Hermes Trismegistus
‘‘The thrice greatest Hermes,’’ the name given by the
Greeks to the Egyptian god Thoth or Tehuti, the god of wisEncyclopedia
of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Hermes Trismegistus
dom, learning, and literature. Thoth was alluded to in later
Egyptian writings as ‘‘twice very great’’ and even as ‘‘five times
very great’’ in some demotic or popular scripts (ca. third century
As ‘‘scribe of the gods,’’ Hermes was credited with the authorship
of all Greek sacred books, which were thus called ‘‘hermetic.’’
There were 42 of these, according to Clemens Alexandrinus,
and they were subdivided into six portions, the first
dealing with priestly education, the second with temple rituals
and the third with geographical matters. The fourth division
treated astrology, the fifth recorded hymns in honor of the
gods and was a textbook for the guidance of kings, and the
sixth was a medical text.
It is unlikely that these books were all the work of one individual;
more likely they represent the accumulated wisdom of
Egypt, attributed in the course of ages to the great god of wisdom.
As ‘‘scribe of the gods,’’ Hermes was also the author of all
strictly sacred writings. For convenience the name of Hermes
was placed at the head of an extensive cycle of mystic literature
produced in post-Christian times. Most of this hermetic or
trismegistic literature has perished, but all that remains of it
has been gathered and translated into English. It includes the
Poimandres, (Shepherd of Men), the Perfect Sermon, or the Asclepius,
excerpts by Stobacus, as well as fragments from the church
fathers and from the philosophers Zosimus and Fulgentius.
These writings were neglected by theologians, who dismissed
them as the offspring of third-century Neoplatonism.
According to the generally accepted view, they are eclectic compilations,
combining Neoplatonic philosophy, Philonic Judaism,
and Kabalistic Theosophy in an attempt to supply a philosophic
substitute for Christianity. The many Christian elements
to be found in these mystic scriptures were ascribed to plagiarism.
Examination of early mystery writings and traditions has
shown that the main source of the Trismegistic tractates is
probably the wisdom of Egypt and that they ‘‘go back in an unbroken
tradition of type and form and context to the earliest
Ptolemaic times.’’
Bell, H. Idris. Cults and Creeds in Graeco-Roman Egypt. Liverpool,
England Liverpool University Press, 1957.
Faivre, Antoine. The Eternal Hermes From Greek God to Alchemical
Magus. Trans. by Joceyn Godwin. Grand Rapids,
Mich. Phanes Press, 1995.
Hermes Trismegistus. Hermetica. Edited by Brian Copenhaver.
Cambridge Cambridge University Press, 1992.
———. Hermetica. Edited by Walter Scott. Vol. I. Oxford
Oxford University Press, 1924. Reprint, Boston Shambhala,
———. Theological & Philosophical Works. Edited by J. D.
Chambers. 2 vols. London, 1882.
Mead, G. R. S. Thrice-Greatest Hermes. London, 1906. Reprint,
New Hyde Park, N.Y. University Books, 1964.