The Monistic Theory

by Nhân Tử Nguyễn Văn Thọ

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Chapter 9

Hermes Trismegistus and the Monistic Theory


What sort of man was this Hermes Trismegistus thought to be? Was he a god or a man? If some of the Hermetic writers had been asked this question, he would, I think, have answered in some such way as this: "Hermes was a man like you and me - a man who lived in Egypt a very long time ago, in the time of King Ammon . But he was a man who attained to gnosis (that is to say, knowledge of God, but a kind of "knowledge" that involves union with God); and he was the first and greatest teacher of gnosis. He died as other men die; and after death he became a god, just as you and I, if we attain to gnosis, will become gods after our death." [1]

Some believe that he is only a legendary man, preceding even the first 'great initiate' of recorded history, Pythagoras. "It is true that the legendary Egyptian founder of magic, Hermes Trismegistus ('Thrice Greatest Hermes', 'Hermes the Thrice-Greatest') is supposed to have preceded him (Pythagoras); but it is doubtful whether Hermes actually existed (the Egyptians identified him with the God Thoth, who gave men the art of writing) and the documents relating to him belong to the post-Christian era. Pythagoras was born about 570 B.C.- a remarkable era, for it was at about this time that the Buddha was born in India, and Confucius and Lao-Tzu in China. [2]

Vergilius says that 'Hermes Trismegistus was an Egyptian by race... He flourished before the time of Pharaoh, as many chronographi think. Some, among whom is Cicero, suppose that he is the person whom the Egyptians called Thoth... He must, therefore, have lived before Pharaoh, and consequently, before Moses also.

'They say that this Hermes left his own country, and traveled all over the world...and that he tried to teach men to revere and worship one God alone... and he lived a very wise and pious life, occupied in intellectual contemplation, and giving no heed to the gross things of the material world; and that, having returned to his own country, he wrote at that time many books of philosophy and theology. Among these writings, there are two of special importance: the one is called Asclepius, and the other, Poimandres.' [3]

Most people believe that he was the Egyptian God, Thoth - the equivalent of Hermes in Greek, and is the God of Wisdom or the God of Gnosis, giving to whom who possess it, the true knowledge of himself, and of God, permitting him to be regenerated, and to be united with God. Thoth was "the scribe of the gods," "Lord of divine words" and to Hermes was attributed the authorship of all the strictly sacred books generally called by Greek authors Hermetic, Hermetic writings, or Hermetica. Hermes-Thoth was one of the gods to whom men turned for a divinely revealed wisdom.

The works ascribed to Hermes Trismegistus were primarily on astrology; to these were later added treatises on medicine, alchemy (the Emerald tablet, a favorite source for medieval alchemists) and magic. The underlying concept of astrology - that the cosmos constituted a unity and that all parts of it were interdependent- was basic also to other occult sciences...The aim of Hermetism, like that of Gnosticism (a contemporary religious-philosophical movement) was the deification of man through the knowledge (gnosis) of the one transcendental God, the world, and men.

The theological writings are represented by the 17 treatises of the Corpus Hermeticum, by extensive fragments in the writings of Stobaeus, and by a Latin translation of the Asclepius, and of the Poimandres. [4]

The Hermetic writings, in fact, present a fusion of Eastern religious elements with Platonic, Stoic and Neo-Pythagorean philosophies.

I present here a summary of the Poimandres, of the Asclepius (some excerpts of it) and a study of the Emerald Tablet.

The Poimandres

The Poimandres records what The Spirit has taught Hermes, before his illumination. It teaches that man must conquer his passions.

The Asclepius

It contains the teachings that Hermes gave to his disciple, Asclepius. It teaches that man must know his real Self, and how to be united with God. An illuminated man sees that God is in his heart, that he has come from the Godhead by EMANATION, and contains in himself the force that governs this world, that he must be united with God and with all the elements composing this world. He knows also that everything, by a different way, will be united with God. [5]

Excerpts from Asclepius

Trism.- How quickly, Asclepius, you have lost your hold on the true doctrine! Have I not told you this before, that ALL THINGS ARE ONE, AND THE ONE IS ALL THINGS, seeing that all things were in the Creator before he created them all? And rightly has it been said of him that he is all things; for all things are part of him. Throughout our discussion then, be careful to remember him, the One who is all things - him who is the creator of all things. [6]

...This whole, then, which is made up of all things, or is all things, consists, as you have heard me say before, of soul and corporeal substance. Soul and corporeal substance together are embraced by nature, and are by nature's working kept in movement; and by this movement, the manifold qualities of all things that take shape are made to differ among themselves, in such sort that there come into existence individual things of infinitely numerous forms, by reason of the differences of their qualities, and yet all individuals are united to the whole; so that we see that the whole is one, and of the one are all things. The elements through which all matter has been indued with form are four in number, - fire, water, earth and air; but matter is one, soul is one, and God is one. [7]

...For inasmuch as all things hang on the One, and flow from the One, we think indeed that they are many when we look at them apart, but when we regard them as united, we hold them to be one.

This sensible Kosmos, then, is the recipient of all the sensible forms or qualities of bodies; and all bodies can receive life only from God. For God is all things; from him are all things; and all things are dependent on his will, and on his inimitable wisdom. And this whole sum of things is good and beautiful, and is apprehensible by sense and thought to God alone. Without God nothing has been or is or will be; from God and in God and through God are all things - all the various and multiform qualities, the vast and measureless magnitudes, and the forms of every aspect. [8]

For I deem it impossible that he who is the maker of the universe in all its greatness, the Father and Master of all things, can be named by a single name, though it be made up of ever so many others; I hold that he is nameless, or rather, that all names are names of him. For he in his unity is all things; so that we must either call all things by his names, or call him by the names of all things. [9]

The divine forces are, so to speak, radiations emitted by God; the forces that work birth and growth are radiations emitted by the Kosmos; the arts and crafts are radiations emitted by man... There is nothing more divine than mind, nothing more potent in its operation, nothing more apt to unite men to gods, and gods to men. Mind is 'the good daemon'; blessed is the soul that is filled with mind, and ill-fated is the soul that is devoid of it. [10]

By these excerpts, I have demonstrated that Hermes Trismegistus is conforming to the Monistic Theory, the essence of which is that all phenomena come by emanations, from the One, and if so, we are part of the One. In that case, our self must turn from the unreal world of sense in which it is normally immersed, first to apprehend, then to unite itself with Absolute Reality, that is the One. In other words, we are to see the human mind advance from the mere perception of phenomena, through the intuition -with occasional contact- of the Absolute, under its aspect of Divine Transcendence, to the entire realization of, and union with, Absolute Life under its aspect of Divine Immanence. Therefore, the Monistic Theory is always linked with Mysticism, and the completed mystical life, then, is more than intuitional: It is theopathetic. In the old, frank language of the mystics, it is the deified life.

The Emerald Tablet

The Emerald Tablet is a very succinct document, and is very hard to understand. It contains 12 verses. First, I give the readers, a translation of it, from a French document.

1. It is true, without lie, very reliable.

2. As above, so below, as below, so above, to realize the miracles of One thing.

3. And as everything was and has come from the One, so everything is born in this One from adaptation.

4. The sun is its father, the moon, its mother, the wind has carried it in its bosom, and the earth is its wet-nurse.

5. The father of all, the "Thelem" is here. Its strength is entire if it is converted into Earth.

6. You will separate the Earth from the Fire, the Subtle from the Dense, softly with great dexterity.

7. It ascends from the Earth to the sky, and over again, it descends to Earth and it receives strength from things superior and inferior.

8. You will have by this way all the glory of this world and all darkness will be removed from you.

9. It is the strength reinforced of all strength, because it will defeat everything subtle and will penetrate everything solid.

10. So the world has been created.

11. And from that will be and will come out innumerable adaptations, the means of which is here.

12. Therefore, I am called Hermes Trismegistus, having the three parts of the philosophy of this world. [11]


Here is an English version of The Emerald Tablet

1. It is true, without falsehood, and most real;

2. That which is above is like that which is below, to perpetrate the miracles of One thing.

3. And as all things have been derived from One, by the thought of One, so all things are born from this thing, by adaptation.

4. The Sun is its Father, the Moon is its Mother. Wind has carried it in its belly, the Earth is its nurse.

5. Here is the father of every perfection in the world. His strength and power are absolute when changed into earth.

6. Thou wilt separate the earth from fire, the subtle from the gross, gently and with care.

7. It ascends from earth to heaven, and descends again to earth to receive the power of the superior and the inferior thing.

8. By this means, thou will have the glory of the world. And because of this, all obscurity will flee from thee.

9. Within this is the power, most powerful of all powers power. For it will overcome all subtle things, and penetrate every solid thing.

10. Thus the world was created.

11. From this will be, and will emerge, admirable adaptations of which the means are here.

12. And for this reason, I am called Hermes Trismegistus, having the three parts of the philosophy of the world. What I have said of the Sun's operations is accomplished. [12]


Essay of interpretation of the Emerald tablet, based on the Monistic Theory

1. It is true, without falsehood, and most real that:

2. This world is created on the same model. The above is like the below, and vice-versa to illustrate this mystery that all is one.

3. This world has been created from one same Substance, from one same Cause.

4. The One begets the world, with the collaboration of the whole environment.

5. The One can be called "Thelem".

6. To improve himself, man must know how to distill the Subtle from the Dense, how to become pure.

7. One must take profit from the two sides of the generating force of this world, that is the Extrovertive side and the Introvertive side.

8. Knowing how to improve himself, one can conquer glory.

9. The result will be the going back to the One, to the Source of the Life .

10. In sum, this world has been created

11. By emanations, and by adaptation from One Substance.

12. Understanding this, is to understand the sky, man and the earth.


Albert Pike comments on Tablet of Emerald as follows:

'Nothing surpasses and nothing equals, as a Summary of all the doctrines of the Old World, those brief words engraved by Hermes on a stone, and known under the name of "The Tablet of Emerald: "The Unity of Being and the Unity of the Harmonies, ascending and descending, the progressive and proportional scale of the Word; the immutable law of the Equilibrium, and the proportioned progress of the universal analogies; the relation of the Idea to the Word, giving the measure of the relation between the Creator and the Created, the necessary mathematics of the Infinite, proved by the measures of a single corner of the Finite; - all this is expressed by this single proposition of the Great Egyptian Hierophant:

"What is Superior is as that which is Inferior, and what is Below is as that which is Above, to form the Marvels of the Unity." [13]

From this short synopsis we can learn:

1. Hermes Trismegistus is declared to be the first man attaining to Gnosis, even before Pythagoras.

2. A Gnostic should know that he has God in himself, that he is of the same nature with God.

3. He must know that he emanates from this Original Stuff.

4. He must conform himself to Him who will receive everything back to Him.

5. He must know that all men are divine, that the world is divine.


[1] Hermetica, Vol. 1: Introduction, Text, and Translation, Edited and translated by Walter Scott, Shambhala, Boston, 1985, Introduction, p. 6.

[2] The Occult, Colin Wilson, 1973, Vintage Books Edition, p. 192.

[3] Hermetica, Edited and translated by Walter Scott, 1982, Shambhala, Boston, 1985, p. 33.

[4] Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1929, Article Hermes Trismegistus, p. 505, and Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1979 Article Hermetic writings p. 1049.

[5] En attendant, l'initié trouve Dieu en soi-même. Il sait qu'il est émané de cette Unité absolue; qu'il porte en soi une parcelle de cette force qui régit les mondes. Il sait que son devoir est de se rendre le plus possible conforme à ce Dieu qui doit l'accueillir et s'unir par avance à lui, avec toutes les êtres dont la palpitation commune est comme un vaste coeur tout plein de sa presence... Pour l'Egyptien, tous les êtres, par divers chemins, tendent vers un même but: devenir Osiris, c'est-à-dire un Dieu, une parcelle consciente et divine du Tout divin.

Henri Durville, La Science sécrète, p. 179.

Dictionnaire des Religions, E. Royston Pike, Presses Universitaires de France, 1954. Article Hermetisme p. 148.

[6]  Hermetica, Asclepius I, Edited and translated by Walter Scott, Shambhala, Boston 1985, p. 289.

[7] Ib, p. 291.

[8] Ibid. p. 327.

[9] Ib. Asclepius III, p. 333.

[10] Corpus Hermeticum, Libellus X, p. 203.

[11] Table d'emeraude.

1. Il est vrai, sans mensonge, très veritable.

2. Ce qui est en bas est comme ce qui est en haut, ce qui est en haut est comme ce qui est en bas pour faire des miracles d'une seule chose.

3. Et comme toutes choses ont été et sont venues d'Un, ainsi toutes choses sont nées dans cette Chose Unique par adaptation.

4. Le soleil en est le père, la lune en est la mère, le vent l'a porte dans son ventre, la terre est sa nourrice.

5. Le père de Tout, le Theleme est ici. Sa force est entière si elle est convertie en Terre.

6. Tu sépareras la Terre du Feu, le subtil de l'épais, doucement avec grande industrie.

7. Il monte de la Terre au Ciel et derechef, il descend en Terre et il recoit la force des choses supérieures et inférieures.

8. Tu auras par ce moyen toute la gloire du monde et toute obscurité s'éloignera de toi.

9. C'est la force forte de toute force, car elle vaincra toute chose subtile et pénétra toute chose solide.

10. Ainsi le monde a été créé.

11. De ceci seront et sortiront d'innombrables adaptations desquelles le moyen est ici.

12. C'est pourquoi, j'ai été appalé Hermes Trismegiste ayant les trois parties de la philosophie du monde.

Marianne Verneuil, Dictionnaire pratique des Sciences Occultes, Les Documents d'Art Monaco, 1950, p. 383-384.

[12] Zolar, The Encyclopedia of Ancient and Forbidden Knowledge, Nash Publishing, Los Angeles, 1970, p. 162.

[13] Morals and Dogma of Freemasonry,Albert Pike, Charleston, A. M. 5632, 1871, p. 324.

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