Para-Hermeticism: Goofy Name, Common Experience

I’ve been wrestling with an idea for a while that’s turned into a tough nut to crack. Yes, that’s a mixed metaphor. Mix your metaphors. Spurred on by my series of posts reacting to Rufus Opus’s book Seven Spheres, I’ve found I had to come up with some kind of bodge sooner rather than later.

The previous posts are here: one, two, and three. The idea here is not to continue to talk about Opus’s system, or even companion planting per se. This idea is related to the latter though. What I want to do is to first discuss the apparent omnipresence of hermeticism, introducing a term I cobbled together as a joke to begin with, “para-hermetic.” In the following post (yes, there’s another one) I will sort of demonstrate companion planting in action by juxtaposing ideas from hermeticism and Druidry.


I’m going to start backwards. What, you might be asking, the hell, is “para-Hermeticism?” Like all good ideas, I’m pretty sure I thought of it in the shower or while I was brushing my teeth. I am not a Hermeticist, except that as I learn more about the history of the term, I already am. In fact, let me prove that I did go to grad school and say that any practicing occultist engaged with the “western” tradition of magic is always-already a Hermeticist to some degree. That’s because certain texts punch above their weight, even when they’re heavyweights to begin with. Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy are the obvious culprits here: they are overtly Hermetic at points, and just about every magical system developed after Agrippa uses it to some degree. So when I say we are, many of us, always-already Hermeticists, it’s because we function within traditions that are, to a greater or lesser extent, influenced by that tradition. So if you’re not specifically following Hermeticism, but you’re steeped in the tradition by dint of its widespread influence, you’re a “para-Hermeticist,” someone practicing along the edges of the tradition, drawing from it while also working with things outside it.

This is to use the term loosely, mind you. I am not saying that the literal words of the Corpus Hermeticum are essential for understanding, say, the Golden Dawn tradition – though if you do that, you start to see similarities, obscured by the long history between the two points. I mean by the term the wide and long-running stream of tradition and practice that includes both the CH and the GD tradition.

There are certain key points to Hermeticism that are important to understand for this post. I don’t know how many times now I’ve seen people join the Hermetic House of Life server and say that Hermeticism is monotheistic – someone, typically polyhanes of the Digital Ambler, sets them straight: it’s not monotheistic, it’s henotheistic. And that basically means the system argues that one particular god is supreme but that other gods do exist and may or may not be accorded worship or adulation. So there’s the capital g God in Hermeticism, and then the planetary deities, and in all likelihood the local deities as well. Various Hermetic documents depict figures such as Isis and Hermes as servants of the God who is the maker of all things, the craftsman. Which means that all manner of workings can be done by a Hermeticist, as the Hermeticist recognizes that gods other than the Big Boss exist and can be propitiated without violating one’s religion or worldview.

This multiplicity of method is kind of inherent to Hermeticism. Some Hermetics are alchemists, perfecting their soul through the perfection of metals. Other Hermeticists use prayer, or magic, climbing that big celestial stepladder I’ve discussed previously. The point here is that Hermeticism is both prevalent in the landscape of magical culture and also generally amenable to working with something that’s not overtly Hermetic. So, let’s say you’re a practicing druid who realizes a significant portion of the magical and ritual portions of your work are drawn from Hermeticism, but the idea of a single arch-God is like sand in your underwear? Well, you’re a para-Hermeticist!

The idea here is just to point out that it is certainly possible to study, appreciate, and even make use of Hermetic ideas without necessarily being a Hermeticist in the narrow historical definition. Hermeticism more widely considered is so omnipresent in contemporary occultism that it’s difficult to throw a cat into the room without hitting a Hermetic idea. For instance, some people think Hermeticism may have been a kind of religiosity that grew out of astrology, which, in many astrological texts, is complete divorced from any kind of spirituality or theologizing. So, in a way, if you’re engaging in western astrology from the medieval period forward, and maybe even from the Hellenistic tradition forward, you’re engaging in some Hermeticism (note that this does not include Indian or Asian astrologies; it does not include them on purpose, as they wouldn’t be part of the historical flow of Hermetic thought in this historical narrative).

One thought on “Para-Hermeticism: Goofy Name, Common Experience

  1. Pingback: G Conley: Magic Arts

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