The Reed-Pen of Hermēs

Lately, I’ve been going through one of those times where I’ve been reviewing the old stuff I’ve written, drawn, doodled, and talked about.  It’s part and parcel of that “quiet cycle” I periodically go through, so it’s nothing new, and God and gods know that I’ve got plenty of loose ends or dead ends lying around that could use repurposing or reinspection.  In the course of making my rounds through my files and old posts here and elsewhere, I came across this little thing I made in Illustrator one day when I was playing around with symbols:

I made it last summer when trying to come up with an icon, glyph, or general symbol for my own brand and interpretation of classical Hermeticism, grounded as it is in the classical Hermetic corpora and the various magical and mystic practices of late Ptolemaic and early Roman Imperial Hellenistic Egypt.  I shared it on Twitter at the time, and it sparked some neat discussions (and some rather spooky reactions) from people, and I sorta left it at that.  Since I haven’t really been doing much new stuff as of late, this little glyph was made and shelved for another time.  As I’m reviewing some of my older stuff, though, I figured I may as well dust this off and share it on my website for others to consider, and to more publicly flesh out some of the elements and symbolism of this thing.

The construction of this glyph (we’ll talk about a name for it later) is simple: using a downwards-pointing equilateral triangle as a “stencil” of sorts, draw out horizontal lines across it at its base, at one-third of the way down, and at two-thirds of the way down, with a vertical line bisecting them all from the base to the point.  Draw a circle tangent to and centered on the base with a radius equal to one third of the base, and draw a point at the circle’s center.  Add a few serifs to the horizontal and vertical lines if desired for decorative purposes, and with that, the glyph is constructed.

I’m sure many of my readers can pick out a few graphical similarities or borrowings from other symbols, but what I had in mind when I was constructing this glyph was the following:

  • Ankh
    • The quintessential Egyptian hieroglyph to represent life, especially eternal or immortal life
    • Also associated with mirrors and floral bouquets, given that they were spelled with the same consonants in Egyptian
    • Preserved in Coptic Christianity as the crux ansata, reminiscent of the tau-rho (staurogram) abbreviation for the word σταυρός “cross”
    • Also reminiscent of the modern planetary glyph for Venus, also a planet of life and fertility and one I associate with the element of Water
  • Djed pillar
    • The sacred tree of life, crafting, and creation
    • Together with the ankh, the scepter of Ptah
    • The spine of Osiris, a pillar-like symbol representing stability
      • Used as an amulet for the dead to ensure their reanimation, resurrection, and immortality
    • Form derived here via the Phoenician samekh, origin for and similar to the archaic form of the Greek letter ksi (Ξ)
      • I associate this letter (using its stoicheia) with the element of Water
      • If this is broken down further into its constituent sounds, this yields kappa + sigma + iōta, which I stoicheically associate respectively with Leo, Aquarius, and the Sun, the two zodiac signs here being the domicile and detriment of the Sun
  • Circle of the Monad
    • Also the Egyptian hieroglyph and the modern planetary glyph for the Sun
    • Also reminiscent of an ever-watchful, ever-waking Eye of God
  • Seven points at the ends of the horizontal and vertical lines:
    • The seven planets (Moon and Sun, Saturn and Jupiter, Venus and Mars, Mercury) and their according energies/blessings/tormentors
    • The seven lesser mercies of God from CH XIII (knowledge, joy, self-control, perseverance, justice, liberality, truth)
  • Three horizontal bars:
    • The three worlds/gods (God, Cosmos, Humanity)
    • The three titles of God (the Good, the Maker, the Father)
    • The thrice-greatness of Hermēs (priest, king, philosopher)
    • The three Hermetic arts (astrology, alchemy, theurgy)
    • The three students of Hermēs (Tat, Asklēpios, Ammōn)
    • The three generations of teachers (Poimandrēs, Hermēs, Hermēs’ students)
    • The three origins of Poimandrēs (Thōth as the mind of Rē, Pharaoh Amenemhet III, Agathos Daimōn/Šai)
    • The three levels of celestial objects (decans, zodiac signs, planets)
    • The three kinds of stars (fixed, luminary wandering, non-luminary wandering)
    • The three arranging principles of existence (Providence, Necessity, Fate)
    • The three greater mercies of God from CH XIII (Life, Light, the Good)

The use of a downwards-pointing triangle to construct the lengths of the horizontal bars was intentional.  For one, the use of a triangle gives this a slight hint of the presence of the ten-pointed Tetractys (albeit pointing downwards), but when I was constructing the glyph, I tried this originally with three equal-length bars.  Frankly, that looked boring and overly stable to the point of stagnant; using bars whose lengths decrease from top to bottom in the shape of a triangle gives the glyph a greater feeling of dynamism.  Additionally, the ratios of the lengths of the horizontal bars lead the eye downward to its bottommost point, but due to the presence of the dotted circle at the top, there’s a particular tension; as others have noted in the original Twitter thread where I shared the glyph, the dotted circle at the top holds the gaze stronger though the eye wants to look downward.  This tension, as some have noted, gives a sort of “as above so below” feel, but also gives people a somewhat disconcerting, wyrd, or even unsettling feel; one person even said that the glyph seems to “want things”, which I found fascinating.

I also tried a variant of the glyph with the central dot removed from the top circle, too, just to see how some of the people engaged in this conversation would also react to that.  While some found it less “confrontational”, they registered the open, empty circle as more of a portal than an eye, and also with more venerial than solar symbolism, which seemed to clash with the overall vibe of the glyph.  I decided to just keep the dot in the eye. Besides, the dot in the circle really does makes the top read more clearly as the Sun, which is nice for the Hermetic  vibes I’m going for regarding Nous/One/Monad vibes.Someone else, in another part of the conversation, noted how the three horizontal bars with the vertical line connecting them was reminiscent of the Bahá’í Ringstone symbol, where the three bars represent (from top to bottom) the world of God, the Manifestations of God and the world of revelation, and the world of humanity, with the vertical line connecting them being the holy spirit of God descending from its own world to that of humanity through the Manifestations.  This wasn’t my intent, but it is something neat to note in the similarity of structure and symbolism.

Anyway, getting back to the glyph I created, I really am fond of this symbol.  It’s no replacement for my own personal glyph (which I use as an icon for pretty much every account on every platform I’m on, and is even seen as the logo of my website), but I do like using (or at least thinking about) this glyph as a representation of my own brand of classical Hermeticism (or, to be more strict with the term, Hermetism).  Even though the glyph is largely a kind of cross, the term “Hermetic Cross” is unfortunately already a somewhat confusing term.  For most people, I would think this term is used to refer to the Rose Cross of the Golden Dawn.

However, at other times, the phrase is also used to refer to the so-called “Cross of Hermes”, which…well, my first thought about this symbol is that this it was originally a printer’s mark used during the English Renaissance in alchemical or occult texts—and it turns out that there are many such variants of this that were indeed used as printer’s marks for various printers!  Despite the claims that this is a combination of symbols to represent a fourfold nature of creation with the maxim “as above so below”, when I went to consult my alchemical symbol dictionary, I also was able to break it down into one of the alchemical symbols for borax (the 4 with the cross on the right-hand bar) atop the alchemical symbol for alembic/distillation flask/still (the upright and inverted V symbols overlapping), which was also one of the symbols also used for glass (and I note specifically that borax was and is used in the making of glass).  Though the printer’s mark theory is far more believable, it can’t be denied that Hermeticism and alchemy were especially close in Europe for centuries, so it’s little surprise that people might have mistaken printers’ marks for alchemical symbols or otherwise conflated the two.  Besides, as the link above to Fameorshame Press’s website says, the use of the glyph for 4 in the four-and-orb style of printer marks was often thought of as being associated with Hermēs being the god of scribes, tradesmen, merchants, and travelers, so there is some connection there, however faint.

Either way, I didn’t want to use the term “Hermetic cross” to refer to this glyph I made to represent my own brand of classical Hermeticism, and I wanted to stay away from anything involving calling it a “tree” or “pillar” (both of which are reasonable terms given the djed-symbolism of it, but which have also been taken over by Golden Dawn and modern Western European qabbalistic stuff as well in this case).  Calling it a “Hermetic staff” or a “staff of Hermēs” would be somewhat conflicting with the notion of the kērukeion/caduceus, the winged-and-serpented herald’s staff of Hermēs in Hellenic imagery, though it is true that the overall shape of this glyph can also be considered a highly stylized, simplified image of the same thing.  But, perhaps taking a clue from Alan Moore’s Promethea comic series, considering how the protagonist used her very pen and art of poetry to transform it into a caduceus and herself into the eponymous heroine, perhaps I could call this symbol the “Pen of Hermēs” or “Reed-Pen of Hermēs”, which recalls more of the reed-pen of Thōth than the herald-staff of the son of Zeus and Maia, and perhaps rings more closely to the Hermēs Trismegistos of the classical Hermetic tradition.  Alternatively, still keeping to this idea and also reinforcing the grander symbolism behind this, perhaps a grander name for this symbol could be the “Reed-Scepter of Hermēs” (much how the ankh, djed, was, or other types of scepters were used by the Egyptian gods in their iconography).  If I were to use another language for this, we might use the Greek term for reeds (and thus reed-pens) κάλαμος kalámos, or perhaps even the Coptic word ⲕⲁϣ kaš.

All of these terms, regardless of the language, would work well to my mind as a term for this symbol, but consider what the name implies for the symbol itself.  If we were to think of this symbol as a pen, then we have the ink flowing down from the top dotted circle (God) down through the words of the various teachers (Poimandres to Hermēs to his students) and down through the various levels of creation (from the sphere of the Father through the sphere of the Cosmos through the sphere of Humanity) down to a single point—which, if we consider the seven ends of the straight lines as the seven planets, that bottommost point is given to the planet Mercury as the balance and fulcrum of all the rest.  The ink would be Wisdom itself, flowing through the channel that links Mercury to the great spiritual Sun, held and guided by the hands of the various teachers from one generation to the next.  Not a bad way to consider the overall structure of the symbol, I suppose.

Of course, I wouldn’t want to use this glyph as a mere decorative thing.  Just as the Crucifix is a symbol to refer to Christianity while also being a potent mystical and meditative symbol that contains within it many mysteries for the Christian to dwell on, I keep thinking of that tension that holds the gaze up at the dotted circle at the top even though the gaze wants to be drawn downwards.  Holding the gaze at that dotted circle long enough, I get the same sense of the horizontal lines being an encouragement to lift up one’s gaze, in the same way that one holds a weight for a long duration, gravity and fatigue trying to get us to put the weight down but our own determination and will continuing to lift the weight up; the horizontal bars become less of a ladder that leads one down, and more arms that are held up in supplication towards the One above.  In thinking about this, I can’t help but think of the fiery sermon of book VII of the Corpus Hermeticum (emphasis in bold mine):

The vice of ignorance floods the whole earth and utterly destroys the soul shut up in the body, preventing it from anchoring in the havens of deliverance. Surely you will not sink in this great flood? Those of you who can will take the ebb and gain the haven of deliverance and anchor there. Then, seek a guide to take you by the hand and lead you to the portals of knowledge. There shines the light cleansed of darkness. There no one is drunk. All are sober and gaze with the heart toward one who wishes to be seen, who is neither heard nor spoken of, who is seen not with the eyes but with mind and heart.

In that struggle of keeping the gaze fixed above while it wants to be drawn downwards, is that not a good metaphor itself for our struggle as a whole?  To free ourselves from being fully trapped down here in this world of matter, caught up in the cycles of rebirth and reincarnation due to our errors of desire, fighting to free ourselves?  To resist the easy down-draw of drive and desire, of thumos and epithumia, and struggling to set our soul on its proper course upwards?  To constantly look upwards and inwards, not with the mere eyes of the body that can only see things perceptible but with the eyes of the mind and heart to see that which is intelligible?  The upwards-downwards tension in this glyph is emblematic of the very difficulty we walk on the Way of Hermēs, I think.  Perhaps, in learning how to resolve that tension fruitfully (and upwardly) through this glyph, we can learn how to resolve that parallel tension in our own lives—to tie this to the imagery of the Pen, we learn how to properly hold it with the proper balance and posture and flow, so that we can learn how to properly Write.  Write what, you might ask?  The wisdom of Hermēs, which is the wisdom of God, the “wisdom for the making known of the All” (as CH III.1 would have it), writing this in our own hearts and minds until we become filled with that same ink of wisdom to spread to others, connecting us back to the very Source of that same ink.

Next time I start digging around and playing around with Illustrator or Inkscape, I’ll probably pretty up the glyph a bit and see about turning into a higher-quality picture, and perhaps giving it a few meditative or contemplative tries here and there to see where it might take me.  As a few people noted in that Twitter conversation, it’s quite possible that this symbol wasn’t merely my own creation, but something needing to be made through me; it wouldn’t be the first time, to be sure, and perhaps there are even deeper mysteries lying in this thing than what I could pick out in that list of symbolisms above.  Perhaps others might give it a whirl, too, and let me know where they might end up.

A Hermetic Musing on Fate, Necessity, and Providence

This post was originally a short tweet thread I shared last September, but I don’t think I ever shared it outside Twitter, and I think I phrased some things in it that even I hadn’t realized were as big as I do now.  I’ve reformatted it and embiggened it slightly for a proper blog post, but the gist is the same.

So, a few definitions first, largely based on SH 12—14:

  1. Providence is the will of God.
  2. Necessity is what comes up with what needs to happen in order for Providence to be fulfilled.
  3. Fate is what arranges things in order for that which Necessity declares to come about.

In software engineering terms, Providence is the requirement that specifies what is to be done, Necessity is the design that specifies how it’s to be done, and Fate is the code that does what the requirement says in the manner the design says. The execution of the code—the carrying-out of Fate—is the actual activity that happens in the cosmos, right down to our own lives.

And what are the agents of Fate, you might ask?  What are the entities that facilitate and serve Fate to bring it about?  It’s the planets and stars themselves, which are not just indicators of Fate but the things that provide all things that exist down here with the energy (in the philosophical sense of activity or being-at-work-ness) to do what they need to do to be born, to grow, to die, and decay—and, in the process, fulfill whatever purpose it was meant to achieve.

That the planets are the agents of Fate is why astrology is the first (and most important) Hermetic art, because the study of the planets and stars allows us to learn about Fate, and thus about Necessity and Providence, and thus God and our relation to it. Our external and bodily lives are commanded by Fate, and Fate is not up to us to change in the Hermetic worldview, no more than we can make Mercury not go retrograde when we find it inconvenient. Fate is going to happen one way or another; we must learn to live with it.  (This is where a good understanding of Stoicism comes into play when studying Hermeticism.)

But, the thing is, your soul—that which you really are—is not your body; rather, our souls come from a place beyond the cosmos, and thus a place beyond Fate.  As such, our souls are not compelled by Fate the way our bodies and external lives are.  Our bodies are creations of the cosmos, and the cosmos is ruled by Fate, and so our bodies are naturally controlled by Fate as well as a production of it (and, by extension, the seven planets).  The soul, which only wears the body like how the body wears a shirt, is only impelled, not compelled, by Fate, in the same way that while the quality of a shirt can make a body comfortable or uncomfortable, the body is not fundamentally bound to the same fate as the shirt.  That saying that we’re spiritual entities having a physical experience, or that we should only be in the world and not of the world?  That notion is critically Hermetic, and we need to take that to heart.  We can’t be in control of everything (or even anything) external on the level of the body, but internally on the level of the soul, we can overcome it all.

It is in rising above the powers of Fate that we conquer it, by learning what it does and how it plays out that we learn the exceptions in the code and the behavior unspecified by the design and the loopholes in the requirements. Only once we rise above Fate can we make it our plaything., but in order to do so, we need to understand how Fate actually plays out on the low level once we see what Fate is trying to accomplish at a high level.  This is why alchemy is the second Hermetic art: alchemy is the study and science of learning how the activities and energies of the cosmos play out specifically at the level of material creation and manifestation, in the world we live in. Astrology looks above to see “why”, alchemy looks below to see “how”. And, well, as the Emerald Tablet (and so many others who love to quote it) says, “as above, so below”.

Learning Fate’s activity/energeia by alchemy and Fate’s power/dynamis by astrology, that’s where the third Hermetic art comes in: theurgy. Theurgy doesn’t change Fate to fight against Necessity or change Providence. Rather, it works by Fate to do what is best—what is Necessary—in accordance with highest Providence.  In working by Fate, we rise up to Fate’s own level and surpass it, able to at last be consciously and intentionally free of Fate.  Theurgy relies on knowing that which is above, that which is below, and the relationship between the two to not just go up or down, but to go beyond both entirely.  (After all, when you’re talking about a sphere, any direction away from the center is technically “up”.)

To borrow a bit of Christianity for a moment: angels are said to have no free will, but consider instead that they have will, just that their will is to fulfill God’s will. In this, the will of an angel is the will of God to be expressed through that angel.  The same goes for us, too. Theurgy is what allows us to make our will God’s will, which also makes God’s will our will. And if God is for you, sharing the one and same will, who can be against you?

When your own will is Providence, what need would you have to fight with Fate, when Fate itself could not fight with you?

I was on a two-part show on the “What Magic is This?” podcast!

Well, that certainly was fun!

I trust you, good reader, will remember that I’ve been on a handful of podcasts as a guest before, and if you’ve forgotten (or if you haven’t been around long enough to hear about that), you can check the About page of this website to see a list of what shows I’ve been on before.  It’s always a pleasure and a treat to be on someone’s show, and although I live in constant fear that I’ll make an oafish ass of myself and make the good host waste their time and bandwidth on me, apparently the shows I’ve been on tend to be well-received for one reason or another.

As it turns out, I was was invited back by Douglas Batchelor over at What Magic is This?, this time not as the sole guest but with the good Rev. Erik Arneson (of Arnemancy) as my friend and colleague, the two of us answering Doug’s questions about Hermeticism, both classical and post-classical, from all sorts of angles.  It was a great talk, and because the discussion was so expansive (it’s hard not to be when talking about 2000 years of development and wiles in all sorts of ways!), it got broken out into two separate episodes.  Take a listen, whether on YouTube, Spotify, Libsyn, or your other preferred podcast listener!

Part I (June 17, 2021), focusing on classical Hermeticism

Part II (June 25, 2021), focusing on post-classical Hermeticism

If you’ve enjoyed these talks (I certainly hope you do, and I certainly enjoyed being a part of them!), do consider supporting both Doug and Erik on their respective platforms, subscribe to their shows, donate to their Patreons, and the like!

Hermeticism FAQ: Part IV, Practice

Continuing our Hermeticism FAQ series (see part I, part II, and part III here), let’s continue today with (the final) Part IV, on the various practices of Hermeticism!

What practices are part of Hermeticism?

Although the “philosophical Hermetica” are great for teaching doctrine, they offer very little in the way of actual practice, whether day-to-day routine practice or things for non-routine ritual.  However, we do know that prayer to God is something Hermēs Trismegistos encourages, especially at sunrise (preferably outdoors facing east) and at sunset (again preferably outdoors facing south), along with at nighttime immediately before going to bed.  Practices of purity and asceticism are also encouraged, both for their training of the body as well for the work of engaging divinity without being polluted by the passions of base matter.  In tandem with study of the discourses and other arts, frequent meditation should be engaged with, both for the purposes of delving deeper into the meanings of the teachings as well as to gain insight regarding one’s own nature and the nature of the cosmos generally.  For those who are building shrines for the gods, calling the gods down into statues for more immediate contact and worship of them is recommended, by the means of filling the statues with sacred substances, burning incense before them, bathing them in sacred liquids, and the singing of hymns to seat them in their terrestrial bodies; rather than just statues or other images, bodily possession by the gods may also be attempted.  When ready, works of spiritual elevation and divine ascent should be undertaken, which can be considered among the crowning acts (though far from a one-time effort) a Hermeticist should endeavor towards.  Besides these, many other practices as described in the “technical Hermetica” or which are borrowed from any number of other magical and spiritual traditions may also be incorporated.

Are there any particular gods I should worship?

The only divinity one is strictly required to worship and venerate in Hermeticism is God, and that in a way that is often distinct from other gods; rather than burning incense or making material sacrifices, the true worship of God consists of a sacrifice of speech and the singing of hymns in sacred silence, adoring the Creator by means of their Creation.  Beyond that, whatever other gods one worships (if one worships other gods at all) is entirely up to the student.  For those who are willing, Hermēs Trismegistos himself is an excellent candidate to receive worship for those who follow the Way of Hermēs, whether as a divinity in his own right or as a deified hero-prophet; the same goes for the students of Hermēs Trismegistos, like Asklēpios (the Egyptian Imhotep), Tat (another instance of Thōth), and Ammōn (the Egyptian Amun).  While Greek and Egyptian religion offers many such deities to worship, to say nothing of the many syncretic religious entities present in texts like the Greek Magical Papyri, there is no limit nor rule as to which gods one should worship, so long as one (also) worships God.

Did the classical Hermeticists practice magic, and should we continue to practice magic today?

Although the “philosophical Hermetica” is silent on the subject, and although Zosimus of Panopolis suggests that Hermēs Trismegistos disavowed magic, it is a fact that Hermeticism has long been associated with magical works of many types, and indeed, ancient Egyptian religion saw little distinction between religious works and magical works, to the point where the very concept of magic itself (Heka) in Egypt was venerated as a deity in its own right in addition to the view that the gods had such supernatural power at their disposal to accomplish all manner of works.  Magic is simply the operational use of subtle forces or spiritual entities in addition to or instead of physical or bodily ones to achieve particular ends, and as such, the study of such forces and entities is part and parcel of the study of the cosmos as much as the study of any material or physical force or entity.  This being the case, classical Hermeticists (along with Egyptian priests themselves, and in company with many other wandering magicians of the day) certainly practiced magic, as this was a valid way to engage with the various powers of the cosmos, and thus we are both enabled and encouraged to today.  Of course, such works should be held to a high moral and ethical standard—but so should any other work, whether or not it can be considered “magical”.

What about astrology or alchemy?

These two arts have long been held to be Hermetic, and there’s good reason for saying so; even in the core classical Hermetic texts themselves, there is much astrological symbolism and even directives to engage in the study and practice of astrology to better understand the nature of the cosmos and of divinity.  Alchemy is somewhat more complicated of a subject, becoming more popular and well-studied in the late classical and post-classical periods, but is also tied to Hermetic practices of the creation of medicine, ink, oils, and talismans.  Different texts from different time periods will focus on these arts to various degrees, but they are certainly important for the practical side of Hermeticism, and those who are interested in Hermeticism are encouraged to study and engage with them.  Remember that the study of astrology is what helps us understand more about the processes of Fate; if astrology is the “as above”, then alchemy provides the “so below”, since it helps us understand the processes of change in the cosmos, learning how the activities and energies of the cosmos play out at a low level.  The power and potentiality of Fate can be learned through astrology, and the activity and actuality of Fate can be learned through alchemy.  Even if neither are strictly required, by learning both, one has a strong footing to engage in the work of theurgy.

What about theurgy?

Theurgy (from Greek theourgia, “divine work” or “god-work”) is the ritual mystical practice of participating in the presence of the divine, whether individual gods or God itself.  On the one hand, this can be considered the work of lifting oneself up to the level of the gods through spiritual elevation and divine ascent; on the other, it can also be considered the work of bringing the gods down to our level, either by having them inhabit sacred statues or other idols or by possessing their devotees for the gods to perform work down in our world.  In either case, the ultimate goal of theurgy is to unite ourselves with the divine, fulfilled through rites of purification of the body and soul along with communion with the gods.  It should be noted that this is not a kind of “coercion of the gods” where the gods are “forced” down (as if such a thing were possible in Hermetic terms), nor is it the case that we “trap” the gods in statues for our own bidding.  This is an act of communion, such as inviting someone to live in your home and share your table, and similar acts can be seen in the tradition of “living statues” of Hinduism and in many other pagan traditions across the world.  In a smaller sense, although not always done with theurgical goals in mind, the work of ensoulment and enlivening images can also be seen in the consecration of talismans, where one “brings to life” a particular object for it to confer some benefit, either by having a “shard” of the power of some force (like a planet) empower an object or by having a spirit come to inhabit the object.

What about thaumaturgy, and how is it different from theurgy?

Thaumaturgy (from Greek thaumatourgia “wonder-working”) is a way to describe magic in general, especially magic that is intended to create change or other paranormal phenomena in our world.  In other words, thaumaturgy is another word for most magic most people do and have done the whole world over since time immemorial.  Although some people consider theurgy to be “high magic” and thaumaturgy to be “low magic”, it should be noted that the difference between theurgy and thaumaturgy consists primarily in ends or goals, not in the means or methods; the same method one might use to raise a shade of the dead to learn where buried treasure lies may well be the same method one calls upon the presence of a god to bask in their glory in unity with them.

Are initiations involved or required in practicing Hermeticism?

“Initiation” in its literal sense indicates the beginning of something new, but in a religious context, it refers to the formal induction into a mystery, something secret that bestows some sacred or mystical power, license, experience, or knowledge, generally one protected as secret by a group dedicated to that mystery.  Importantly, an initiation is conferred upon an initiate by someone who is already initiated; it is something given, not merely taken.  In that light, although individual groups that profess Hermeticism may have their own mysteries may require initiations to access such mysteries, Hermeticism as a whole does not require them, and the very notion seems to be unknown according to the Hermetic texts.  That beings said, there are mysteries in Hermeticism, and are described as such in terms of being acts of spiritual elevation or divine ascent in order to behold divine visions.  Engaging in this work may be considered an initiation of sorts, whether or not there is one there to guide a student in such an endeavor.  It is perhaps better to consider this an initiation only when one who has already undertaken such a feat guides another in undertaking that same feat; beyond that, when one undertakes it on their own without such guidance, it might better be said to not be an initiation in the technical sense, even if it does acquaint one with a mystery of the Divine apart and away from any such group.  It’s a complicated topic to discuss, but suffice it here to say that there are often initiatory experiences involved in the higher works one undertakes in Hermeticism, whether or not one is initiated into a group by other human beings.

Is divination okay in Hermeticism?

Absolutely!  Divination is more than just “telling the future”, although it also does that, too; it is the act of approaching the gods to come to know them and what they have to say.  Not only does this fall in line with ancient practices that span the entire world, upholding old traditions of the oracles of the many gods, but it also is explicitly justified in the Hermetic texts as something legitimate we can do, so that we can know what has been, what is, and what will be.  Plus, so many forms of divination have been assigned to Hermēs Trismegistos, or even just Hermēs in the purely Greek sense, not least of which is astrology, that it’s hard to not separate out the work and study of divination from Hermeticism.

Do I need to be a vegetarian or vegan to be a Hermeticist?

At the end of the Perfect Sermon, there is a direction given by Hermēs Trismegistos to his students where they are to eat a “meal that includes no living thing” or “holy food which has no blood in it” following a prayer of thanksgiving to God.  Some interpet that this is an injunction for students of Hermēs Trismegistos to be vegetarian (or even vegan) in general, while others hold to a more limited opinion that only certain ritual meals need to be vegetarian.  It’s a good question, but there’s no one right answer.  It is known that those initiated into the Orphic and Pythagorean mystery cults were famously vegetarian as a constant ascetic practice (and also excluded certain kinds of beans due to their textural similarity to flesh), and it is also known that Egyptian priestly purity practices involved many abstinences from any number of animal products, both the eating of meat and otherwise (like the wearing of wool).  For our purposes today, while maintaining a vegetarian (or vegan, if one so chooses) diet is an excellent ascetic choice one can make, it can be agreed upon as important to abstain from consuming animal products prior to engaging in ritual and to only consume vegetarian (or vegan) food as part of ritual where ritual meals are called for, regardless whether sacrifices to the gods or spirits require meat or other animal products.

What about qabbala/kabbalah/cabala?

This term (all really the same word, just different transliterations from the Hebrew) refers to the overall mystical tradition of Judaism, which builds upon earlier Jewish traditions of hekaloth literature and merkaba mysticism along with Bablyonian and Hellenistic influence.  Although its origins ultimately lie in much earlier Jewish practices, qabbala as its own discipline only arose in the medieval period around 1200 CE.  Due to the complicated and messy history of Judaism in Europe, qabbala became integrated with non-Jewish systems of magic and mysticism, and earned central importance to magical systems like those of the Golden Dawn and Thelema.  While the study of qabbala, in its various forms and approaches, may be useful to some modern Hermeticists of various styles, it is not in and of itself Hermetic in the same sense that the Corpus Hermeticum is Hermetic, though due to the Neoplatonic and broadly Hellenistic influences upon the development of qabbala, it may be integrated with Hermetic practices.

Can I incorporate modern or non-Hermetic practices into Hermeticism?

By all means, feel free!  Considering the difficulty we have in reconstructing the practices of classical Hermeticists, to say nothing of the variety between their practices as well as the practices of various Hermeticists throughout the past 2000 years, there is plenty that can be done by us today in service to the Way of Hermēs. Just bear in mind that just because you might use a practice within a Hermetic context does not automatically make it “Hermetic”, and it is also worthy to remember the context in which such a practice arose and what its design and purpose is for.  Some things can be adapted or adopted for Hermetic ends quite neatly and nicely, other things less so, and some practices are best kept separate from Hermeticism entirely depending on their nature and purpose.

What about Franz Bardon and self-initiation into Hermeticism?

Bardon was a fantastic modern 20th century occultist from what is now the Czech Republic, whose works like Initiation Into Hermetics, The Practice of Magical Evocation, and The Key to the True Kabbalah are well-regarded to this day.  However, despite the name, Initiation Into Hermetics has little to do with Hermeticism proper; despite the frequent discussion of things he calls “hermetic”, he only ever cites Hermēs Trismegistos once, and that’s for his usual “as above, so below” bit from the Emerald Tablet.  By and large, what Bardon calls “Hermetics” is roughly what people think of today as “ceremonial magic”, the usual mixture of post-Renaissance magical theory, Solomonic goetic approaches to spirit interaction, European developments of kabbalah, and importations of Eastern/Orientalizing notions of energy/energy work/energy systems.  In many ways, Bardon’s approach can be considered a parallel development of the same modern European tradition of magic that gave rise to the Golden Dawn.  As such, it can certainly be adapted and adopted within a properly Hermetic context, should the student of Bardon so choose.

Will Hermeticism make me powerful, give me spells to get laid, etc.?

Sigh.  Technically yes, and I won’t deny that a fundamental drive for magic is the drive to get laid and get paid, but we’re also here to recognize that there’s more to life than just power, sex, money, and the like.  There’s magic, and then there’s magic for Hermetic ends, and while the same spell can be used for a Hermetic end as well as a non-Hermetic end, there’s a reason greed and lust are outlined as “irrational torments of matter” that we’re meant to purge ourselves from.  Let’s try to be a little more mature in the future, yes?