Hermes Trismegistus, God of Alchemy

hermestrismegAccording to alchemical philosophy, during the time of Zep Tepi (36,420 BCE), divine beings came to Egypt. Known as the Ennead, (Group of Nine), these beings brought civilization to primitive humans. Some alchemists believe the Ennead changed the genetic make-up of apes to create people.

One of Ennead was known as the God Thoth. Among the Egyptians, Thoth was the God of Writing, Magic, and the Arts. Depicted with a baboon’s head, Thoth was the intermediary between the Ennead and the Egyptians. According to alchemists, Thoth is known by many names – Enoch, Odin, Hermes, and others. (He had various manifestations.)

The teachings of Thoth became the foundation of alchemy. Before the Great Flood (about 10,000 BCE), Thoth sealed his scrolls in two stone pillars. Among the items He saved was The Emerald Tablet. After these massive columns were discovered, they were moved to a secret temple by the Egyptians. The scrolls and tablet were placed in the Temple of Amen.

After Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, the ruling Greeks began calling Egyptian Gods by Greek names. Ptolemy I Soter encouraged the syncretizing of Egyptian Gods with Greek Ones. This was to increase both his and his dynasty’s religious and political powers. Hermes, the God of Travelers and Communication became combined with Thoth, since the two Gods shared many attributes. Therefore, Thoth “the Great, the Great, the Great” became known as the Ptolemaic Hermes Trismegistus (Hermes Thrice Great). Thus the pillars that Thoth had stored his writings in were called the Pillars of Hermes.

In alchemy, Hermes Trismegistus was called that because he mastered the spiritual, mental, and physical planes of being. He was believed to be human and divine. Being both, he was superior to either the Gods or mortals. Hermes Trismegistus later became known for his writings, “The Hermetics,” the forty-two books of dialogues between himself and various Egyptian Gods.

The progression from Thoth of the Egyptians to Hermes Trismegistus of alchemy was a long process of syncretism. My personal opinion is that alchemists in the late Roman Empire and early Medieval Ages desired a wholeness to their work. They wanted to achieve a cohesiveness to the past writings of their mystery tradition. Probably a real person, Hermes Trismegistus was a prolific writer of esoteric teachings. He may have been channeling the wisdom of the syncretic God Thoth-Hermes.

Works Used:
Hauck, Dennis William, “Sorcerer’s Stone: A Beginner’s Guide to Alchemy.” Crucible Books: Sacramento (CA). 2013.
—, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy.” Alpha Books: New York. 2008.
SiSwati, Katrina, “Thoth Hermes Trismegistus and His Ancient School of Mysteries.” Ancient Origins. 14 February 2015. Web. https://www.ancient-origins.net/history-famous-people/thoth-hermes-trismegistus-and-his-ancient-school-mysteries-002676.
Van den Dungen, Wim, “Hermes Trismegistus.” 2009. Web. http://www.maat.sofiatopia.org/hermes.htm.
—, “Hermes the Egyptian.” 2010. Web. http://www.maat.sofiatopia.org/hermes2.htm.

The Multiple Souls of Polytheism

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Polytheism differs from Christianity in that instead of one soul, a person has multiple souls. The Romans have the genius, renamed by Christians as the Guardian Angel. Meanwhile, the animus, which is the dynamic force of personality, can exist outside of the body. One soul dies with the body, while another one survives to form its own body. When a person dies, one soul will merge with the ancestral soul, and another soul will go to the underworld. The physical (body) soul that lives on after death is called a revenant.

This is a difficult concept for many people to grasp. Western culture sees a person’s soul as a singularity. Moreover, the revenant is no longer believed to be real. Since the Dead have been relegated to being phantoms. Modern science has reinforced the idea that ghosts are figments of a confused mind.

The Christian Church deliberately redefined the concept of “soul,” thereby merging all the souls into one entity. Now, when the body dies, the soul merges with God. The Church dismissed the existence of revenants. Tertullian, St. Augustine, and Gregory the Great developed and promoted the concept of the soul being a singularity. Their aim was to eliminate the Pagan veneration of the Dead.

Tertullian claimed that Plato had asserted that the soul remains in the body after death. However Plato said that after death, a soul does continue to exist. Moreover, he divided the soul into three parts – logos (mind), thymos (emotion) and eros (desire).

In Polytheist theology, it is important to note multiple souls are the norm. For example, the Egyptians believed that everyone had nine souls. They are: kha: the body, ka: the living life force, ba: the personality, sekhem: the transfigured life force, khaibit: the shadow, akh: the transfigured soul, sahu: the spiritual body, ib: the heart and ren: the true name of the person.

In Norse Polytheism, the litr is the body’s vital force. The hame, the “astral body,” works with the lich, the physical body. The flygja is similar to the Roman genius. The kinfylgja is the ancestral soul.

It is important to note that the texts written by the ancients are often interpreted by people who are steeped in the monotheistic culture. Therefore, references to multiple souls may be thought of as aspects of a single soul. However, the idea of multiple souls still manifests itself in modern thought. I consider Freud’s theory of the ego, id, and super-ego to be one example.

Snakes and Egyptian Gods

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The most venomous of the naja cobras, the Egyptian cobra (Naja haje) is not afraid of people. She enters their houses and gardens at will. Hunting at night, the Egyptian cobra looks for a tasty rat or toad for her meal.

One of the largest cobras in Africa, the Egyptian cobra has a wide hood and a full-bodied build. Unlike other cobras, She has neither the distinctive eye spots nor does She spit. Said to be relatively docile, the Egyptian cobra is often the choice of snake charmers and pet owners.

Ranging from North Africa to the Congo River Basin, the Egyptian cobra prefers to be near water. She can be found in water ditches near fields, where She hunt for vermin. In fact, people have reported seeing the Egyptian cobra swimming in the Mediterranean Sea.

The snake whose bite is supposed to have killed Cleopatra was called the “asp.” (Venomous snakes in antiquity were usually referred to as “asp,” regardless of their species.) Since asps do not live in North Africa, the snake is believed to be the Egyptian cobra. Nobody really knows for sure. Adding to the mystery is that the venom of this cobra is deadly but slow acting.

In ancient Egypt, the Pharaoh’s crown featured the Uraeus, which was a striking cobra. This particular cobra is thought to be the Eye of Ra. As the Eye, this Goddess is Ra’s Daughter and Protector. With her fiery glance, the Eye of Ra destroys the enemies of Ra (and hence the Pharaoh, who is Ra’s representative). Meanwhile, her tears create life.

In addition, the Egyptians have other important Cobra Goddesses. Wadjet of the Marshes is the Protector and Guardian of Lower Egypt. As one of the “Two Ladies,” Wadjet, with Nekhbet, the White Vulture of Upper Egypt, are the joint protectors of United Egypt. Wadjet is also thought to be represented by the Uraeus, which is also the crown of Lower Egypt.

Meanwhile, Renenutet of the Cornfields is the “Nourishing Snake.” She guards the fields and granaries to ensure a good harvest. As the Lady of the Granaries, Renenutet protects the crops and is the mother of the Corn God, Neper. In the Underworld, She feeds and watches over the Pharaoh.

Meretseger of the Desert Hills watches over the tombs of the Pharaohs. Her mountain in Thebes is one of the entrances to the Egyptian Underworld. She and her cobras guard the Twelve Gates of the Underworld. Spitting fire, They punish evil souls.

The Egyptian cobra imbues power. As She defended the Pharaoh and Egypt, She did so with her own power. Like all snakes, the Egyptian cobra is to be respected instead of feared.

Anubis (Anpu) of Egypt

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Artist: Kris Waldherr for the Anubis Oracle

I met Anubis about the same time that Hecate introduced Herself to me. In the Roman mind, Anubis of Egypt and Hecate of Greece are both Gods of the Underworld and the Keepers of Curses. They are often grouped together for Romans. Anubis is the Keeper of the Keys to the Underworld, while Hecate guards the Dead. To summon Anubis, a person would draw the image of the God in blood from a black dog. To summon Hecate, a person sacrificed a black dog at the crossroads. Both Gods act as intermediaries between the Dead and the living.

Anubis of the Dead is an ancient God of Egypt. During the Early Dynasty Period and the Old Kingdom, Anubis was the Lord of the Dead for the Egyptians. He later became the God of Mummification and Funerals.

During the Middle Kingdom, Osiris became the Ruler of the Underworld. Anubis then became the Guardian of the Scales. He supervises the Weighing of the Hearts of the newly Dead. Anubis also guards the mummified corpse of Osiris, after this God is murdered by Seth, his brother.

In my relations with Anubis, I am to convince some of the newly Dead to crossover. To me, He is the Keeper of the Keys, who leads some of the Dead on their way. Hecate receives them at the end of their journey.

Anubis’ Titles:
He Who Is Upon His Mountain
Lord of the Sacred Land
Foremost of the Westerners
He Who Is In the Place of Embalming
Conductor of Souls
Jackal Ruler of the Nine Bows
Protector of Tombs
Guardian of the Scales

My Travels in the Egyptian Underworld

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Anubis from “The Anubis Oracle”

Two months before my traumatic brain injury (TBI), I met Anubis, the God of the Underworld, during a session with a Norse Seidrworker (Note 1). Anubis introduced Himself to me and one other person. Then during my TBI coma, Anubis came to me and we traveled together through the Underworld. (Of course, I did return to the land of the living.) Since that time, Anubis would show up in my meditations if He needed me to speak to the Newly Dead.

When I go to the Egyptian Underworld, I become a barn swallow (Note 2), a traditional form for the ba (Note 3). Traveling west into the stars of the night, I enter the Body of Nut, the Goddess of the Sky. As I fly, I see the Body of Geb, the God of the Earth, below.

Flying towards the sun, I land on the Solar Barque of Ra, the God of the Sun. As I land, I feel encased in golden yellow. Perching on the bow, I sail with Ra and the Dead through the stars.

Suddenly the Barque plunges into blackness, we have entered a dark cavern. An eerie greenish glow comes from the flaming lakes and rivers. With Ra’s light now a pale yellow, we move slowly through the inky black. The wind has died down, only to be replaced by stifling heat. The only sound is the splashing of the oars of the rowing Dead.

Suddenly Apep (Apophis) lunges at the Barque. Startled, I fly away. Meanwhile, the Dead are beating Apep with their heavy oars. The monster starts to sink slowly back into the watery abyss.

In the strange greenish-yellow light, Anubis appears by my side. Guiding me, the God flies over a dark landscape of silently tramping forms. The march of the Dead goes on for miles, snaking along a dark ribbon of a river. Occasionally, a figure falls down, only to be trodden upon by the rest. A scream penetrates the darkness, and I shiver in fear.

Fires from the river glow blue-green in spots. On one side of the river are dark figures waiting for the ferry to return. Some fall into the water near the yellow eyes of waiting crocodiles. Before any of them can get to the splashing form, Anubis rescues the Dead and carries them away.

Carrying the Newly Dead between us, we head to the Hall of Two Truths. Waiting at the Gate to the Lake of Fire is Hathor, the Great Mother. She takes the frightened Dead and sings to them. I stay with Her, while Anubis returns to the Hall. After comforting the Newly Dead, I return home through Nut’s Body.

One difference between my experience and the known record of the Egyptian Underworld is that Anubis actively saves some of the Dead. Why they are under his protection is a mystery to me. From what I can see, Anubis intently checks on the progress of the Newly Dead.

I expected the Underworld to be pitch black with an occasional glow from the fires. The wide-spread blue-green or yellow-green light seemed odd to me. This light seems to be reflected off of the cavern ceiling. This gave an unreal quality to the shadows and the flickering fires of the rivers.

Since I am among the living, I did not pass the Gate guarded by Hathor. I did not hear or see any of Her Cows. I could hear the screaming baboons, but I did not see them or the snakes, who protect the other Gates.

Finally, the fight between the Dead and Apep on the Solar Barque resembled a kabuki play. Knowing their roles, everyone moved with stylistic ritual movements. Each movement of their bodies seemed infused in meaning. Meanwhile, Ra was curiously inert during the fight rather than fighting for his life. In my perspective, the whole battle was a set piece.

The vision that I experienced had a more orderly feel to the Underworld. There was little or no chaos of the Dead moving hither and yon. Everything seemed to be more static than I expected.

NOTES:
Note 1: In Seidr, the seer travels to Hel to relay messages from the Dead and occasionally a God.

Note 2. In Egyptian paintings, the ba is depicted as a human-headed bird. The bird body is either a stork, vulture or hawk. The Book of the Dead also has the ba transform into a falcon, heron, swallow or mythic benu bird.

Note 3. The Egyptians believed that everyone had nine souls. They are: kha: the body, ka: the living life force, ba: the personality, sekhem: the transfigured life force, khaibit: the shadow, akh: the transfigured soul, sahu: the spiritual body, ib: the heart and ren: the true name of the person.