If he existed as a real man, it wouldn’t matter as he’s cloaked in as much mythology as any other deified person who may have walked this earth. Hermes Trismegistus is considered the first alchemist and is the origin of ‘hermeticism’, esoteric philosophy. Thrice great per his namesake, he knew all the sacred knowledge of the three aspects of reality. In a way he is also a figure of three identities, the Greek god, the Egyptian god, and the human.
Earliest references to Hermes Trismegistus date back to 200 c., and accounts of when he supposedly lived place him in somewhere between the time of Abraham (approximately 1800 BC) and Moses (approximately 1300 BC). The telling of his story originated in Hellenic Egypt— Greeks had already long been living in the country and Trismegistus was created from the merging of the Greek god Hermes and the Egypt god Thoth. Despite his associations with religion, he was not considered a true god himself but a powerful mystic, a supreme alchemist who could speak to the divine and impart to mortals all his complete knowledge as a scribe. Many writings are attributed to him but few still exist today, the Corpus Hermeticum, the Asclepius, and the Emerald Tablet.
“…its verses flow forth eloquent, as it were, from the fountain of nature, instinct with intelligence; such as might be more efficacious to move the rational skeptic off from his negative ground into the happier regions of intelligible reality, than many theological discourses which, of a lower grade of comprehension, are unable to make this highly affirmative yet intellectual stand.” — Mary Anne Atwood on Hermetic texts.
The Corpus Hermeticum was written in the age of early Christianity and represents a monotheistic view of religious devotion but is not intrinsically Abrahamic, though there is much room for overlap between hermeticism and Christianity. They both come from the same place and can be seen as twin sisters who can occasionally share thoughts between them. There have been many monks and preachers who have been drawn to the esoteric arts and alchemy, such as Thomas Aquinas and Albert Magnus, who have mixed opinions on hermetic texts.
The god that alchemists pray to both is and isn’t the Christian god. It is the divinity that exists in all religions, the spark that exists in life and in the existence of reality.
Hermes Trismegistus stands as a role model, someone who successfully fell into complete harmony with nature. He could be considered similar to a saint, the saint of alchemy. While he was written as a symbol of aspiration by the Neoplatonic alchemists crossing from ancient into medieval times, he succeeds as a thoughtform of belief.
It is from his name that we term something airtight to have a ‘hermetic seal’. Hermes as a powerful alchemist was supposedly able to create a magical seal that could perfectly close anything off from the outside, something later alchemists needed to invent themselves in order to perform their experiments with airtight glassware. As history went on, scientific research into airtight technology adopted the alchemical term.
This concept can be reflected in the ‘hermetic egg’, a way of describing the metaphysical boundary between the seed of life within us and the rest of our being. Dennis Klocek has many talks you can find online about gradients and boundaries, and how Hermetic philosophical sciences reflect the natural counterparts.
Hermeticism is one of the most widespread esoteric sciences and Hermes Trismegistus is considered the first alchemist, but did he create the practice of alchemy?
As a researcher of folklore and someone who thinks of history as having its own metaphysical history in the stories of religion and myth, I credit Hermes Trismegistus as the first alchemist. However, as a researcher of history, I cannot also credit him as being the sole origination of alchemy. In future writings I’ll speak of the Ancient Greek philosophers, Asian mystics of India and China, and Middle Eastern philosophies that merged to form the basis of alchemy.
What he is though is a symbol, a powerful and important symbol in both our mundane and mystical history as a species.
“We live in Power, in Act and in Eternity.” — Hermes Trismegistus