The Hermetica is a collection of writing attributed to Thoth- a mythical ancient Egyptian sage whose wisdom is said to have transformed him into a god. Although largely unknown today, the writings attributed to Hermes/Thoth have been immensely important in the history of Western thought. They profoundly influenced the Greeks, and through their rediscovery in fifteenth-century florence, helped to inspire the ‘Renaissance’ which gave birth to our modern age.
The list of people who acknowledge a debt to the Hermetica reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of the greatest philosophers, scientists and artists that the West has produced- Leonardo da Vinci, Duer, Botticelli, Roger Bacon, Paracelsus, Thomas More, William Blake, Kepler, Copernicus, Isaac Newton, Sir Walter Raleigh, Milton, Ben Johnson, Daniel Dafoe, Shelley and his wife Mary, Victor Hugo and Carl jung. It heavily influenced Shakespeare, John Donne, John Dee and all the poet-philosophers who surrounded the court of Queen Elizabeth I, as well as the founding scientists of the Royal Society in London, and even threaders who inspired the Protestant Reformation in Europe. The list is endless, with Hermetica’s influence reaching well beyond the frontiers of Europe.
The Hermetica is a cornerstone of Western culture. In substance and importance it is equal to well-known Eastern scriptures like Upanishads, the Dhammapada and the Tao Te Ching. Yet, unlike these texts which are now readily available and widely read, the works of Hermes have been lost under the dead weight of academic translations, Christian prejudice and occult obscurities.
History shows that wherever the works of Hermes have been studied and venerated, civilisation flourished. Pagans and sages fled to the newly emerging Arab culture, taking their knowledge and the Hermetic writings with them. Two hundred years later, the Muslims created an empire who learning and scientific achievements were unsurpassed.
By the beginning of the ninth century, the first university was established in Baghdad, called the ‘House of Wisdom’. Here many pagan works were translated, the sciences that had reached such heights in Alexandria were significantly developed, and the ancient Pagan spiritual wisdom was covertly studied and practised. From its exalted position amongst the sacred scriptures of Egyptian spirituality, the Hermetica became the secret inspiration for an important undercurrent in Islamic philosophy.
With the Arab empire becoming increasingly intolerant, the owners of the Hermetic books travelled in search of a safe refuge. In the fifteenth century many fled to the tolerant city state of Florence in Northern Italy, where this wisdom again inspired a great cultural flowering.
The emergence of a glorious new culture in Florence signalled the end of the Dark Ages. We call this period the ‘Renaissance’, meaning ‘rebirth’, which is a fitting name, for at the heart of the Hermetic philosophy is the idea of being spiritually reborn.
As in Alexandria a thousand years earlier, the Renaissance viewed science, art, literature and religions parts of a united whole to be studied together. All aspects of human life were now opened up as legitimate areas of investigation. It was a situation that challenged the authorities of the Roman Catholic Church in 1492, with the aid of the Kind of France, they crushed the Republic of Florence.
In the modern world we know from the actions of the tabloid press how one well-timed ‘hatchet job’ can unjustifiably undermine someone’s reputation for good. This is exactly what happened to the Hermetic teachings.
As old as the Christian gospels and older than the Qu’ran, it is one of the great sacred texts of the world. It is worthy of respect and study for these reasons alone.
Although human culture has changed beyond recognition from the times of ancient Egyptians, the essential mysteries of life have remained what they have always been and always will be. For those alive to these mysteries, the writings of Hermes are as relevant today as they were in the distant past.
Live and Learn. We All Do.
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The added insight of your post is much appreciated; I was hoping you could provide references for how it is known that the Hermetica has influenced Da Vinci and Shakespeare.