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Lectio Divina and the Study and Teaching of Hermetic Wisdom

Delving into the enigmatic realm of hermetic texts requires more than a mere intellectual pursuit; it beckons us to embark on a transformative journey of spiritual discovery. The practice of lectio divina can help us on this journey.

As students of these profound and esoteric teachings, we find ourselves confronted with intricate symbolism, hidden meanings, and layers of wisdom that demand our deepest engagement. In this endeavor, the time-honored practice of lectio divina emerges as an indispensable tool, guiding us through the labyrinthine corridors of hermetic wisdom.

In this article, we will explore the practice of lectio divina, shedding light on how its application enhances our understanding and assimilation of hermetic teachings. Through lectio divina we unlock new dimensions of insight and open ourselves to the transformative power of these ancient texts.

Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina is a contemplative way of reading religious and spiritual texts. It dates back to the early centuries of the Christian Church and was established as a monastic practice for reading the Bible. Lectio divina consists of 5 steps:

  • Lectio (read the text),
  • Meditatio (reflect on the text)
  • Oratio (respond to the text, e.g. journalling or engaging in conversation with Hermes)
  • Contemplatio (rest for 10 minutes in silent contemplation)
  • Actio (put the insights gained into practical action).

The practice of lectio divina unveils a pathway toward profound spiritual growth and self-transformation. As students of hermetic texts, we stand on the threshold of a remarkable journey — one that invites us to embrace the interplay of contemplation and interpretation, bridging the gap between the intellectual and the spiritual.

Practica” and “Theoria

A person develops themselves in a profession through a specific learning path. And that is even more true for the formation and practice of his or her spiritual life, which is aimed at contemplating invisible concepts and signs. This spiritual knowledge is not aimed at earthly benefits but at an eternal reward through the purification and salvation of the soul.

Practicing a life of spirituality unfolds in its own specific learning path and way of thinking. Knowledge of living the spiritual life falls into two categories:

  • Practica (or “Practice”) is focused on action and is perfected by improving ourselves, our actions, and cleansing ourselves from any defects.
  • Theoria (or “Theory”) aims at contemplating the divine and knowing the deepest truths.

If you want to achieve Theoria, you should first try with all your might to acquire practical knowledge, because Practica can be acquired without knowing the contemplative knowledge, but you cannot acquire the contemplative knowledge without learning the practical. Thus, they are ordered and distinguished to enable us to ascend to great heights.

In the hermetic texts, it is mentioned that there are “general treatises” (genikoi logoi) as well as “detailed treatises” (dieksodikoi logoi) and “teaching treatises” (exodiakoi logoi). The “general treatises” seem to be more elementary and exoteric, and these may correspond to the Practica. The “detailed or teaching treatises” are more sophisticated and esoteric, and may correspond to the Theoria.

We can also see in the hermetic texts a progressive kind of change of a novice student (often Tat) moving from one group of discourses to another as a sign of spiritual progress. Sometimes such a transition to a higher spiritual level requires a ritual (e.g. CH XIII).

This could indicate that in the hermetic group led by Hermes, there was a division into different groups of students, some of whom still had to learn the basics, the Practica, and were not yet ready for more advanced discussions about the soul, destiny, God and the like, and therefore are not ready for the Theoria.

Based on the teacher’s assessment of the student’s progress and understanding, maybe a hermetic student moved from a “practical” rank to a “theoretical” rank. Exoteric/practical students would be primarily focused on learning the general worldview of Hermeticism, while esoteric/theoretical students would be more focused on contemplating the deepest truths, refining their spiritual development, and contemplating the divine.

Although Theoria is distinct from Practica, there is also a connection. Without practical action, contemplative knowledge is impotent. We can imagine a life without theoretical knowledge, but not a life without practical action.

‘You have taught me these things well, as I wished, O Nous. Now tell me how the way back is found?’
To this Poimandres replied: ‘First, in the dissolution of the material body, one gives the body itself up to change. The form you had becomes unseen, and you surrender to the divine power your habitual character, now inactive. The bodily senses return to their own sources. Then they become parts again and rise for action, while the seat of emotions and desire go to mechanical nature. Thus a man starts to rise up through the harmony of the
cosmos. To the first plain he surrenders the activity of growth and diminution; to the second the means of evil, trickery now being inactive; to the third covetous deceit, now inactive, and to the fourth the eminence pertaining to a ruler, being now without avarice; to the fifth impious daring and reckless audacity and to the sixth evil impulses for wealth, all of these being now inactive, and to the seventh plain the falsehood which waits in ambush.’

Corpus Hermeticum Book I.24-25

Whoever wants to learn theoretical knowledge must first set about cleansing the planetary influences within himself, as described above. To reach the highest levels one cannot skip the lowest levels. This is the paradox of the desire to become “more” by becoming “less”.

If we succeed in purifying ourselves we can ascend to a height that we cannot reach if we skip our purification. There is no point in trying to reach for the highest knowledge if we don’t first try to remove the “contamination” from our planetary defects.

Few are the seeds of God, but they are mighty, beautiful and good: virtue, self-control and devotion to God. Devotion to God is knowledge of God. He who has discovered it, is filled with all that is good, and he is endowed with divine understanding, which is not like the understanding of the multitude.

Corpus Hermeticum, Book IX.4

Two Aspects of Practica

Practical perfection consists of two aspects:

  • For the first kind, it is important that we know the nature of the irrational tormentors within us and how to treat them.
  • For the second kind, it is important that we learn to distinguish the seeds of God and that our mind (nous) is formed by their perfection.

If you wish to grasp the nature of the seeds of God (which is the second level of this practical exercise) or to fathom the secrets of spiritual and celestial things which exist in a still higher level of contemplation, you must first understand the nature of your own irrational tormentors and make an effort to get rid of them permanently.

Tat: Do I have tormentors within me, O father?
Hermes: More than a few, O son. In fact there are many and they are fearsome.
Tat: I am not aware of them, O father.
H. – This ignorance, O son, is the first of these tormentors. The second is sorrow; the third is intemperance; the fourth lust; the fifth injustice; the sixth greed; the seventh deceit; the eighth envy; the ninth treachery; the tenth anger; the eleventh recklessness; the twelfth malice. These are twelve in number, but besides these there are many others, my son. They compel the inner man who dwells in the prison of his body to suffer through his senses. These tormentors depart one by one from the man who receives God’s mercy. This constitutes the manner and teaching of rebirth.
For the rest, be still, O son, and keep silence; thus God’s mercy for us shall not cease. Rejoice now, O son, being thoroughly cleansed by the powers of God, you are thus united with the Word. Knowledge of God has come to us, and therefore ignorance has been banished. Experience of joy has come to us, and therefore, O son, sorrow will flee to those who give place to it. After joy, the power I summon is self-control; most welcome power, let us most gladly receive her too, my son; on her arrival see how she drives off intemperance. Now I call the fourth, steadfastness, the power opposed to lust. This next step, O son, is the seat of justice. See how without trial she has chased out injustice. With injustice gone we become just. I summon the sixth power, generosity, opposed to greed. With greed gone, I next summon truth, deceit flees, and truth is present. See how upon the arrival of truth the Supreme Good arises; envy has fled far from us. The Supreme Good, together with life and light, has followed upon truth, and the torments of darkness no longer fall upon us, but conquered, they all fly off with a rush of wings. You know now, O son, the manner of rebirth. And with the arrival of these ten, spiritual birth is complete and it drives out the twelve, and by this birth we have become divine.

Corpus Hermeticum Book XIII

Those who cannot understand what they have received from the Cosmos (our body and planetary powers) will absorb less of what is naturally unknown to them. Fighting the tormentors requires a greater effort than acquiring the divine seeds. The perfection which carries us ever higher, away from ourselves, can never be reached unless we recognize what is most familiar to us: our shortcomings.

There is no knowledge of God without self-knowledge. So theoretical knowledge is never possible without practical knowledge. Space must first be made for theoretical knowledge. Practical knowledge largely consists of fighting the tormentors and cleansing ourselves from the planetary powers.

As mentioned, the Practica is of two kinds within it, however, it divides into many states of life and occupations. The dichotomy of the Practica, namely fighting the tormentors, replacing them with divine powers, and growing the divine seeds, can be done in many different ways.

But in speaking of mortal things, I do not only mean earth and water, two of the four elements which nature has made subject to human beings, but also those things which humans are responsible for doing in, or with, these elements: the cultivation of the earth itself, pasturage, building, ports, navigation, communication, trade.

Asclepius 8

The Practica does not force us into only one kind of life, like being a hermit or monk far away from civilization. It is important to have an eye for human individuality and diversity. It means that one is aware of the life specifically suited to him or her. It involves contemplating the two important questions: “Where am I?” And, “To what task am I called?” The question of where you are makes you aware of who you are, and what you see as your life’s task.

In the hermetic texts, we read that the Cosmos is the visible image of the Supreme Good. Man, as an image of God, has the function to revere and care for the Cosmos, which is like a brother to us.

… 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

Self-Reflection

Reflection on the Hermetic texts first requires self-reflection and that is why it is meaningful and appropriate for each of us to work with the utmost commitment and scrupulousness to the task we have taken up, appropriate to our chosen way of life. If we praise and admire the divine seeds and powers of others, it should not mean that we neglect the task we have taken upon ourselves.

After all, humanity has one body (anthropos) but many members (individual people). There are no limbs that can appropriate the work of other limbs. The eyes cannot do the tasks of the hands, the nose cannot take over those of the ears.

The fact that others excel in their own pursuits does not mean that we should imitate them in that particular activity. We should take an example from their diligence and devotion, but for the rest, we should stick to our own task. If the call of someone else’s virtuous life, especially if they are highly praised for it, makes us think that we should live that way, we are not staying true to our own calling.

This desire to copy comes from restlessness and instability. It is mainly beginners on the Way of Hermes who suffer from this. They lack the realization that no one can excel in all divine seeds and powers at the same time. These people should learn that those others, to whom they take an example, excel in that one seed or power, but never in every other seed and power, at least never at the same time.

The danger is that the beginner will idealize others. After all, the other person turns out to excel in a power that the addressee does not sufficiently possess. The beginner forgets that the other person is equally limited.

So beware of too much zeal. If there is anything to take as an example, let it be the zeal with which others remain faithful to their life’s mission. There is no single way of life which is better or worse than another. It is important that the self-chosen path leads to the divine.

Two Aspects of Theoria

Practica can be divided into two aspects which in turn fan out into many types of tasks and professions. Theoria can also be divided into two aspects:

  • Historical interpretation
  • Spiritual insight

If you really want to receive the light of spiritual knowledge then the first thing to do is to burn with the fire of desire. You must have the diligence required for reading. Persevere in this, but also make sure that with all your diligence you master the practical knowledge, that is, concerning the ethical, the pious, and the virtuous as quickly as possible.

This will make you want to place the sacred bowl of spiritual knowledge within your heart, cleanse yourself from the contamination of all tormentors, and lay aside all the cares of the material world. For the soul occupied by worldly pursuits, even to a slight degree, cannot possibly acquire the gift of spiritual knowledge, become the source of spiritual insights, nor hold the wisdom found within the hermetic texts.

Therefore, above all else, see to it that you admonish yourself to silence as much as you can. Prevent vain haughtiness from disturbing the diligence of reading and the exertion of your desire from being disturbed. The first step to practical exercise is to take in the teachings of Hermes with an open heart and a closed mouth, and diligently keep them in your heart in order to put them into practice. That is better than rushing to teach them.

Knowledge for Praise

If you share hermetic wisdom before you have made substantial steps in the Practica and Theoria, vain boasting will be the only result. If you keep the hermetic wisdom in your heart, the fruits of spiritual knowledge will spring forth. If one takes to reading the texts simply because they want to reap human praise, this person shall surely not attain the gift of spiritual knowledge.

Whoever allows themselves to be tied down by this need for human praise will certainly also be guilty of the vice of pride. Be careful not to start sharing right away before you have put the knowledge into practice.

To have a gift of speech and elegance is one thing, but to penetrate the deepest wisdom and to contemplate with the purest ‘eye of the heart’ the deep and hidden mysteries Hermes shares is something else. Neither human knowledge nor worldly learning will ever be able to comprehend the divine; only a pure mind which receives enlightenment from Nous can comprehend divinity.

There are people who also achieve this without reading the hermetic texts. Some people can purify their hearts while other people can only accomplish this through contemplation of what they read in the hermetic texts. The perfection sought in hermetic study is achieved only by those who show it by their deeds and not by their own, or others’, words. The perfection must come from within.

Because of this man is united to the gods in kinship and he therefore worships them through religion and through purity of mind.

The acquisition of spiritual knowledge is a process in which, in addition to one’s own effort, the help of Nous is indispensable. It is only through purity, “puritas”, that the human mind comes to knowledge.

Light of Knowledge

If you want to come to the true knowledge of the hermetic texts, hasten yourself to first acquire the unshakable humility of the heart. This will lead to knowledge enlightened by the realization of love, and not to a kind of knowledge that increases your ego, for an impure mind will never obtain the gift of spiritual knowledge.

Therefore, with the utmost caution, you must see to it that you receive the light of knowledge through learning the wisdom in the texts. The gift you will receive is a gleam of the light of truth — a result of the enlightenment that this knowledge will give you.

Furthermore, you should make every effort to banish all worries and all trivial thoughts. Assiduously and persistently surrender to the spiritual reading (lectio divina) until the constant meditation saturates your mind and the hermetic text molds you in its image. That is why we should carefully and often read the hermetic texts and ponder them unceasingly.

We derive double pleasure from this continuous meditation. First, as long as the mind’s attention is occupied with reading the text it cannot be caught in the snares of harmful thoughts. Secondly, when we contemplate the text in silence, especially at night when nothing can distract us, we can see the wisdom hidden within it much more clearly.

But first, we need to acquire humility. Only humility produces the required purity. Otherwise, there is the danger that the reading of the hermetic text, however carefully undertaken, will only lead to vanity, arrogance, and lust for fame.

The wisdom of Hermes can bring disaster if it is not read with the right intention. Reading the hermetic texts in a spiritual way remains a lifelong effort. It involves constant attention with the aim of saturating the mind and repressing one’s own thoughts and anxieties.

Once, when mind had become intent on the things which are, and my understanding was raised to a great height, while my bodily senses were withdrawn as in sleep when men are weighed down by too much food or by the fatigue of the body…

Corpus Hermeticum, Book I

Contemplative Sleep

We only begin to understand many deeper meanings when we are, as it were, sunken into a deep sleep. This sleep has to be understood in two ways:

  • Literal sleep that can bring us new insights
  • A state which our mind can achieve even when awake.

As our minds become more and more renewed through study, what we see in the hermetic texts will also begin to change. The beauty of spiritual insight will grow with the one who progresses.

The hermetic texts will fall flat for those who are still attached to the sensory world and will become divine truth for those whose sight is raised to the divine world. To the former, the texts will be as if obscured by a thick mist and they will be unable to perceive their subtlety and endure their radiance.

With more and more understanding and insights other changes will occur. Through the study of the hermetic texts not only the mind is renewed, but also the meaning of the hermetic text.

Spiritual understanding means that one can see the splendor of hermetic text. That shine, or sparkle, contrasts with the thick clouds that hang around the text for others. That brilliance, however, does not indicate a spectacular revelation.

Absorbing hermetic wisdom

Perhaps this article has struck a chord in the meantime. You might think that to direct your mind to something other than God is some kind of mortal “sin”. Especially since the reading of literature other than the hermetic texts can be an obstacle to the acquisition of true or higher knowledge.

But fortunately, there is a fairly fast-acting and effective remedy for this “sin”. Apply the same care and zeal with which you deal with secular literature to reading the hermetic writings and meditating on them. Your mind will be engrossed in earthly texts and pursuits until your mind is fed with other things. Then your mind can give birth to spiritual and divine thoughts instead of earthly thoughts.

If you observe it clearly and reflect upon it with the eyes of the heart, believe me, my son, you will find the way to higher things. In fact the image itself will guide you. For sight of the image has a special quality of its own. It dwells in those who have already seen it and draws them upward, just as they say a magnet draws up iron.

Corpus Hermeticum Book IV.11

When your mind has thoroughly absorbed the spiritual thoughts, then the earthly thoughts can be gradually expelled or banished. The human mind cannot be without thoughts. The mind always returns to what it has received through long practice and meditation.

You must ensure that this spiritual knowledge becomes firmly established in yourself. Through your senses, spiritual knowledge can actually be absorbed and in a sense viewed, touched, and stored. You should absorb all spiritual knowledge even when something comes up that you have already heard or read earlier and with which you are already very familiar. Your mind, thirsting for true knowledge, will never be satiated.

The more often the mind drinks divine knowledge, the more eager it will want to read or speak about it. When you have carefully absorbed the words and stored them deep in the cellar of your mind, labeled them, and signed them by silence, they will afterward, like wines with their sweet fragrance, rejoice in your mind. They rush forth from your heart in a constant stream, as from an unthinkable depth.

An abiding desire for spiritual knowledge is essential. The continuous reading of hermetic texts always yields new insights. Therefore, a soul that is truly hungry can never get enough.

The hermetic texts change us without us noticing it. They slumber and ferment inwardly. The wisdom of Hermes changes a person from within and makes them a source from which the most beautiful things can flow.

One should ‘digest’ the text as a cow eats grass. Rumination (ruminare in Latin), is the method you can use to fully absorb the divine knowledge in the hermetic texts.

Teaching Others

It is probably impossible for someone who has no experience with this to find divine hermetic wisdom, let alone teach it. How can someone who is not even able to fully understand the text be able to teach it to others?

If they try to teach, their lessons will be of no effect, and as a useless thing, it will do nothing, reaching only the ears of those who listen to them. They will not be able to penetrate the hearts of their listeners.

It is impossible for an impure soul to acquire pure divine knowledge, no matter how much it labors itself by reading incessantly. Surely, no one pours excellent perfume, very good honey, or even a dash of expensive liquor into a smelly and broken pitcher. A foul-smelling jar simply spoils the sweetest-scented myrrh more easily than it will absorb any of the sweetness. Something that is pure spoils much faster than that which is spoiled can become pure.

So it is the same with the jar of our interior: If it is not first cleaned of all the foul-smelling contamination of our irrational tormentors it is not worthy to receive the seeds of divine knowledge. One who is inexperienced in hermetic knowledge will not be able to teach it.

But we should not despair if our life is still imperfect. Reading hermetic texts with sincere intentions helps us benefit the most from reading and to act virtuous and pious. Purification means becoming aware of our imperfections and the need for continued reading and maturation.

There is no other way to reach spiritual knowledge than by taking it step by step. Those who have mastered this knowledge with great effort may well forget how much effort it required. Those who have reached an advanced level of knowledge may inadvertently lose sight of it. One must remain aware of the crucial importance of effort certainly if one wants to guide others on the Way of Hermes.

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Sirius Aor
7 months ago

It is impressive what is written here, it is a perfectly articulated account of what I have experienced studying and trying to teach Hermeticism.

It is not until I could feel the Hermetic current flowing through every pore of my body and understand that what is written is constantly occurring in my experience, that the Hermetic messages and touches are found in every breath and contemplation of Life, it was not until I gained that realization of the ruminating activity of the Hermetic texts that I was able to teach and those who listen to receive.

And believe me, I know what disaster is and I have experienced it, but it is also part of what I had to learn.

This article is awesome. Thank you so much for writing it.