Hermeticism and Gnosticism

Two of the spiritual movements that challenged Catholicism

Joshua Hehe

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Introduction

In Classical Antiquity, amid the birth of the Western occult tradition, during the 1st century, in an age of radical religious revolutions in Roman-occupied Egypt, both Hermeticism and Gnosticism emerged alongside what was becoming Catholicism. Since then, the two spiritual movements have often been thought of as being the same thing, although they have very different approaches to life. Nonetheless, both Hermetic Christians and Gnostic Christians were seen as heretics by Catholic Christians. This was because, both spiritual movements held that humanity was originally divine and that people had become trapped in the material world, as slaves to their own passions — distracted from their true nature.

Hermeticism

After the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great, a bilingual and bicultural society emerged along the banks of the Nile. As a result of that, a number of important scholars emerged, such as Chaeremon of Alexandria, who was a famous Stoic philosopher and Egyptian priest. As the Head of the Alexandrian School of Grammarians and a rather influential author, he would have associated with many other writers at the Ancient Library of Alexandria. The thing was that, just as ancient Egyptian books on magic were attributed to Thoth rather than their real authors, many of the books by Hermetic writers were attributed to Hermes Trismegistus. However, there is nothing that would indicate that the famous Emerald Tablet was actually ever written by an avatar of Thoth named Hermes Trismegistus. On the contrary, as far as I can tell, “Thrice-Greatest Hermes” is a completely mythological figure. In other words, euhemerism does not apply to that guy. So, the true origin of the Emerald Tablet remains a mystery. What is known is that the compact and cryptic text was highly regarded by both Islamic and Christian alchemists as the seminal work in their field.

The thing to understand is that this is a text regarding esoteric, not exoteric alchemy. So, Hermeticism is at least partially a set of esoterically encoded instructions for refining the soul (“mercury”) into the spirit (“sulfur”) by way of the body (“salt”). To the Gnostics, those concepts were associated…

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