Hermetic Individuation: The Way Of Hermes and The Rite of Rebirth
There are only a handful of surviving texts that describe what could be termed true “rites of passage” along the Way of Hermes. One such text—which contains what many consider the essential Hermetic experience—is CH 13, also known as The Rebirth . The text is presented as a fictional dialogue as Hermes leads his young son Tat in the rebirth experience. Recent scholarship strongly indicates that senior members of Hermetic communities could have served in the role of “ Hermes” in overseeing the rites by which pupils progressed into new states of awareness. It is possible then that the two surviving Hermetic texts describing initiatory events— The Rebirth and the Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth —may represent fictional, idealized models for rites of passage.
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12 Avengers of Matter
Garth Fowden (1993:109) describes the Hermetic rebirth experience as “ liberation from fate and materiality ” and “ a radical re-ordering of the initiate’s constitution and perceptions ”. These are all factors of a single interconnected process, since—as detailed earlier—the Hermetic conception of “Fate” is bondage to the drives and desires of the physical body, which blind the individual to the inner archetypal Self. In CH 13, these lower instincts are the “12 Avengers of Matter”: ignorance, grief, incontinence, lust, injustice, greed, deceit, envy, treachery, anger, recklessness, and malice. As in other Hermetic texts, the oppressive lower drives that imprison the essential Self are connected by invisible bonds to heavenly bodies, and in the case of the 12 Tormentors it is the 12 Signs of the Zodiac, an attribution related to the belief mentioned earlier that the Zodiacal circle contributed to the formation of the embodied human in the descent of the soul into the realm of matter.
A depiction of the Ogdoad (Eight Primordial deities) from a Roman era relief at the Hathor temple in Dendera in which some have frog heads and others have serpent heads. ( Olaf Tausch / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Although the astrological influences at work in the cosmos are cast in a negative light in CH 13, it should be emphasized that this is purely a reflection of the particular stage of progress of the initiate at this point, and not an indication of any “evil” cosmological ontology. The Hermetica generally consider the celestials to be neutral, serving to connect the soul with the body in the descent from on high, in accordance with the will of a transcendent and beneficent God (Bull 2018:285-286).
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Jason Jarrell is co-author of Ages of the Giants: A Cultural History of the Tall Ones in Prehistoric America , available from LuLu.com. His website is https://www.paradigmcollision.com/
Top Image: Die Seelen am Acheron by Adolf Hiremy Hirschl ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )