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Christian Rebisse, F.R.C.

From Rosicrucian History and Mysteries

Q
uestions have often arisen regarding him, this idea of a primordial revelation, of
the origins of Rosicrucianism. which Egypt was the cradle, would have
Although a consensus of researchers considerable repercussions.
places its historical beginnings in the Our intention is not to describe Egyptian
seventeenth century, we are of the opinion esotericism in full, but rather to indicate how
that the genesis of this movement dates from this heritage was transmitted. The route
much farther back. Such was the belief of the connecting Egypt to the West is long and
German alchemist Michael Maier. In his offers a varied landscape. We will not discuss
work Silentium Post Clamores (1617), he all of its details, because this description
described Rosicrucianism as would occupy an entire
having arisen from the volume. However, certain
Egyptians, the Brahmans, the salient points will allow us to
mysteries of Eleusis and understand Rosicrucian origins.
Samothrace, the Magi of While engaging in this
Persia, the Pythagoreans, and undertaking it is necessary to
the Arabs. Several years after follow a trustworthy guide, and
the publication of the Fama Hermes appears to be the
Fraternitatis (1614) and the character most noted in the
Confessio Fraternitatis (1615), ancient writings. Indeed, the
Irenaeus Agnostus, in Clypeum history and myths relating to
veritatis (The Shield of Truth, this individual are particularly
1618), felt no hesitation in rich in information concerning
declaring Adam to be the first our purpose at hand.
representative of the Order.
Michael Maier, Symbola Since antiquity, Egypt’s
The Rosicrucian manifestos a u re a e m e n s a e d u o d e c i m
civilization has been much
likewise made reference to the nationum, 1617.
admired. Its mystery schools,
same source: “Our philosophy
which acted both as universities and
has nothing new in it; it conforms to what
monasteries, were the guardians of its wisdom.
Adam inherited after the Fall, and what
These schools experienced a distinctive
Moses and Solomon practiced.”1
flowering under the rule of Akhnaton (1353–
The Primordial Tradition 1336 BCE), especially after he introduced the
Adam, Egypt, Persia, the Greek sages, concept of monotheism. The Egyptian
and the Arabs were conjured up for good religion is particularly intriguing because of
reason by Michael Maier. He alluded to a its mysterious cults. Although Hermes had
concept that was very widespread before the some of his origins in Egypt, in the god
coming of Rosicrucianism. This concept— Thoth, he was primarily a Greek god. He was
the Primordial Tradition—first appeared in the son of Zeus and of the nymph Maia. The
the Renaissance,2 especially after the Greeks considered him the god of shepherds,
Rosicrucian rediscovery of the Corpus Hermeticum, a thieves, merchants, and travelers. He was also
Digest
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group of mysterious texts attributed to an the inventor of astronomy, weights and
2007 Egyptian priest, Hermes Trismegistus. From measures, the musical scale, the art of
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gymnastics, and the cultivation of olive trees. In the New Kingdom (1540–1075 BCE),
Most of all he was the messenger of Zeus and Akhnaton (1353–1336 BCE) abolished the
the shepherd who guided the dead toward the ancient pantheon when instituting the
world of Hades. His attributes were a cult of Aton. Even so, Thoth preserved
caduceus and winged sandals. certain prerogatives during the pharaoh’s
In the Egyptian pantheon, Thoth enjoyed reign. After the disappearance of the founder
a special illustriousness. He was shown as an of Egyptian monotheism, Thoth regained
ibis-headed man or as a baboon (cf. the Book his qualities of all-knowing sage and the
of the Dead). Equipped with a palette, reed, teacher of secrets. During this period,
and papyrus, he was always ready to transcribe writings of an occult character became
the words of Re. He was the very epitome of important. This is undoubtedly why H.
a scribe; he was described as the inventor of Spencer Lewis regarded Amosis, the pharaoh
hieroglyphs. Thoth was the protector of who introduced this period, as being the
scribes, the teacher of medicine, astronomy, organizer of the school of initiates that later
and the arts. He knew the secrets of magic; he gave rise to the Rose Cross. Moreover, he
was the initiator. On the statue of Amenhotep, thought Hermes was a sage contemporary
son of Hapu, a high official and favorite of with Akhnaton. The occult knowledge of the
Amenhotep III (ca. 1360 BCE), it is written: Egyptians was considered secret. It was
“. . . but into the divine book, I have been transmitted by “houses of life,” sometimes
initiated. Of Thoth, I have seen glory, and called “mystery schools.”
among mystery, I introduced myself.” The opinions of the specialists are divided
In a period as far distant as the Old regarding the importance of occultism and
Kingdom (2705–2180 BCE), Thoth was magic in the time of the pharaohs. Erik
already described as the messenger of the Hornung, an Egyptologist at the University of
gods, a characteristic he preserved when Basel, feels that too many historians have taken
passing into the Greek world in the guise of an overly positivist approach regarding this
Hermes. In his capacity of judge, he stood matter. He declares that it is “undeniable that
between Seth and Horus. He was the at the beginning of the New Kingdom, at the
protector of the eye of Horus. latest, a spiritual climate propitious to the
emergence of Hermetic wisdom dominated.”
In the Middle Kingdom (1987–1640 Emphasizing the important role of Jan
BCE), he personified wisdom. He was Assmann, who concentrated on this subject
particularly honored in Hermopolis, and the while studying the Rameside period, he added
priests of this city attributed to him the Book of that at present “there prevail conditions much
the Two Ways, a text which described the voyage more favorable to the discovery of
to the afterlife. The inscriptions found in the Hermeticism’s possible Egyptian roots.”3
sarcophagi of this period also mention a “divine
book of Thoth.” At the beginning of this In the Late Kingdom (664–332 BCE),
period, Thoth appeared as the writer of sacred Thoth was considered to be the teacher of
writings, the all-knowing teacher, the one who magic. A stele calls him “twice great,” and he
knew the secret magical rites. It is also reported is presented sometimes as “thrice (very)
that the sacred texts were found at the foot of great,” or even “five times great” (cf. the
his statue. This symbolic theme is found much Story of Setne). In the Ptolemaic period, the
later in the story describing the discovery of the Greeks and Romans were fascinated by
tomb of Hermes Trismegistus by Apollonius of Hermopolis and its cult of Thoth. There
Tyana. In the Book of the Dead, Thoth plays developed at this time an original synthesis
the role of judge when weighing the heart of between the Egyptian civilization and the
the deceased. Hellenistic culture.
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The Greeks and Egypt Plutarch (ca. 50–ca. 125 CE) later remarked
Considerable evidence relates to the that the Orphic and Bacchic mysteries were
relationships between the sages of Greece and really of Egyptian and Pythagorean origin.
of Egypt. In the fifth century BCE Herodotus Diodorus also reported on the travels of Solon
visited Egypt and conversed with the priests. In and of Thales of Miletus (624–548 BCE),
his history he discusses the Osirian mysteries who visited the priests and measured the
celebrated at Sais. For him, the mysteries of pyramids. Plutarch declared that Thales
Greece owed much to Egypt. Comparing the brought Egyptian geometry back to Greece.
Greek and Egyptian pantheons, he observed Diodorus also claimed that Thales urged
that certain divinities of his country had their Pythagoras to go to Egypt, and it was in this
origins among the pharaohs. country that the latter conceived the concept
There existed a strong tradition which of the migration of souls. Iamblichus later
claimed that the great sages of ancient Greece added that Pythagoras had studied in the
obtained knowledge from their Egyptian Egyptian temples for twenty-two years, and,
teachers. It was claimed that many among after having received this training, he
them were initiated into the mysteries, thus established his own school in Crotona, Italy,
assuring the transmission of Egyptian learning and he taught what he had learned in the
into the Greek world. Among them Herodotus Egyptian mystery schools. Finally, Diodorus
spoke only of Solon (ca. 640–558 BCE). In reported that in the fifth century Democritus
Timaeus and the Critias Plato (427–347 BCE), (ca. 460–370 BCE), discoverer of the atom,
who himself had gone to Egypt and remained was taught by the geometers of the pharaoh,
there three years, spoke of the discussions that and then initiated in the Egyptian temples.
Solon had with the Egyptian priests. In One of Plato’s followers, Eudoxus of
The Republic, he also emphasized the prestige Cnidus (ca. 405–355 BCE), a mathematician
of the Egyptian priests. Furthermore, and geometer, also made the voyage to the
he mentioned Thoth in the Phaedrus. Isocrates, land of the Nile. While there, he was initiated
a contemporary of Plato, made Egypt the source on both the scientific and spiritual levels. Pliny
of philosophy and indicated that Pythagoras specified that he would report in his country
went there to be instructed. Apollonius of some important astronomical knowledge, as
Rhodes (295–ca.230 BCE) claimed that those which related to the exact duration of
Hermes, by way of his son Aithalides, was the the year (3651⁄4 days). His hypothesis of
direct ancestor of Pythagoras. homocentric spheres constituted the point of
Diodorus Siculus (80–20 BCE) provided departure of traditional astronomy. Plutarch, a
the greatest amount of information member of the sacerdotal college of Apollo in
concerning the influence of Egypt upon the Delphi, where he was high priest, also sought
sages of Greece. He based this partly upon knowledge along the banks of the Nile.
what he had gathered in his encounters with While there, he was initiated by Clea, a
the Egyptian priests, and partly upon the priestess of Isis and Osiris. In his book Isis
Aegyptiaca, a work by Hecataeus of Abdera. and Osiris, Plutarch spoke of the “works
called Books of Hermes” and emphasized the
Diodorus stated first of all that Orpheus
importance of Egyptian astrology. He also
traveled to Egypt and was initiated into the
reported that many authorities declared Isis to
Osirian mysteries. After returning to his
be the daughter of Hermes.
homeland around the sixth century BCE, he
instituted new rites that were called the Thoth-Hermes
Rosicrucian
Orphic mysteries. Diodorus also stated that In drawing a parallel between Zoroaster
Digest rites observed in Eleusis by the Athenians and Moses, Diodorus introduced a concept
No. 1 were similar to those of the Egyptians. that would be in considerable vogue in the
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Renaissance, where he spoke of a philosophia ancient tradition. However, we should note
perennis transmitted by way of the great sages that alchemy already existed in China and
from the beginnings of time. Beginning in India. Among the Alexandrian alchemists,
the second century BCE, the Greeks claimed Bolos of Mendes (100 BCE) was a notable
that Thoth had for a son Agathodemon, who figure, often being described as the founder of
himself had engendered a son named Hermes. Greco-Egyptian alchemy.
The latter, considered to be the second In 30 BCE, Alexandria became the
Hermes, was called Trismegistus—that is, capital of the Roman province of Egypt. The
“Thrice-greatest.” Thus, in the third century Romans assimilated the Greco-Egyptian
CE the Greeks adopted Thoth, giving him Hermes with Mercury, their god of commerce
the name of Hermes and describing him as and travelers. Mercury-Hermes was the
Trismegistus—“Thrice-greatest.” messenger of the gods, the conductor, or
As Thoth was the teacher of speech and guide of souls. Rome rapidly adopted Egypt
writing, it was natural that the Greeks made and its cults.
him the father of Homer, their greatest poet. The Corpus Hermeticum
In the third century CE, Heliodorus indicated Three centuries before the Christian era,
that Homer was the son of Hermes and an texts that are now called the Hermetica—
Egyptian priest’s daughter. Eventually each because their authorship is attributed to
era added some detail, and little by little was Hermes Trismegistus—began to take shape.
forged the concept which stated that Egypt This literature expanded considerably from
was the source of wisdom and knowledge. the first century BCE, and in the Nile Delta
Alexandria region the composition of the Hermetica
With the conquest of Egypt by Alexander continued until the third century CE.
the Great in 333 BCE, the assimilation of the Written in Greek, an Egyptian form of
Egyptian culture by the Greek world was esotericism is quite apparent. Clement of
accelerated. The focus of this activity occurred Alexandria (ca. 150–ca. 220 CE) spoke of
in the city of Alexandria, founded in 331 BCE, the forty-two books of Hermes which the
where the waters of the Nile mixed with those Egyptians carried about in their ceremonies.
of the Mediterranean. A crossroads of Egyptian, Iamblichus attributed 20,000 books to
Jewish, Greek, and Christian cultures, it acted Hermes, whereas Seleucus and Manetho
over the centuries as the intellectual center of mentioned about 36,525.
the eastern Mediterranean. Therapeutae, The most celebrated, written between the
Gnostics, and various other mystical first and third centuries CE, are the seventeen
movements developed around this city. Its tracts which were gathered together under the
library, enriched by more than 50,000 volumes, title of Corpus Hermeticum.4 They are
gathered together all of the knowledge of the composed primarily of dialogues between
era. Alexandria was also the crucible where Hermes, his son Tat, and Asclepius. The first
Greco-Egyptian alchemy flourished. of these treatises, Poemandres, discusses the
The city gave birth to a new science in creation of the world.
the form of alchemy, a continuation of The Asclepius is also an important text as
ancient Egyptian practices that was it describes the religion of the Egyptians and
transformed and revived by Greek thought. the magical rites they practiced for attracting
Its originality consisted of offering a concrete cosmic powers meant to animate the statues
and universal discipline free from the grasp of of the gods. Finally, the fragments of Stobaeus
religion. Hermes Trismegistus, represented by constitute the third group of the Hermetica.
Alexandrian alchemists as being the founder These are composed of thirty-nine texts and
of this art, became the new transmitter of the consist of dialogues between Isis and Horus

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regarding the creation of the world and the Ovid (43–17/18 BCE) saw things in a more
origin of souls. These texts, generally flattering light. The cult of Isis was tolerated in
attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, claim to Rome, and Nero (37–66 CE) introduced
be translated from the Egyptian. In truth, some Isiac feast days in the Roman calendar.
they contain few authentic Egyptian elements. Marcus Aurelius (161–180 CE) constructed a
They are essentially characterized by Greek temple for the Egyptian Hermes.
philosophy, but also by Judaism and In the second century CE the Pax
Zoroastrianism. They do not compose a Romana established peace throughout the
coherent whole and present numerous Mediterranean world. In this era, we find a
doctrinal contradictions. veritable passion for past civilizations: the
Pax Romana Hindus, Persians, Chaldeans, and above all
Among the Greeks the influence of Egypt the Egyptians. Fascinated by Egyptian
was felt primarily through its literature, but temples that were still in operation, rich
among the Romans the influence took a Romans flocked to the land of the pharaohs.
different twist. The latter were not content to Apuleius, a Latin writer intrigued by the
travel to the land of the pharaohs. In 30 BCE, mysteries, also went there. In The Golden Ass
after the suicide of Cleopatra and the conquest he described for us the Egyptian mysteries in
of Egypt by Octavian, the country became a his colorful manner.
Roman province. At the beginning of the first Alchemy, Magic, and Astrology
century CE the Romans controlled the Nile Along with alchemy, magic and astrology
valley. They embraced its culture, and the assumed greater importance. Claudius Ptolemy
emperor was compared to a pharaoh. The (ca. 90–ca.168 CE), a Greek living in
conquerors adopted certain rites of the land Alexandria, wrote the Tetrabiblos, a treatise that
they had taken, and the cult of Isis found a codified all the principles of Greek astrology
home in Rome. (with Egyptian and Chaldean influences):
Rome adopted Egyptian architecture. signs, houses, aspects, elements. Ptolemy was
Even now we can admire one of the last not merely an astrologer, he was also an
remnants of this era, the pyramid of Caius astronomer to whom we owe geocentrism and
Cestius. Another, now vanished, was erected the theory of the epicycles which dominated
in the necropolis of the Vatican. The city also science until the seventeenth century CE. It
bristled with numerous obelisks taken from was Ptolemy who transmitted Greek
Karnak, Heliopolis, and Sais. Visitors to astronomical knowledge to the West. Clement
Rome may still admire more than ten of of Alexandria (ca. 150–ca. 213 CE), a Greek
them. The existence of an Isiac college is church father, drew in his Stromateis a portrait
attested around 80 BCE. By 105 BCE a of the Egyptian astrologers of his time who
temple consecrated to the worship of Isis was always had to be ready to recite the four
located in Pompeii. The Iseum in the Campus astrological books of Hermes.
Martius, which included a temple dedicated Olympiodorus (fifth or sixth century CE)
to Isis and Serapis, remained the most presented alchemy as a sacerdotal art practiced
important evidence of the presence of by the Egyptians. The Leiden and Stockholm
Egyptian cults among the Romans. papyri (second century CE) depict the
But the encounter of the two religions did metallurgical procedures as effectively being
not pass smoothly, and Caesar barely favored linked to magical formulas.5 In the third
the gods of Egypt. Virgil (70–19 BCE) and century CE, Zosimos of Panopolis settled
Rosicrucian Horace (65–8 BCE) described the battle of down in Alexandria so as to dedicate himself
Digest monstrous divinities, as Anubis brandished his to alchemy. The first well-known alchemical
No. 1 arms against Neptune, Venus, and Minerva. author, he bestowed upon this science his
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concepts and symbolism. But his alchemical many controversies that marked the
writings do not simply revolve around beginnings of this religion newly imposed by
laboratory work; they also discuss the Constantine. In the third century CE, the
transformations of the soul and entail a Egyptians abandoned hieroglyphs and
mystical quest. Alchemy expanded so greatly adopted the Coptic script for transcribing
in the third century CE that Emperor their language. The Copts adapted the secret
Diocletian, disturbed by a possible devaluation knowledge of the pharaohs to Christianity.
of precious metals, promulgated an edict Soon afterwards, Emperor Theodosius
prohibiting the practice and condemning promulgated an edict against non-Christian
alchemical texts to the flames. cults, thus marking the end of the Egyptian
Neoplatonism clergy and their ceremonies.
Neoplatonists were considerably The Christians Before Hermes
interested in Egypt. Iamblichus (ca. 240– Christianity, which began to gain in
ca. 325 CE), who was initiated into the influence, was not unaware of Hermes. In the
Chaldean, Egyptian, and Syrian rites, is an middle of the second century CE a kind of
enigmatic individual. Some extraordinary Christian Hermes appeared in the pages of a
powers were attributed to the “divine book entitled The Shepherd, whose author
Iamblichus,” the head of a Neoplatonist was said to be Hermas.7 It is a Roman work
school. While in prayer, his body was said to in which Hermas, the “messenger of penance
rise more than ten cubits from the earth, and and penitent,” took the form of a prophet.
his skin and clothing were bathed in a The Shepherd is an apocalyptic work in which
beautiful golden light. all the conventions of
Egypt held a chosen the genre are found.
spot in his writings. In In the early Church
De Mysteriis (On the Jesus is often presented
Egyptian Mysteries),6 as a shepherd, a role
Iamblichus presented that is also attributed
himself in the guise of to Hermes. Yet in this
Abammon, a master instance it is not
of the Egyptian Jesus that Hermes
sacerdotal hierarchy designates, but the
and an interpreter of “angel of the penance.”
Hermetic teachings. Considered for a long
He also promoted Alembics and vases for digestion, in Synosius, a Greek time to be an integral
theurgy and Egyptian alchemical manuscript (National Library, Paris), taken from part of the canonical
divinatory practices. A Collection des anciens alchimistes grecs. (Collection of Ancient scriptures, The Shepherd
Greek Alchemists), by M. Berthelot.
little later, another passed to the status of
Neoplatonist, Proclus apocryphal scripture at
(412–485 CE), also strongly affected by the beginning of the fourth century.
theurgy, believed himself to be part of the The Church fathers generally loved to
“chain of Hermes.” He had great influence on delve into mythology so as to disclose the
Sufism and on such Christian thinkers as beginnings of the Gospel. Hermes
Johannes Scotus Erigena, Meister Eckhart, Trismegistus continued to garner respect
and many others. among them. Lactantius (250–325 CE), in
Nevertheless, this era saw Egypt fading his Divinarum Institutionum (Divine
away before an ever-expanding Christianity. Institutions), saw Christian truth formulated
Alexandria played an important role in the before the advent of Christianity in the

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Corpus Hermeticum. He placed Hermes disappearing by the sixth century CE, and the
Trismegistus in the first rank of Gentile Arabs now took up the torch.
prophets who foresaw the coming of Christ. The Sabaeans
St. Augustine (354–430 CE), the Father Alexandria was seized by the Arabs in 642
of the Church, in his City of God, a CE, a date which marks an end to this city’s
fundamental treatise of Christian theology, days of glory. However, the conquest of this
made Hermes a descendent of God. He had city was not the Arabs’ first encounter with
read the Asclepius in the translation by esotericism. Rather, they had been aware of
Apuleius of Madaura, but even though he Hermes long before this time. For example,
admired Hermes Trismegistus, he rejected the they had learned from the Sabaeans,
magic revealed in this work. Clement of inhabitants of the mythical kingdom of
Alexandria liked to compare Hermes-Logos Sheba, which was supposed to be a place of
to the Christ-Logos. earthly paradise. In ancient times it was also
Emperor Julian the Apostate (361–363 called Arabia Felix (Happy Arabia) and was
CE), the nephew of Constantine, attempted said to be the land of the phoenix. Centuries
a brief return to the worship of the mysteries. later Christian Rosenkreuz was supposed to
He enacted measures against Christians have visited the area so as to gather together
and restored paganism. Influenced by the marvelous knowledge deposited there.
Neoplatonism, he extolled ancient theurgy. The Bible states that the queen of this land,
This return was brief, however, and by 387 CE the queen of Sheba, visited King Solomon.
the Christian patriarch Theophilus undertook Although the location of her land was not
the destruction of the Egyptian temples with specified in the Old Testament, the Koran
the idea of transforming them into places of indicates that it was in southern Arabia
Christian worship. Nonetheless, on the island (modern-day Yemen).
of Philae an Egyptian temple continued to
The Sabaeans were notable astrologers,
function. It was not closed until 551 CE, by
and Maimonides indicated that this
order of Emperor Justinian.
knowledge assumed a predominant role
It will be noted that the Egyptian temples among them. Tradition claims that the magi
remained active between the first and sixth who greeted Christ came from this legendary
centuries CE—that is, during the period land. The Sabaeans possessed both the
which covers the composition of the Hermetic alchemical writings and the Corpus
Hermetica. It is often remarked that these Hermeticum. Being knowledgeable in such
texts are pessimistic regarding the future of subjects, it is they who introduced science
the Egyptian religion, which leads us to think into Islam, although they themselves evolved
that they were written in an Egyptian setting on the fringes of this religion.
by a priestly class. Fragments from the
Egyptian wisdom may repose in the The Sabaeans claimed to have originated
Hermetica, but they are expressed in an with Hermes to whom they dedicated a special
indirect fashion, having been submitted to cult. They produced some books whose contents,
the process of Hellenization. they claimed, had been revealed by Hermes,
such as the Risalat fi’n-nafs (Letter about the
Alexandria had been the starting point Soul) and the Liturgical Institutions of Hermes by
where Egyptian teachings entered the Greek Thabit ibn Qurrah, an eminent figure of
and Roman worlds. It was where the ancient Sabaeanism in Baghdad (ca. 836–901 CE).
tradition was reformulated by way of alchemy,
astrology, and magic. This point of departure, Idris-Hermes
Rosicrucian
Digest after having scattered such wisdom into a The seventh century CE signaled the
No. 1 greater portion of the East, was already beginnings of Islam. Although the Koran did
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not make any reference to Hermes, the are born from this one thing by
hagiographers of Islam’s early centuries dispensation and union. Its father is the
identified the prophet Idris, mentioned in the sun, its mother is the moon, the wind
Koran, with Hermes and Enoch. This carries it in its belly, its nurse is the
assimilation helped to link Islam with Greco- earth. This is the father of all perfection
Egyptian traditions. In Islam, Idris-Hermes is in this whole world. Its power is perfect
described as both a prophet and a timeless when it is changed into earth; so you
personage. He is sometimes compared to al- should separate the earth from the fire,
Khadir,8 the mysterious intermediary and and the subtle from the thick or gross
sage who initiated Moses and who plays a but lovingly with great understanding
fundamental role in Sufism as a manifestation and discretion. It ascends from earth to
of the personal guide. heaven and from heaven again to earth
Abu-Ma’shar, an eighth century CE and receives again the power of the
Persian astrologer who became celebrated in Above and the Below. Thus you will
Europe by the name of Albumazar, drew up have the splendor of the whole world.
an account tracing the genealogy of Hermes. All lack of understanding and lack of
This text, which had immense influence in ability will leave you. This is of all
the Islamic world, distinguished three power the most powerful power, for it
successive Hermes. The first, Hermes Major, can overcome all subtlety and can
lived before the Flood. Identified with Thoth, penetrate all that is solid. Thus was the
he is described as the civilizer of humanity, as world created. Thus many rare
he had the pyramids constructed and engraved combinations originated, and wonders
the sacred hieroglyphs for future generations. are wrought, of which this is the way to
The second Hermes lived in Babylonia after work. And thus I am called
the Flood; he was a master of medicine, Trismegistus, having the three parts of
philosophy, and mathematics. He was also the the wisdom of the whole world. All
initiator of Pythagoras. Finally, the third that I have said concerning the work of
Hermes is described as having continued his the sun is fulfilled.9
predecessors’ work of civilizing society. As a This work is attributed to Apollonius
master of occult knowledge, he transmitted of Tyana, a philosopher and thaumaturgist
alchemy to humanity. of the first century CE. As Julius Ruska has
The Emerald Tablet shown, the text comes to us through the
In the same era there appeared the Emerald translation composed by Sagiyus, a
Tablet, a text which assumed an important Christian priest of Nablus. It appears in
place in the tradition. The oldest known Kitab Sirr Al-Haliqa (The Secret Book of
version, in Arabic, dates from the sixth century Creation) by Balinus (the Arabic translation
CE. Many are those who cite this text without of the name Apollonius).10
really knowing it; therefore, we feel that it In this book, Apollonius relates how he
would be useful to present it in its entirety. discovered the tomb of Hermes. He claims to
True, without falsehood, certain and have found in this sepulcher an old man,
most true, that which is below is like seated on a throne, holding an emerald-
that which is above, and that which is colored tablet upon which appeared the text
above is like that which is below for of the famed Emerald Tablet. Before him was
accomplishing the wonder of the one a book explaining the secrets of the creation of
thing. As all things are created from beings and the knowledge of the causes for all
one, by the will and command of the things. This narrative would recur much later
one United who created it, so all things in the Fama Fraternitatis.

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Arab Alchemy through Spain and profoundly affected
The role of the Arabs as transmitters of the Latin West.
alchemy to the West in the Middle Ages is Magic and Astrology
generally well known. They also left us with a Magic also occupied a central position in
vocabulary distinctive to this art (al kemia, Arab spirituality. Islam made use of magical
chemistry; al tanur, athanor; etc.). Yet Islam’s letters, much like the Hebrew Qabalah, for
role is not simply limited to that of penetrating the Koran’s secrets. Moreover, Arab
transmission, as the Arabs conceptualized it magic, which Christian Rosenkreuz informed
in a form which, afterwards, was to assert us much later was none too pure, encompassed
itself everywhere.11 Their alchemy was not a wide range: astrology, medicine, talismans,
only an art of the laboratory, it was also meant etc. Astrology was ever-present in the Islamic
to unveil the hidden laws of Creation, and it world. Although suspect due to its pagan
comprised a mystic and philosophical origins, it developed significantly from the
dimension. Although Arab alchemy claimed eighth century, when the Tetrabiblos of Ptolemy
to be of Egyptian origin, its practice occurred was translated into Arabic.
after the Arab conquest of Egypt in 639 CE. Astrology, in the era of al-Mansur, the
They received Greek alchemy through the second Abbassid caliph (754–775 CE), was
Syrians, but their first masters in this art were not only indebted to the Greeks, but also
the Persians, who had inherited the came under the influence of the Hindus,
Mesopotamian esoteric traditions. Syrian Christians, Judeo-Arameans, and
The first known Arab alchemist, the undoubtedly the Essenes. In general, the
Ummayad prince Khalid ibn Yazid (?– various esoteric teachings played a
704 CE), was initiated by Morienus, a fundamental role in Islam, particularly
Christian of Alexandria. Within a short in the Shi’ite environment, as shown by
time alchemy spread throughout the Henry Corbin.12 It is easy to understand why
Islamic world and the Greek treatises Christian Rosenkreuz came to the Arab lands
were quickly translated. The most to gather the essential elements from which
illustrious figure of Arab alchemy was he was to construct the Rosicrucian Order.
Jabir ibn Hayyan (died ca. 815 CE), Eastern Theosophy
known in the Western world as Geber. Around the ninth century ibn-Wahshiya,
He advanced the fundamental concepts in a treatise entitled The Knowledge of the
of the great work, and his reflections led Occult Unveiled,13 presented many occult
to a spiritual alchemy on a grand scale. alphabets attributed to Hermes. He also
He is also credited with numerous made reference to the four classes of
discoveries in alchemy. Egyptian priests descended from Hermes.
The Jabirian Corpus is said to contain Those who belonged to the third class—that
more than 3,000 treatises, most of which is, the children of Hermes Trismegistus’
are apocryphal. They were probably the sister—he called Ishraqiyun (“of the East”).
work of a school which formed around his Some years later, Sohravardi (?–1191), one of
teachings. Arab alchemy had many the greatest Islamic mystics of Persia, revived
masters, of whom we will mention only a the expression Ishraqiyun (signifying “Eastern
few: abu-Bakr Muhammad ibn-Zakariya’, theosophists”) to describe the masters who
called al-Razi or Rhazes (850–923 CE); had experienced Illumination. Philosophy
Muhammad ibn-Umail al-Tamimi, called and the mystical experience were inseparable
Rosicrucian Zadith the Elder (tenth century); abd in his mind, and in his Book of Oriental
Digest Allah al-Jaldaki (fourteenth century). Wisdom14 he described the chain of past
No. 1 Before long their texts penetrated Europe initiates, the Eastern theosophists.
2007
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For him this experience was tied to and astrology) constitute essential elements
Hermes, whom he made the ancestor, the of traditional esotericism and have traversed
father of the sages. These ecstatic philosophers, many civilizations. Nonetheless, the latter
described as the “Pillars of Wisdom,” were have always considered Egypt to be the
Plato, Empedocles, Pythagoras, Zoroaster, Mother of all traditions. In the Middle Ages,
and Mohammed. What makes Sohravardi this ancient heritage penetrated the West,
particularly interesting is that, in contrast to and by the time of the Renaissance it took
the authors we have discussed until now, he on a new aspect in constituting what is
did not seek to establish a historical human generally called “Western esotericism.” It
filiation between Hermes and the sages of the then developed in a special way so as to
different traditions, but a celestial initiatory reach a critical threshold on the brink of the
filiation based on inner experiences. publication of the Rosicrucian manifestos.
The heritage left by Hermes Trismegistus
is manifold. Its treasures (alchemy, magic,

1 Bernard Gorceix, La Bible des Rose-Croix, traduction et Ralph Manheim (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969); and
commentaire des trois premiers écrits rosicruciens (1614-1615-1616) Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn
(Paris: PUF, 1970), 17. ‘Arabi, with a new Preface by Harold Bloom (Princeton, NJ:
2 Antoine Faivre, Accès de l’ésotérisme occidental (Paris: Gallimard, Princeton University Press, 1998).
1986), 33. English edition: Access to Western Esotericism, vol. 1 9 Translation from the Latin Vulgate of the 14th century. Variants
(Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994); and Theosophy, of this text (in Arab, Latin, and French) may be found, along with
Imagination, Tradition: Studies in Western Esotericism, vol. 2 Hortulanus’ Commentary (Hortulanus, 14th century) and a
(Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000). translation of Apollonius of Tyana’s Book of the Secret of Creation
3 Erik Hornung. L’Égypte ésotérisme, le savoir occulte des Égyptiens et (Pseudo-Apollonius of Tyana, Kitab Sirr al-khaliqah), in Hermes
son influence en Occident (Monaco: Éditions du Rocher, 2001), 27. Trismegistus, La Table d’Émeraude et sa tradition alchimique, with
English edition: The Secret Lore of Egypt: Its Impact on the West Preface by Didier Kahn (Paris: Les Belles Lettes, 1994). English
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002). edition of Hortulanus: The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus,
4 Hermes Trismegistus, trans. André-Jean Festugière, vols. 1-4 including the Commentary of Hortulanus, trans. Patrick J. Smith,
(Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1946-1954). See also A.-J. Festugière, La Alchemical Studies Series 5 (Edmonds, WA: The Alchemical Press
Révélation d’Hermès Trismégiste, vol. 1, “L’astrologie et les sciences - Holmes Publishing, 1997).
10 Julius Ruska, Tabula Smaragdina, Ein Beitrag zur Geschiche der
occultes;” vol. 2, “Le Dieu cosmique;” vol. 3, “Les doctrines de
l’âme, le Dieu inconnu de la gnose” (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, hermetischen Literatur (Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1926). Concerning
1950). English editions of the Hermetica include: Hermetica: the this text see also Françoise Hudry, “De Secretis Naturae du PS. –
Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius in a new English Apollonius de Tyane, traduction latine par Hugues de Santala du
Translation, trans. Brian P. Copenhaver (Cambridge: Cambridge Kitab Sirr Al-Haliqa,” Chrysopoeia of the Société d’étude de l’histoire
University Press, 1995); The Way of Hermes, trans. Clement de l’alchimie: Cinq traités alchimiques médiévaux: Ps.-Apollonius de
Salaman et al. (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2000); and Tyane (Balinus): De secretis naturae (Kitab sirr al-haliqa); Ps.-Arnaud
Hermetica, ed. and trans. Walter Scott, 4 vols. (New York: de Villeneuve: De secretis naturae; Flos florum (Le livre de Roussinus);
Shambala, 1985). Valerand du Bois-Robert: Epître à Madame de Bourgogne; Epître à
5 Regarding the Greek alchemists, see Marcellin Berthelot, Maître Abraham (Paris: S.E.H.A.; Milan: Archè, 2000); Chrysopoeia
Collection des anciens alchimistes grecs (Paris: G. Steinheil, 1887– Tome 6, 1997-1999, with Notes and Introduction by Sylvain
1888). Regarding the history of alchemy, see Robert Halleux, Les Matton, 1-20; and Hermes Trismegistus, La Table d’Émeraude, with
Textes alchimiques (Turhout, Belgium: Brépols, 1979). Preface by Didier Kahn (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1994).
6 11 Pierre Lory, Alchimie et mystique en terre d’Islam (Lagrasse:
Iamblichus, Les Mystères d’Egypte, ed. and trans. Édouard des
Places, S.J., Correspondant de l’Institut (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, Verdier, 1989). Concerning this subject also see Georges C.
1966). English edition: Iamblichus, On The Mysteries, trans. Emma Anawati, “L’alchimie arabe,” and Robert Halleux, “La reception de
C. Clarke et al. (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003.) l’alchimie arabe en Occident,” in Historie des sciences arabes, t. III,
7 Technologie, alchimie et sciences de la vie, under the direction of
Hermas, Le Pasteur, with Introduction and Notes by Robert Joly
Rashed Roshdi, Paris, Le Seuil, (1997): 111-141 and 143-154.
(Paris: Éditions du Cerf, coll. “Sources chrétiennes,” no. 53 bis,
12 Henry Corbin, En Islam iranien (Paris: Gallimard, 1971).
1997). English edition: Carolyn Osiek, Shepherd of Hermas: A
Commentary (Hermeneia: A Critical and Historical Commentary on 13 La Magie arabe traditionnelle, with Preface by Sylvain Matton
the Bible), ed. Helmut Koester (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999). (Paris: Retz, coll. “Bibliotheca Hermetica,” 1977).
8 Corbin, Henry, L’Imagination créatrice dans le soufisme d’Ibn 14 Sohravardi (Suhrawardi, Yahyá ibn Habash), Le Livre de la
Arabî (Paris: Aubier, 1993), 32, 49-59, 73, and 77. English Sagesse orientale, ed. Christian Jamet, trans. Henry Corbin
editions: Creative imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi, trans. (Lagrasse: Verdier, 1986).

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