Hermes Trismegistus

Hermes Trismegistus in Ancient Greek is known as Hermes the Thrice Greatest and in classical Latin is known as Mercurius ter Maximus. In the Hellensitic period, which is recognised as the time spanning from the death of Alexander The Great to the birth of the Roman Empire, including the conquest of Ptolemaic Egypt, Hermes Trismegistus originated as a combination of the Greek God Hermes and the Egyptian God Thoth. He is also the attributed author of the Hermetica, which forms the basis of the philosophical belief systems known as Hermeticism.

The knowledge attributed to Hermes Trismegistus in antiquity, combined wisdom of both the material world and the spiritual world, which made the writings associated with him greatly relevant to those interested in the correlation between the physical realm and the spirit realm. References to Hermes Trismegistus can also be found in Islamic and Baháʼí writings and associations with the prophet Idris.

Epithet Confusion

Egyptian – Hermes

The Egyptian priest Imhotep, meaning ‘One who comes in Peace’, was recognised for his in-depth knowledge spanning many subjects and was sanctified albeit long after his death. Comparable to Thoth in the Classical Period and subsequent Hellenistic period he was placed in a shrine dedicated to Thoth. The renowned scribe Amenhotep and a wise man named Teôs were also deities and considered equals in their knowledge of science, medicine and other accumulated wisdom and so they too were placed alongside Imhotep in shrines dedicated to Thoth–Hermes during the Ptolemaic Kingdom. In the Temple of Khemenu, which was known as the Hermopolis in Greece, Greeks in the Ancient Greek Kingdom in Egypt, accepted the identity of Hermes and Thoth as one.

In Mycenaean Greek – the oldest form of Greek language, reference to a deity or semi-deity called ti-ri-se-ro-e – Tris Hḗrōs‘thrice’ or ‘triple hero’, was found on two Linear B clay tablets at Pylos – historically known as Navarino, and could possibly be connected to the later epithet ‘Thrice Great’ Trismegistos, applied to Hermes-Thoth.

On the PY Tn 316 Tablet, as well as other Linear B Tablets found in Pylos, Knossos, and Thebes, there appears the name of the deity ‘Hermes’ as e-ma-ha, though not in any obvious connection with the ‘Trisheros’. This interpretation of poorly understood Mycenaean language is disputed however, since Hermes Trismegistus is not referenced in any of the vast sources before he emerged in Hellenistic Egypt and this is significant as to the true identity of Hermes.

Cicero specifies several deities that are referred to as “Hermes”:

A “fourth Mercury (Hermes) was the son of the Nile, whose name may not be spoken by the Egyptians”; and “the fifth, who is worshiped by the people of Pheneus {in Arcadia – a region in the central Peloponnese}, is said to have killed Argus Panoptes, {the many eyed giant} and for this reason to have fled to Egypt, and to have given the Egyptians their laws and alphabet: he it is whom the Egyptians call Theyt {Thoth}.

The most likely interpretation of this passage is as two variants on the same syncretism of Greek Hermes and Egyptian Thoth (or sometimes other gods):

  • ‘the fourth’ (where Hermes turns out “actually” to have been a “son of the Nile,” i.e. a native god) being viewed from the Egyptian perspective,
  • ‘the fifth’ (who went from Greece to Egypt) being viewed from the Greek-Arcadian perspective.

Both of these early references and most ancient material by Cicero, is from the early centuries AD, and corroborate the view that Thrice-Great Hermes originated in Hellenistic Egypt through syncretism between Greek and Egyptian gods.

The Hermetica refer most often to Thoth and Amun.1 The Hermetica literature among the Egyptians, which was concerned with conjuring spirits and animating statues, inform the oldest Hellenistic writings on Greco-Babylonian astrology and on the newly developed practice of alchemy.2 

Gnostic – Hermeticism

In a parallel tradition, Hermetic philosophy rationalized and systematized religious cult practices and offered the adept a means of personal ascension from the constraints of physical being.

This latter tradition is seemingly what has led to the confusion of Hermeticism with Gnosticism, which was developing at the same time.3

The historian Garth Fowden asserts that the first datable occurrences of the usage of ‘thrice great’ are in the Legatio of Athenagoras of Athens and in a fragment from Philo of Byblos around 61-141 BC.4 However, in a later work, Copenhaver reports that the epithet, or usage of the term ‘thrice great’, is first found in the minutes of a meeting of the council of the Ibis cult, held in 172 BC near Memphis in Egypt.5 However Hart discerns that the epithet is derived from the reference to Thoth found at the Temple of Esna, stating ‘Thoth the great, the great, the great.’6

Then there were the Gnostic usage and meaning of the same term. Many Christian writers, including Lactantius, Augustine, Marsilio Ficino, Campanella, and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, all considered Hermes Trismegistus to be a wise pagan prophet who foresaw the coming of ‘Christianity’. 7 They believed in the Prisca Theologia’ which is a single theology present throughout all religions. That this was ‘given by God to man in antiquity’ and passed through a line of prophets including Zoroaster and Plato. Thus in order to demonstrate the authenticity of the ‘Prisca Theologia’, Christians allocated the Hermetic teachings in line with their own agenda. By their account, Hermes Trismegistus was either around at the same time as Moses, or the third in a line of men named Hermes, relating specifically to; Enoch, Noah, and the Egyptian priest king referred to as Hermes Trismegistus and attributed to being ‘the greatest priest and philosopher’.

However this title has since been evidenced as being applied in error. The Suda is made up of 30,000 entries from ancient sources and forms the 10th century Byzantine Encyclopedia of the Ancient Mediterranean World. Explanations sourced from the Suda state that Hermes was named Trismegistus on account of his praise of the Trinity and saying ‘there is one divine nature in the trinity.’


The ‘hermetic tradition’ refers to alchemy, magic, astrology, and related subjects. The texts of the Hermetica are usually divided into two categories as the Philosophical and the Technical, with the former mainly dealing with the theory, and the latter with the practical application of magic, potions, and alchemy. According to this tradition, the expression ‘hermetically sealed’ comes from the alchemical procedure to make the Philosopher’s Stone, requiring a mixture of materials to be placed in a glass vessel and sealed by fusing the neck closed in the procedure known as the Seal of Hermes.

More Confusion

Hermes was also heavily associated with Astrology, particularly by the influential Islamic astrologer Abu Ma’shar al-Balkhi. According to the account of this Persian astrologer, Idris-Hermes was termed “Thrice-Wise” Hermes Trismegistus because he had a threefold origin. The first Hermes, comparable to Thoth, was a “civilizing hero”, an initiator into the mysteries of the divine science and wisdom that animate the world; he carved the principles of this sacred science in hieroglyphs. The second Hermes, in Babylon, was the initiator of Pythagoras. The third Hermes was the first teacher of alchemy.

During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance Periods, the ‘Hermetica’ enjoyed great prestige and being very popular especially among European alchemists who used the attributed teachings of Hermes as the basis for many of their secret schools.

During the Renaissance, it was accepted that Hermes Trismegistus was a contemporary of Moses. However, in 1614, after Isaac Casaubon’s stance and explanation that the Hermetic writings must postdate the advent of Christianity, the whole of Renaissance Hermeticism collapsed.

As to their actual authorship it was stated that:

..they were certainly not written in remotest antiquity by an all wise Egyptian priest…

For such a mighty belief system to crumble so easily is highly significant.

In addition to this, various other critical editions of the Hermetica have also been published in modern academia, including ‘Hermetica‘ by Brian Copenhaver.

And so the confusion continued, not only in Egyptian, Greek, and Christian traditions, but also in Islamic and Arabic traditions.


According to pages from a 14th-century Arabic manuscript of the Cyranides – a text attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, the French scholar Antoine Faivre, in ‘The Eternal Hermes’ of 1995, points out that Hermes Trismegistus has a place in the Islamic tradition, and yet significantly, the name Hermes does not appear in the Qur’an.

The ecclesiastical chroniclers of the first centuries of the Islamic journey of the prophet Mohammed, quickly identifies Hermes Trismegistus with Idris, the Islamic prophet of surahs or chapters 19.57 and 21.85, whom Muslims also identifies with Enoch – Genesis 5.18–24.

The Islamicist Perre Lory does not mince his words and writes:

“A faceless prophet’.. “Hermes possesses no concrete or salient characteristics, differing in this regard from most of the major figures of the Bible and the Quran.

Yet another writer wrote of the Sabaeans, that their religion had a sect of star worshipers who held their doctrine to come from Hermes Trismegistus through the prophet Adimun.

Whilst Bahá’u’lláh, founder of the Baha ‘i’ Faith, identifies Idris with Hermes in his ‘Tablet on the Uncompounded Reality’. 

Sum of Disparity

So, the identity of Hermes Trismegistus is widespread and endemic in many teachings and philosophies throughout history and in nearly every culture. Yet the disparity as to the origins of Hermes Trismegustus are clearly evident. Further, nearly all references under scrutiny reveal some alarming connotations at their roots. Rather than a source of sacred knowledge, just as telling is the veil of subtle yet powerful deceit that surrounds the integrity and application of his teachings revelled by the many secret societies throughout history that are specifically rooted in the use of Black Magic and other Satanic practises.

The first verses of the Baudelaire’s ‘Les Fleurs du mal’ refer to:

Satan Trismegistus” who pulls human puppet strings to rule the world.

This is echoed in Plato’s dialogues: 

On evil’s pillow, / Satan Trismegistus rocks our spirits—enchanted by / the subtle chemist, the will’s / precious metals turn to vapor.

An account of how Hermes Trismegistus received the name “Thrice Great” is derived from the Emerald Tablet attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, wherein it is stated that he knew the three parts of the wisdom of the whole universe. The three parts of the wisdom being alchemy, astrology, and theurgy (rituals). That may be so. However, we are also told from certain source, that the Emerald Tablet is compiled of stolen accumulated knowledge by those that would not only steal it but then take such sacred knowledge and distort and manipulate it to serve their own agenda.

See Also:


  1. Artmann, Benno (22 November 2005). “About the Cover: The Mathematical Conquest of the Third Dimension” (PDF). Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society. New Series. 43 (2): 231. doi:10.1090/S0273-0979-06-01111-6. Retrieved 7 August 2016.
  2. Thoth or the Hermes of Egypt: A Study of Some Aspects of Theological Thought in Ancient
  3. Egypt, p.166–168, Patrick Boylan, Oxford University Press, 1922.“Heroes and HERO cults I | V(otum) S(olvit) L(ibens) M(erito)”. 2008-05-14. Retrieved 2015-06-25.
  4. Archived September 15, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  5. De natura deorum III, Ch. 56
  6. “Cicero: De Natura Deorum III”. Retrieved 2015-06-25.
  7. Fowden 1993: pp65–68
  8.  “Stages of Ascension in Hermetic Rebirth”. Retrieved 2015-06-25.
  9. Fowden, G., “The Egyptian Hermes”, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1987, p 216
  10. Copenhaver, B. P., “Hermetica”, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1992, p xiv.
  11. Heiser, James D. (2011). Prisci Theologi and the Hermetic Reformation in the Fifteenth Century (1st ed.). Malone, Tex.: Repristination Press. ISBN 978-1-4610-9382-4.
  12. Jafar, Imad (2015). “Enoch in the Islamic Tradition”. Sacred Web: A Journal of Tradition and Modernity. XXXVI.
  13. Yates, F., “Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition”, Routledge, London, 1964, pp 14–18 and pp 433–434
  14. Hanegraaff, W. J., “New Age Religion and Western Culture”, SUNY, 1998, p 360
  15. Yates, F., “Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition”, Routledge, London, 1964, p 27 and p 293
  16. Yates, F., “Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition”, Routledge, London, 1964, p52
  17. Copenhaver, B.P., “Hermetica”, Cambridge University Press, 1992, p xlviii
  18. Copenhaver, Hermetica, p. xli
  19. Van Bladel, Kevin 2009. The Arabic Hermes: From Pagan Sage to Prophet of Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 122ff.
  20. Principe, L. M., The Secrets of Alchemy, 2013, University of Chicago Press, p 123
  21. Hanegraaff, Wouter J. (1996). New Age Religion and Western Culture. Leiden: Brill. pp. 390–391.
  22. (Yates Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition pp. 2–3)
  23. Kevin Van Bladel, The Arabic Hermes. From pagan sage to prophet of science, Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 168 “Abu Mas’har’s biography of Hermes, written approximately between 840 and 860, would establish it as common knowledge.”
  24. (Faivre 1995 pp. 19–20)
  25. Stapleton, H.E.; R.F. Azo & M.H. Husein (1927). Chemistry in Iraq and Persia in the Tenth Century AD: Memoirs of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Volume 8. Calcutta: Asiatic Society of Bengal. pp. 398–403.
  26. According to Van Bladel 2009, p. 17, note 42, there are least twenty Arabic Hermetica extant.
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