Reflection 1

Mysteries of God, Cosmos, Humanity, week 1

Reflection: experiencing the divine


There is an age-old philosophy based on which you can experience the highest joy and everlasting supreme happiness. It is a philosophy that is attributed to the legendary Egyptian initiate Hermes Trismegistus. This philosophy is a redeeming one that has emerged from universal religion and universal spirituality, stemming directly from the gnosis, which is also referred to as the Source, the One, Tao, or God.

For thousands of years and in many cultures the sun has been looked upon as a symbol of the Primordial Source (see, for example, hymn 1). The sun, as we know, gives light, warmth and life. When you open yourself to the spiritual Sun, which is also called the Sun behind the sun, you become connected to the light of universal wisdom, the warmth of all-embracing love and the life of liberating decisiveness.

When you go a path of inner renewal guided by the gnosis, words can only approach the great results, but no pen can describe them. When Hermes Trismegistus lifts himself up inwardly, then the indwelling spirit speaks to him:

‘This is the good end for those who possess the gnosis,
the knowledge of God,
that they become God’.

(Corpus Hermeticum 1:65)

Becoming God! That is of course no small matter. Is such an unfathomable promise correct? Is it not very haughty when I assume that I can become God? The answer to both questions is: yes! The fantastic perspective of becoming a god, as shown in hermetic scriptures, is true, but at the same time it is important to realize that you as a mortal being – one who may walk around on our planet for a maximum of a hundred years – will never become divine. Hermes states:

‘The divine is not mortal;
what is mortal is not divine’

(Corpus Hermeticum 2:45)

However, the divine can be born, grow and become active within the person that you are, but as soon as you try to take hold of this inner process, it withdraws from you.

A person who has been somewhat renewed as a result of the touch by light forces from the Primordial Source is modest. He is modest because he knows that the divine power working within him, which he experiences from time to time, is not his, but that it is bestowed on him. He realizes that in a symbolic sense he is like an instrument from which music sometimes comes forth as a result of a heavenly touch, but he also knows that his instrument is not yet well tuned to allow the harmony of the spheres to resound purely in him.

Such a person desires to understand the essence of things and to be instructed in it. That is why he is open to admonitions from Hermes Trismegistus, the three-times great one, the man in whom the personality, the soul and the spirit form a harmonious unity, and who therefore has become like the Greek god Hermes: a messenger of the gods. He is not put off by the little flattering words that Hermes Trismegistus speaks to humanity out of love, but rather he is encouraged by them.

‘Oh, you nations, you men who are born of the earth and who have given yourselves up to intoxication and slumber and to the ignorance concerning God, become sober and stop wallowing in debauchery, enchanted as you are by an animal sleep. Oh you earthly born, why have you given yourselves up to death, whereas you have power to participate in immortality? Repent, you who walk in error and who have excepted ignorance as a leader. Liberate yourselves from the dark light and take part in immortality by taking leave of destruction forever’.
(Corpus Hermeticum 1:68,69)


The ignorance concerning God about which Hermes speaks here is also indicated as a lack of gnosis. The word gnosis stems from the Greek and means ‘knowledge.’ It does not mean practical or theoretical knowledge that arises from giving meaning to information that in turn is based on data or facts. No, here it means primarily wisdom, an inner knowing and at the same time an active force that enlightens. The following statements from experts in the field of gnosis are formulated so broadly that it is immediately clear that gnosis is universal and not related exclusively to only one religion, spiritual trend or philosophical system.

Gnosis is the knowledge of the heart.
(Gilles Quispel)

Gnosis is the knowledge that is of and with God. He who has this knowledge is filled with all that is good and receives his thoughts, which differ entirely from those of the masses, from God.
(Corpus Hermeticum 11:10)

Originally, the gnosis was a summary of primordial wisdom, the combination of all knowledge that pointed directly to the original divine life. In this way the divine wisdom was and still is brought to humanity, and the way was shown to those wanting to return to the original fatherland.
(Jan van Rijckenborgh)

Gnosis is the redemption of the inner man; not of the body, because the body is perishable, it is not psychic, for even the soul is of transience […]. Therefore salvation is pneumatic, that is, spiritual. Thus, through gnosis the inner spiritual man is born.

A Gnostic is one who has come to understand who we were, what has become ours, and where we are found, where we are so hastily headed, from which we are liberated; what birth is and what regeneration means.

Gnosis is above all a personal, existential certainty: I come from God, I share in his being, I return to him. It is an enlightened insight into the origin, the present situation and the destiny of man.
(Roelof van den Broek)

Partly on the basis of the foregoing, we can approach the concept of gnosis in a different way: as the living experience that results from the synthesis of religion, philosophy and spirituality on the basis of connection with the divine, which is also referred to as light power from the source of everything. Concepts such as religion and spirituality can easily evoke negative associations as a result of the many caricatures that we can observe in society. We now want to approach them from the meaning that follows from the original Latin words. Religion is then ‘re-connecting’ and spirituality pertains to ‘relating to the mind.’ Spirit is not referring to the intellectual thinking or ‘the mind’, but to a force that rises far beyond that, a force that concerns the divine plan of creation. Schematically we can represent the aforementioned synthesis of religion, philosophy and spirituality on the basis of light power as a figure of four equal circles that partly overlap each other (see image 1). It reminds us of a four-petalled flower and is at the same time a so-called venn diagram. Venn diagrams have been used since the end of the nineteenth century in the set theory of mathematics. A venn diagram is a graphic representation of the logical relationships between multiple collections, illustrating similarities and differences between different groups or concepts.

Four domains and their synthesis

The four domains and their synthesis are related to five aspects of the liberating path and can be formulated in the order shown below.

  1. light power: being touched inwardly
  2. religion: walking together (collective)
  3. philosophy: intellectual understanding
  4. spirituality: growing inwardly (individual)
  5. gnosis: renewing personally

Image 1 also lists sub-sets between two sets:

    • we can refer to the overlap between religion and philosophy as theology
    • we can refer to the overlap between philosophy and spirituality as esotericism
    • we can refer to the overlap between spirituality and light power as mysticism
    • we can refer to the overlap between light power and religion as gnostic magic

In the following chapters of this book, these four ‘sub-sets’ are explained in more detail from the perspective of going an authentic spiritual path on which the old person is systematically replaced by the new human being. The quadruple Venn diagram shows clearly that the light power is essential. Whenever that is lacking, religion, theology, philosophy, esotericism and spirituality do not contribute to, or may even delay, the realization of the divine plan. But no matter how powerful the opposing forces are, in the long run the pure light will always conquer, because it is much more powerful than the darkness and the false light.

The gnosis can express itself in the form of certain images, both word images and also sound images, in all sorts of religions and spiritual movements and philosophical systems. It is important to realize that these forms are not the gnosis itself but are at best certain reflections of the gnosis, enabling those who are receptive to it to be touched inwardly and, partly because of this touch, to be renewed. The essential truth is not presented to us on a silver platter in the form of, for example, books, courses, speeches or works of art, but must be conquered by the striving human consciousness and action life, acquired through many experiences.

The nature of stories, reflections, songs, prayers, rituals, music, paintings, statues and buildings created by the activity of the gnosis are of course partly determined by the culture and consciousness of a people at a certain moment in a certain area. We know the Indian gnosis of, for example, Krishna, Buddha and Shankara; the Persian gnosis of Zarathustra; the Chinese gnosis of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu; the Greek gnosis of Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato; the Christian gnosis of Jesus and Mani; and of course the Egyptian gnosis of Hermes Trismegistus.

Promotion or transfiguration

The history of gnosticism and gnostic movements is a very interesting field. In the past decades, more and more academics have started to occupy themselves with that. At several universities worldwide you can graduate in gnostic studies. You can also carry out scientific research about gnosticism, giving you the opportunity to obtain a Ph.D. degree.

This can all be very useful and valuable, but it is worth remembering that the gnosis is not intended as an opportunity to become promoted by it, but to transfigure with it! To become a new person. It is a major pitfall to place the gnosis exclusively in the past, because the vertical power flow of the gnosis can be active in a liberating way on the horizontal timeline only in the now. This fact is aptly expressed in the lofty symbol of a Latin cross with a flowering rose at the crossing.

You do not become a new person by figuring out how gnostic authors and groups thought and worked in the past. What does it take to become a spirit-inspired person? The titles of the first nine chapters of this book give an impression: experiencing the divine; distinguishing dimensions; consciously perceiving, thinking and acting; receiving esoteric teachings; realizing purification; praising God; assimilating spiritual powers; going the way of godliness; proclaiming the gnosis.

That is quite something! How do you do that in the practice of your daily life? Hermes Trismegistus provides clear guidelines, as is explained in this book. Sometimes they are practical recommendations, but most of the time they concern commentaries about the nature of God, the cosmos and the human being on the basis of which you can raise yourself up inwardly, thus making the right choices in your life.

Who was Hermes Trismegistus anyway? Historically, nothing is known about him. Most likely the three-times great Hermes is a conceived character, a personified synthesis of the Egyptian god Thoth – the god of wisdom and writing – and the Greek god Hermes, the messenger of the gods who is called Mercury in Roman culture (see image 2). He is the prototype of man who has achieved fulfillment on the spiritual path and endeavors to open up the way to others and to provide insights and powers to those who are open to it. This initiate is king, priest and magician in one.

Cultural melting pot in Alexandria

Hermes Trismegistus is the main character in manuscripts of unknown and anonymous authors in the first centuries of our era in the port city of Alexandria in northern Egypt, then the cultural capital of Greek civilization. It was a melting pot of many peoples, perhaps somewhat comparable to the heterogeneous population in today’s large western cities. Hermeticism was able to develop there through the same worldwide spiritual impulse that also, for example, allowed early Christianity to spread at that time. Within Hermeticism, the wisdom from ancient Egyptian mystery schools was connected to Greek philosophy.

Most hermetic writings are written in the form of a monologue, with Hermes addressing the reader directly; or in the form of a dialogue, in which there is a two-way conversation between Hermes and his indwelling spirit (also called Pymander) or between Hermes and one of his pupils: Tat, Asclepius and Ammon. The form of dialogue is a lively way of propagating the gnosis, already used in ancient times by the Greek philosopher Plato (427 BC-347 BC) for example in Athens, also in the seventeenth century by the Protestant mystic Jacob Böhme (1575-1624) and in the eighteenth century by Karl von Eckartshausen (1752-1803).

The nine chapters of this book are based primarily on the so-called ‘Corpus Hermeticum’, a collection of seventeen hermetic treatises that were written in Greek in Egypt in the second and third centuries. The collection of manuscripts was brought from Istanbul to Florence in the fifteenth century, where the priest, humanist and neo-platonist Marsilio Ficino (1433- 1499) translated them into Latin and published them in 1463.

In the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, printed editions of the Corpus Hermeticum appeared in vernacular languages such as German, English, French, Italian and Dutch.

In 1607 Jacob de Meester printed the first Dutch version of the Corpus Hermeticum in Alkmaar. A subsequent Dutch edition was printed in Amsterdam in 1643 on behalf of publisher Abraham Willemsz van Beyerland. J. van Rijckenborgh, one of the founders of the School of the Golden Rosycross, published a new Dutch version of the Corpus Hermeticum in 1960 in the form of the four-book series ‘The Egyptian Arch-Gnosis and its call in the eternal present’, for which he provided reflections during conferences at the Renova conference center in Bilthoven, the Netherlands, for pupils of his spiritual school. In 1990, the Church History professors Gilles Quispel and Roel van den Broek published a scientifically justified Dutch translation of the Corpus Hermeticum from the Greek which they had made for the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica in Amsterdam.

The quotes from the Corpus Hermeticum in Mysteries and Hymns of God, Cosmos, Humanity are derived from the afore- mentioned book series by J. van Rijckenborgh, which starts with the so-called Emerald Tablet or Tabula Smaragdina, a short, powerful hermetic and meditation text, like a mantra, which formed the basis for alchemy, and which is included as a hymn in part 2 of this book. The reflections refer to it several times. The nine chapters of this book are always closed with a short section from a hermetic writing from the Arab world, known as ‘Castigatione Animae’ (Admonition of the Soul) and published in English by Walter Scott.

Initiates in the mysteries

What does the Hermes figure want to achieve, as it appears in the hermetic writings? He wants to initiate his listeners or readers into the mysteries of God, cosmos, humanity. Why? Because that work contributes to the realization of the plan of God and those involved will taste ‘happiness and bliss.’ Hermes cannot do otherwise. He owes it to his core being that reveals itself increasingly powerful. He also receives the power for this work as a response to his prayer to God, the Father of all things:

‘Incline thyself to me and fill me with thy power; with this grace I shall bring the Light to those of my race who are in ignorance, my brothers, thy sons. Yes, I believe and testify with my blood; I am going to the Life and to the Light. Be praised, oh Father, thy son will sanctify with thee, for which thou hast given him all power’.
(Corpus Hermeticum 1:73)

A large majority of people are not open to the help offered to them on the spiritual path by representatives of the divine hierarchy. That was the case at the time when the hermetic writings came about, and it still is today. Those who are not yet ripe for the inner path do not yet desire to be taught the essential things, they do not understand the hermetic teachings and may shrink back from the personal consequences entailed in going the path of Hermes.

The foregoing provides some insight into the origin of the expression ‘hermetically sealed’. For those who have no affinity whatsoever with hermetic writings, they remain as a closed book: inaccessible. Now it is true that people today can understand hermetic writings considerably better than people from ancient times, or even people from a few decades ago. Humanity as a whole has experienced significant growth in consciousness in recent decades. Both the ability for abstract thinking and the general level of consciousness have increased. Keys to understanding hermetic texts are becoming more customary and are even being disseminated on social media. The hermetic gnosis is ideally suited to promote unity among people and between people and other life-waves on earth, because it does not exclude anything or anyone. Hermes says to his student Asclepius, whom he considers to be a healer in development:

‘All creatures are in God. They have come into being through God and are dependent on him; whether they manifest themselves in physical bodies, rise as soul-beings, have been vivified by the spirit, or have been received into the realm of the dead, they are all in God’.(Corpus Hermeticum 11: 22)

Who or what is God then? Everything we say or write about God is limited and therefore not entirely correct. This is beautifully expressed in the first lines of the Tao Te Ching that is attributed to Lao Tzu, the initiate who probably lived and worked in China around the sixth century BC:  ‘If Tao could be pronounced, it would not be the eternal Tao; if the name could be said, it would not be the eternal name.’ In some currents of early Gnostic Christianity, the same view was held. This is expressed very poetically in the hymn in John’s secret book (see hymn 3) for example. The word GOD is nowadays sometimes seen as an acronym of the letters G, O and D, which stand for the generator or creator, the operator or sustainer and the destroyer or demolisher. This thought is based on the Hindu trinity of the gods Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the sustainer) and Shiva (the destroyer). At first, the destructive aspect of the deity seems to contradict the idea that God is love, but after careful consideration it appears that this aspect also really belongs.

Infinite creation

Everything that has a beginning also has an end. Destruction eliminates crystallizations and enables new developments. Everything that exists is constantly being re-created. Hermes therefore says:

‘The creator would not be the eternal if he did not create eternal: in heaven, in the sky, on the earth, in the depth, in all parts of the universe, in the universe, in that which and in what is not’.
(Corpus Hermeticum 8:26)

According to Hermetic philosophy, however, God is much more than the generator, sustainer and destroyer. The following seven characterizations make this evident, while still leaving much room for the mystery and at the same time being worthy of further pondering.

‘You should see God in this way: he keeps as thoughts everything that exists enclosed in Himself: the world, himself, the universe’.
(Corpus Hermeticum 2:77)

‘Whereas he is an ever-active power, it is not sufficient for him to have created beings, he also takes them into his care’.
(Corpus Hermeticum 2:27)

‘As God acts entirely alone, he is always resident in his works and he is himself what he procreates, creator as well as creation. For if his creatures were to be free of him, they would collapse and inevitably perish, because they would have no life of themselves’.
(Corpus Hermeticum 2:56)

‘In the all there is nothing that is not God. That is why God cannot be defined by conception of size, place, quality, form or time: for God is the all, and as such he is in everything and encompasses’.
(Corpus Hermeticum 13:50)

‘If you do not make yourself equal to God, you cannot understand him: for only those who are alike understand each other’.
(Corpus Hermeticum 2:78)

‘What is God? The never deviating, unchangeable good’.
(Corpus Hermeticum 5:63)

‘God is not reason, but the cause to which reason owes its being; He is not breath, but the cause to which breath owes its being; He is not light, but the cause to which light owes its being’.
(Corpus Hermeticum 6:37)

These statements by Hermes are not just random contemplative comments, rather they are ideas supported by a deep knowledge of experience. Understanding the divine and the divine plan is important, but not sufficient. For a disciple of Hermes there must be a deep desire, because on that basis a fruitful relationship can arise between man and God. In Chapter 1 of Admonition of the Soul, Hermes says to us:

‘If the maker of a thing is not himself visible to us, we can form a notion of him from the thing he has made, when that thing is presented to our view. Even so then, we can represent to ourselves in thought the Author of all that is, by contemplating and admiring the (visible) things which He has made, and ever brings into being, and which are and have been produced by Destiny.I bid you then, O Soul, to represent to yourself in thought all things that are either understood by thinking or perceived by sense. And know that it is the truly existent Being, the First Cause, perfect and full of light; that bestows on men knowledge of the inner nature of things; and of the finer distinctions between them,’ and of ever-lasting life, and in short, knowledge of all things, and all things are, in relation to Him, particulars, but are not parts of Him; as He on the other hand is, in relation to them, the universal, but is not a mere sum of them.Reflect on this, O Soul, and mark it well; and free yourself from the pollution of the physical world, and to that end, humble yourself; and seek and strive earnestly to attain to Him who is the source and father of good, the root and originator of intelligence, the giver of life and wisdom, Him who is perfect goodness and mercy, that so you may come to partake of Life, and enjoy happiness and bliss’.

(Admonition of the Soul, Chapter 1)