneness and unity of all things.

The world, in its myriad forms and manifestations, is seen as an expression of this underlying reality. The beauty, harmony, and order found in nature, the cycles of life, the germination and growth of plants, and the diversity of life forms are all seen as reflections of the divine or the Absolute. These aspects of the world are inherently good because they are expressions of the fundamental truth and unity of existence.

In this view, the goodness of the world is not negated by the presence of change, suffering, or impermanence. Instead, these are understood as part of the dynamic and ever-changing nature of the manifest world. The transient aspects of existence are not seen as ‘evil’ in a moral sense but as relative and temporary expressions of the Absolute.

Practically speaking, seeing the world as inherently good involves recognizing the sacredness and interconnectedness of all life. It means approaching life with reverence, gratitude, and a sense of wonder. It involves seeing the beauty and goodness in the every day and understanding that even challenges and difficulties can be opportunities for growth and deeper understanding.

Thanks again for doing this interview. Your answers show how Hermeticism may be an ancient spiritual system, but can still have relevance in our modern times. Is there anything else you want to add to the interview, maybe something we forgot to ask that you think is important to mention regarding Hermeticism?

In essence, these discussions underscore the importance of recognizing our deeper connections to each other, the world, and the divine. They invite us to cultivate awareness, compassion, and a sense of reverence for life, guiding us toward a more integrated, fulfilling, and meaningful existence.

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