Thrice-Greatest Hermes, Vol. 1

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With this we may very well compare the group of three made so familiar to us by the Evangelists--the three who were always with the Master in the most intimate moments of His inner life and exaltation--James, John and Peter.

Now, if the reader will refer to my notes on the last paragraph of Hippolytus' Introduction to the Naassene document, he will see that Clement of Alexandria expressly asserts that:

"The Lord imparted the Gnosis to James the Just, to John and Peter, after His Resurrection; these delivered it to the rest of the Apostles, and they to the Seventy."


Here I would suggest that we have a similarity of conception. Asclepius is the main subsequent teacher, even as James is, in Christian tradition; Peter is the organiser, to whom the rulership over the Church is given--he represents the king-power, and may be equated with Ammon; while John is the Beloved even as is Tat.

John understands the spirit of the teaching best of all; James is more learned on the formal side; while Peter is the organiser, and in many an apocryphal story is made to display lack of control and want of understanding.

A most interesting scrap of Johannine tradition will throw some further light on the fact that John succeeded to the spiritual directorship, even as Tat, in our sermons, succeeds to Trismegistus.

This scrap is an addition to John xvii. 26, from a Codex of the Fourth Gospel, preserved in the Archives of the Templars of St John of Jerusalem in Paris: [*1]

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"Ye have heard what I said unto you: I am not of this world, the Comforter is among you, teach through the Comforter. As the Father has sent Me, even so send I you. Amen, I say unto you, I am not of this world; but John shall be your father, till he shall go with Me into Paradise. And He anointed them with the Holy Spirit."

So also in an addition to John xix. 26-30, we read:

"He saith to His mother, Weep not; I go to My Father and to Eternal Life. Behold thy son! He will keep My place. Then saith He to the disciple, Behold thy mother! Then bowing His head He gave up the Ghost."

Here then at the Supreme Crisis the Master constitutes John the spiritual Father of the School in His place. So is it with Tat.


The idea of triads and other groups (e.g. of five and seven) united in the Presence of a Master, is familiar to the student of Druidical mysticism. In our "Perfect Sermon" we have such a triad, each disciple distinguished by strongly-marked characteristics; the tuning of these into one harmony, so that, to use another and a familiar simile, the disciples may be as the fingers of one hand, for the Master's use, is a matter of enormous difficulty. One is characterised by Power, another by Knowledge, and another by Love. All three must sink their individually strongest characteristic in a supreme sacrifice, where all blend together into the Wisdom of the Master. This seems to me to be the inner purport of our "Perfect Sermon," and whatever may be the history of the evolution of the

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forms of the literature, the eternal fact of the nature of the intimate teaching of the Christ to the Three was known to our writer.


Let us now turn to the type of Trismegistic literature in which Osiris and Isis came forward as disciples; and first of all let us take a glance at the God Chnum, Chnubis, or Chnuphis (Knuphis), whose name occurs in so many of the Abraxas and Abraxoid gems.

Chnum was for Southern Egypt precisely what Ptah of Memphis was for Northern Egypt. He was the Fashioner of men, even as a potter makes pots on a wheel. Chnum was Demiurge and God of the heart. The chief centre of his cult was at Syene and the Island of Elephantine. Here he was regarded as the Father of Osiris. And so we hear of astrological dialogues between Chnum and Osiris, as, for instance, when we are told:

"And all that Kouphis, who is with them [the Egyptians], the Good Daimon, handed on, and his disciple Osiris philosophized." [*1]

These writings were grouped with those of Nechepso, and also with our Trismegistic writings. Compare the passage in Firmicus Maternus which runs:

"All things which Mercurius (Hermes) and Chnubis [?] handed on to Aesculapius (Asclepius), which Petosiris discovered and Nechepso." [*2]

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The Patristic references to our Trismegistic literature further imform us that Osiris was regarded as the disciple of Agathodaimon, who in them bears the name of Thrice-greatest. [*1] There is, however, nothing to show that Hermes himself appears in them as the disciple of Chnubis, as Reitzenstein says (p. 126). The introductory phrase of Lactantius to Frag. xix. runs: "But I [L.] will call to mind the words of Hermes the Thrice-greatest; in the 'To Asclepius' he says: 'Osiris said: How, then, O thou Thrice-greatest, [thou] Good Daimon, did Earth in its entirety appear?'"

Here we have a sermon of Hermes quoting from a tradition in which Osiris appears as the disciple of Agathodaimon, who is also called Trismegistus; that is, the Agathodaimon-Osiris Dialogue type was old, and presumably pertained to one of the earliest forms of the Trismegistic literature, probably contemporary with the most ancient Poemandres type. This type seems to have borne impressions of the form of the "Books of the Chaldaeans" type of cosmogenesis, which we have seen to have strongly influenced Petosiris and Nechepso in the early second century B.C.

Agathodaimon is to Osiris as Poemandres to Hermes.


So also in the early Alchemical literature there is a treatise of Agathodaimon addressed to Osiris, and in it others are presupposed. [*2] These Alchemical teachings of the Good Daimon are frequently in close contact with

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our Trismegistic doctrines; moreover, in the same literature, Hermes refers to Agathodaimon and appears to regard himself as his disciple. [*1] It thus may be supposed that it was from Chnum that was originally derived the tradition of the Agathodaimonites. So thinks Reitzenstein; but I do not think that we have sufficient evidence as yet for so general a conclusion. The term Agathodaimon is a very general one, it is true, but the whole idea cannot be refunded into Chnum; in fact, Osiris is quite as much Agathodaimon as Chnum, and in C. H., xii. (xiii.), which deals with the General Mind, Good Mind, or Good Daimon, Agathodaimon is taken in the most general sense, and in the three quotations there made by Hermes from the "Sayings of the Good Daimon" ( section section 1, 8, 13), [*2] we find that they are in the words of Heracleitus as inspired by the Logos; so that in reality Agathodaimon must be equated with Logos. The origin of Agathodaimon is then not solely Chnum; and Hermes therefore cannot be spoken of as the disciple of Chnubis, unless we can cite texts in which Thoth is so described.

In our Trismegistic literature the teaching is quite simple and distinct; as, for instance, in C. H., x. (xi.) 23: "He [Mind] is the Good Daimon."

When, however, Reitzenstein (p. 128) declares that the sentence in  section 25 of the same sermon, "For this cause can a man dare say that man on earth is God subject to death, while God in heaven is man from death immune," [*3] is a saying belonging to the

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[paragraph continues] Chnuphis-literature, we think he is going beyond the limits of probable conjecture, unless we substitute for Chnuphis the general term Agathodaimon in the sense of Logos.

When again Reitzenstein (p. 129) says that the fragments he has adduced show that Hermes was a later addition in the Agathodaimon-literature, and gradually pushed on one side Osiris the Son of the God of Revelation, we are not convinced that we have correctly recovered the "history"--for in the great Osiris-myth it is Hermes who is always the teacher of wisdom and not Osiris.


Nevertheless that a wide-spread Chnuphis-literature, in the Agathodaimonistic sense, existed prior to the second century B.C., Reitzenstein has shown by a number of interesting quotations (pp. 129-133). In Hellenistic times the worship of Chnuphis as the Primal Deity and God of Revelation was strongly established, and, most interesting of all for us, his symbol was the serpent. The symbol, then, of Agathodaimon as Logos was the Serpent of Wisdom, and we are in contact with the line of tradition of the Gnostic Ophites and Naassenes. And so also in Ptolemaic times we find his syzygy, Isis, also symbolised as a serpent, and both of them frequently as serpents with human heads; they are both "as wise as serpents." And as Horus was their son, so we find the hawk-headed symbol of that God united with a serpent body. So also we find Agathodaimon, in his sun-aspect, symbolised as a serpent with a lion's head. [*1] He is the Aeon.

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In addition to the types of Hermes and his disciples, and Agathodaimon and his disciples, we have also in our Trismegistic literature another type--namely, Isis and her disciples. Isis is the ancient Lady of all wisdom, and Teacher of all magic. In the early Hellenistic period she is substituted for Hermes as Orderer of the cosmos, [*1] while Plutarch calls her Lady of the Heart and Tongue even as is Hermes. [*2] She "sees" the teaching.

As her disciple, she has in the Stobaean Ex. xxxi. [*3] a king, probably King Ammon.

In a Magic Papyrus she even appears as teacher of Asclepius. [*4] But the more usual and natural type is that of Isis as teacher of her son Horus, and so we find Lucian speaking of Pythagoras visiting Egypt to learn wisdom of her prophets, and saying that the sage of Samos descended into the adyta and learned the Books of Horus and Isis. [*5] To this type of literature belongs our lengthy Stobaean Exx. xxv.-xxvii.

But in all of this Isis owes her wisdom to face to face instruction by the most ancient Hermes, with whom she gets into contact through spiritual vision. All this I have discussed in the Commentaries to Exx. xxv.-xxvii.; the conclusion being that to the mind of the Poemandrists, no matter how ancient might be any line of tradition, whether of Agathodaimon or Osiris or Isis, the direct teaching of the Mind transcended it.


^460:1 See Maspero, op. cit., p. 80. Which of the numerous opp. citt. of Maspero's this may be is not clear from Budge's reference.

^460:2 Cf. Brugsch, Thesaurus, p. 783; Religion, p. 527. Sethe, Imhotep, 1903--so Budge; but, more accurately, Sethe (K.), Untersuchungen zur Geschichte und Altertumskunde Agyptens, ii. 4 ("Imhotep, der Asklepios der Agypter").

^461:1 For Asclepius among the Greeks, see Thraemer's article "Asklepios" in Reseller's Lex. d. . . . Mythologie (Leipzig, 1884-1900), i. 615-641; also the "Cornell Studies in Classical Philosophy," No. III., The Cult of Asklepios, by Alice Walton, Ph.D. (Ithaca, N.Y., U.S.A., 1894).

^462:1 Wessely, Denkschr. d. K. K. Akad. (1893), p. 38, 11. 550 ff.; Kenyon, Cat. of Gk. Pap., p. 102.

^462:2 Griffith, in Zeitschr. f. ag. Sprache (1900), p. 90.

^462:3 According to Manetho; see Muller, Manetho Fragm., 4.

^463:1 Teephibis. Cf. Catal. Cod. Astral. Graec., i. 167: "Hermes Phibi the Thrice-greatest." Sethe (op. sup. cit.) would equate this Teephibis with Hermes of Thebes, in connection with the statement of Clement of Alexandria (Strom., I. xxi. 134): "Of those, too, who once lived as men among the Egyptians, but who have been made Gods by human opinion, are Hermes of Thebes and Asclepius of Memphis." If this is correct, we have our Trismegistus nourishing as Teephibis at the end of the second century B.C. But there seems to my mind to be nothing definite in Sethe's contention.

^464:1 There is also an older and younger Isis in the K. K. extracts, and also in both these and in P. S. A. an older and younger Asclepius.

^464:2 R. (p. 119) has "des Kaisers Antonius"; but I know of no Emperor so called. The first years of Antoninus Pius would be 138-139 A.D.

^464:3 Pap. du Louvre, 19 bis, Notices et Extraits, xviii. 2, 136.

^465:1 Riess, Fr. 25.

^465:2 Cory, An. Frags., p. 100. Budge, A History of Egypt (London, 1902), i. 218.

^465:3 Reise zum Tempel des Jupiter Ammon, pp. 296 ff.

^466:1 A rock inscription found on the cataract island Sehel. R., p. 129.

^467:1 R., p. 124. Cf. Sethe, Aegyptiaca, Festschrift fur G. Ebers, pp. 106 ff.

^467:2 Ammian. Marc., xxii. 14. 7; Vit, Hil., 21.

^468:1 "Christianity in the Light of Historical Science," in The Examiner (London), Oct. 21, 1905, pp. 668 ff.

^470:1 Cod. Antinori 101, fol. 361.

^471:1 Probably our C. H. (xvi.).

^471:2 Camerarius, Astrologica (Nurnberg, 1537); Hermetis Iatromath., ed. Hoeschel (1597); Ideler, Physici et Medici Graeci Minores, i. 387 and 430. Iatromathematici were those who practised medicine in conjunction with astrology, as was done in Egypt (Procl., Paraph. Ptol., p. 24).

^472:1 Diodor., I. 15, 16.

^473:1 Brugsch, Religion u. Myth. d. alt. Ag., p. 451.

^473:2 Op. sup. cit., ibid.

^474:1 Published by Wilcken in the "Festschrift fur Ebers," pp. 142 ff.

^475:1 Given by Thilo, Codex Apocryphus Novi Testamenti (Leipzig, 1832), p. 880. Cf. Pick (B.), The Extra-Canonical Life of Christ (New York, 1903), p. 279.

^477:1 Cramer, Anecd. Ox., iii. 171, 20.

^477:2 Fir. Mat., iv. prooem. 5 (Skutsch and Kroll, p. 196, 21). The "and Chnubis" is the emendation of R. for the unintelligible letters "einhnusuix."

^478:1 Cf. Lactantius Fragg., xiv., xix., xxi., xxii.

^478:2 Berthelot, Les Alchimistes grecs, Texte, p. 268.

^479:1 Op. cit., pp. 125, 156-263.

^479:2 We meet with a similar collection of Sayings, or Summaries of the chief points of teaching, in the Stobaean Ex. i. 7 ff., belonging to the Tat-literature, and also in (C. H., x. (xi.), xiv. (xv.), and (xvi.).

^479:3 A very similar phrase occurs in Dio Cassius, Fr. 30; i. 87, ed. Boiss.

^480:1 See the Nechepso Fragment 29 (Riess, p. 379).

^481:1 R., Zwei relig. Frag., 104 ff.

^481:2 De Is. et Os., xlviii.

^481:3 With heading: "Of Hermes from the [Sermon] of Isis to Horus."

^481:4 Wessely, Denkschr. d. K. K. Akad. (1893), p. 41, 1. 633.

^481:5 Alectruon, 18.

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