Corpus Hermeticum, Book 2: On Childlessness

…and the greatest misfortune and impiety is when someone departs from mankind without children, for he suffers punishment after death from the divine powers. This is the retribution: that the soul without children is condemned to a body that is neither male nor female, and is cursed by the sun. Therefore, Asclepius, do not congratulate anyone without children but rather take pity on his misfortune, knowing what punishment awaits…

Corpus Hermeticum, Book II

This paragraph is one many people, both academics and practitioners, struggle with. So, is the interpretation of “childlessness” meant to be literal or, instead, as an analogy for “creation”, meaning a who comes to life and does not create something for the benefit of experience?

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As we do not see such a harsh version concerning the lack of procreation in other Hermetic texts, maybe this paragraph is an example of marginalia and is just the copied notes of an orthodox Christian translator.

Another theory is that this text can apply not only to physical children but to spiritual children as well; thus, those who can manage to “increase by increasing and multiply by multiplying”, whether by having children of one’s own or by supporting the children of others, or by giving the gift of spiritual birth to those who seek the Way of Hermēs (since the spiritual womb that we all have is used as a metaphor in several Hermetic texts) are all valid ways to fulfill this sort of obligation.

Further, one can also interpret this injunction to have children even more generally by interpreting all acts of creation to be one’s children, including the development of medicine, the cultivation of plants, the generation of art, the ensoulment of statues and talismans, the production of invention, and so forth; all of these are just as valid ways to engage in the work of creation in addition to bearing and raising children.

In the original Greek text we see the word “paidapoia” (παιδοποια) used. In The Way of Hermes, Salaman notes that this meaning here is: “spiritual children.”

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This interpretation can apply to literal children as well as spiritual children, though; and it shouldn’t be taken as a sleight to anyone who can’t bear children or decides not to (for whatever reasons – biological, financial, or other).

This statement of “spiritual children” can be interpreted in many ways: yes, this can be thought of metaphorically as having children through all acts of creation – the creation of art such as music, writing, painting, sculpture, embroidery, etc., through growing and tending a garden, rescuing a pet that would have otherwise been abandoned, or through crafting, building, and inventing, by using magical work on the ensoulment of images and forms, and any other acts creation.

You can also “create spiritual children” by enlightening others on The Way of Hermes, and even adopting or caring for children that are not one’s own.

I’d like to add that in NHC VI (Discourse on the 8th and 9th), Tat is told by Hermes that he must honor and recognize his ‘spiritual brothers’: “for I have addressed each offspring/book; I have named it since they are begotten like children.

NHC VI is part of the classical Hermetica composed in the Coptic language, and the same Coptic word for “offspring” can also mean “book.” There are other examples of this same wordplay used throughout parts of the NHC (Nag Hammadi Codex). I think it is worth noting this juxtaposition of creating life and writing texts that seem to be inherent to the Hermetic texts found in Nag Hammadi.

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This seems to strongly suggest that creating (spiritual) offspring by literally writing books could be seen as a major part of helping your fellow humans onto the way of Hermes by creating accessible knowledge in text form for them to learn from.

Also, I don’t think it would be too farfetched if the term “book writing” was used symbolically and metaphorically for the creation of all things.

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Sirius Aor
13 days ago

I had the same inquiry about this line, and the answer was the same, I don’t take it literally, more like a creative force, more like when one is like God, and following his steps, a creator cant go without creating, so all creation is an act of gestation.