|Hermetic Philosophy||| Print ||
TONIGHT, I am going to ask you to briefly leave our modern world view and accompany me into the world of Hermetic Philosophy. If you Google the term, you will find many hits. The Hermetic Philosophers may well go back as far as ancient Egypt, perhaps even earlier. The philosophy is succinctly stated in the Emerald Tablet, but many have spent their lives learning to understand and practice its precepts.
In many of his writings, but especially in Morals and Dogma, Albert Pike, one of the last of the Hermetic Philosophers, leads us on a search for the Hermetic principles, those of equilibrium and balance. These ancient philosophers held that the Universe was One. Macrocosm and microcosm. All strivings, all actions, were carried out to bring about an exchange of energy and balance between the Macrocosm and the microcosm. Anything we did was reflected out to the universe, as the rings spread out on a pond from a dropped pebble. By a corollary, the Universe acted upon us also, so in everything we do, we have to keep that balance and flow in mind, for we can act negatively as well as positively.
When I began preparing this paper, I kept thinking of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and his “Spaceship of the mind.” “We are all star stuff,” he would say. Recycled countless times over billions of years. Sometimes interstellar dust, sometimes at the heart of a nova, perhaps a dandelion seed at one time, and a Mozart or an Einstein at another.
John Donne in his Meditation XVII touched upon the same thing:
If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
When the Holy Roman Church took control over the minds, the bodies, the Heaven, and the Hell of the Universe, such thoughts became heresy. Whatever of the old teaching could be subsumed into the body of the Church doctrine was absorbed. The remainder was labeled heresy. Anyone found holding to the old beliefs would be tortured into confession and burned at the stake. Hundreds of thousands died and the remainder went underground. The old teachings resurfaced as Alchemy and Astrology. Alchemists trod a thin line, but if they were careful, could avoid the Holy Inquisition. Alchemists numbered many amongst their rolls. Isaac Newton, Roger Bacon, Laplace, Paracelsus, hundreds more, not only scientists, but artists, architects and composers, many were Alchemists and Hermeticists. C.G. Jung was an Hermetic thinker and teacher.
What distinguished the hermeticist from the non-hermetic scientist was primarily a mental set. To borrow a description from Michael Baigent,
Around the time of Elizabeth I and James II, the attitude began to change. Instead of the hermetic idea of balance in all things, men begin to experiment with taking things apart just to see how they worked, of building things just because they could. Man, being clever, did quite well at this. We excelled in making weapons of destruction. Little by little, as our knowledge base has increased, we have experimented with tearing apart the fabric of matter itself. Currently, in Switzerland, an experiment is under way with the most powerful linear accelerator in the world to tear apart what is believed to be the ultimate binding force of matter. Could that, perhaps, be a mistake?
I think perhaps a parable is necessary here; let’s call it the parable of the clockmaker and the child. Clock making goes far back in history. The successful clockmaker required a broad range of skills both mental and physical. On the one hand he had to have a concept of the flow of time and how it affects man’s existence. He had to have considerable mechanical skills in addition, in order to work out trains of gears, wheels, etc. in order to translate this concept into something that would show up on the dial and could be used by man to regulate his actions. With great skill he learns to construct “clockwork” mechanisms in everything from clock towers to tiny wristwatches. Now let’s take an alarm clock and give it to a child. We want to keep him occupied so we give him a few basic tools. Watch him take the clock apart! Soon on the floor there is a scattering of wheels and gears and pieces, which he plays with until he gets bored.
Time does not permit much of the discussion of the hermetic philosophy, but if you read Albert Pike’s works, Morals and Dogma amongst others, you will see that he continually urges that we strive for equilibrium and balance in all things. He illustrates the results of imbalance and a lack of equilibrium through war, poverty and disease on the one hand, and wealth, luxury and tyranny on the other.
If you get an opportunity to look into the hermetic philosophy, you’ll find that the chief striving of the hermetic philosopher was, indeed, balance and equilibrium in all things. The recipes for alchemical experiments were not only a quest for the physical Philosopher’s Stone and Elixir Vitae, but were recipes for achieving mental and physical equilibrium with all of nature and existence. You will find, for instance, that some of the hermetic teachings include astrology. As the Macrocosm and microcosm were considered to be one and interactive, it was felt that the stars could perhaps provide guidance or wisdom to man on earth. Man was not considered to be ruled by the stars, but the various configurations if properly read could act as a guide to that flow from Macrocosm to microcosm and return. Hence a horoscope did not tell you what was going to happen to you or tell you what you must do. However a careful interpretation of that horoscope could guide one towards favorable activities or warn one against unfavorable activities. The choice to heed it or not heed it was up to the individual.
The great architecture of the past was based on hermetic principles of equilibrium and balance through the Sacred Geometry. The great cathedrals and churches were built on these principles to uplift the spirit, to increase our link with the Macrocosm, thence to bring us closer to the Godhead. The modern architect seems to belong to the cereal box school of building construction, just boxes of various sizes and shapes to efficiently fit modern requirements. The result is, for the most part, more soul killing than uplifting. We package for efficiency, aesthetics be damned.
As this is to be a short paper and the conviviality of the table lodge awaits, I will just leave you with this thought. It might be a good time at this stage of our development to study the hermetic philosophy; to try to put aside our childish tools and begin learning the art of the clockmaker. Only then perhaps we will be able to repair the damage that has been done in the last couple of centuries.