The Corpus Hermeticum
The Way of Hermes


hermes sophia

In CH I.6 A divine entity who calls himself Poimandres appeares to the anonymous author in a vision and identifies himself as the divine light, “the nous, your God.”

The etymological origin of the name “Poimandres” is questionable. It may be connected to the Greek “shepherd of men.” But it may also be a corruption of the Egyptian name “Voice (or Heart) of Ra.”

Poimandres is a spiritual being first introduced in the Corpus Hermeticum as “ὁ τῆς αὐθεντίας νοῦς” (the godly mind). It was probably an attempt to convey to Greek readers the meaning of an Egyptian name. The most appropriate Coptic equivalent for Nous can be translated as “the reason of sovereignty.”

The name Poimandres is thus connected to the concept of “sovereign reason,” which was identified, for example, by Plotinus (among others) as “Logismos”, “Dianoia”, and also as “Nous.” Nous is also identified with the spiritual Light.

Because in the first chapter of the Corpus Hermeticum Nous itself speaks, this chapter can therefore also be called “The Gospel of Light.” Something that is totally unique in spiritual history.

Poimandres inspires Hermes (who sleeps). From Hermes Trismegistus, Sesthien Boecken..., Amsterdam 1643
Poimandres inspires Hermes (who sleeps). From Hermes Trismegistus, Sesthien Boecken…, Amsterdam 1643

Poimandres meets the anonymous author, teaches him everything there is to know about reality and eventually helps the visionary reach his gnosis. Although he is not named, experts think the anonymous author is Hermes Trismegistus.

Since Poimandres’ teachings relate to the divine discourse/Logos, he is not only the divine Nous, but also acts as the divine Logos.

Poimandres’ revelations also deal with Hermetic insights at a higher level, such as the secrets of the cosmos, of man and the fate of his soul.

Poimandres is also mentioned in Corpus Hermeticum Book XI, in which Hermes is instructed by “Nous.”

The name Poimandres occurs twelve times in CH. I, and only twice in the other treatises. He appears in CH. XIII, 15 – where Hermes acknowledges his higher authority – and again in CH. XIII, 19.

Listening tip

Here is a good podcast with great insights about this first important chapter in the Corpus Hermeticum.

Listen: Podcast SHWEP: The Hermetic Poimandres

Wouter Hanegraaff, Professor of History of Hermetic Philosophy and related currents at the University of Amsterdam, has studied the text of the Corpus Hermeticum with great attention. Hanegraaff’s reading below attempts to penetrate the text to understand the vision at the core of the text and the spiritual practices.

Myth and philosophical speculation go hand-in-hand with the text as well as intensive meditation practices aimed at profound transformations of consciousness. In The Poimandres (CH. I), Hermes acknowledges that he himself is part of the universal Noetic light, and is forever changed and sent back to the world to preach the teachings given to him by the Nous.

Listen: Podcast SHWEP: Wouter Hanegraaff on the Poimandres

Homework Assignment

hermes msct

Read chapter 1 of the Corpus Hermeticum carefully and pay particular attention to what Poimandres says to Hermes and how he says it.

Listen to the two podcasts.

Write down which of Poimandres’ insights appeal to you, and which ones maybe less so.