May. 12th, 2012

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I have been reading a lot of Hermetic writing. The reason they call it Hermetic is that it tends to be based around the semi-fictional character of Hermes Trismegistus, "Hermes Thrice-Great," who was a teacher, philosopher, and occultist who may or may not have lived around the first, second, or third centuries C.E. 

Another contributing factor is that a lot of the Hermetic writing is available at practically no cost, since much of it was made available in the U.S. around the turn of the previous century. The spiritual atmosphere in America at the turn of the previous century is fascinating. That was when Hinduism and Buddhism first became introduced into the U.S. in a big way. Spiritualism blossomed; Arthur Conan Doyle came out in favor of fairies and life after death; the Jehovah's Witnesses sprang out of the apocalyptic ground; reincarnation and spirit communication became fashionable topics. A lot of material was written by those engaging in new spiritual pursuits, much of which has been unfortunately forgotten.

But a lot of it is available for free, or nearly nothing, as e-books. And having acquired the Nook Tablet on my birthday, well, why not explore, right? 

My odyssey started with The Kybalion, which is a fascinating read. The current edition put out by Tarcher Penguin makes a very interesting argument that instead of being written by "Three Initiates," the book was actually written by one man, William Walker Atkinson. It then gives a brief bio of Atkinson. He was a surprising man. He wrote a lot of books, many having to do with what was called "New Thought" in those days. The Kybalion is his contribution to Hermetic thought, and it really does summarize a lot of concepts well. As I read it, I was struck by how many things people have borrowed from The Kybalion and passed off as their own. The Kybalion has definitely been the source for a lot of New Age literature, and gone uncredited. The Kybalion freely references other material, and so I went off on a tangent.

Right now I am in the middle of The Virgin Of The World, by "Hermes Trismegistus," as translated by Anna Kingsford and Edward Maitland. Now those two, of themselves, are fascinating characters, who I will not touch on here. (I do encourage a Google search, and even if you just look at their bios on Wikipedia, it's very interesting.) In any case, Kingsford and Maitland translated The Virgin in 1884. The Virgin of the World is not a contiguous work, but is actually a collection of writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus and/or his son, Asclepios.

The history of how The Virgin of the World was rescued from destruction is interesting in and of itself, but I won't go into that here. What is important is that even though the Kingsford/Maitland translation has its problems, it's absolutely clear as I read it that most modern occultism has borrowed very heavily indeed from The Virgin. I have encountered ideas there that I see clearly reflected in the work of Aleister Crowley and Victor Anderson, among many others. And even better: this material dates from the 2nd and 3rd centuries C.E. I love the concept of continuity there, and I love the feeling of reading the older material and getting the deep sensation of truth from it.

I don't always understand all of it, either due to Kingsford and Maitland's late 19th century phrasing or because it is an odd and obscure, arcane text. But the sense of continuity, the delight in my being able to read the same ideas that stimulated discussion and meditation in those times and even today, is testament to the power of writing and the worthiness of teaching.

I was having a discussion with a friend who owned an occult store at one time. I asked her what people asked for the most when they came into the store. It  was a great discussion, and eventually she said that all the things people asked for when they came in boiled down to how they wanted to feel continuity, to belong, to ally themselves with something that had roots and strength and could provide wisdom in the here-and-now.

I can understand that need, and I'm glad to have found several things that give me that sense of belonging and continuity. Feri and Thelema certainly provide that, but I love that even going back further and further, there is a continuity of teaching and of wisdom that extends back, a subtle thread that leads out of the labyrinth.
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