15. Hermes

The black race which succeeded the southern red race in dominion over the world, made Upper Egypt its main sanctuary. The name Hermes-Toth, that mysterious first initiator of Egypt into the sacred doctrine, doubtless refers to an initial, peaceful mixture of the white race and the black race in the regions of Ethiopia and Upper Egypt, long before the Aryan period. Hermes is a generic name like Manu and Buddha. It designates man, a caste and a god at the same time. As a man, Hermes is the first and great initiator of Egypt; as a caste, Hermes is the priesthood, the depositary of esoteric traditions; as a god, Hermes is the planet Mercury, including in its sphere a category of spirits and divine initiators; in brief, Hermes presides in the supraterrestrial region of celestial initiation. In the spiritual economy of the world all these things are bound together by secret affinities as by an invisible thread. The name Hermes is a talisman which sums them up, a magic sound which calls them forth. Hence its prestige. The Greeks, disciples of the Egyptians, called him Hermes Trismegistus, or three times great, because he was considered king, legislator and priest. He typifies a period when priesthood, magistracy and royalty were united in a single governing body. Manetho's Egyptian chronology calls this period the reign of the gods. At that time there was neither papyrus nor phonetic writing, but sacred ideography already existed; the science of the priesthood was inscribed in hieroglyphs on the columns and walls of the crypts. Considerably improved, it later passed into the temple libraries. The Egyptians attributed to Hermes forty-two books dealing with esoteric science. The Greek book known by the name Hermes Trismegistus, indeed includes altered but infinitely valuable fragments of ancient theogony which is like the fiat lux from which Moses and Orpheus received their first enlightenment. The doctrine of the fire-principle and of the word-light contained in the Vision of Hermes will remain the climax and center of Egyptian initiation.

We shall attempt to rediscover this vision of the masters, this mystic rose which blooms only in the darkness of the sanctuary and in the arcana of the great religions. Certain of Hermes' words, stamped with ancient wisdom, are well adapted to prepare us for this. "None of our thoughts," said he to his disciple, Asklepius, "can conceive of God, nor can any language define Him. The incorporeal, invisible and formless cannot be comprehended by our senses. What is eternal cannot be measured with the short measure of time; God therefore is ineffable. God indeed can transmit to a few elect the ability to rise above natural things in order to perceive some radiation of His supreme perfection, but these elect find no words to translate into everyday language the non-material vision which has made them tremble. They can explain to humanity the secondary causes of the creations which take place before their eyes as images of universal life, but the First Cause remains hidden, and we shall not succeed in understanding it except by experiencing death." Thus spoke Hermes about the unknown God on the threshold of the crypts. The disciples who entered with him into their depths learned to know Him as a living being.22

The book speaks of his death as of the departure of a god. "Hermes saw the totality of things, and having seen he understood, and having understood he had the power to manifest and to reveal. What he thought, he wrote; what he wrote, he hid in great measure, keeping wisely silent and speaking at the same time so that all the world to come might seek these things. And thus, having commanded the gods, his brothers, to act like participants in a funeral procession, he ascended to the stars."

If it is absolutely necessary, one can isolate the political history of peoples, but one cannot isolate their religious history. The religions of Assyria, Egypt, Judea and Greece are understood only when one grasps their point of connection with the ancient Indo-Aryan religion. Considered separately, they are but so many puzzles and pantomimes. Viewed together and from above, they represent a superb evolution, where all the elements control and explain each other. In short, the history of a religion will always be limited, superstitious and false; nothing is true except the total religious history of all mankind. At this level one no longer feels anything but the currents which encircle the globe. The Egyptian people, of all humanity the most independent and isolated from external influences, could not escape this universal law. Five thousand years before our time, the light of Rama, kindled in Iran, shone upon Egypt and became the law of Ammon-Ra, the solar god of Thebes. This establishment enabled him to brave many revolutions. Menes was the first king of justice, the first Pharaoh to carry out this law. He was careful not to take from Egypt her former theology, which was his also. He simply confirmed and expanded it by adding to it a new social organization. The priests were given the task of instruction as a first council; judges were assigned to another; government to both; royalty was conceived of as their task, and subject to their control; the relative independence of the nomes of provinces was the foundation of society. This can be called the government of the initiates. As a keystone it had a synthesis of sciences known under the name of Osiris (O-Sir-Is), intellectual lord. The great pyramid was its symbol, as was the mathematical gnomon. The Pharaoh who received his initiation-name from the temple, who exercised sacerdotal and royal art on the throne, was therefore a far different person from the Assyrian despot whose arbitrary power rested upon crime and blood. Pharaoh was the crowned initiate, or at least the pupil and instrument of the initiates. For centuries the Pharaohs were to defend the law of the Ram, which then represented the rights of justice and international arbitration, against then despotic Asia and anarchic Europe.

Around the year 2,000 B.C. Egypt underwent the most dreadful crisis a people can experience: that of foreign invasion and partial conquest. The Phoenician invasion was itself the result of the great religious schism in Asia which had aroused the masses to insurrection. Led by shepherd-kings called Hyksos, this invasion rolled its flood over the Delta and Middle Egypt. The schismatic kings brought with them a corrupt civilization, Ionian indolence, the luxury of Asia, the customs of the harem and crude idolatry. The life of Egypt was threatened, its culture and its universal mission were endangered. But Egypt possessed a spirit of life, that is, an organized body of initiates, depositaries of the ancient knowledge of Hermes and Ammon-Ra. And what did that spirit do? It withdrew to the heart of its sanctuaries, it gathered itself together, the better to resist the enemy. The priesthood outwardly bowed before the invasion and recognized the usurpers who brought the law of the Bull and the cult of Apis. But, hidden in the temples like a sacred depositary, the two councils kept their science and traditions, the ancient pure religion, and with it the hope of a restoration of the former dynasty. It is at this period that the priests propagated among the people the legend of Isis and Osiris, of the dismemberment of the latter and his subsequent resurrection through his son Horus, who would find his scattered limbs, carried away by the Nile. The imagination of the people was stimulated by the pomp of public ceremonies. Their love for the old religion was maintained by acting out the misfortunes of the goddess, her lamentation over the loss of her celestial husband and the hope she placed in her son Horus, the divine mediator. But at the same time the initiates deemed it necessary to place esoteric truth beyond attack by covering it with a threefold veil. The spreading of the popular cult of Isis and Osiris corresponds with the inner scientific organization of the greater and lesser Mysteries. Moral tests were invented, the oath of silence was required, and the penalty of death strictly inflicted upon the initiates who divulged the least detail of the Mysteries. Thanks to this strict organization, Egyptian initiation became not only the haven of esoteric doctrine, but also the crucible of the revival of Egypt and the school for future religions. While the crowned usurpers ruled in Memphis, Thebes was slowly preparing the regeneration of the people. From his temple, from his solar ark, came the savior of Egypt, Amos, who routed the Hyksos after nine centuries of domination, restoring Egyptian science and the male religion of Osiris to their rightful place.

Thus the Mysteries saved the soul of Egypt under foreign tyranny, for the good of mankind. For such was then the strength of their discipline, the power of their initiation, that they contained Egypt's best moral force and highest spiritual achievements.

Ancient initiation rested upon a concept of man, both healthier and nobler than ours. We have dissociated the training of the body, soul and spirit. Our physical and natural sciences, progressive in themselves, set aside the principle of the soul and its diffusion in the universe; our religion does not satisfy the needs of the spirit; our medicine wishes to know neither soul nor spirit. Modern man seeks pleasure without happiness, happiness without knowledge and knowledge without wisdom. The ancients did not allow one to separate these things. In every domain they took into account man's threefold nature. Initiation was a gradual training of every human being toward the lofty heights of the spirit, from which one can survey life. "In order to attain mastery," said the sages of that age, "man needs a total remolding of his physical, moral and spiritual being. But this remolding is only possible through the simultaneous exercise of the will, intuition and reason. Through the complete cooperation of these three, man can develop his faculties to an incalculable degree. The soul has senses which are asleep; initiation awakens them. Through profound study and constant application, man can put himself in conscious touch with the hidden forces in the universe. Through a great effort he can attain direct spiritual perception, can open to his vision paths of the after-life and can make himself capable of advancing along these paths. Only then can he say he has conquered fate and here on earth has acquired his divine freedom. Only then can the initiate become an initiator, prophet and theurgist, that is, a seer and creator of souls. For only one who controls himself can control others; only one who is free can set free."

The ancient initiates thought in this manner. The greatest among them lived and acted accordingly. Therefore initiation was something very different from an empty dream and far more than a simple scientific precept; it was the creation of a soul through itself, its development to a higher level and its efflorescence in the divine world.

Let us place ourselves in the age of the Rameses during the time of Moses and Orpheus, around the year 1300 B.C., and attempt to reach the heart of Egyptian initiation. The sculptured monuments, Hermes' books and the Jewish and Greek tradition enable us to call the progressive stages of initiation to life again and to form an idea of the highest revelation of Egyptian spiritual development.


Notes for this chapter:

22. "Scientific esoteric theology," says Mr. Maspero, "is monotheistic since the period of the Ancient Empire. The affirmation of the fundamental unity of the Divine Being is expressed in formal terms and with great force in the texts which date back to this period. God is the Unique One, Who exists in essence, the only One Who lives in substance, the Sole Generator in heaven and on earth Who is not engendered. Father, Mother and Son at the same time, He engenders, gives birth and exists perpetually; and those three persons, far from dividing the unity of the divine nature, contribute to its infinite perfection. His attributes are immensity, eternity, independence, all-powerful will and boundless kindness. 'He creates his own members, who are gods,' say the old texts. Each of these secondary gods, considered identical with the One God, can form a new type from whom other inferior types emanate in turn and by the same process." --  Histoire ancienne des peuples de l'Orient.


16. Isis and Initiation

The Great Initiates