18. The Vision of Hermes

One day Hermes fell asleep after having reflected upon the origin of things.24 A heavy torpor took hold of his body, but as the latter became numb, his spirit ascended into space. Then it seemed to him that an immense being, without definite form, called him by name.

"Who are you?" asked Hermes, startled.

"I am Osiris, Sovereign Intelligence, and I can unveil everything. What do you wish?"

"To look at the source of beings, O divine Osiris, to know God!"

"You will be satisfied."

Immediately Hermes was flooded with a blissful light. Upon its diaphanous waves the captivating forms of all beings passed. But suddenly the terrifying shadows of sinuous shapes descended upon him. Hermes was plunged into a humid chaos filled with smoke and a dismal moaning. Then a voice arose from the abyss. It was the cry of light. Suddenly a faint fire burst forth from the humid depths and reached the ethereal heights. Hermes arose with it, and found himself once again in space. In the abyss the chaos became ordered; the choirs of the stars stretched out over his head, and the voice of the light filled infinity.

"Did you understand what you saw?" Osiris asked Hermes in his dream, suspended between earth and heaven.

"No," replied Hermes.

"Well then, you will know. You have just seen what is for all time. The light you first saw is divine intelligence, which contains everything, including the archetypes of all beings. The gloom into which you were plunged is the material world where men of earth live. But the fire which you saw flame forth from the depths, is the Divine Word. God is the Father, the Word is the Son, their union is Life."

"What wondrous sense has opened within me?" asked Hermes. "I no longer see with the eyes of the body, but with those of the spirit. How is this?"

"Child of dust," said Osiris, "it is because the Word is within you! What in you hears, sees, acts, -- is the Word itself, the sacred fire, the Creative Word."

"Since that is so," said Hermes, "let me see the life of the worlds, the way of souls, whence man comes and whither he returns."

"Let it be as you desire."

Hermes again became heavier than a stone and fell through space like an aerolite. Finally he saw himself at the top of a mountain. It was night; earth was dark and bare; his limbs seemed heavy as iron.

"Lift up your eyes and behold!" said Osiris' voice.

Then Hermes saw an amazing sight. Infinite space and the starry heaven enveloped him in seven luminous spheres. In a single glance Hermes saw the seven heavens above him like seven transparent, concentric globes, whose sidereal center he occupied. The last had the Milky Way as an enclosure. In each sphere a planet with a Genius of different form, sign and light revolved. While the awestruck Hermes viewed their scattered efflorescence and their majestic movements, the voice said to him:

"Look, listen, and understand. You see the seven spheres of all life. Through them the fall of souls takes place, and also their ascension. The seven Genii are the seven rays of Word-Light. Each of them governs a sphere of the Spirit, a sphere of the life of souls. The one nearest you is the Genius of the Moon with disquieting smile and wearing a silver sickle. He presides at births and deaths. He disengages souls from bodies and draws them into his ray. -- Over him, pale Mercury shows descending or ascending souls the way with his staff, which contains knowledge. -- Higher still, bright Venus holds the mirror of Love where souls alternately forget and recognize each other. Above her the Genius of the Sun raises the triumphal torch of Everlasting Beauty. -- Yet higher, Mars brandishes the sword of Justice. -- Sitting on his throne over the azure sphere, Jupiter holds the scepter of supreme power, which is Divine Intelligence. -- At the boundary of the world, under the signs of the zodiac, Saturn bears the globe of Universal Wisdom."25

"I see," exclaimed Hermes, "the seven regions which make up the visible and invisible world. I see the seven rays of the Word-Light, of the only God, Who penetrates and governs them by these rays. But, O my Master, how is the journey of man made through all these worlds?"

"Do you see," asked Osiris, "glowing seeds fall from the regions of the Milky Way in the seventh sphere? They are the seeds of souls. They live like light-vapors in the region of Saturn, happy, without care, not knowing their happiness. But in falling from sphere to sphere they are clothed in ever heavier coverings. In each incarnation they acquire a new corporeal sense, in conformity with the environment in which they are living. Their vital energy increases, but as they enter denser sheaths they lose the memory of their heavenly origin. Thus is effected the descent of the souls which come from the divine ether. More and more captivated by matter, more and more intoxicated by life, like a shower of fire they rush with trembling voluptuousness through regions of pain, love and death, into their earthly prison, where you yourself are moaning, held by the charged center of the earth, where divine life seems to you a vain dream."

"Can souls die?" asked Hermes.

"Yes," answered the voice of Osiris. "Many perish in the fatal descent. The soul is the daughter of heaven and its journey is a test. If in its wild love of matter it loses the memory of its origin, the divine spark which was in it and which would have become brighter than a star, returns to the ethereal region, a lifeless atom, and the soul disintegrates in the whirlpool of crude elements."

At these words of Osiris, Hermes trembled, for a roaring storm enveloped him in a black cloud. The seven spheres disappeared beneath thick vapors. He saw human specters uttering strange cries, carried away and torn to pieces by phantoms of monsters and animals, amidst groans and endless blasphemies.

"This," said Osiris, "is the fate of irremediably base and wicked souls. Their torture ends only with their destruction, which is the loss of all consciousness. But see, the vapors disperse, the seven spheres reappear beneath the firmament! Look this way! Do you see that host of souls trying to climb back into the lunar region? Some are pushed down to earth like flocks of birds in the blast of the storm. With a great stirring of wings others reach the higher sphere which draws them into its revolving. Once they have arrived they recover the vision of divine things. But now they are not content with reflecting the latter in a dream of powerless bliss. They become infused with the lucidity of conscience lighted by grief and with the strength of will acquired in battle. They become luminous, for they possess the divine in themselves and reflect it in their acts. Therefore, strengthen your soul, O Hermes, and quiet your clouded mind by watching these distant flights of souls mount to the seven spheres and scatter like hosts of sparks! For you too can follow them; it is sufficient to will it, in order to lift oneself. See how they gather into divine choirs, each under its chosen Genius! The most beautiful live in the solar region, while the most powerful rise as far as Saturn. Some even rise to the Father, themselves becoming powers among Powers. For there where everything ends, everything eternally begins, and the seven spheres intone in unison, 'Wisdom! Love! Justice! Beauty! Splendor! Knowledge! Immortality!' "

"That," said the hierophant, "is what ancient Hermes saw, and what his successors handed down to us. The words of the wise man are like the seven notes of the lyre which contain all music, together with the numbers and laws of the universe. Hermes' vision resembles the starry sky whose endless depths are strewn with constellations. For the child, it is only a vault with golden nails; for the wise man, it is infinite space where worlds revolve with their rhythms and wondrous cadences. This vision contains the eternal numbers, evocative signs and magic keys. The more you learn to consider and understand it, the more you will see its boundaries widen, for the same organic law governs all the worlds."

And the prophet of the temple expounded the sacred text. He explained that the doctrine of Word-Light represents divinity in the static state, in its perfect equilibrium. He pointed out its threefold nature, which at the same time is intelligence, strength and matter; spirit, soul and body; light, word and life. Essence, manifestation and substance are three terms which reciprocally imply one another. Their union constitutes the divine and intellectual principle par excellence, the laws of ternary unity which dominate creation from the highest to the lowest.

Having thus led his disciple to the ideal Center of the universe, to the generating Principle of being, the master expanded him over time and space and showed him a multitude of efflorescences. For the second part of the vision represents divinity in the dynamic state, that is, in active evolution. In other words, it involves the visible and invisible universe, the living heaven, the seven spheres attached to the seven planets, which symbolize seven principles, seven different conditions of matter and spirit, seven varied worlds which each man and each generation must pass through in their evolution amidst a solar system. The seven Genii, or the seven cosmogonic gods signified the seven higher, directing spirits of all the spheres, themselves arisen from an ineluctable evolution. Each great god, therefore, was for an ancient initiate the symbol and patron of legions of spirits which reproduced his type in a thousand variants and which in their sphere could exert an influence upon man and earthly things. The seven Genii of Hermes' vision are the seven Devas of India, the seven Amshapands of Persia, the seven mighty Angels of Chaldea, the seven Sephiroth26 of the Kabbala, and the seven Archangels of the Christian Apocalypse. And the great septenary which enfolds the universe not only vibrates in the seven colors of the rainbow and in the seven tones of the musical scale, but it is also evident in the being of man, who is threefold in essence but seven-fold in his evolution.27

"Thus," said the hierophant in conclusion, "you have come to the threshold of the great arcanum. Divine life appeared to you in the form of phantoms of reality. Hermes acquainted you with the invisible heaven, the light of Osiris, the hidden God of the universe, who breathes in millions of souls, animates the wandering globes and vitalizes bodies in labor. Now it is up to you to move forward, choosing your path in order to climb to pure Spirit. For you belong henceforth to the resurrected living. Remember that there are two principal keys to knowledge. This is the first: 'The outside is like the inside of things; the small is like the large; there is but a single law, and he who works is One. Nothing is small, nothing is large in the divine economy.' This is the second: 'Men are mortal gods, and gods are immortal men.' -- Happy is the one who understands these words, for he possesses the key to everything. Remember that the law of mystery conceals the great truth. Total knowledge can be revealed only to our brothers who have gone through the same tests as we. It is necessary to mete out truth according to individual capacities; one must veil it for the weak, whom it would drive mad, and hide it from the wicked, who can grasp only bits with which they make weapons of destruction. Seal it in your heart and let it speak in your works. Knowledge will be your strength; faith, your sword; silence, your impenetrable armor."

The revelations of the prophet of Ammon Ra, which opened to the new initiate such broad horizons in himself and the universe, doubtless produced a deep impression when they were spoken atop the observatory of a temple of Thebes, in the clear calm of an Egyptian night. The pylons, the rooftops and white terraces of the temples lay sleeping far below among the dark masses of the nopal and tamarind trees. In the distance, monoliths, colossal statues of the gods, were sitting like incorruptible judges on their silent lake. Three pyramids, geometric figures of the tetragram and the sacred septenary, were fading on the horizon, their triangles scarcely seen in the delicate, grey mist. The vast firmament was filled with stars. With what new eyes he looked at these stars, pictured for him as future abodes! When at last the golden boat of the moon emerged from the dark mirror of the Nile, which disappeared on the horizon like a long bluish serpent, the neophyte thought he saw the boat of Isis which sails upon the river of souls, carrying them to the sun of Osiris. He remembered The Book of the Dead, and the meaning of all these symbols now became clear to him. After what he had seen and learned, he could well believe that he was in the twilight kingdom of Amenti, the mysterious place of pause between terrestrial and celestial life, where the dead, at first sightless and speechless, little by little find again both vision and voice. He too was going to make the great journey, the journey through infinite worlds and existences. Hermes had absolved him and deemed him worthy. He had told him the solution of the great riddle: "A single soul, the great soul of Everything, in dividing itself gave birth to all the souls which struggle mightily in the universe."

Armed with this great secret he climbed into Isis' boat. It set sail. Lifted into the ethereal spaces, it floated into interstellar regions. Already the broad rays of a tremendous dawn spread themselves over the blue sails of the celestial horizon. Already the choir of glorious spirits, of the Akhimu-Seku who have reached eternal rest, were singing, "Arise, Ra Hermakuti! Sun of Spirits! Those who are in your boat are in exaltation! They utter exclamations in the boat of millions of years! The great, divine cycle is overflowing with joy in giving glory to the sacred boat. Rejoicings take place in the mysterious chapel. O Arise, Ammon Ra Hermakuti! -- Sun which creates itself!" And the initiate responded with the proud words, "I have reached the land of truth and justification. I am resurrected like a living god. I share the glory of the choir of the gods who inhabit the heaven, for I am one of them!"

Such proud thoughts and such bold aspirations well might haunt the soul of the adept in the night following the mystical ceremony of resurrection. The next day on the avenues of the temple in glaring daylight, the night seemed to him no more than a dream, but what an unforgettable dream, -- that first trip into the impalpable and invisible! Again he read the inscription of the statue of Isis, "No mortal has lifted my veil." But a corner of the veil had been raised, nevertheless, but only to drop immediately, and he had awakened in the land of the tombs. Ah, how far he was from the envisioned goal! For the journey is a long one, in the boat of millions of years! But at least he had partly seen the final goal.

Even though his vision of the other world may have been only a dream and a childish picture of his imagination, still clouded by the mist of earth, nevertheless could he doubt that other consciousness he had felt unfold in him, that mysterious counterpart, that celestial self which had appeared to him in its astral beauty like a living form, and which had spoken to him in his sleep? Was it a soul-sister, was it his Genius, or was it only a reflection of his inner spirit and a foretaste of his future being? Marvel and Mystery! One thing was certain: it was a reality, and if this soul was but his, it was real. What would he not do to find it again! He would live millions of years before he would forget that divine hour when he had seen his other, his pure and radiant self!28

The initiation was completed. The adept was a consecrated priest of Osiris. If he was an Egyptian he remained connected with the temple; if a foreigner, sometimes he was allowed to return to his homeland, there to establish a cult or to fulfill a mission. But before leaving he solemnly swore to maintain absolute silence about the secrets of the temple. Never was he to betray to anyone what he had seen or heard, nor to reveal the teaching of Osiris except under the triple veil of mythological symbols or Mysteries. If he broke this pledge, violent death would overtake him sooner or later, however far away he was. But silence had become the shield of his strength.

After his return to Ionia, to his restless city, observing the impact of raging passions among this multitude of men who lived like madmen, without knowing themselves, often he recalled Egypt, the pyramids, the Temple of Ammon Ra. Then the dream of the crypt would return to him, and as, back there, the lotus floats upon the waves of the Nile, so always this shining vision arose above the mire and troubled river of this life. At designated times he heard the voice of the shining vision, and it was the voice of heavenly light, awakening in his being an intimate harmony as it said to him, "The soul is a veiled light. When it is neglected, it becomes dark and is extinguished. But when the consecrated oil of love is poured upon it, it shines forth as an immortal lamp!"


Notes for this chapter:

24. The Vision of Hermes is found at the beginning of the Books of Hermes Trismegistus under the name Poimandres. Ancient Egyptian tradition has come to us only in a slightly altered Alexandrian form. I have tried to reconstruct this major fragment of Hermetic teaching in the setting of the higher initiation and the esoteric synthesis it represents.

25. These gods had other names in the Egyptian language, but in all mythologies the seven cosmogonic gods correspond in their meaning and attributes. They have their common root in ancient esoteric tradition. Since Western tradition has adopted the Latin names, we use them for greater clarity.

26. There are Ten Sephiroth in the Kabbala. The first three represent the divine Trinity, the seven others, the evolution of the universe.

27. These are the Egyptian terms for this septenary constitution of man, as found in the Kabbala: Chat, material body, Anch, vital force, Ka, the ethereal counterpart or astral body, Hati, animal soul, Bai, rational soul, Cheybi, spiritual soul, Ku, the divine Spirit.

One will find the development of these fundamental ideas of esoteric doctrine in the sections on Orpheus and on Pythagoras.

28. In Egyptian doctrine, man was considered as having consciousness in this life only of the animal soul and rational soul, called hati and bai. The higher part of his being, the spiritual soul and divine Spirit, Cheybi and Ku, exist in him in the state of unconscious seed and develop after this life when he himself becomes an Osiris.


MOSES: The Mission of Israel

The Great Initiates