Hermetic Individuation: The Way Of Hermes and The Rite of Rebirth

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Die Seelen am Acheron by Adolf Hiremy Hirschl (CC BY-SA 4.0)

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)

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