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Christian & Hermetic Compatibility

The two questions I am asked most often by those who know me best are, “How can you be both Christian and Hermetic (or a magician, alchemist, a.s.o.)?”, and “How did you become a Christian?” The latter is a very long story with many convolutions; I intend to tell it, but it will be a long time before I have the history entirely straight in my own head. The former, however, can be mostly covered in a few broad strokes. It should be obvious that I cannot cover every point in the space of a blog entry, but I will try to at least make an accounting of the major points of overlap or seeming contradiction.

The concept of God is essential to both traditions. Hermetics is not concerned with an impersonal god, as is often supposed. That is, Hermetics is not Platonic, nor Aristotelean. While Hermetics draws on many Greek philosophical systems, it was also heavily influenced by Egyptian, Babylonian, Hebrew and Christian modes of thought very early in its development. Some of the earliest “philosophical” or “religious” Hermetic documents contain prayers, hymns, and passages of praise specifically addressed to God-as-God rather than a pantheistic “animate Nature” or the abstract First Cause of Hellenistic philosophy. Take, for example, the “Secret Hymn of Hermes” (found in Book 13, verses 17-20 of Corpus Hermeticum) in which God is treated as a Person with a definite identity. Some abstract terms are used in reference to God by such Hermetic documents, but always in a context directly relatable to Jewish and Christian usage. God, for instance, is said to possess Nous; Nous is a nigh-untranslatable Greek philosophical term which is often rendered simply “Mind”, but which carries the connotation of “enlivening Spirit” whenever it is used in religious and philosophical works. Nous is used identically to the “Spirit of God” (Ruach Elohim, rendered “a wind from God” in the NRSV) which “was hovering over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2 NIV) in Genesis. This Nous is also identical with chokmah, or the Divine Wisdom which was used by God as the foundational energetic matrix in the act of Creation.

A brief aside on the Creation. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” (Gen. 1:1 NIV) right? Not quite. According to the Biblical account in Genesis, things happened a bit differently than we are generally taught. Gerald Schroeder, physicist and Old Testament scholar, tells us that B’raisheet, the word often translated as “in the beginning” is more accurately rendered “In the beginning of.” Here’s where things get linguistically interesting. In the Hebrew of Genesis 1:1, there is no object for the preposition “of”, so the Greek and Latin translators omitted the “of” to try to make sense of the statement. If we take the literal translation, however, we find: “In the beginning of God created the heavens and the earth,” as B’ is “with” or “using”, while raisheet is “a first cause.” Many Jewish scholars and commentators have thus found that a much more poetic, and linguistically accurate, translation is, “With a first cause God created the heavens and the earth.” (God According to God by Gerald Schroeder, pg. 50) On page 51 of the same text, Schroeder is also kind enough to point out that this “first cause” is elucidated in Proverbs 8. In verse 12, we read, “I, wisdom” (NRSV) and in verses 22-24, “The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water.” (NRSV; Proverbs chapter 8 goes on at length along similar lines, defining Wisdom as the ‘first’ element of the creation.) We find a very similar message in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word (Logos)”. Thus, Chokmah, Nous, Logos, Wisdom, Mind, wind, or Spirit was the First Cause of Creation, and remains as the underlying order of our reality as observed by mystics and scientists of all ages. This accords perfectly with big bang cosmology. The fiat lux of the Judeo-Christian Genesis is identical to the explosion of pure white light described by physics, and the Hermetic conception of Fire being the first step of cosmogenesis.

Now, all of this makes obvious that Nous is a part of God, but it is not coterminous with God. In a pantheistic or Platonic system of thought, Nous in the sense of Mind would be God, the “ground of all being” which lies back of every existent thing, a “mind” in the sense of being a flow of ideas and information but without possession of self-consciousness or volition. That is neither the Hermetic God, nor the God of the Bible. It is also true that in Hermetics, as in the Bible, God is attributed with different personal names and titles. Among the most common in early Hermetic literature (again, see Corpus Hermeticum) is Agathos Daimon, which literally means “Good Spirit”, or sometimes just Agathos, “Good”. Always, though, this is treated as a name rather than a mere object of contemplation or discussion.

The question then becomes, does Hermetics allow for God to be active in history? Christianity requires it; the entire edifice of Judeo-Christian faith hinges on the fact of God’s direct involvement in the unfoldment of the human epic. This brings up the apparent contradiction between magic and miracles. To many, magic is the use of mostly-unknown natural metaphysical laws in the production of effects which are only miraculous to those ignorant of the particular laws at work, similar to how a gun may seem miraculous to those who have never heard of black powder or the concept of controlled explosions. This view often precludes the idea of miracles, prima facie, because the existence of both magic and engineering would seem to prove that we can eventually understand and learn to exploit any given law, leaving less and less room for miracles until they are eventually entirely explained by mere reference to “brute facts”. What this argument leaves out, however, is the Judeo-Christian acknowledgement of the fact that God needs us. It is true that God makes use of the natural laws of His own design when interacting with the universe, not because He is powerless to do otherwise, but because He is powerless to do otherwise without destroying the orderly structure of the creation. As such, the miracles described in the Bible (as well as those performed by saints and mystics throughout history, in many religions and cultures) are always performed via a human agent. That is a vital point, as it defines the realm and meaning of sacred magic. (See a previous article on Magic & Christianity for more on this topic.) The only functional difference between miracles and sacred magic is that in the latter, we draw upon our analogous authority as Divine icons to bring Christ-like love and freedom into the world, while in the former our analogous divinity permits us to act as channel more directly for Divine Providence. Either way, God has acted in history without fouling the waters of continuity.

The next question is one of mystical methodology: is Hermetic mysticism congruent with orthodox Christianity? I specify “orthodox” here because it is never hard to find heterodox forms of any given religion which allow for this, that, or the other variation of either doctrine or practice. The real test of Hermetic and Christian compatibility thus lies in orthodoxy.

I will make a controversial, yet contextually important, statement now: my Christianity is purely orthodox. Take me to task as you will; I’ll explain myself in the future, but for now I let the statement drop and sit as it may that I may carry on to the meat of the present explanation.

There are multiple forms of mysticism found in every religion, the broadest divisions being ecstatic, natural, and contemplative. Most forms of mysticism combine elements from two or more of these divisions, but the divisions themselves stand as guidelines for studying those elements and how they fit together or contrast with other methodologies across the board. To give two famous examples, Saint Francis of Assisi combined modes of natural and contemplative mysticisms by using meditative prayer with study and adoration of the creation, while Rumi combined contemplative and ecstatic mysticisms in his particular practice of prayerful and artistic Sufic Islam. These forms of mysticism are sometimes called “paths of sainthood.”

Hermetic mysticism may be described either as a fourth category of mysticism, or perhaps more accurately as a synthesis of the other three, producing a system which may be called the “path of perfection” whereby we seek to live up to Christ’s instruction, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt. 5:48 NRSV) To explain in greater detail, I invite the reader to ponder the division of Hermetics into four equally important modes of activity:

  • Yod – Fire – Spirit – Mysticism
  • Heh – Water – Mind – Gnosis
  • Vau – Air – Soul – Magic
  • Heh – Earth – Body – Hermetic Philosophy

These four modes can best be understood in relation to one another. (For a more profound examination of the following, please see Meditation on the Tarot, anonymously and post-humously published.) Mysticism is the direct perception and experience of Divine Reality. In mystical meditation, contemplation and prayer, we come into direct contact with God. This experience is not abstract as may seem when reading descriptions of mystical states. Instead, they are quite concrete, more concrete than either waking reality or dreams. They simply seem abstract from the outside because of the lack of human ability to express in language something so very powerful beyond measure. Consider, by way of analogy, the phenomenon of describing one sense in terms of another. We talk about the “texture” of music, knowing full well that music as such as no texture, but the sounds of it at times admit of no better description than “rough”, “smooth” or “rolling”. When dealing with a subject beyond language, we must do the best we can and often end up sounding quite abstract and, thus, meaninglessly removed from ordinary life.

Gnosis—roughly translatable from Greek as “knowledge” but with a definite skew toward knowledge gained by actual “doing” and experience—is the reflective counterpart to mysticism. In gnostic contemplation, we abstract the concrete experiences of mysticism into words and symbols. This process also aids us in mentally integrating whatever we have gained through mysticism, and thus giving us an opportunity to apply it to our lives and the lives of others.

It is by magic that we do so apply gnosis. “Magic” here is used very generally to describe any act of outward manifestation. Whether that act be painting or sculpture, cooking, writing, gardening, or an actual magical spell or ritual, what must be clear here is the process rather than the results.

The results, then, are what I term Hermetic Philosophy. Hermetic Philosophy is not one philosophy among many alternatives, but rather the culmination and total integration of the entire process (mysticism -> gnosis -> magic) described above. Thus, it is philosophy in the literal sense rather than the modern one; it is the love of Wisdom rather than a mere code of thought. When I say that I believe in God, it is not because I have been convinced by a rational argument (although that was one thing that led me to investigate the matter in the first place) but because I touched and was touched by God (mysticism), reflected upon that experience extensively (gnosis), changed my ways of thinking and acting in the world (magic), and finally integrated the entire process as a holistic approach to life (Hermetic Philosophy). I am a Christian not out of mere curiosity, but because I had an unbidden experience with Jesus Christ, thought long and hard about it, applied it to my daily life, and finally came to an understanding of what Christianity means for me and what it can mean for the world.

A word must be said here about Hermetic magic, and how it relates to Christianity. In Hermetics, there is no such thing as magic without alchemy. Every magical act, even the very simplest, is acknowledged to be part of the process of perfection and unfoldment. Nature, having been given free will by Eternal God the Creator, is capable of fouling-up and, in fact, does so every step of the way. Thus, the old alchemical axiom that “Nature, unaided, fails.” It is not that Nature is evil, but that, like us, Nature has “rebelled”. Because of the Divine tzimtzum, the literal partial withdrawal of God from creation which was so necessary in the act of cosmogenesis, empowered us and all of Nature with the capacity to do, within the confines of natural laws, whatever we want. When God says “it was good” in the book of Genesis, He means it. That is, He knew ahead of time that nobody would play exactly according to His rules and that was ok; we had to be given a free-wheeling Nature in addition to our own capacity for misbehavior in order for the glory of goodness done freely to be possible in the world. All of that said, alchemy is the process of what is known in Kabbalah as tikkun olam, repairing the world. All Hermetic magic has this in common: it exists solely for the purpose of producing greater wholeness and freedom. As such, it is biblical in the purest sense. We have been given “dominion” (really translatable as something more like “stewardship”) over Nature not that we can exploit it, but that we can be God’s helpmates in turning the “good” creation which God saw into perfection.

I believe that I have demonstrated to the best of my ability, within a limited space, that there is harmony rather than contradiction within Christianity and Hermetics, up to and including the practice of magic. There are other points that could be made, certainly, and I’m sure that other arguments will crop up against me in both Christian and esoteric contexts, but the above ought to provide at least some food for thought on most of the truly important points of possible contention. As always, I look forward to any comments or questions which may arise. God bless.

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  1. welcometotheden
    February 8, 2010 at 10:35 pm

    Greetings!
    I have been looking for a website or blog like yours for quite some time. I am currently in my first semester in seminary. A couple years ago I had dabbled in Hermetics but eventually abandoned it, mostly because it was too complicated and I could not seem to find a source that would help me get a handle on it in a step by step way.

    Keeping in mind that I am a Christian (if the Baptist church link is your church, then I am a liberal-minded contemplative Baptist like yourself!), so I’m not interested in evoking demons or stuff like that, what is a good book you’d recommend that could help me get a handle on a specifically Christian approach to Hermetic thought AND practice? I emphasize practice because “Meditations on the Tarot” was very heavy on the thought, but not much practice.

    Thanks for your help, and for starting this blog! God bless.

    • February 8, 2010 at 11:03 pm

      Hi there! I’m glad that I can offer something here of use to you.

      Covenant is not my church. Covenant is located in Texas, while I’m in Pittsburgh, PA. I link to it because until recently, Gordon Atkinson, author of reallivepreacher.com, was the pastor there and because they are a good example of a progressively-minded, family-and-friends-oriented kind of church. I do not yet have a denomination, nor do I currently have a church home, though I am actively looking for one!

      As to practice, no worries about evoking demons! I would never recommend such a practice. Two very good books that I would recommend, not specifically Hermetic but very close to the tradition in both spirit and form, are “Concentration” and “Theurgy”, both by Mouni Sadhu. If you are more interested in Hermetic magic than Hermetic spiritual discipline, I would then suggest “The Tarot” by Mouni Sadhu and “Initiation Into Hermetics” by Franz Bardon. Ultimately, all four books are imminently useful and structured for well-balanced practice. The first two books are significantly more direct and, frankly, more immediately applicable and healthier. Still, if magical practice is what you’re after, the second pair of books can’t be beat for healthy, balanced approaches to the topic.

      I also can’t recommend a very close study of “Meditations on the Tarot” enough. It is more philosophical than practical, but the ideas therein are still largely useful in the context of the practices of the books suggested above.

      Best of luck and God bless!

      • charles freeman
        July 4, 2017 at 12:43 pm

        There are some very easy and basic exercises taught by franz bardon that would help the seeker to find whatever they are seeking and also make life more bearable and interesting and as for exorcising demons we all know we can be angels and demons and if taught the basics in spiritual protection then the parallel worlds become a less contorted sort for laymen

  2. Mat.
    November 11, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    Hey Brothers!
    I’m wondering if any of you can advice me the most interesting and hermetic compatible christian denomination, because there is so much of them and I’m litle bit lost and confused. Maybe u can share with your choice ?
    All the best & blessings
    Mat.

    • November 15, 2010 at 1:49 am

      Mat,

      In principle, a Christian Hermetist can belong to nearly any denomination. Of course, some denominations, and individual congregations within any given denomination, will be more welcoming than others. It is most important that you explore those denominations represented by congregations around you and see what seems to be the “best fit” for you. I, personally, find that sacramental churches, such as the Catholic and Orthodox, tend to be most suitable due to the theurgic function of the sacraments themselves, as well as the traditions of mystical practice inherent in them.

      However, beyond that point, there are a few specifically Hermetic and Gnostic churches in the world which are certainly the most friendly and open to Christian Hermetists. In the United States, for example, we have the Ecclesia Gnostica and the Eglise Gnostique Apostolique; a websearch or an e-mail to one of the bishops of either of the aforementioned churches would probably get you more information for available Gnostic churches in other countries.

      Best of luck on your search, and may God go with you!

      In peace profound,
      Nicholas

  3. Mateusz
    December 16, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    Thank you for your answer Nicholas, it helps me a lot.
    I have been raised as catholic, but that faith have degenerated in my view during the times and mostly after the second catholic council. At next sunday I’m going to visit eastern orthodox church close to me , it looks very interesting in doctrine and liturgy for me, no papal supremacy for example and beautiful traditions & rituals.:-)
    Thank you for your wishes and best wishes for you!
    Mat.

    • December 18, 2010 at 12:52 am

      I’m glad I could help at all. May God bless you in your explorations!

      I have really enjoyed learning about the Eastern Orthodox churches, and yes I do find them more attractive than the Roman Catholic Church in part because of their lack of anything like a pope. They do have an office called the Ecumenical Patriarch, but as I understand it his role is more to help the various Orthodox churches to organize and work together, and serve as a public figurehead, more than to dictate doctrine and so on like the Roman pope. The official website of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is here: http://www.patriarchate.org/.

  4. Mateusz
    December 18, 2010 at 5:17 am

    I’m sorry of course your name is Thomas 😉

  5. June 11, 2011 at 1:50 am

    I am really amazed at the amount of information that is available on this site, Its by far one of the best sites i’ve been to regarding the Western Mystery School Tradition. Thank you for participating in the Illumination of Mankind.

  6. July 18, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    I was very happy to find your blog, as I have considered myself a Gnostic/Hermetic with a Christian base for some 23 odd years now. I started in wicca as a young person, loved the earthiness of it! Then discovered the Gnostics and Hermeticists which was a major “eureka” moment for me. I am learning plant alchemy, love magic, the study of just about every belief system I can read about – and am quite isolated in my study and practice. I have no name for my practice other than Hermeticist, (not that this is important), but have only recently reconciled all these things together.

    I’ve never belonged to a group or followed someone else’s ways, but find myself really relating to you. Its good to see a person out there who is similar to me. Many people I know think that I merely have difficulty making my mind up about spirituality, and its difficult to lay it all out for them concisely. I’m sort of floating out here alone in this. So I’m really just taking the long road to tell you that I’m grateful for your writing. I’ve looked at the books you’ve suggested for others, and will look for them for further study. Thanks again.

    Celeste

    • July 18, 2011 at 3:30 pm

      Great to hear from you! I moved through a similar series of “ways” before I reached Hermeticism and Christian Gnosis, though some of what I experimented with I am a lot less proud of. I also lacked any sort of group or community for most of it, though now I belong to a church (and am studying for the clergy) and have a small local community and, let me tell you, it is a real breath of fresh air. Don’t get me wrong; the Gnostic community has problems like any other, including infighting, poseurs looking for some social space to take over, and so forth, but I have also encountered some sincere, brilliant, graceful folks who are so much worth the childishness of others. In Gnosticism, I really do feel that community is very important (if hard to come by). But, of course, the number one thing is that you do as the alchemists of old said “Pray and work!”, whether you have a group around you or are on your own.

  7. April 3, 2012 at 1:22 am

    I am a Christian Witch, was wondering can i also learn from the Hermetics, i got a book on Hermetics. I saw it when i was looking at book about being Christian Witch and when i found the book about Hermetics the little it told about it made it sound like i would be able to add it into my learning, but from the intro of book makes me wonder if is true

  8. May 21, 2012 at 10:20 pm

    Dear Friends,

    Greetings. I am the author of a book entitled Folk Metaphysics: Mystical Meanings in Traditional Folk Songs and Spirituals. My thesis is that some traditional folk ballads are tight little consciously-designed metaphysical essays, possibly composed by the Christian Hermeticists. Since you are probably more versed in that traditional than I am, you ought to be able to tell me how right (or wrong) I am. If you are in any way interested, let me know. (When I come to the exegesis of Verse 10 of the counting-song Green Grow the Rushes-o, I suddenly understand the Kabbalistic Tree of Life.)

    Sincerely,
    Charles Upton

  9. hermetatron
    October 16, 2012 at 11:21 pm

    When you travel further on the path you will find Christ, Buddha and Hermes meditating under the same tree. To say that Jesus was a adept or master as some do is to completely miss the point. To say that Jesus is God to be worshiped is to miss the point in the opposite direction. We are the truth, and the life, noone comes to the father except through us.

  10. charles freeman
    July 4, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    Very great piece also where i feel i fit in as well i think alot of people would gain more overall perspective by this little article thanks so much for sharing hope to see more like it from you and others

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