The Three Versions of the Hermetic Thanksgiving Prayer

Another year, another Thanksgiving has gone by.  I meant to get this written last week or so, but as we’ve all been discovering this year, linear time is a lie.

Around Thanksigiving each year, I like to draw attention to the Hermetic Prayer of Thanksgiving.  It’s one of the more famous prayers from the Hermetic texts, made especially well-known in its appearance in the final section of the Asclepius.  However, those who have a sharp eye will also pick up on its presence in two other locations: one in PGM III in a ritual to establish a relationship with Hēlios, and the other in the Nag Hammadi Codices.  What’s fascinating is that we have three versions of the same prayer, each preserved in a different language (Latin in the Asclepius, Greek in the PGM, and Coptic in the Nag Hammadi Codices).  Getting access to the Latin and Greek version is easy enough—Preisendanz is the most easily-accessible critical edition of PGM III, and the Asclepius is everywhere in the Western world since the time of Ficino—but getting access to the Coptic text was a bit more of a challenge, because for the longest time all I could find was versions of the Nag Hammadi texts in English translation.  However, not that long ago, I got my hands on a copy of volume 11 of the Nag Hammadi Studies, a part of the Coptic Gnostic Library from Leiden, which gives the only complete collection of  the Coptic texts from the Nag Hammadi Codices in full, both in Coptic and in English translation.  Once I found this, I wanted to finally do something I’ve been aiming to do for a while: a side-by-side comparison of these three texts to see exactly how far they’re alike and how far they’re not.  Happily, it seems that the scholars who worked on this specific section of the Nag Hammadi texts (Peter Dirkse and James Brashler) had the same idea, and gave a side-by-side comparison of the three versions of the Prayer of Thanksgiving in their publication of it.  Between their notes and my own observations, I’m thrilled to finally be able to show off a bit of fun stuff on my blog for this.

First, a bit of context.  The Prayer of Thanksgiving is in all three sources as a pretty-much perfectly-preserved (or as perfectly as one can expect over 2000 years under the knife of time and the redactor’s pen) Hermetic prayer, and is more than just a simple hymn of gratitude to God.  In each text it appears in, it seems to fulfill a ritual role in a broader context, though its wholly self-contained structure suggests that it .

  • In the context of the Asclepius, Hermēs recites this prayer with Tat, Asklēpios, and Ammōn outside the temple (facing east at sunrise or south at sunset) after the long and holy sermon he gave to them inside.  Similar to the Coptic text, the final line of this final section of the Asclepius ends with the note “with such hopes we turn to a pure meal that includes without any flesh of animals”, phrased as a spoken end to the prayer.
  • For the Coptic Nag Hammadi text, this prayer appears immediately after the Discourse on the Eighth and the Ninth; the placement suggests that it was recited by Hermēs and Tat(?) immediately after their ritual work described in that text, especially given the incipit introducing the Prayer of Thanksgiving (“this is the prayer that they spoke”) and the closing lines of it (“when they said these things in prayer, they embraced each other and they went to eath their holy food which has no blood in it”).  Immediately after the prayer comes the “Scribal Note”, a small addendum by whoever transcribed the prayer indicating that it was sent to someone who was likely already familiar with many such Hermetic texts or prayers; after that comes a Coptic translation of several sections from a now-lost version of the Greek Asclepius (though notably of a slightly different lineage of texts than what the Latin Asclepius preserves).
  • For the Greek text from PGM III.591—611, the Prayer of Thanksgiving occurs in the middle of a longer oration as part of an operation to “establish a relationship with Hēlios”.  After calling on the names, forms, plants, stones, birds, and animals associated with the twelve hours of the Sun in its daytime course through the heavens (much like the Consecration of the Twelve Faces of Hēlios from PGM IV.1596—1715, yet with more attributions yet in much poorer shape) and after a short hymn in verse (Preisendanz’s Hymn 2, which he says is addressed to the “All-Creator” and which I find to be an exceedingly appropriate companion to CH III) along with general requests, this thanksgiving prayer is used. 

The introduction to the Prayer given by Dirske and Brashler is highly informative, as is Jean-Pierre Mahé’s introduction in The Nag Hammadi Scriptures: The Revised and Updated Translation of Sacred Gnostic Texts edited by Marvin Meyer, as well as Copenhaver’s notes in his Hermetica.  A few highlights from their analyses of the text in question:

  • From Dirske and Brashler:
    • This prayer is “especially significant for the clear evidence it presents of the existence of [classical] Hermetic cultic practices”, and “the prayer itself is certainly liturgical, as its balanced language attests”.
  • From Mahé:
    • This prayer is “particularly appropriate to conclude a dialogue describing the final stage of [a] Hermetic initiation”.
    • Although the prayer describes “the three gifts of mind, word, and knowledge…to be granted simultaneously”, other Hermetic texts (like the preceding Discourse on the Eighth and the Ninth) suggest that these “fulfill successive functions on the ‘way of immortality’).
    • “Knowledge divinizes human beings not by itself alone, but jointly with word and mind, which both remain indispensable to cover ‘the way of immortality’ up to its end” (cf. CH I.26: “this is the final good for those who have received knowledge: to be made god”).
    • There is a description of sacred sexuality in the text, especially in the final parts, and Mahé interprets “light of mind” as a male principle and “life of life” as a female one, coming together to describe God not just as someone with both male and female sexual organs but also as one who never stops impregnating their own womb.
  • From Copenhaver:
    • Some scholars argue that the presence of the Prayer of Thanksgiving with a rubric (directions to face before the prayer, instructions for a ritual meal afterwards) in the Asclepius without other magical rituals present, as well as at the final part of a magical ritual in the PGM, suggests that “the survival of a thanksgiving for gnōsis in ‘a magician’s handbook testifies to a certain amount of sharing between Hermeticism and the magicians who produced the Greek Magical Papyri”.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the actual texts themselves in their original languages with Romanized transliteration.  First up, the Sahidic Coptic text from NHC VI.7, page 63 line 34 through page 65 line 2.  For the Coptic transliteration below, note that the schwa letter (“ə”) transcribes the supralineal stroke above a letter, indicating a weak/movable vowel or one that turns the marked consonant into a vocalized one.    

# Coptic Transliteration
1 ⲦⲚ̄ϢⲠ̄ ϨⲘⲞⲦ Ⲛ̄ⲦⲞⲞⲦⲔ̄ tənšəp hmot ənto’tək
2 ⲮⲨⲬⲎ ⲚⲒⲘ ⲀⲨⲰ ⲪⲎⲦ ⲠⲞⲢϢ̄ ϢⲀⲢⲞⲔ psukhē nim awō phēt porəš šarok
3 Ⲱ ⲠⲒⲢⲀⲚ ⲈⲨⲢ̄ⲈⲚⲰⲬⲖⲈⲒ ⲚⲀϤ ⲀⲚ ō piran ewərenōkhli naf an
4 ⲈϤⲦⲀⲈⲒⲀⲈⲒⲦ ϨⲚ̄ ⲦⲞⲚⲞⲘⲀⲤⲒⲀ Ⲙ̄ⲠⲚⲞⲨⲦⲈ eftaiait hən tonomasia əmpnute
5 ⲀⲨⲰ ⲈⲨⲤⲘⲞⲨ ⲈⲢⲞϤ ϨⲚ̄ ⲦⲞⲚⲞⲘⲀⲤⲒⲀ Ⲙ̄ⲠⲒⲰⲦ awō ewsmu erof hən tonomasia əmpiōt
6 ϪⲈ je
7 ϢⲀ ⲞⲨⲞⲚ ⲚⲒⲘ ⲀⲨⲰ ϢⲀ ⲠⲦⲎⲢϤ̄ ša won nim awō ša ptērəf
8    
9 ⲦⲈⲨⲚⲞⲒⲀ Ⲙ̄ⲠⲈⲒⲰⲦ ⲘⲚ̄ ⲠⲘⲈ ⲘⲚ̄ ⲠⲞⲨⲰϢ teunoia əmpeiōt mən pme mən pwoš
10 ⲀⲨⲰ ⲈϢϪⲈ ⲞⲨⲚ̄ ⲞⲨⲤⲂⲰ ⲈⲤϨⲀⲖⲈϬ ⲈⲤⲞ Ⲛ̄ϨⲀⲠⲖⲞⲨⲤ awō ešje wən usbō eshalec eso ənhaplus
11 ⲈⲤⲢ̄ⲔⲀⲢⲒⲌⲈ ⲚⲀⲚ Ⲙ̄ⲠⲚⲞⲨⲤ Ⲙ̄ⲠⲖⲞⲄⲞⲤ Ⲛ̄ ⲦⲄⲚⲰⲤⲒⲤ esərkarize nan əmpnus əmplogos ən tgnōsis
12 ⲠⲚⲞⲨⲤ ⲘⲈⲚ ϪⲈⲔⲀⲀⲤ ⲈⲚⲀⲢ̄ⲚⲞⲨⲈⲒ Ⲙ̄ⲘⲞⲔ pnus men jeka’s enaərnui əmmok
13 ⲠⲖⲞⲄⲞⲤ ⲆⲈ ϪⲈⲔⲀⲀⲤ ⲈⲚⲀϨⲈⲢⲘⲎⲚⲈⲨⲈ Ⲙ̄ⲘⲞⲔ plogos de jeka’s enahermē newe əmmok
14 ⲦⲄⲚⲰⲤⲒⲤ ⲆⲈ ϪⲈⲔⲀⲀⲤ ⲈⲚⲚⲀⲤⲞⲨⲰⲚⲔ̄ tgnōsis de jeka’s ennaswōnək
15 ⲦⲚ̄ⲢⲀϢⲈ tənraše
16 Ⲛ̄ⲦⲀⲢⲚ̄ϪⲒ ⲞⲨⲞⲈⲒⲚ ϨⲚ̄ ⲦⲈⲔⲄⲚⲰⲤⲒⲤ əntarənji woin hən tekgnōsis
17 ⲦⲚ̄ⲢⲀϢⲈ tənraše
18 ϪⲈ ⲀⲔⲦⲤⲈⲂⲞⲚ ⲈⲢⲞⲔ je aktsebon erok
19 ⲦⲚ̄ⲢⲀϢⲈ tənraše
20 ϪⲈ ⲈⲚϨⲚ̄ ⲤⲰⲘⲀ je enhən sōma
21 ⲀⲔⲀⲀⲚ Ⲛ̄ⲚⲞⲨⲦⲈ ϨⲚ̄ ⲦⲈⲔⲄⲚⲰⲤⲒⲤ aka’n ənnute hən tekgnōsis
22 ⲠϢⲠ ϨⲘⲀⲦ Ⲛ̄ⲠⲢⲰⲘⲈ ⲈⲦⲠⲎϨ ϢⲀⲢⲞⲔ ⲞⲨⲀ ⲠⲈ pš[ə]p hmat ənprōme et-pēh šarok wa pe
23 ϪⲈⲔⲀⲤ ⲀⲦⲢⲚ̄ ⲤⲞⲨⲰⲚⲔ̄ jekas atrən swōnək
24 ⲀⲚⲤⲞⲨⲰⲚⲔ̄ answōnək
25 Ⲱ ⲠⲞⲨⲞⲈⲒⲚ Ⲛ̄ⲚⲞⲎⲦⲞⲚ ō pwoin ənoēton
26 Ⲱ ⲠⲰⲚϨ̄ Ⲙ̄ⲠⲰⲚϨ̄ ō pōnəh əmpōnəh
27 ⲀⲚⲤⲞⲨⲰⲚⲔ̄ answōnək
28 Ⲱ ⲦⲘⲎⲦⲢⲀ Ⲛ̄ϪⲞ ⲚⲒⲘ ō tmētra ənjo nim
29 ⲀⲚⲤⲞⲨⲰⲚⲈ answōne
30 Ⲱ ⲦⲘⲎⲦⲢⲀ ⲈⲦϪⲠⲞ ϨⲚ̄ ⲦⲪⲨⲤⲒⲤ Ⲙ̄ⲠⲒⲰⲦ ō tmētra et-j[ə]po hən t[ə]phusis əmpiōt
31 ⲀⲚⲤⲞⲨⲰⲚⲈ answōne
32 Ⲱ ⲠⲘⲞⲨⲚ ⲈⲂⲞⲖ ϢⲀ ⲈⲚⲈϨ Ⲙ̄ⲠⲈⲒⲰⲦ ⲈⲦϪⲠⲞ ō pmun ebol ša eneh əmpeiōt et-j[ə]po
33 ⲦⲈⲒ̈ϨⲈ ⲀⲚ ⲞⲨⲰϢⲦ̄ Ⲙ̄ⲠⲈⲔⲀⲄⲀⲐⲞⲚ ⲞⲨ teïhe an wōšət əmpekagathon u
34 ⲞⲨⲰϢⲈ ⲞⲨⲰⲦ ⲠⲈⲦⲚ̄Ⲣ̄ⲀⲒⲦⲈⲒ Ⲙ̄ⲘⲞϤ wōše wōt petənəraiti əmmof
35 ⲈⲚⲞⲨⲰϢ ⲈⲦⲢⲈⲨⲢ̄ ⲦⲎⲢⲈⲒ Ⲙ̄ⲘⲞⲚ ϨⲚ̄ ⲦⲄⲚⲰⲤⲒⲤ enwōš etrewər tēri əmmon hən tgnōsis
36 ⲞⲨⲀⲢⲈϨ ⲆⲈ ⲞⲨⲰⲦ ⲠⲈⲦⲈⲚ ⲞⲨⲞϢϤ̄ wareh de wōt peten wōšəf
37 ⲈⲦⲘ̄ⲦⲢⲈⲚⲤⲖⲀⲀⲦⲈ ϨⲘ̄ ⲠⲈⲈⲒⲂⲒⲞⲤ Ⲛ̄ϮⲘⲒⲚⲈ etəmtrensla’te həm peibios əntimine

Yes, I know line 8 is empty.  There’ll be some oddities in how this and the following Greek and Latin text are arranged or how the lines are numbered; bear with me, and it’ll make sense further on.

Next, the Koiné Greek text from the Papyrus Mimaut (Louvre P. 2391) column XVIII lines 591—611, aka PGM III.591—611 (broader entry PGM III.494—611, possibly continued through line 731).   Unfortunately, the final two lines (after the end of the prayer proper) are in too poor a shape to read.  For the Greek text here, Dirske and Brashler used Preisendanz’s version of the PGM emended with suggestions from Mahé and “an independent collation from published photos” of the papyrus.  (I know I’m using my idiosyncratic style of transliteration here, so just bear with me.)

# Greek Transliteration
1 Χάριν σοι οἴδαμεν Khárin soi oídamen
2 Ψυχὴ πᾶσα καὶ καρδίαν πρὸς σὲ ἀνατεταμένην psukhḕ pâsa kaì kardían pròs sè anatetaménēn
3 ἄφραστον ὄνομα τετιμημένον áphraston ónoma tetimēménon
4 τῇ τοῦ θεοῦ προσηγορίᾳ têy toû theû prosēgoríay kaì elogoúmenon
5 καὶ ελογούμενον τῇ τοῦ πατρὸς ὀνομασίᾳ têy toû patròs onomasíay
6 Ὁς Hos
7 πρὸς πάντας καὶ πρὸς πάντας pròs pántas kaì pròs pántas
8 πατρικὴν εὔνοιαν καὶ στρογὴν καὶ φιλίαν patrikḕn eúnoian kaì storgḕn kaì philían
9 καὶ ἐπιγλυκυτά την ἐνεργίαν kaì epiglukutá tēn energían
10 ἐνεδίξω enedíksō,
11 χαρισάμενος ἠμῖν νοῦν, λόγον, γνῶσιν kharisámenos ēmîn noûn, lógon, gnôsin:
12 νοῦν μὲν ἵνα σε νοήσωμεν noûn mèn hína se noḗsōmen,
13 λόγον δὲ ἵνα σε ἐπικαλέσωμεν lógon dè hína se epikalésōmen,
14 γνῶσιν δὲ ἵνα σε ἐπιγνώσωμεν gnôsin dè hína se epignṓsōmen.
15    
16    
17 Χαίρομεν Khaíromen,
18 ὅτι σεαυτὸν ἡμῖν ἔδιξας hōti seautòn hēmîn édiksas.
19 Χαίρομεν Khaíromen,
20 ὅτι ἐν πλὰσμασιν ἡμᾶς ὄντας hóti en plàsmasin hēmâs óntas
21 ἀπεθέωσας τῇ σεαυτοῦ γνώσει apethéōsas têy seautoû gnṓsei.
22 Χάρις ἀνθρώπου πρὸς σὲ μία Kháris anthrṓpou pròs sè mía:
23 τὸ γνωρίσαι σε tò gnōrísai se.
24 Ἐγνωρίσαμεν σε Egnōísamen se,
25 ὦ φῶς νοητόν ô phôs noētón,
26 ὦ τῆς ἀνθρςπίνης ζωῆς ζωή ô tês anthrōpínēs zōês zoḗ.
27 Ἐγνωρίσαμεν σε Egnōísamen se,
28 ὦ μήτρα πάσης φύσεως ō̂ mḗtra pásēs phúseōs.
29 Ἐγνωρίσαμεν σε Egnōísamen se,
30 ὦ μήτρα κυηφόρε ἐμ πατρὸς φυτίᾳ ō̂ mḗtra kuēphóre em patròs phutíay.
31 Ἐγνωρίσαμεν σε Egnōísamen se,
32 ὦ πατρὸς κυηφοροῦντος αἰώνιος διαμονή ō̂ patròs kuēphoroûntos aiṓnios diamonḗ.
33 Οὕτο τὸν σοῦ ἀγαθὸν προσκυνήσαντες Hoúto tòn soû agathòn proskunḗsantes,
34 μηδεμίαν ᾐτήσαμεν χάριν πλὴν mēdemían hēytḗsamen khárin plḕn:
35 Θελησον ἡμᾶς διατηρηθῆναι ἐν τῇ σῇ γνῶσει thelēson hēmâs diatērēthênai en têy sêy gnôsei;
36 Μία δὲ τήρησις mía dè tḗrēsis:
37 τὸ μὴ σφαλῆναι τοῦ τοιούτου βίου τούτου tò mḕ sphalênai toû toioútou bíou toútou.

Finally, the Latin text from the Asclepius, section 41.  The Latin here is taken from Nock’s and Festugière’s Hermès Trismégiste vol. II, pages 353—355, compiled from a number of Latin manuscripts written in the 12th or 13th centuries.  Because the text is in Latin, no transcription is needed here.

  1. Gratias tibi / summe exsuperantissime / tua enim gratia tantum sumus cognitionis tuae lumen consecuti,
  2. Nomen sanctum et honorandum,
  3. nomen unum quo solus deus est benedicendus
  4. religione paterna,
  5. quoniam
  6. omnibus
  7. paternam pietatem et religionem et amorem
  8. et quaecumque est dulcior efficacia
  9. praebere dignaris
  10. condonans nos sensu, ratione, intelligentia:
  11. sensu ut te cognouerimus,
  12. ratione ut te suspicionibus indagemus,
  13. cognitione ut te cognoscentes gaudeamus.
  14. Ac numine saluati tuo
  15. gaudemus,
  16. quod te nobis ostenderis totum;
  17. gaudemus
  18. quod nos in corporibus sitos aeternitati
  19. fueris consecrare dignatus.
  20. Haec est enim humana sola gratulatio:
  21. cognitio maiestatis tuae.
  22. Cognouimus te
  23. et lumen maximum solo intellectu sensibile.
  24. Intellegimus te,
  25. o uitae uera uita.
  26. O naturarum omnium fecunda praegnatio;
  27. cognouimus te.
  28. totius naturae tuo conceptu plenissimae aeterna perseueratio.
  29. In omni enum ista oriatione adorantes bonum bonitatus tuae
  30. hoc tantum deprecamur,
  31. ut nos uelis seruare persuerantes in amore conitionis tuae
  32. et numquam ab hoc uitae genere seperari.

Having the original texts in their original languages is nice, but now it’s time to actually get to the translation.  Although these are all fundamentally the same text, a side-by-side comparison will show the differences in both their orders and their specific wordings.  To better establish a concordance between the different bits and parts of the Coptic, Greek, and Latin texts, I essentially used the Coptic text as a base to give each part of the prayer a number, which is why the numbering in the above sections looks so weird, but it’ll help make the concordance easier to handle.  Take a look:

# Coptic   # Greek   # Latin
1 We give thanks to you.   1 We give thanks to you,   1 We thank you,
            1a o most high and most excellent,
            1b for by your grace have we received the great light of your knowledge.
2 Every soul and heart is lifted up to you,   2 every soul and heart stretched out to you,      
3 o undisturbed name   3 o inexpressible name   3 Your name is holy and to be honored,
4 honored with the name of “God”,   4 honored with the designation of “God”   4 the only name by which God alone is to be blessed
5 and praised with the name of “Father”,   5 and blessed with the name of “Father”,   5 with ancestral reverence,
6 for   6 for   6 because
7 to everyone and everything   7 to everyone and to all things   7 to all things
8 [comes]            
9 the fatherly kindness and affection and love   9 paternal kindness, devotion, love   9 paternal kindness, devotion, love
10 and any teaching there may be that is sweet and plain,   10 and yet sweeter action   10 and whatever virtue may be more sweet,
      8 you have displayed,   8 you think it good to display
11 giving us mind, word, and knowledge:   11 having granted to us mind, word, and knowledge:   11 granting to us mind, reason, and knowledge:
12 mind so that we may understand you,   12 mind in order that we may understand you,   12 mind in order that we may understand you,
13 word so that we may expound you,   13 word in order that we may call upon you,   13 reason in order that by means of hints we may investigate you,
14 knowledge so that we may know you.   14 knowledge in order that we may know you.   14 knowledge in order that, knowing you, we may rejoice.
15 We rejoice,   15        
16 having been illumined by your knowledge.   16     16 Redeemed by your power,
17 We rejoice   17 We rejoice   17 we rejoice,
18 because you have shown us yourself.   18 because you have shown yourself to us.   18 that you have shown yourself to us completely.
19 We rejoice   19 We rejoice   19 We rejoice,
20 because while we were in the body   20 because while we were yet in molded shapes      
21 you have made us divine through your knowledge.   21 you deified us by the knowledge of yourself.   21 that you have thought it good to deify us for eternity
            20 while we are yet situated in bodies.
22 The thanksgiving of the man who attains to you is one thing:   22 The thanksgiving of a man to you is one:   22 For this is the only human gratitude:
23 that we may know you.   23 to know you.   23 the knowledge of your majesty.
24 We have known you,   24 We have known you,   24 We know you
25 o intellectual light.   25 o intellectual light,   25 and the greatest light perceptible to the intellect alone.
            27 We understand you,
26 O life of life,   26 o life of human life.   26 o true life of life.
27 we have known you.   27 We have known you,      
28 O womb of every creature,   28 o womb of all nature.   28 O pregnancy fertile with all natures,
29 we have known you.   29 We have known you,   29 we know you,
30 O womb pregnant with the nature of the Father,   30 o womb pregnant in the nature of the Father.      
31 we have known you.   31 We have known you,      
32 O eternal permanence of the begetting Father,   32 o eternal continuation of the impregnating Father.   32 eternal continuation of all nature most full of your impregnating activity
33 thus have we worshiped your goodness.   33 Thus having worshiped your goodness,   33 For worshiping the good of your goodness in this whole prayer
34 There is one petition that we ask:   34 we ask only one favor:   34 we pray for just one thing:
35 we would be preserved in knowledge.   35 that you might will that we will be preserved in your knowledge;   35 that you will to keep us preserving in the love of your knowledge
36 And there is one protection that we desire:   36 and one protection:      
37 that we not stumble in this kind of life.   37 that we not fall away from a life such as this.   37 and never to be separated from a life such as this.

Notes on the side-by-side comparison:

  1. For the most part, it’s clear that the Coptic and Greek versions are nearly identical in structure, although the Greek version seems to have dropped lines 15 and 16 (“we rejoice, having been illumined by your knowledge”), and the Coptic lacks any explicit verb corresponding to “you have displayed” on line 8 present in both the Greek and Latin (though this appears after the list of the gifts of God).
  2. The Latin version, on the other hand, is much more variant, with several lines appearing out of order compared to the Coptic or Greek text (e.g. lines 21 and 20), extra adoration to God (lines 1a and 1b), or outright missing lines usually due to structural simplification or modification (e.g. line 15).
  3. Line 2, “every soul and heart is lifted up/stretched out to you”, echoes CH I.31: “accept pure speech offerings from a soul and heart that reach up to you” (ἀπὸ ψυχῆς καὶ καρδίας πρὸς σὲ ἀνατεταμένης).  The Greek text from PGM III is corrupt at this point, so the Greek from the CH is used to emend it.
  4. Line 3 in Coptic has “undisturbed” (ⲈⲨⲢ̄ⲈⲚⲰⲬⲖⲈⲒ ⲚⲀϤ ⲀⲚ “him not being disturbed” from Greek ένοχλεῖν “to disturb, trouble”), but the Greek uses ἄφραστον “inexpressible”.  This is one of several bits of evidence that the Coptic prayer was a translation from a Greek prayer, but from a different textual lineage from what was used in PGM III.  The use of “undisturbed” here is difficult for me to parse, but based on the use of the Greek “inexpressible”, perhaps it’s in a sense of “one who cannot be disturbed by calling”.
  5. Line 5 in the Coptic and Greek pretty much agree exactly (“praised/blessed with the name of ‘[the] Father'”), but the corresponding line in Latin is weird.  I assume some corruption crept into the Latin text over time, so it kinda got the overall gist of what was being said (religione paterna) even if not the precise meaning.
  6. Line 10 uses the adjective “sweet”, but the different texts use it in different ways, and evidence here suggests that the Greek text has the better structure and meaning.
  7. In line 10, although the Coptic uses “teaching” (ⲤⲂⲞ) to translate Greek ἔνδειξιν, the Greek text from PGM III uses ἐνδείξω.  It may be that the original prayer in Greek uses ἐνδείξω and a Coptic translator misread the final -ω for -ιν, changing the verb into a noun.
  8. In line 10, the Coptic uses “plain” (ϨⲀⲠⲖⲞⲨⲤ from Greek ἁπλοῦς), which is likely a translation from the Greek ἐναργήν (“visible”, “palpable”, “manifest”), which was sometimes confused for ἐνεργήν (“active”, “effective”).  Alternatively, it may have been confused for ἐνεργίαν/ἐνεργεῖαν (“energy”, “activity”), which would relate better to both the Greek ἐνεργίαν and the Latin efficacia.
  9. Line 13 is a fun one: “word, that we may ____ you”.  Each version gives a different word here: the Latin gives “investigate by means of hints”, the Greek gives “call upon” (ἐπικαλέσωμεν), and the Coptic has “expound” (ⲈⲚⲀϨⲈⲢⲘⲎⲚⲈⲨⲈ, from Greek ἑρμηνεύειν meaning “interpret”).  It’s the use of the Coptic-Greek word here that is a fun link to Hermēs, given the long history between the Greek name of the god and the word “to interpret”, which can also be used for “to give voice/utterance to” or “to put into words”.  I like that, but there’s no clean way to translate that with the richness of the pun here, so the best English translation might be the one from the Greek, in my opinion.
  10. The Latin text, given that it’s a translation from an earlier Greek one, is fairly dutiful in how it represents the original Greek despite how the English translation might look.  The two Latin verbs cognouerimus and cognoscentes correspond to Greek νοήσωμεν and ἐπιγνώσωμεν, meaning “to understand/think” and “to discern/come to know”, respectively.
  11. The word “light” or “illumination” (ⲞⲨⲞⲈⲒⲚ) on line 16 the Coptic suggests that the corresponding Latin should read “light” instead of “power” (lumine instead of numine).
  12. Lines 19-21 are interesting; all the texts agree on what’s being said (“we rejoice, for while we were yet in the body, you made us divine through your knowledge”).  However, this does admittedly fly against several Hermetic texts that state that divinity and divinization/deification cannot be done while in the body (e.g. CH I.26, CH IV.7, CH X.6).  However, CH XIII talks about how spiritual rebirth does occur in the body once one receives the divine mercies of God to chase away the tormentors once physical perception has been transcended.
  13. Although line 21 has Greek ἀπεθέωσας (perhaps better spelled ἀποθεώσας) and Coptic ⲀⲔⲀⲀⲚ Ⲛ̄ⲚⲞⲨⲦⲈ (“make gods”, I think?), the Latin has consecrare, which isn’t the same thing as deification, just “make holy”.  Copenhaver in his notes to his translation of the Asclepius points out a possible modesty or shyness on the part of the Latin translator (or later redactors) about using the term “deification”, especially in light of an increasingly Christian audience.
  14. There’s a nuance to the phrase “we know you” in lines 23 through 31.  In Greek, this verb is in the aorist tense, which has no direct correspondence to an English one; it indicates an undivided events (like the individual steps in a continuous process) or to express events that happen in general without asserting a time.  Knowing God is a divinely simple action, complete and indivisible unto itself, and the use here is almost like a completed action; it’s like a cross between “we know you indefinitely and without restriction” and “we have undergone the process to make you known to us”.
  15. Although line 32 has the translation of “permanence” from Coptic and “continuation” from Greek (διαμονή) and Latin (peveratio), even the Greek word is used in both senses/translations, so I don’t know if there’s much of a difference here implied by the use of “permanence” vs. “continuation”.  Likewise, the Latin word used here can also be used for “persistance” or “perseverance” or “duration”, as can the Coptic word.
  16. Line 35 in the Coptic reads “knowledge” (ⲦⲄⲚⲰⲤⲒⲤ), but should probably be emended to read ⲦⲈⲔⲄⲚⲰⲤⲒⲤ (“your knowledge”) which would make it agree with both the Greek and Latin and to agree with its own line 21 above.

I’m honestly glad I had the chance—and enough of what few meager language chops I can bring to bear—to actually take a look at all three texts side-by-side.  It’s this kind of analysis that helps me (and, more than likely, a good few of us) get a better understanding at the text itself as well as the other texts in which it appears as a component.  Plus, it helps us come up with a sort of “synthesized” version of the prayers; lacking any original, we can still make an attempt at coming up with a “uniform” version that bridges the gaps between its different appearances between the Asclepius, PGM, and NHC.  I’ve done so before on my old page write-up for the Prayer of Thanksgiving, which I’m going to update as a matter-of-course now that I’ve done this analysis, but I think I should make a slight update to (if not a new stab at) what I had before as a synthesized version of the prayer.

We give thanks to you!
Every soul and heart reaches up to you,
o ineffable Name
honored as “God” and praised as “Father”,
for to everyone and everything you have shown
fatherly kindness, affection, love, and sweetest activity,
granting to us mind, word, and knowledge:
mind, that we may understand you;
word, that we may call upon you;
knowledge, that we may know you.
We rejoice, for we have been illuminated by your knowledge.
We rejoice, for you have revealed yourself to us.
We rejoice, for you have made us incarnate divine by your knowledge.

The thanksgiving of mankind to you is this alone:
that we may know you.
O Light of Mind, we know you.
O Life of Life, we know you.
O Womb of every creature, we know you.
O Womb pregnant with the nature of the Father, we know you.
O eternal permanence of the begetting Father, we know you.

Thus do we worship your goodness.
Thus do we ask for one favor: that we be preserved in your knowledge.
Thus do we ask for one protection: that we not fall away from this sort of life.

I was on not one, but two podcasts recently, so check them out!

I know things have been quiet here, and I haven’t been writing a lot—at least, not publicly on my blog, as I am working on a few other projects at the moment (including a less-Abrahamic companion to my recent Preces Castri prayerbook).  But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been wordy in other media, as well; I’ve recently been on two podcasts, and that might give you something to listen to instead of reading!

Last week, Douglas Batchelor (@DouglasWMiT on Twitter) over at the What Magic is This? podcast had me on his show, which was a great time.  Taking a welcome departure from the usual topic of geomancy I’m usually invited to talk about, Douglas and I had a great chat about what “classical Hermetic magic” means, how that relates to Hermeticism as a whole, and how to pick up these ancient rituals and make them work for modern practices.  Go and listen!

In addition to that great talk, the good Reverend Erik (@Arnemancy on Twitter) had me on his podcast (for the very first time, technically!) at Arnemancy!  We recorded this back in October and had an amazing time doing so, but it just went live today (or earlier in the week, as is the custom for his Patreon supporters).  Also taking a more Hermetic track, Erik brought me on to talk about my recent translation of Book III from the Corpus Hermeticum from earlier this year and what the process is like of translating such ancient works, along with a variety of other bits and bobs about the Hermetica and classical Hermeticism.  Go and listen to this, too!

Both of these podcasts are great times to be on, and greater still to listen to; these guys know their stuff in all regards, and I’m honored to have been invited to talk on their shows by both of them.  They both put out great content pretty frequently, both in podcast form and otherwise, so be sure to subscribe to both of them by whatever podcast media platform you best prefer, and support them on Patreon, too (What Magic is This? Patreon link here, Arnemancy Patreon link here) to make sure their powerhouses of content and discussion keep on powering on.

Just as a reminder, you can find a list of all the podcasts I’ve been on over on my About page, in case you’re interested in older stuff.  Whether you’re looking for the new content or the old, I hope you enjoy these awesome discussions I have with so many people!

The Mixing-Bowl of Mind

The usual way I’ve seen to refer to a particular book and section of the Corpus Hermeticum is CH A.B, with “A” being the book number in Roman numerals and B being a section of that book in Arabic numerals (such that CH X.15 is section 15 of the tenth book of the Corpus Hermeticum).  It’s a system I like using to cite particular extracts of Hermetic doctrine from the Corpus Hermeticum as well as the Stobaean Fragments (SH), the Definitions of Hermēs to Asclepius (DH), and other Hermetic texts, but I should also note that a number of the various books of the Corpus Hermeticum sometimes have a title of their own.  CH I, for instance, is often called “Poimandrēs” (which is why Marsilio Ficino entitled his entire translation of the Corpus Hermeticum “The Divine Pymander”, though that’s like calling the entirety of the Old Testament “The Book of Geneisis”), CH X is called “The Key”, CH III is called “The Sacred Sermon”, and so forth.

CH IV, specifically, is called “The Mixing-Bowl”.  It’s also sometimes called just “(A Discourse of) Hermēs to Tat” or “The Monad”,  with the former indicating that this is a dialogue between Hermēs and Tat and the latter bringing up the discussion of the Monad at the end of the book, but it gets the name “Mixing-Bowl” from the dialogue in CH IV.3—6 in a discussion about Mind (Νους) (Copenhaver translation, here and below):

“God shared reason among all people, O Tat, but not mind, though he begrudged it to none. Grudging envy comes not from on high; it forms below in the souls of people who do not possess mind.”

“For what reason, then, did god not share mind with all of them, my father?”

“He wanted it put between souls, my child, as a prize for them to contest.”

“And where did he put it?”

“He filled a great mixing bowl with it and sent it below, appointing a herald whom he commanded to make the following proclamation to human hearts: ‘Immerse yourself in the mixing bowl if your heart has the strength, if it believes you will rise up again to the one who sent the mixing bowl below, if it recognizes the purpose of your coming to be.’  All those who heeded the proclamation and immersed themselves in mind participated in knowledge and became perfect people because they received mind.

“But those who missed the point of the proclamation are people of reason because they did not receive (the gift of) mind as well and do not know the purpose or the agents of their coming to be.  These people have sensations much like those of unreasoning animals, and, since their temperament is willful and angry, they feel no awe of things that deserve to be admired; they divert their attention to the pleasures and appetites of their bodies; and they believe that mankind came to be for such purposes.

“But those who participate in the gift that comes from god, O Tat, are immortal rather than mortal if one compares their deeds, for in a mind of their own they have comprehended all—things on earth, things in heaven and even what lies beyond heaven. Having raised themselves so far, they have seen the good and, having seen it, they have come to regard the wasting of time here below as a calamity. They have scorned every corporeal and incorporeal thing, and they hasten toward the one and only.

“This, Tat, is the way to learn about mind, to {resolve perplexities} in divinity and to understand god. For the mixing bowl is divine.”

This is an interesting metaphor Hermēs decided to use, and it’s one that’s given me some pause for thought.  Some scholars interpret this notion of “immersing yourself in the mixing-bowl of Mind” to be evidence of a ritual baptism practiced among the classical Hermeticists, but not everyone buys it.  I like the idea of it, but it’s not a lot of evidence to go on to indicate that baptism was actually a thing for the followers of Hermēs.  One might draw parallels to early forms of Christian baptism or Jewish tvilah upon which Christian baptism was based which, given the influence Judaism had on the early development of Hermeticism, isn’t too far a stretch, but there’s little else to go on besides this reference to immersion.  Neither CH XIII, which is Tat’s rebirth and initiation into the Hymns of Silence, nor “Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth”, which is another story of Tat’s initiation and elevation into the higher spheres of the cosmos, bring up a notion of baptism or ritual immersion, and those are our strongest texts indicating such ritual works performed by the early Hermeticists from the Hermetic corpora themselves.  It’s an idea I don’t not like, at any rate, though one with not a lot of firm foundation to stand upon.

What strikes me more oddly is the use of the word “mixing-bowl” (κρατήρ).  There were obviously words for “basins” or “fonts” or “pools” or “baths” in Koiné Greek, but this text specifically uses “mixing-bowl”.  It’s not like a mixing bowl one might use for cooking, though; a kratēr was a specific type of large vessel used in Greek sumposia for mixing wine that was to be served.  A Greek sumposion (or symposium, as we’d better know it in its Latin form) was a kind of formal drinking party and a key institution to Hellenic civilization for men, sometimes to revel, sometimes to discuss and debate, sometimes to initiate boys into adulthood.  Sometimes there was entertainment, sometimes philosophy, sometimes orgiastic mystery rites reserved for initiates, but every symposium had two things in common: a kratēr—the mixing-bowl in question—and a symposiarch who oversaw its use.  The symposiarch, the “leader of the symposium”, was basically the master of ceremonies and director of the symposium, ordaining what was to be the order of the event, what sorts of activities were to be engaged in, and (most importantly) decided how strong the wine was to be.  This last aspect was the crucial and fundamental job of the symposiarch.

Wine back in ancient times was most likely different from our times, and was probably much stronger (though not necessarily fortified), so while we nowadays would just drink wine straight from the bottle, drinking undiluted wine back in ancient times was seen as a massive error in behavior, and something that was suited only for barbarians and those who were drunkards to the point of insanity.  Wine was to be diluted to an acceptable strength, and determining the proper dilution for a symposium was the symposiarch’s job.  For a more relaxed, philosophical time, the wine would be diluted to a 1:3 ratio of wine to water; for a more pleasurable and entertaining time, 1:2; for the rare orgiastic rites and revelries, 1:1.  With the wine diluted to the appropriate level, the symposiarch would send his servants or slaves around with pitchers filled from the kratēr to serve the attendees.  Wine was not drunk from the kratēr directly, because this is a pretty massive vessel we’re talking about, like a mega-punchbowl ranging from 14″ to 22″ in height, and wouldn’t have been able to easily be transported when full (if at all).  It’s this notion of the kratēr that Dionysos brings up regarding how much is proper to drink at such events from Eubulos’ Semēlē:

For sensible men I prepare only three kratērs: one for health which they drink first, the second for love and pleasure, and the third for sleep. After the third one is drained, wise men go home. The fourth kratēr is not mine any more—it belongs to bad behavior; the fifth is for shouting; the sixth is for rudeness and insults; the seventh is for fights; the eighth is for breaking the furniture; the ninth is for depression; the tenth is for madness and unconsciousness.

This instrument of symposia, the kratēr, is what Hermēs describes as God having filled with Mind for people.  The use of the image of the kratēr should not be overlooked or misconstrued as just a regular bowl or basin, for which other words exist, especially for the purposes of ablution or purification (like the word χερνιβεῖον khernibeîon used for the usual lustral water outside temples, aka khernips).  This isn’t a mere matter of purification going on here; something else is happening in this passage Hermēs is trying to describe.

Let’s back up fist a bit and consider the notion of the symposium again.  CH IV, like all of the Corpus Hermeticum, is a philosophical text, so it assumes a philosophical outlook, context, set, and setting; a symposium of the Corpus Hermeticum would be more like Plato’s Symposium rather than just a simple college party, especially when there’s plenty of negative references to and metaphors of (common especially in gnostic texts and traditions) people being drunk and sick from inebriation (like from CH VII.1, which I discussed not too long ago).  A Hermetic symposium would be one where the symposiarch would likely dilute the wine rather well, and would gather people together for an intellectual time rather than one for the sake of mere entertainment.  But there are always those who go out to any event for the sake of having fun and being social, regardless of what the wishes of the host are; some people host parties for a purpose, but some people attend such parties for the sake of partying regardless of the purpose itself, like that one uncle who shows up to their nephew’s third birthday party with a keg of beer.  Now, bearing that notion in mind, consider what Hermēs says about people of Mind versus people of Reason:

“But those who missed the point of the proclamation are people of reason because they did not receive (the gift of) mind as well and do not know the purpose or the agents of their coming to be.  These people have sensations much like those of unreasoning animals, and, since their temperament is willful and angry, they feel no awe of things that deserve to be admired; they divert their attention to the pleasures and appetites of their bodies; and they believe that mankind came to be for such purposes…”

At a Hermetic symposium, the people of Reason are like those who show up just to drink and have fun, who ignore the symposiarch’s wishes for a philosophical time to use the wine provided for conversation (“they feel no awe of things that deserve to be admired”) and instead just drink the wine to drink wine and get drunk; they “divert their attention to the pleasures and appetites of their bodies”, and in believing “that mankind came to be for such purposes”, it’s like seeing any such social event as a party to which they go just for the sake of partying.  It’s the people of Mind, rather, who participate in the symposium for the proper ends and using the means provided properly instead of improperly; they “participated in knowledge” because they “received mind”.  Mind is the drink provided, and those who use Mind appropriately and let it absorb into their being instead of letting it simply pass through them in the mouth and out the urethra is what enables them to become “perfect people”.

But Mind isn’t just the thing being drunk; no, God set the kratēr of Mind for those who could to immerse themselves within it.  God has provided Mind to fill the kratēr, but a kratēr is used to mix things together, not just to have something there as it is.  While some would interpret this immersion in the kratēr of Mind to be more like a baptism, in which one is purified and from which one is reborn, the more obvious idea here is staring at us in the face: we’re the things to be mixed with Mind.  God is the symposiarch, and we are that which is mixed with Mind.  Earlier, I might have said that Mind would be wine, but…thinking about it, I think that we ourselves are the wine, and Mind is the water that dilutes it.  After all, drinking unmixed wine, or ἄκρατος akratos, was considered to be (and to lead to) insanity.  Is that not a perfect metaphor for what Hermēs is trying to save us from?  In CH VII.1, he calls out to people to save them (my emphasis, Greek from Festugière/Nock given first to show the original wording):

Ποῖ φέρεσθε, ὧ ἄνθρωποι, μεθύοντεσ, τὸν τῆς ἀγνωσίας ἄκρατον λόγον ἐκπιόντες, δ’ν οὐδὲ φέρειν δύνασθε, ἀλλ’ ἤδη αὐτὸν καὶ ἐμεῖτε;

Where are you heading in your drunkenness, you people? Have you swallowed the doctrine of ignorance undiluted, vomiting it up already because you cannot hold it? Stop and sober yourselves up!

And in CH I.27—29, when Hermēs begins his kergyma (“you who have surrendered yourselves to drunkenness and sleep and ignorance of god, make yourselves sober and end your drunken sickness…”) and teaching to the people after being told by Poimandrēs to guide and save the human race (emphasis mine):

Some of them, who had surrendered themselves to the way of death, resumed their mocking and withdrew, while those who desired to be taught cast themselves at my feet. Having made them rise, I became guide to my race, teaching them the words—how to be saved and in what manner—and I sowed the words of wisdom among them, and they were nourished from the ambrosial water.

The mixing-bowl is not for the purpose of diluting Mind, but for the purpose of diluting us with Mind.  We are the unmixed wine of insanity and ignorance, that dark liquid that cannot be seen through and which keeps one drunk in ignorance and insanity; as CH I.20 would put it, this is “the hateful darkness, from which comes the watery nature, from which the body was constituted in the sensible cosmos, from which Death drinks”.  And it is God who wishes for us to be diluted and elevated with the “ambrosial water” of everlasting and eternal life, provided by Mind and knowledge.  In diluting wine, the wine becomes palatable and healthful, and impurities in the wine are washed away so that the goodness of wine shows through.  This is why not everyone’s “heart has the strength”, why not everyone “believes that you will rise up again”; those who are mired in their own ignorance do not wish to be diluted, do not wished to be washed out, just as a party-goer deep in their cups will forego a refreshing glass of water for another glass of booze to keep the buzz going, but those who see and recognize the ignorance and darkness in them and wish to be made into a clearer and better form will admit the necessity of diluting the wine with water.

With us being the wine to be diluted, so long as we enter into the mixing-bowl of God, God will dilute us with the water of Mind as we need to be.  The only thing we really lose in the process is our ignorance and insanity; by us (or, perhaps better, our souls) being mixed with Mind, we cease becoming insane and causing insanity, and instead “participate in knowledge” (γνώσεωςi.e. gnōsis).  Those who undergo this mixing and dilution become “perfect people”, and in so doing, we become the drink of life itself, and so participate in ourselves with ourselves.  This is, perhaps, a difficult thing to explain, and maybe it’s just the metaphor of the mixing-bowl and symposium breaking down here, but I am reminded of the exclamation of Tat in the process of his rebirth from CH XIII.11—13:

Since god has made me tranquil, father, I no longer picture things with the sight of my eyes but with the mental energy that comes through the powers. I am in heaven, in earth, in water, in air; I am in animals and in plants; in the womb, before the womb, after the womb; everywhere…

Father, I see the universe and I see myself in mind.

Tat, in the process of his rebirth, no longer sees himself as merely apart from or within the cosmos; he witness himself as the cosmos and within it.  More than that, he sees himself “in Mind”.  I’m also reminded of how Hermēs tells Asclepius in CH X.12 that:

A human soul is carried in this way: the mind is in the reason; the reason is in the soul; the soul is in the spirit; the spirit, passing through veins and arteries and blood, moves the living thing and, in a manner of speaking, bears it up.

And later on in CH X.19:

The human soul—not every soul, that is, but only the reverent—is in a sense demonic and divine. Such a soul becomes wholly mind after getting free of the body and fighting the fight of reverence. (Knowing the divine and doing wrong to no person is the fight of reverence.) The irreverent soul, however, stays in its own essence, punishing itself, seeking an earthy body to enter…

The human entity consists of Reason (λόγος), yes, which all people have, but Mind (νους) is mixed with this for those who can.  Those who have Mind in their souls mixed with Reason will, in the process of their spiritual progression along the Way, eventually become entirely Mind, and as such, as Poimandrēs tells Hermēs in CH I.26, “enter into God[; for] this is the final good for those who have received knowledge: to be made God”.  This requires us to dilute ourselves with the water of Mind in the mixing-bowl from CH IV, which, as the long night of the symposium of our earthly incarnation continues, should progress so that only the water of Mind is left, and none of the wine of our bodily selves remain.  The people of Reason, however, devoid of Mind, do not wish for this to happen due to their ignorance, and instead “stay in their own essence”, remaining undiluted and continuing in their life of ignorance, “willful and angry” (as one might be from having drunk unmixed wine, or just drinking too much wine at all, per Dionysos’ disavowal of the fourth kratēr and beyond).

This all makes the following sections of CH IV.6—7 make so much more sense to me.  Most people interpret this as a straightforward world-denying body-hating section, but in light of the notion of dilution…well, read for yourself:

“I too wish to be immersed, my father.”

“Unless you first hate your body, my child, you cannot love yourself, but when you have loved yourself, you will possess mind, and if you have mind, you will also have a share in the way to learn.”

“What do you mean by this, father?”

“My child, it is impossible to be engaged in both realms, the mortal and the divine. Since there are two kinds of entities, corporeal and incorporeal, corresponding to mortal and divine, one is left to choose one or the other, if choice is desired. One cannot {have both together when one is left to choose}, but lessening the one reveals the activity of the other.

“Choosing the stronger, then [ ], not only has splendid consequences for the one who chooses—in that it makes the human into a god—but it also shows reverence toward god. On the other hand, choosing the lesser has been mankind’s destruction, though it was no offence to god, with this single reservation: just as processions passing by in public cannot achieve anything of themselves, though they can be a hindrance to others, in the same way these people are only parading through the cosmos, led astray by pleasures of the body.”

Ignorance and death is the unmixed wine, while knowledge (from Mind) and life is the water that dilutes it in the mixing-bowl.  Hone in, specifically, on the statement “lessening the one reveals the activity of the other”: by diluting the wine, the water begins to come to the fore.  As we begin the process of moving from a focus in living from the corporeal to the incorporeal, the wine of our ignorance and death becomes further diluted, until eventually there is no wine left, only the water of Mind.  Doing this admits that the undiluted wine of ignorance we possess cannot remain as such; we cannot love being so undiluted, but instead must seek to destroy that state through dilution (“unless you first hate your body, my child, you cannot love yourself, but when you have loved yourself, you will possess mind”).  Those who insist on remaining undiluted in their ignorance, however, ignore the importance of the incorporeal, of Mind and knowledge and God, and continue in their own destruction, and in so doing, cause a “hindrance to others…parading through the cosmos, led astray by pleasures of the body” as one would in a reckless and drunken revel.

Something still bothers me about all this, though.  When Tat asks Hermēs why God did not share Mind with all people from the get-go, Hermēs responds that God “wanted it put between souls…as a prize for them to contest” (ἠθέλησεν, ὧ τέκνον, τοῦτον ἐν μέσῳ ταῖς ψυχαῖς ὥσπερ ἄθλον ἱδρῦσθαι with a rough translation of “he willed, my son, this in the midst of these souls just as a prize of contest to be found”).  This notion of “contest” for one to strive towards is a weird one, but it’s not wholly unfamiliar; there is a notion of intentful striving throughout the corpora Hermetica that leads to divinity: CH I.21 has Poimandrēs telling Hermēs that “if you learn you are from light and life and that you happen to come from them, you shall advance to life once again”, after recounting God’s counsel to all of creation in CH I.18 that “let him who is mindful recognize that he is immortal, that desire is the cause of death, and let him recognize all that exists”.  I interpret this notion of a “prize for a contest” to mean that we are not necessarily striving against one another, though it may feel that way, but it’s more of our souls striving against our bodies, the divine and immortal part of ourselves striving against the corporeal and mortal part of ourselves.    I suppose one could make a game of it with others, of course, which would be appropriate at a symposium, and depending on how long the symposium of God goes on, more and more wine will need to be drawn upon and mixed one way or another so that everyone, in the end, gets mixed with the water of Mind.  I’m not entirely settled on the meaning of the wording of this, and I think this part is definitely worthy of more contemplation and consideration.

Likewise, Hermēs mentions that God appointed “a herald whom he commanded to make the following proclamation to human hearts” regarding immersing ourselves in the mixing-bowl.  Who or what might this herald be?  Given Hermēs’ commission from Poimandrēs to teach and guide humanity so that they might be saved, he may well be referencing himself, but there is also the possibility of this being one of the personified forces of the cosmos, of which there are no small number: Providence, Necessity, and Fate have been personified at times in the Stobaean Fragments, and SH XXVI.3 (from the last part of the Korē Kosmou excerpts) mentions that Providence has “two ministers”: a Steward of Souls and an Escort of Souls.  We also shouldn’t forget Poimandrēs himself, of course, too, an emanation from Mind who (depending on your perspective and analysis of the name) could be Ra, Thoth, or the XIIth Dynasty pharaoh Amenemhat III (I swear at least one scholar thinks this).  Whether this herald is a cosmic entity or not, whether it’s an oblique reference by Hermēs to himself or not, the identity of the herald isn’t the focus of this book from the Corpus Hermeticum, and it’s certainly less important than the fact that a message was given to humanity: “immerse yourselves in the mixing-bowl if your heart has the strength”.  Fittingly, this message does bear much in similarity with what Hermēs calls out to people in CH I.27—29 and in CH VII, but that alone doesn’t make this particular topic particularly clear, either.

At any rate, Hermēs goes on to say in CH IV.9 that “knowledge is not a beginning of the good, but it furnishes us the beginning of the good that will be known”.  If knowledge is produced from Mind, and our immersion in the mixing-bowl and our first dilution with the water of Mind is just the start of it all on our way to become wholly Mind (as in CH X.19), then this is just the beginning of a long party, indeed.  But even if the Way is long, we won’t be thirsty along the way, so long as we keep listening to and following the Leader who keeps us nourished with what is right for us.

Hermetic Evangelism and Kerygma

No, despite the title of this post, I’m not going to go out into the world and spread the good word of Hermēs Trismegistos onto those who don’t want it.  I feel like my blog does enough of that as it is, anyway, letting the work here speak for itself; besides, I hardly feel competent enough to do so, given how much I myself have yet to learn and discover.  But that isn’t to say that there has never been evangelism (or proselytism, if you prefer to call it that) within the context of the Way of Hermēs.  Indeed, it’s absolutely present in the oldest texts we have, and the Corpus Hermeticum itself gives us two great examples of such calls to the Way.

The first example is from CH I.27—28 (Copenhaver translation here and below), the classic street-preacher scene.  This takes place immediately after Poimandrēs concludes his revelation to Hermēs, giving Hermēs the mission to go forth and “become guide to the worthy so that through [him] the human race might be saved by God”.  After this vision and revelation, Hermēs goes forth, “empowered and instructed on the nature of the universe and on the supreme vision”:

And I began proclaiming to mankind the beauty of reverence and knowledge: “People, earthborn men, you who have surrendered yourselves to drunkenness and sleep and ignorance of god, make yourselves sober and end your drunken sickness, for you are bewitched in unreasoning sleep.”  When they heard, they gathered round with one accord. And I said, “Why have you surrendered yourselves to death, earthborn men, since you have the right to share in immortality? You who have journeyed with error, who have partnered with ignorance, think again: escape the shadowy light; leave corruption behind and take a share in immortality.”

The second example, which reads much like an expanded version of the former, is the entirety of CH VII, which I won’t quote in full, but it’s not a particularly long section (CH III is longer than this).  It definitely reads as a sermon of the “save yourself from hell” fire-and-brimstone type, not as a dialog or letter between teacher and student, and Copenhaver and others notes its strong similarity to and influences from Gnostic and Jewish traditions.

Me being me, I couldn’t not take these bits and come up with my own versions for recitations, much as I did with CH V to make my Praise of the Invisible and Visible God hymnCH XVII to make my Royal Praises hymns, or CH I to make my simple Hermetic prayer rule.  There’s so much devotional and pious material in the CH and other Hermetic texts to work from to make a liturgy of sorts, and the sections of CH I.27—28 and CH VII are no exception.  To that end, I took the wording from these sections of the Corpus Hermeticum, reworded and reworked them, and came up with two evangelizing sermons, as it were: the “Call to the Way” and the “Stripping of the Tunic”.

The “Call to the Way” is based on CH I.27—28.  To me, this is a short…well, call, kinda like the adhān of Islam, except less a call to prayer than a call to metanoia—though it’s usually translated as such, it’s not quite “repentance”, but more like “thinking again” or “reconsidering”, like how the historical Buddha Shakyamuni went from town to town calling out “Anyone for the other side?”.  This “Call to the Way” is very much a wake-up call to learn how and in what way we humans might be saved on the Way of Hermēs.  To my mind, this could be recited before street-preaching, to be sure, but also as the first thing to be said in a temple setting generally to get people to wake up and “think again, think anew”, preparing themselves and orienting themselves for the holy work of devotion and reverence to God.

O all you children of mankind, o all you born of the Earth, o all who you have given yourselves over to drink and sleep in your ignorance of God! Make yourselves sober, cease your drunken sickness, end your bewitchment by unreasoning sleep! Why have you given yourselves over to death, since you have the power to partake of immortality? You who have wandered with Error, you who have partnered with Ignorance: think again, think anew! Be released from the darkness, take hold of the Light, take part in divine immortality, leave behind your corrupt destruction! Do not surrender to the way of death by your mockery or distance, but come, rise, and be guided on the way of life!

Then there’s the “Stripping of the Tunic”, based on CH VII.  In the Corpus Hermeticum, this is another sermon used to get people’s attention to come to the Way and abandon the twisted, twisting wiles of the world that drown and suffocate us.  However, I took a slightly different approach with this one.  Sure, it can be used to do the same thing that the “Call to the Way” does, but to me, the “Stripping of the Tunic” is more like a formal introduction into a temple or Hermetic group, a discursive initiation of sorts by beginning the process of cleansing the soul from the torments and tortures of incarnation, one that calls the initiate to a purpose.  This is especially important with the image of the “House of Knowledge”, which can be considered a sort of Hermetic rephrasing on the Egyptian “House of Life” (per ankh), the usual term for a temple that also doubled as a library, because…well, as the Hermetic tests attest, true knowledge is true Life.  Although others have tried to expand on the Egyptian temple imagery and how temples would be constructed so that sunlight would fall on the statues of the gods, Nock notes that “it is unnecessary to press the analogy with the Egyptian sanctuaries”.

Hear me, o child of mankind! Where are you going?
Sick and vomiting up the pure ignorance you swallow as you are,
which even you see and know that you cannot keep down!
Stop your drunken sickness! Stop your drinking! Stand firm! Be sober!
Look upwards with the eyes of the heart, if you can!

Do not drown in the flood of ignorance that floods this world,
which destroys the soul shut up in the body,
which keeps the soul from sailing to a safe harbor,
but ride the tide, ride the ebb, ride the flow,
and bring your ship to this safe harbor,
and be guided by the hand to the door of the House of Knowledge!
Here is the bright light clear of all darkness,
here is where nobody is drunk but all are sober,
here is where all gaze with the heart towards God,
the One who wishes to be heard and uttered and seen,
who is neither heard with the ears nor uttered with the mouth nor seen with the eyes,
but is heard in silence, uttered without words, and seen with the mind and the heart.

So you can enter the House of Knowledge,
you must be freed from the snare of the body,
this hateful tunic you wear that strangles you and drags you down,
which makes you so that you will not hate its viciousness,
so that you will not look up lest you see the beauty of Truth and the Good that abides within,
so that you will not understand its treachery and hate the evil of what it plots against you.
Your senses of sensibility have been made insensible, unapparent, and unrecognized,
so stuffed with gross matter and crammed with loathsome debauchery,
so that you do not hear what and how you must hear,
so that you do not utter what and how you must utter,
so that you do not see what and how you must see.

So you may enter the House of Knowledge,
rip off from yourself your tunic of hate!
Free yourself from your garment of ignorance!
Release yourself from your base of vice!
Unbind yourself from your bond of corruption!
Liberate yourself from cage of darkness,
that God may renew you from your living death,
that God may quicken for you your sentient corpse,
that God may open up for you your portable tomb,
that God may protect for you your house from the thief within it,
the tormenting one who grudgingly hates what you love,
the torturing one who maliciously loves what you hate.

While pretty pieces of prayer, if I do say so myself, why should Hermēs Trismegistos be an evangelist at all?  Because, frankly, Poimandrēs charged him with being one.  At the end of Poimandrēs’ revelation to Hermēs in CH I.26—27, he concludes his speech with the following charge:

“…This is the final good for those who have received knowledge: to be made god. Why do you still delay? Having learned all this, should you not become guide to the worthy so that through you the human race might be saved by god?”

As he was saying this to me, Poimandrēs joined with the powers. Then he sent me forth, empowered and instructed on the nature of the universe and on the supreme vision, after I had given thanks to the father of all and praised him. And I began proclaiming to mankind the beauty of reverence and knowledge…

C. H. Dodd in his The Bible and the Greeks (1935) calls this and the following parts of CH I the Kerygma (κήρυγμα), a fantastic Greek word from the New Testament meaning “proclamation”, from the Greek word κηρύσσω “to cry/proclaim as a herald”, used here in the sense of preaching, which fits rather well with the whole image of Hermēs as not just teacher but also as herald (we shouldn’t forget that the Greek term for his wand is κηρύκειον, kērukeion, from the same root, which became in Latin “caduceus”).  But why should Hermēs be charged with this sort of proclamation, heralding, announcing of the “gospel”, as it were, of Poimandrēs?  Well, there is the simple historical fact that the revelation of wisdom of this sort just went hand-in-hand with such evangelism, because it was inherently considered a “way of life” or “way of God”, both in Jewish as well as Egyptian literature.  As Christian Bull in his The Tradition of Hermes Trismegistus (2018) notes, the notion of such a “way” necessitates a guide, without which one becomes lost; after all, it does follow that one who has walked the way, knows the road, and is familiar with the destination is one we should trust to follow, rather than trying to forge a way on our own blindly and only happening to come across the right way to the right destination, the “way of life” otherwise erring back to the “way of death” (Hermēs’ words from CH I.29).

Admittedly, this proclamation is not meant for all people; there is no notion of universal salvation as such in classical Hermetism.  Not all people will hearken to the message of Hermēs, nor will all people have the strength of heart necessary to be reborn in Mind (CH IV.4).  Yet, Poimandrēs charges Hermēs to become a guide to the worthy so that, through Hermēs, “the human race might be saved by God”.  Bull notes that this can be interpreted in several ways: that the human race only properly consists of a worthy few who can become true humans while the rest are no more than savage animals in human flesh, that all humankind will at some stage become worthy, or that the worthy few who can follow the way will somehow save the many (and Bull notes that “this latter option is preferable if we view the passage as taking place in the time when the brutish Bronze Age humans were being civilized”).  Bull also notes that “that the human race is saved by God, through Hermēs, should consequently not be understood as a message of universal salvation in a Christian sense, but indicates that Hermēs and his fellow culture heroes are considered to be saviors because they made civilized life possible” (consider also CH III, where humanity was charged with not just learning about the cosmos but also “to discover the arts of everything that is Good”).  Regardless how one perceives the notion of salvation and who’s eligible, Hermēs is still bound by obligation to guide and save those whom he can.  After all, once learning about truth, as Poimandrēs revealed to Hermēs, one cannot but be compelled to act in accordance with such truth, lest one deny such truth and fall into error because of it.  After all, having been freed from the suffering of the soul and the suffering of the body (insofar as it is possible), how could one not want others who can achieve that to do so?  In some ways, the parallels between Hermēs Trismegistus and Buddha Shakyamuni, at least as far as salvific impetus, are strong here.

In the end, there’s this notion of “having been taught, now teach”; Hermēs has learned, and now he seeks for others to learn what he himself has learned.  Part of that learning—and then applying such learning—is pointing out the problems people have and recognizing it as a problem, without which one cannot begin to fix it.  Not everyone is going to recognize those problems, whether because they honestly cannot recognize them or because they’re unwilling to do so; those people are not those whom Hermēs can help by being guide.  He doesn’t necessarily seek to convince people of the rightness of his teachings from the get-go, except by trying to convince people that they have biger problems than they might realize; he focuses more on saying “I have a way for you to fix your problems, follow me if you want to fix them”.  Following Hermēs, then, not only leads one to the “House of Knowledge” where “shines the light cleansed of darkness”, but also leads one to lead others to the same.  At some point, once one has gotten far enough along the Way of Hermēs to become familiar with both it and the destination, to become a guide is as much part of the Way as anything else; after all, “having been taught, now teach”.  The Way goes ever on and on, to be sure, and not everyone is going to be a guide in the same ways to the same people, but there are always waystations to give us rest and give us a chance to hand followers off to others who know the next stage of the way better than we do, or to give us a chance to find a guide for the next stage of the way ourselves.

I suppose “evangelism” isn’t a great term to use for this; I was unfamiliar with “kerygma” up until now, but it’s a term I like much better.  I feel like there’s a deeper difference between the usual evangelism common with Christian preachers and the like and what Hermēs is doing here; to be sure, the salvific spirit is the same, but Hermēs isn’t trying to establish doctrine and convince people of the truth from the get-go.  Rather, Hermēs is announcing something new, a new way: a way to salvation, a way of life, a way to God.  The destination is known up-front, as is one’s starting point, but how one progresses from point A to point B might change depending on the person.  This may well be the case for lots of religious paths, let’s be honest, but it’s especially present in the Way of Hermēs.  No two people will necessarily follow the same steps, but under one guide who knows not just the detours but also the contingency plans in case one should stumble or get lost.  This is Hermēs saying “follow me, for I know the way”, not “follow me, for I am the way”; the difference there is massive.  This is Hermēs the Human guiding one to God; while Hermēs is, at the same time, a god, the focus of what Hermēs himself learned and taught is on the God.  Learning of himself—that classic maxim of γνῶθι σεαυτόν come to life—is just part of the overall impetus for him to learn “about the things that are, to understand their nature, and to know God” (CH I.3).  Rather than seeking veneration and worship for himself, Hermēs seeks for others to venerate and worship that which should truly be worshiped.  After all, the guide is not the destination.