Sunday, August 16, 2009

When are we getting those Hermetic holidays off?

I got an amusing e-mail the other day and I couldn't figure out if the sender was serious or kidding around, but they said that they were very interested in Hermeticism and wanted to join my religion so they needed to find out what they should believe and what the holidays were!

Of course this is doesn't have anything to do with Hermeticism. There isn't now and there wasn't ever an organized Hermetic religion, it appears to have been propagated by loose circles of disciples guided by a master. It never had mass appeal or any official representatives. Instead it appears to have had practical preparatory studies like alchemy, astrology and magic that applied the philosophy and practical spiritual insights of Hermeticism as well as being a path for a few individuals seeking mystic union with the divine.

What's amusing about the e-mail seeking Hermetic holidays (Hermes birthday? Hermes cards, "Happy Hermes Day!" Hermes Day Sale, one day only, New federal holiday, the mind reels) is that it uses a very common mental template for organizing anything spiritual. If one encounters a new "religion" which is basically anything spiritually oriented, one expects that it will provide a complete and standardized, off the rack set of practices and beliefs. It will be organized, it will need staff, buildings and income. But even more importantly it will be exclusive. One is either a member or not, it is not possible to follow more than one religion.

I remember meeting an American "Buddhist" that regaled me with tales of their difficulties in the rural South since they refused to celebrate Christmas being Buddhist. Except that, as a rule, Buddhists don't have any problem with Christmas! It's typical in Japan, for example, to go to both Buddhist and Shinto temples without any sense of contradiction. Certainly this open and easy blending of various spiritual paths was common in the pre-Christian pagan West as well.

But as you can see from my American Buddhist example this is not simply a matter of the evils of "monotheistic religion" It has more to do with the unconscious acceptance of religion as a matter of belief, rather than experience, of exclusivity and external authority over the individual. But perhaps more importantly, the purpose of religion is seen as a collective identity and primarily as a source of ethical rules.

I wouldn't want to deny the importance of being part of a spiritual community or having a source for ethical advice and instruction, but this is not all that a spiritual practice can consist of. As much as modern pagans, etc., may condemn Christianity and in particular the Catholic Church, it has managed to preserve the monastic tradition of contemplation and mystic union with the divine.

Hermeticism never organized itself and never really had a mass or collective identity. It never focused on ethics, though ethical behavior was certainly important in and of itself and as a means to purification for mystic union. At the moment, there are not many that really practices Hermetic mystic union, though I'm certainly working on it. Thank goodness, though since that means I don't have to worry about getting the Pentagon to put the caduceus of Hermes on the gravestones of dead Hermetic soldiers or fight for Hermetic chaplains in prisons. I don't need to do any fundraising for the new Hermetic church building, or Hermetic charity work or go door to door soliciting for new converts to Hermes.

Hermeticism can continue as the underground stream of Western esotericism and I can play my small role in its current revival.

More on Hermes Trismegistus and Hermetic Gnosis

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