The first Libellus of the Corpus Hermeticum, titled ‘Poimandres of Hermes Trismegistus’, recounts the conversation of the author with his higher self, the “Mind of Soverignty”. The majority of the text is concerned with explaining the Hermetic cosmogony while subtly introducing the sacred sciences of astronomy and alchemy.
The account begins with the Primordial Darkness out of which arises the first Light called “Mind the Father”. The initial act of self-manifestation by Mind the Father separates light and life from the darkness. What was once the Darkness has now become the primordial Waters. Not surprisingly, these Waters are akin to the watery abyss of Nun in the Egyptian Hermapolitan cosmology; they represent a primeval soup of the elements and creative potential intermingled and intermixed into a chaotic matrix. After all the Hermetic philosophers were Hellenized Egyptians.
Through the projection of thought via the spoken word, or logos, also called the “Son of God”, Mind the Father begins to separate and order the elements of the Waters. As expressed in the text, “the Watery substance having received Logos, was fashioned into an ordered world, the elements being separated out from it.” First Fire then Air rise out of the mixture . As Air ascends upwards to join Fire, it separates Earth and Water, thus structuring the fledgling universe into four distinct primeval elements and paving the way for the next stage of creation.
After successfully ordering the primordial chaotic matrix into the four elements of Fire, Air, Earth, and Water, Mind the Father births a second mind, called “Mind the Maker”. This second Mind fashions the seven ‘Administrators of Destiny’ from the active elements of Fire and Air. These Administrators rule over the seven heavens of hermetic cosmology and are the seven planets (Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon). Logos then rises from the “downward tending elements” to unite with ‘Mind the Maker’, and together they set the planets in orbit.
At this point in the text, the reader is introduced to two new agents, Nature and Aether. Nature is the union of the passive elements now devoid of logos (Earth and Water), whereas Aether is the union of the active elements (Fire and Air). Both Nature and Aether are willed by Mind the Maker, through logos, and together they represent the polarities of vertical movement (down and up). Whereas Aether is not dealt with until later in the text, here Nature proceeds to create the animals without divine reason, these are the four-footed beasts, fish, birds, and all the creatures of the animal kingdom. At this stage all animals are hermaphroditic, as the polarity of male-female has yet to be realized.
We are then told, in a verse that echoes the Genesis of the Bible:
“Mind the Father of all, he who is Life and Light, gave birth to Man, a Being like to Himself. And He took delight in Man, as being His own offspring; for Man was very goodly to look on, bearing the likeness of his Father. With good reason then did God take delight in Man; for it was God’s own form that God took delight in. And God delivered over to Man all things that had been made.”
Man here refers to Primordial Man, a being like its father, that is neither male nor female, but both. Perhaps an apt comparison would be to the Adam Kadmon of the Kabbalistic traditions, or the Macroanthropos of Plutarch. This Primordial Man is stationed with Mind the Maker in the 8th heaven, the sphere of the fixed stars above the planets.
“Having observed the Maker’s creation in the region of fire, he [Man] willed to make things for his own part also; and his Father [Mind the Father] gave permission…. having in himself all the working of the Administrators; the Administrators took delight in him, and each of them gave him a share of his own nature.”
This enigmatic verse is incomplete in the original Greek manuscript (hence the ellipsis points after “permission”). It is unclear as to what Man creates, but whatever it is, it seems to please the Administrators who in return grant Man some planetary attributes. This seems to be the moment when Man becomes Microcosmic Man, which is the Hermetic notion that the Universe exists within Man.
Following the above-cited passage, we are told that Man learns “the being of the Administrators”. Here “being” should be interpreted as states of consciousness, modes of existence, or instances in space-time. To “know the beings of the Administrators” then refers to achieving planetary consciousness, or more profanely to learning the periodicities of the planetary orbits (the science of Astronomy). The Greek word used in the text is gnosis as opposed to episteme indicating knowledge through union with the transcendent principle. Indeed, we are then told that Man “willed to break through the bounding circle of their orbits; and he looked through the structure of the heavens, having broken through the spheres and showed to downward-tending Nature the beautiful form of God.”
Armed with the knowledge of Sacred Astronomy and gnosis of Kosmos Man peers through the heavens at Nature, the terrestrial world of Earth and Water. The “beautiful form of God”, of course, refers to Man himself being made in the image of Mind the Father. Nature, who has fallen in love with the celestial glory of Primordial Man, lures him to the terrestrial plane by showing Man his reflection upon the Water, and his shadow upon the Earth. In an act of self-love, perhaps even narcissism in the face of perfection (compare with Mind the Father’s delight in Man cited above), Man enthralled by his reflection descends to Nature where “she wrapped him in her clasp.” Now, because Man was given the seven planetary attributes whilst in the 8th heaven, this union results in Nature giving birth “to seven Men, according to the characters of the seven Administrators.” While not explicitly stated in the text, the seven Men can only represent the seven alchemical metals (Lead, Tin, Iron, Gold, Copper, Quicksilver, Silver).
The alchemical process is also hinted at by the transmutations that occur while on the terrestrial plane. First, the birthed men are composed of a trinity of Earth , Water , and Aether . Then the “Man in them changed from Life and Light into soul and mind, soul from Life, and mind from Light.” These transmutations are echoed in the role of the seven men, or alchemical metals, as the seven Administrators of the terrestrial plane. Gold is to Sun as soul is to Life and mind is to Light…As above, so below!
At the end of an undisclosed period, Mind the Father separates the female from the male amongst all living things including Men. With this we have the creation of man and woman, sexuality, polarity, and carnal desire. It seems that the seven men become the male and female ancestral humans at this point, presumably three and three, with the correspondent to Mercury/Quicksilver remaining a hermaphrodite. Mind the Father then leaves men and women to do their bidding with these final words:
“Increase and multiply abundantly, all ye that have been created and made. And let the man that has Mind in him recognize that he is immortal, and the cause of death is carnal desire.”