Hermes Trismegistus and Arabian Heritage

Over just a few hundred years of their rule over Egypt, Christians somehow managed to destroy all Egyptian temples, annihilate Hellenic tradition, suppress pagan cults and close all schools of mysticism. The cult of Hermes Trismegistus also went underground and Hermetic priests and masters were forced to hide to survive. Even though it seemed like that Christianity was successful in rooting out hermetism, its tradition managed to survive both in Egypt and elsewhere until today.

When more tolerant Arabians conquered Egypt in 640, their scholars started searching for surviving hermetic scripts as a part of their aspiration to explore and preserve Hellenic heritage.

Hermes was not mentioned in the Koran but the first Islamic Hermetists identified him with Idris who is mentioned in the Islamic Holy Book twice (sura 19.57 i 21.85). Idris appears in the Koran as a prophet who was elevated to a very high place by Allah. Islamic philosophers found Idris to be an illuminated philosopher and some of them called him Hermes.

Arab mystics thought that there had been three Hermeses. The oldest Hermes lived in Egypt before the great flood and taught people about astrology, medicine and poetry. He predicted the flood, so he built up the pyramids to preserve the knowledge inside. The second Hermes was from Babylon. He restored the ancient knowledge and developed medicine, mathematics and philosophy. Third Hermes (Hirmis) lived in Egypt where he performed magic, alchemy and other secret knowledge. Asclaepius was said to be one of his many students.

Amazed by the pyramids, some Arabian philosophers linked them with the third Hermes, and gave them the name after him (pyramid-hirmis in Arabian).

Khalid Ibn Yazid (about 650) met the first Hermes, the one who had built the pyramides before the great flood. Hermes appeared to him in his lucid moments as an old and very benevolent man dressed in white and with a book in his hand. The old man confirmed to him that he was Hermes Trismegistus. The book in his hand consisted of the knowledge that he hides from people. He ordered Yazid to remember well what he sees and reads so that he would be able to describe it to other people.

Sabians from north Messopotamia announced around 830 Hermes Trismegistus for their prophet and hermetic scriptures for holly books. Supported by open-minded Muslim rulers, they established their capital in Haran which they transformed into the center of philosophy, medicine and mysticism. They translated and interpreted works of old Greek philosophers and spread culture all around the Arabian world, especially in Bagdad. However, when the rulers from Baghdad introduced strict Islamic orthodoxy, they had to hide their teachings and to change Hermes for Mohammad. They survived until 1258 when Mongolians destroyed their last temple.

The most famous Sabian philosopher Thabit ibn Qurra (836-901), reformed Ptolemy system, founded statics, published a few works on the Sun, performed alchemy and developed algebra and geometry.

The Sabian is also the ”Book of Alexander’s Treasure” (10th century) with instructions how to make ring talismans of Moon, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

The influential Arabic grimmoir ”Picatrix” (X-XI century) underlines that Hermes was a benevolent priest, philosopher and magician. He was the first one to make statues finding a way how to control with them the Nile related to the movements of the Moon. ”Picatrix” aslo tells that Hermes knew how to become invisible and that he founded the magnificent Solar Temple and the city of Adocentyn, in Eastern Egypt, 12 miles in length and with four gates: at the Eastern gate was Eagle; at the Western gate was Ox, at the Southern gate was Lion, and at the Northern gate was Dog. The four figures of the animals could talk. Nobody could enter into the city without their permission. He also planted trees in the city center, and one of them was so large that it bore the fruit for all generations to come. Close to the tree, there was a light-tower which lit the city in seven different colors for each different day. Close to the city there was also a lake with many fish.

Tabula Smaragdina with its famous hermetic axiom ”as above, so below” and its secret of the Great Work was first mentioned in the Arabian literature. It was described in the ”Book of the Secrets of Creations and the Art of Nature, written between 650 and 830. It was also observed in the ”The Secret of all Secrets” (Kitab sirr al-asrar), an encyclopedia from 10th century about ethics, physiognomy, astrology, alchemy and magic.

What happened with Emerald Table is not so sure. It is not preserved, but hermetists believe that it really existed. It was also said to reappear from time to time, just to be forgotten again. Apollonius from Tiana evoked once Hermes Trismegistus who appeared together with Emerald Table. ”Book of Alexander’s Treasure” confirms this story but adds that it had been also discovered by Aristotle, Alexander the Great and some Arabian officers when they captured Amorium in 838.

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