The Corpus Hermeticum
The Way of Hermes

Hermes Trismegistus

Hermeticism does not see Hermes as a god but as a man or prophet led by a god. Long before the Greco-Roman era, Plato had already wondered whether Thoth was a god or just a divine man.

The writings attributed to Hermes usually describe him as a mortal person who instructs humanity that leads to holy revelation. Hermes frees souls from bondage to matter and promises to reveal the secrets of creation.

The nickname ‘Trismegistus’, i.e. ‘three times the greatest’, was already used in ancient Egypt as a nickname for the god Thoth. At the time of the Greek domination of Egypt, the Greek god Hermes was equated with the Egyptian god Thoth.

At some point, however, Hermeticists began to speak of the existence of “three Hermes,” namely a “grandfather,” a “father,” and a “grandson.” Hermes refers in the Asclepius to the tomb of his grandfather, namely Hermes of Hermopolis (Asc. 37).

The first Hermes, that is, the Hermes who wrote hieroglyphics on stelae was believed to have been the Egyptian god Thoth. The third Hermes was the one who translated the Egyptian texts of Thoth into Greek and was probably the disciple of Agathos Daimon and the father of Tat.

So, you have:

  1. Hermes/Thoth, grandfather of Hermes Trismegistus, who wrote hieroglyphics on stelae
  2. The unknown father of Hermes Trismegistus
  3. Hermes Trismegistus, who translated the Egyptian texts into Greek
  4. Tat, son of Hermes Trismegistus

For Jews, Christians and pagans in the Roman Empire, Hermes Trismegistus was a real person of antiquity. Some thought that he was a contemporary of Moses and even that Hermes taught this prophet. Some Jews thought that Hermes was a disciple of Moses.

Hermes was considered an archetypal master of gnosis, from whose teachings later philosophers derived the basic principles of their philosophy. The neoplatonic Iamblichus wrote that Plato and Pythagoras had visited Egypt. There they had studied the stelae of Hermes with the help of Egyptian priests.

Hermes is the spiritual teacher in all the discourses in which he appears. Except in CH. I and CH. XI, where Hermes himself is taught by Poimandres the divine Nous. In CH. XII, 1 and 13, Hermes honors his teacher, Agathos Daimon, as the greater Gnostic authority.

Listening tip

Here is a good podcast about Hermes Trismegistus that we recommend:

Listen: Podcast SHWEP: Hermes Trismegistos

Homework Assignment

Hermes is the guide or force that diverts a person’s consciousness from the material, sensory world and directs it to the spiritual world. In the upcoming days pay attention to when your consciousness turns to the spiritual.

It is only when you think about “higher” things and attach less importance to what is happening in the physical world around you that Hermes, or the Hermetic force, is active in your life.