Many modern day mystics attribute a great portion of their understanding of philosophy and spirituality to the study of Hermetic philosophies of ancient Greece and Egypt. This philosophy is where much of modern occultism draws inspiration and knowledge from. However, the teachings of Hermetic philosophy is not reserved for the occult and ritual magician, because much wisdom can be gained by the average person seeking higher understanding. Hermes Trismegistus is said to be the father of Occult Wisdom, Astrology, and Alchemy and is referred to as the God Thoth in Egyptian mythology. Some historians argue that Hermes Trismegistus is not as old as is widely thought. Much can be said concerning this enigmatic figure, however, this article is only concerned with the Seven Hermetic Principles. The hermetic teachings have evolved over time and remain a revered source of knowledge for many mystics the world over.
The basic principles of Hermetic Philosophy are best described in a book called The Kybalion by ‘Three Initiates’, which was first published by The Yogi Publication Society in 1908. Within the Kybalion, the basic Seven Hermetic Principles are described namely, the principles of Mentalism, Correspondence, Vibration, Polarity, Rhythm, Cause and Effect and lastly Gender. As stated in the Kybalion, “The Principles of Truth are Seven; he who knows these, understandingly, possesses the Magic Key before whose touch all the Doors of the Temple fly open.” There is no worship of any deity within these teachings, only an appreciation and awe of ‘THE ALL’, where the universe and all its manifestation lie in infinite supply and diversity. Simply being part of this experience and expression of the universe in our mortal coil is an honour in itself. The principles delve into the laws of our existence on this plane and other planes.
The teachings do at times correspond with some modern scientific explanations of the nature of our reality, such as the Principle of Vibration, which explains as science does, that everything vibrates and exists as a certain frequency of energy. This is an impressive statement for teachings that are said to be a couple of millenniums old. It illustrates how some wisdom gained through the ages may not, in fact, be pure speculation or superstition but may be based on actual universal truths obtained through means other than modern science. The teachings do not claim to be pure science and nor should it, as it delves into metaphysical concepts that will not easily be accepted by mainstream academia and thought. This does not pose a problem for those who believe that there is more to reality than is commonly seen, explained and understood. The mystic or gnostic seeks to always build upon their own knowledge base and grow wise through authenticity, intuitive belief and self-rationalisation while continuing study into a variety of texts. The Kybalion however, is a perfect place to start understanding the Hermetic view of the nature of reality.
Before looking at the first of the Seven Hermetic Principles, we need to first understand what is meant by the concept of “THE ALL”. According to Hermetic Philosophy, as explained in the Kybalion. “THE ALL” is described as that which permeates everything in existence, an ever changing and evolving “substantial reality” that is self-evident in our experience and conscious perception of it. It refers to that which has been deified under many names, such as God, the Cosmos, Akasha and others. It is infinite and in itself unknowable, especially with regards to our limited human capability of understanding. The Kybalion states that “THE ALL” is eternal and absolute, nothing exists outside of it for then it cannot be “THE ALL”. All energy resonates from this source and is also driven and contained within it, while the universe is only a part of it. It is the underlying consciousness from where all things are manifested. It is the living mind that the Hermeticists call “SPIRIT”. This bears a striking similarity to the Vedic description of “Akasha”, which is defined as the “basis and essence” of all things with the primary characteristic of sound (2). By understanding that “THE ALL” is infinite living mind, from where all things are created we can understand that an infinite amount of universes may exist, subject to varying laws stemming from consciousness, this is the principle of Mentalism. “THE ALL is MIND; THE Universe is Mental” – The Kybalion.
Next is the principle of Correspondence, which is best described in the Kybalion by using the hermetic phrase that so many are familiar with, “as above, so below; as below so above”. The principle states that there is a “CORRESPONDENCE”, harmony or relationship between the various manifestations of reality. Separated rather loosely but purposefully, as the Kybalion claims, into three different primary planes of distinction namely, The Great Physical Plane, The Great Mental Plane, and the Great Spiritual Plane. These planes can each be separated into seven planes within themselves, which can then be separated again by seven, simply for the purposes of classification. These are called Minor Planes. When separating these planes categorically, the Principle of “MENTALITY” and “THE ALL” reminds us that these all emanate from the same source, thus can never be separated and through “CORRESPONDENCE” is all related with one another. As the Kybalion states, “there is a correspondence, harmony and agreement between the several planes.” All planes of manifestation are interconnected and related even though they differ from one another. The minor physical planes are separated into three planes of matter ranging from gross manifestations that are accepted in modern physics, too much more subtle forms of matter that science has still to understand and in many cases discover. The fourth minor plane is that of ethereal substance, described as an elastic medium of energy transmission that pervades the universe. The next three minor planes of physicality are the planes of energy that also range from the accepted and known prevalent energies to the very subtle forms of energy that the Kybalion describes as ‘unthinkable to ordinary man’ and can even be considered to be ‘the divine power’.
Continuing with the principle of Correspondence, the seven minor planes of the Great Mental Plane are as follows. The planes of Mineral Mind, Elemental Mind (A), Plant Mind, Elemental Mind (B), Animal Mind, Elemental Mind (C), and lastly the Human Mind. These seven minor planes describe varying degrees of intelligence that manifest within the elemental, plant, animal and human minds. The Kybalion argues that on each minor plane a certain mental faculty is present, even within the elemental atomic structure, continuing all the way to the Human mental plane. It is also stated that many people are not at the stage of human mentality, but closer to the animal type mentality where activity is primarily based on external and instinctual impulses. It is through mental alchemy and evolution that humanity can advance to the higher planes of mentality. However, this can also be done individually. The final plane is the Great Spiritual Plane which comprises of beings who have ‘Life, Mind and Form as far above that of Man of to-day as the latter is above the earth-worm’ as stated in the Kybalion. In the seven minor spiritual planes, the beings range from ascended masters to the highest forms of being that to our mind is inconceivable for the most part. It is these higher beings that have often been deified by humanity on earth. The Kybalion also states that these beings are subject unto the laws of ‘THE ALL’ and are still separate from the ‘Absolute Spirit’. Lower spiritual entities are also present in the Great Spiritual Plane in accordance with the Principle of Polarity, these entities can be perceived as ‘dark’ or ‘lower’, but continue to play an integral part within the Spiritual planes.
The principle of Vibration shares some common ground with the modern scientific theory of energy and matter. In the Kybalion, it states that everything exists as a specific vibratory frequency and is in motion. This law can be applied to all forms of manifestation, from cornflour, sound and thought to the revolution of celestial bodies, such as the earth on its axis and the planets moving around the sun. To the human, only a minute spectrum of light and sound wave frequencies are perceivable, meaning that when a frequency is too high or too low we do not consciously register it. The same principle applies to the limited spectrum of brain waves achievable by humans, namely Gamma, Beta, Alpha, Theta and Delta, which regulates our mental and emotional states. The Hermetic principle of vibration does, however, make claims that conventional science may not accept. For example, the Kybalion argues that all varying degrees of vibration emanate from the ‘Ether’, stating that there exists a higher manifestation of matter known as ‘The Ethereal Substance’. This substance is said to permeate and transmit energy through all space, acting as a link between material and energetic states. The Kybalion further declares that as vibratory rates continually increase from the physical to mental, to spirit it eventually reaches ‘Absolute Spirit’ or ‘THE ALL’ at its peak, from where all other vibrations emanate. All living matter is also subject to the principle of vibration, from the smallest microbial life to complex bodies such as our own. This view is better described by Dr Lyall Watson in the book ‘Lifetide’, where he explains that living entities can be perceived as slow, self-organising, temporary waves. Hermeticists claim that it is by understanding and utilising this principle that they are able to alter matter and energy through conscious will. They argue that it is by using higher laws of consciousness against the lower laws, that these extraordinary and supernatural feats are achieved.
Polarity is the next Hermetic principle which states that everything manifested is dual or polar, such as heat and cold or love and hate. The Kybalion continues by explaining that opposite or paradoxical poles are identical in nature, but vary in degree. For example hot and cold is determined by the specific degree of temperature, or light and dark being the opposites of the same aspect. All opposites eventually meet and ‘all paradoxes may be reconciled’ as the Kybalion argues. The principle of polarity encompasses the idea that there is no ‘absolute’ degree, even for the concept of good and evil, since it is subjective to a personal experience of it. This is because, on every scale, the specific degree can always move to a higher or lower degree on the scale. All opposites and extremes meet since the position is relative, as the Kybalion states, ‘with “East and West” – travel around the world in an eastward direction, and you reach a point which is called west at your starting point, and you return from that westward point. Travel far enough North, and you will find yourself travelling South or vice versa.’ Hermetic practitioners of mental alchemy understand that through the process of polarisation, one state of mind can be transmuted into another along the same scale. Just as metals are transmuted, the mind can be transmuted into higher or purer states. By mastering mental control, the practitioner is able to shift their mental state at will along the different mental poles, thus not being subject to external influences on their mood and mind.
Following the principle, Polarity is the principle of Rhythm. This principle states that there is a rhythmic motion, a swing from one side to the other, or a tidal motion. The law is manifested in all things such as day-night cycles, seasonal changes, birth and death, the rise and fall of nations, mental states of human beings etc. The Kybalion further states that these rhythms manifest on the scales of polarity, moving in either direction along the scale from pole to pole, however, the poles rarely meet. The principle of rhythm also encompasses the idea that the measure of the swing toward one pole is the measure of the swing toward the other, this is termed the ‘Law of Compensation’. This law also states that, for example, one who experiences higher states of enjoyment would also experience more extreme feelings of suffering, in order to maintain balance and equilibrium within the scale. According to the Kybalion, Hermetic masters by understanding this principle of higher and lower states of mind are able to avoid the swing toward the lower. They do this through the ‘Law of Neutralization’. ‘Its operations consist in the raising of the Ego above the vibrations of the Unconscious Plane of mental activity, so that the negative swing of the pendulum is not manifested in consciousness, and therefore they are not affected’ as explained in the Kybalion. The Hermetic practitioner thus affirms a higher point on the scale from where the swings of lower points are avoided. The principle of rhythm may remain constant, however, the personal will of an individual is able to overcome the effect of rhythm as ‘The Will’ and consciousness consist of higher, more powerful laws. Thus again, a higher law is used against the lower for the desired outcome.
Cause and Effect
The next Hermetic principle is that of Cause and Effect, or simply Causation. This principle embodies the concept that everything happens according to preceding events, leading up to the next. There is no such thing as chance since random chance will operate outside of the laws of THE ALL, which is impossible according to the Kybalion. Even in a game of chance such as poker, the physical factors preceding the dealing of the cards, in this case shuffling, will determine which cards are drawn. As stated ‘No event “creates” another event, but is merely a preceding link in the great orderly chain of events flowing from the creative energy of THE ALL.’ Thus every action and thought stem from the continuous chain of events, and would consequently lead to other direct and indirect chains of thought and events. The Kybalion argues that this does not mean that all events are deterministic, neither are they based on complete free will. As the Principle of Polarity dictates, they are opposite poles of the same aspect. The influence of causation on human life is readily seen, as people are often carried along the current of life determined by outside factors, such as traditions, events and opinions of others. Meanwhile, inner factors such as mood and beliefs also determine the outcome of their choices. The Kybalion states that one must ‘not make the mistake of supposing that Man is but a blind automaton – far from that. The Hermetic Teachings are that Man may use Law to overcome laws and that the higher will always prevail against the lower.’ Thus, through personal will one is able to sway the outcome of the cause in another direction that suits the individual, rather than being subject to determinism alone.
The final Hermetic principle is that of Gender, which the Kybalion states manifests in all phenomena. This principle must not be confused with sex, in terms of the anatomy of man and woman, as the very word gender refers to the act of creating through a creative force. As stated in the Kybalion, this principle can even be seen in the makeup of an atom, where ‘positive’ corpuscles exert an influence on ‘negative’ corpuscles in order for the atom to exist or be created. The ‘negative’ pole relates to the feminine energy, while the ‘positive’ pole refers to masculine energy. Nothing is created without the two forces combining, as the influence of the masculine energy is required for the feminine energy to ‘move’ and thus create. Also, without the feminine energy, there is nothing for the masculine energy to exert influence upon. It is by the feminine aspect that things are created, however, it does require the influence of masculine energy to bring the feminine into motion. The Kybalion states that ‘The part of the Masculine principle seems to be that of directing a certain inherent energy toward the Feminine principle, and thus starting into activity the creative processes.’ In terms of the human mental condition, the principle of Gender is manifested as the conscious and subconscious mind. The conscious or aware mind relates to the masculine energy, while the subconscious mind relates to the feminine energy. Both being integral parts of the human mind.
These are the seven principles by which our reality is bound according to the Kybalion. The principle of Mentality dictates that consciousness is present in all things, and the underlying force by which all is governed. Everything that is created is connected and in relation with one another on all planes according to the principle of Correspondence. These are the Great Planes of Physicality, Mentality, and Spirit. The principle of Vibration states that everything vibrates at a certain frequency and is accordingly shaped. The highest frequency is called “THE ALL” or ‘Absolute Spirit’ and it from here that all other vibrations emanate. According to the principle of Mentality, “THE ALL” is consciousness in it’s purest form. The principle of Polarity argues that everything is dualistic. Every opposite pole is part of the same aspect and thus the experience thereof is relative to the position on the scale. Nothing besides “THE ALL” is absolute. The principle of Rhythm states that a swing or tide is present in all things, from seasons to human moods. The Rhythm is tied to the scales of Polarity, moving from one side to the other. The inner Rhythms can be controlled or managed by the hermetic master. The principle of Cause and Effect states that nothing is a chance, but a consequence of previous actions and events. This chain of events is based on universal laws and can be traced back further than human comprehension. The principle of Gender is also manifest in all things. It is the creative force by which masculine and feminine energy merge in order to create all phenomena known to man. These two forces cannot exist without one another.
Keeping these seven principles in the back of one’s mind will allow for a new perspective and insight into the nature of our reality. Once a person realises these principles to be true, through experience or revelation, a higher path of understanding and acceptance opens up. As the Kybalion states “The lips of wisdom are closed, except to the ears of Understanding.” — The Kybalion.
Initiates, T. (1998) The kybalion: A study of the hermetic philosophy of ancient Egypt and Greece. Chicago, IL: Yogi Publication Society, Masonic Temple.