Eh, sure, why not, let’s write a bit of Hermetic prose fiction as a morality fable, shall we? It’s been a bit since my last such bit, after all.
So, one of the people I engage with a lot about Hermeticism is known to me on the Hermetic House of Life Discord server as well as the /r/Hermeticism subdreddit as “Sigismundo Celine” (whom I affectionately refer to as just “Sigis”). Not too far back, with the help of a few other HHoL colleagues, he launched the Way of Hermes website as an online class that teaches about the doctrines and practices of classical Hermeticism, as well as his own blog (which replaced his earlier “Wisdom of the Son of the Circle” website). Every now and then, he’ll share a new post on it, some of which gets some neat discussions started on the Discord server or on the subreddit.
A bit ago, he shared a new post, The Story of Tat and Ammon, a little bit of fiction that serves as a moral instruction, featuring a few characters we know and love from the Hermetica. It’s a neat story, and I encourage you all to check it out. Of course, being the critic I am, I offered a few thoughts and questions to it of my own in the subreddit discussion Sigis made for it. Some of the issues I raised were more about literary criticism than anything else (I felt that some parts of the story were disjointed or didn’t follow from one idea to another), other issues about showing the proper respect to the dramatis personae in question (since, even if they’re depicted in the Hermetica as humans, we should still bear them in mind as highly revered “heroes” of a sort, if not the gods they were considered as in Greco-Egyptian culture in Hellenistic times), and other issues about keeping such a story in line with the (admittedly scant) lore we have involving Tat, Ammōn, and the rest from the extant Hermetic texts (e.g. who’s a student of whom).
Despite my criticisms and critiques, I appreciate what Sigis is trying to do here. In his own words:
If we want to breath life into the old hermetic texts and make hermetic spirituality a vibrant tradition, we should not be afraid to experiment a little and expand on the “old stuff”. Have fun with it. Our interaction with the texts need not only to be to analyze and scrutinize them. Yes, that is important, but there is more we can do.
Part of what makes a living tradition come to life is that people engage with it as something living: as one saying goes, “tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire”. Even so, as we tend to such a flame, we should still take care and be skillful about how we go about tending to that flame, so that we might not accidentally put it out or let other things catch on fire in the process. There are lots of ways for us to engage with a living tradition, but it while we do the work of being handed something that we might hand it down again, we should keep the thing being handed down intact and in at least as good a condition as we received it (if not better). Part of what makes “the Hermetic tradition” Hermetic, after all, is that they didn’t seek to make new things for the sake of newness, but rather to build on older work and expand it in a way that fleshes it out and continues that work. It can be a fine line to walk between making something informed by tradition and merely making something derivative of it, after all! And yet, I’d still rather even that latter if it means someone else can encounter this stuff in a way that they hadn’t before, if at all. As Sigis says, “there is more we can do”.
To that end, Sigis challenged me to “try to add something new” to all this Hermeticism stuff. I would have thought that all my commentary, exegeses, analyses, and frameworks over the years that build upon the Hermetica to flesh it out and build it up would have qualified, but Sigis specifically dared me to be a little more creative and inspirational and a little less academic and analytical. Now, I’m not often one to teach children, and so I’m not often one to use fables or stories as instructional tools outside of brief metaphors to illustrate a point; I find there to be plenty to talk about and learn from in more direct ways that engage with our higher mental functions that don’t need to focus on mere moral guidance for people. But hey, it has been a while since I’ve done much creative writing, so why not? After all, it’s no good for a hobby-reader to only read nonfiction, and I have been getting more into the fantasy novels I love again with my recent Christmas gift of an e-reader, so let’s give it a shot.
Taking into account my own criticisms and critiques, I decided to try my own hand at the vignette Sigis wrote as a story prompt. Maybe I might get around to writing other stories, if ever the mood strikes me to distract me from the other work I do, but if I were to go about envisioning how a young and haughty Ammōn became a student of Hermēs Trismegistos because of a chance meeting with Tat while fishing…
Once upon a time and once upon an era, there was (and there wasn’t) a bustling city in the middle of Egypt on the banks of the Nile River. In that city, amongst the many households there, there lived two fathers, each of whom had a son. One father was a pious and humble scribe, a devotee of the mysteries of Thōth, and someone who loved his son dearly and as much as he did the gods. The other father was a wealthy and proud merchant who didn’t much care for the gods at all—or for his own son, for that matter, beyond what coin he could bring him in the market. Each of these boys learned much from their respective fathers, both in terms of profession as well as way of life.
One morning, as the Sun began its climb above the eastern horizon, both of the boys each decided to go to the banks of the Nile to fish. The scribe’s son just wanted a fish or two to feed himself and his father for dinner that night, while the merchant’s son wanted to catch as much fish as he could as a game and maybe to sell with his father to increase their already massive wealth. The scribe’s son, upon approaching the river, made a quiet prayer to Sobek for luck and safety with catching fish, while the merchant’s son loudly pushed right past him mid-prayer and set himself down unceremoniously on the riverbank. Both sons started fishing, and by the time the Sun started to sink towards the western horizon, the scribe’s son had only just caught one very small fish that he quickly put in a bucket of water for the way home, while the merchant’s son caught a whole pile over the course of the day that he threw into a dry basket, some of which were already starting to die and rot.
Not paying attention to the smell coming from his basket, the merchant’s son saw the meager catch in the bucket of the scribe’s son, and mocked him for his lack of skill with fishing—”look at how much better my catch was than yours!”—and for his wasted faith in the gods—”I didn’t bother praying, and yet I got so much more fish!”. The scribe’s son merely shrugged and gave thanks to the gods and to the Nile for what he had all the same, and that at least he and his father would have something to eat; he looked silently at the massive pile of dying fish of the merchant’s son, he felt bad for the bounty of the river that was already going to waste. The scribe’s son couldn’t hide the sudden rumble of his belly, though, at which the merchant’s son gave a smug smirk, carelessly picked up all his fish, and turned away. Both sons went on their ways back home to their fathers, ate according to their custom, then went to bed.
Unbeknownst to the boys, a spirit that lived in the waters of the Nile was watching them that day, and took careful note of their actions and behaviors towards the river and each other. Having seen enough from both to know where each was headed in life, the spirit rose up from their own bed and visited both of the sons in their dreams. To the scribe’s son, the spirit appeared with a kind smile, surrounded by a fresh mist, and with beauty glowing in their eyes. They said:
Peace upon you! Look at you, hungry from toil, but so eager for knowledge and reverence, too. You eat from the hand of your blessed father who works in a noble profession and who follows a divine path, and this path will be your salvation. If you stay on your current path, you will be taken care of in body and soul forevermore! If you leave this path to follow another, you will lose everything and yourself. Remain with your father, do not take another father as your own, and you will continue on your path to the House of Life and the boundless realm of Light that awaits you after you reach the end. Heed my warning, and do good henceforth!
However, to the merchant’s son, the spirit appeared with bared teeth, dripping with a rancid stench, and fire burning in their eyes. They said:
Shame upon you! Look at you, fat with wealth, and so full of yourself in every way. You eat from the hand of your wicked father who works in a miserable profession and who follows a cursed path, and this path will be your destruction. If you stay on your current path, you will be forsaken in body and soul forevermore! If you leave this path to follow another, you will gain everything and yourself. Leave your father, take the father of the boy you scorned as your own, and you will begin on your path to the House of Life and the boundless realm of Light that will await you after you reach the end. Heed my warning, and do good henceforth!
The next morning, each son arose from his bed, their dreams fresh in their minds. While the scribe’s son happily began his usual routine under his father’s watchful care, the merchant’s son frantically packed up all his belongings—the bare necessaries in a small sack and everything else of value in two large bags—and left his father’s house with nary a glance from his father. Running to the local temple, he donated everything in one large bag, and then went immediately to the scribe’s house, begged forgiveness from the son for his behavior from the prior day, and presented everything in the other large bag as a gift to the scribe’s household with a plea to join it as the scribe’s adopted son. The scribe praised Thōth and the gods for a new son to join his house that day and to learn the way he could teach, and he took the merchant’s son in as his own. From that day forth, the two boys were as brothers, and the scribe was a loving father to both of them. The merchant’s son left his haughty and godless life to live a humble and pious one in the way of Thōth and the gods instead. Never again would he let the bounty of the world around him go to waste, make light of another’s plight or work, or let his pride or greed dominate him and his actions. As he gave up his distracting belongings of this world in two ways, he likewise sacrificed his emotional drive and physical desire to serve for a better and higher end; true to the Nile spirit’s warning, he left the cursed path that he started on and joined his new brother on the divine path that leads all who take it to true Goodness.
In time, that scribe who took him in would become a great teacher, not merely of the sacred art of writing but also of divine mysteries, and would become known to all people through his teachings as “Hermēs Trismegistos”. His natural son, Tat, would likewise follow in his father’s path as an initiate and a mystagogue. His adopted son, Ammōn, would not only become an initiate of these mysteries to learn all that he could from Hermēs and the rest of his sons and students, but would also go on to become a just and noble king of the land, encouraging all others to follow just and noble ways of life. After his life ran its course, Ammōn was revered with the dignity of a god that even the Nile itself would smile upon.
They all lived well, and because of them, may we all live well, too!
Hey Polyphanes, is this not the same story that our dear Sigismundo already wrote? I hold that you have not really risen to our friend’s challenge! All you have done is amend what Sigismundo has written, and add in more flavor — in that sense you are still just commenting on the work of another. I challenge you to write your *own* short story, one that adds to the tradition but comes from your own personal voice.
Oh, as I mentioned on the original subreddit thread this relates to, this wasn’t intended to be a separate story, but rather uses his notion (which I thought was poorly executed on his blog) as a prompt for a different take that communicates a number of the same concepts in a different way. While I enjoy a good bit of fiction, I’ll leave the production of it to those with a stronger inclination and desire for writing it. ;)