Some important technical Hermetic terms
The Hermetica is a collection of philosophical and religious texts attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, a legendary figure in the Western esoteric tradition. These texts, which date back to the first few centuries of the Common Era, are a rich source of knowledge and insight into the spiritual and metaphysical worldviews of the ancient Mediterranean world.
However, reading the Hermetica can be a challenging task, as it is filled with technical terms and concepts that may be unfamiliar to modern readers. To help make sense of this complex and fascinating body of work, this article provides a glossary of the most important technical terms in the Hermetica.
By explaining these terms in clear and concise language, this glossary aims to make the Hermetica more accessible to readers who are new to the subject, as well as to provide a useful reference for those who are already familiar with these texts.
The Greek word is cognate with words meaning think, understand, discern, notice, foresee, propose, plan, imply, sensible, and thoughtful. In the Hermetica it is used in a completely unique way (see below). We encounter the Greek word in the hermetic texts in two senses, often distinguished by the use of a capital letter in one sense:
- mind, which is the thinking and perceiving, and understanding faculty in all human beings, which distinguishes their actions from those of irrational animals, which are purely instinctive.
- Mind, which is the Mind of God, the Supreme Mind which thought the universe into being with a word (logos).
God puts Nous, his Divine Mind, into the soul that strives through virtue and love to please Him. The soul is then able to perceive Him, to delight in Him, to become one with Him. In a soul with Nous, the will of the soul is united with His Will.
Nous is the eternal Reality of which the ordinary human mind is but a lower reflection in time and space. Hermeticism is also called the Religion of the Mind (religio mentis) because it is through this gift of Divine Mind (Nous) to we can fulfill the purpose of our creation.
Unfortunately, this difficult term is often misinterpreted in modern translations. Almost always Nous, which is central to Hermeticism, gets translated either as “intellect” or as “mind” (see above). The problem with this translation is that if modern readers hear about the intellect or mind, they think it is about things like the human intellect, intellectual thinking, intellectuals, rational thinking, scholarship, or rational philosophy.
In a lot of philosophical discussions in Antiquity, often “mind” or “intellect” is a reasonable translation for Nous, but in the Hermetica it’s a mistranslation because that’s not actually what it means. The Nous in the Hermetica emerges out of the unknowable mysterious source of reality, which is called the Pege in Greek.
PEGE (Source, Essence of all essences)
In the Hermetica there is a mysterious fountain or Source from which everything emanates and is totally unknowable. The Hermetic texts are agnostic about the true source of reality as we do not know what it is or where it comes from. All we know is the texts say that there is the source of reality and out of it pours spiritual light and ultimately life.
Light and life are two core terms in the Hermetica. There is an emanation of light that comes out of the source and this light is called the Nous. God manifests Itself as a boundless infinite spiritual light. Human beings are part of this divine light, so we have Nous inside ourselves. Our true essential being, what we really are, is actually noetic light; Nous.
LOGOS (Word, Reason, Order)
This word has many meanings in Greek, and it is sometimes hard to be sure of its exact sense in any particular context. It is derived from the verb “lego” which has four main senses: (i) lay down, (ii) arrange, select, choose, (iii) reckon up, count, (iv) tell, speak, say, mean.
Logos has three meanings :
- word expressing thought,
- thought itself and the reasoning power which enables its expression, and
- word combining Reason and the Divine Word.
Logos is therefore seen as the (divine) act of selecting thoughts that have been arranged in order and then expressing them intelligibly (as creation).
GNOSIS (Rational or Intuitive Knowledge)
The source of the word “know”. It is cognate with words meaning judgment, opinion, prudence, resolve, will discover, examine, understand, perceive, be acquainted with (or friend). In the Hermetica it is used to signify a divinely guided enquiry into the nature of God, resulting in perfect knowledge of Him and identification with Him through the desire for union (erotos).
A “gnostic” is therefore a true Knower and Lover of God, who knows himself to be inseparable from the Divine All. Because God is the source, the giver, of all good, union with Him is total bliss, and separation from Him is supreme misery.
This word has the second meaning of obscurity or darkness. For he who does not know and seek for God, looks away from the Light and is in darkness (ignorance). In the Hermetica the word signifies not a mere non-knowing of the Real, which is a misfortune but no sin, but a deliberate shutting of the eyes to it, a turning away from or rejection of God. This is the one truly unpardonable sin in the hermetic texts. For he who will not look up to God must inevitably be locked down, and be mesmerized, by sensible reality.
The original meaning is “those who live in heaven, the celestials, the stars. In the Hermetica the term often refers to material gods, the astrological Seven Planets, who rule the lives of all incarnate beings, as they circle around God’s throne and obey His commands. The second meaning corresponds to “Shining Ones”, and in this case, it may best be rendered as “awe-inspiring divine beings”.
DAIMON (guiding spirit)
The Greek word is derived from the verb daiomai. It is cognate with words meaning fate, fortune, god-inspired, and godlike; but its usual senses are (i) deity, (ii) fate, destiny or fortune, (iii) departed souls, and (iv) evil spirits. In the Hermetica a daimon is not evil but acts more like an avenger of sin or an active agent that enacts the influence of the divine.
The Greek word comes from the word harmos, a joint; its meanings are (i) fitting together, (ii) union or covenant, (iii) ordinance, decree, fate, (iv) concord, harmony, (v) agreement, and it is cognate with words meaning bind, marriage, adapted to, yoked chariot, arrange, governor, agreeable.
In the Hermetica Harmonia has three meanings:
- the horoscope, which shows how the planetary forces which work out destiny are coordinated and adjusted,
- the created spheres, which are all under one great Law of destiny,
- the loving sympathy which binds God, gods, and men in one chain of mutual service, and unites the souls of the blessed in Heaven.
This word can be translated as Devotion or Piety. It has the dictionary meanings of a feeling of awe or shame, fear, reference, worship, piety, and religion. The adverbial prefix eu conveys the meanings of right, due, and so propitious. Therefore, the follower of Hermes is one who gives to God the reverence, service, and worship that are His due, to which He has the right, and so it also means “one who alone lives the truly propitious or happy course of life” (eudaimonia).
PRONOIA, ANANKE, HEIMARMENE (Providence, Necessity, Fate)
As these words are closely connected with each other, we will discuss them together. Providence is the will of God, Necessity serves Providence, and Fate serves Necessity.
If something is to happen according to Providence (the will of God) then Necessity establishes the constraints in reality that allow it to happen, and Fate sees it through by means of the planets to create it. Fate is therefore effected through the motions of the planets and their astrological effects upon things in sensible reality. Fate is a function of the cosmos and all that happens within it.
God’s Providence sets up the conditions for Fate to operate. For the Cosmos to continue, to preserve, and to “manipulate” through Fate we have daimons within us. The daimons are attached to souls so that through drive and desire everything is maintained and continued, according to Fate and therefore the Will of God. Fate controls only the body, not soul (the divine part), in man.
Sources: The Gospel of Hermes by Duncan Greenlees Hermetic Spirituality and the Historical Imagination by Wouter Hanegraaff Hermetic House of Life Discord Server