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The Light of Hermes Trismegistus

New Translations of Seven Essential Hermetic Texts

Published by Inner Traditions
Distributed by Simon & Schuster

About The Book

A presentation of seven essential texts, central to the Hermetic Tradition, never before published together

• Includes Theogony, The Homeric Hymn to Hermes, The Poem of Parmenides, The Poimandres, The Chaldean Oracles, Hymn to Isis, and On Divine Virtue, each translated from the original Greek or Latin

• Presents interpretive commentary for each text to progressively weave them together historically, poetically, hermeneutically, and magically

Linked to both the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth, Hermes Trismegistus is credited, through legend, with thousands of mystical and philosophical writings of high standing, each reputed to be of immense antiquity. During the Renaissance, a collection of such writings known as the Corpus Hermeticum greatly inspired the thought of philosophers, alchemists, artists, poets, and even theologians.

Offering new translations of seven essential Hermetic texts from their earliest source languages, Charles Stein presents them alongside introductions and interpretive commentary, revealing their hidden gems of insight, suggesting directions for practice, and progressively weaving the texts together historically, poetically, hermeneutically, and magically. The book includes translations of Hesiod’s Theogony, the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, the “Poem of Parmenides,” the Poimandres from the Corpus Hermeticum, the Chaldean Oracles, “The Vision of Isis” from Apuleius’s Metamorphoses, and “On Divine Virtue” by Zosimos of Panopolis.

Through his introductions and commentaries, Stein explains how the many traditions that use Hermes’s name harbor a coherent spirit whose relevance and efficacy promise to carry Hermes forward into the future.

Revealing Hermes as the very principle of Mind in all its possibilities, from intellectual brilliance to the workings of the cognitive life of everyone, the author shows how these seven texts are central to a still-evolving Western tradition in which the principle of spiritual awakening is allied with the creative. Never before published together, these texts present a new vehicle for transmission of the Hermetic Genius in modern times.


From INTRODUCTION: The Text Itself Is the Secret


Hermes is the very principle of the mind in all its possibilities: from heights of intellectual and contemplative brilliance to the daily cognitive life of each of us, from a cosmic principle of creative vision to the cognitive capacities of birds, fungi, and microbes. Hermes organizes academic discussion and public debate and encourages the most intimate and private occult speculation; he stimulates insights—wise, cantankerous, or frankly conspiratorial—and delusions—deleterious or divine. Hermes manifests between things: between sleep and waking he is the bringer of enigmatic dreams; between waking and sleeping, outré or quotidian mathematical clarities, eternal verities, insidious machinations. His mood and attitude might be glad inventiveness, helpful and generous, sparkling with open frankness, tantalizing with unexpected phenomena in and out of the mind. Hermes sponsors scientific disciplines but also negotiates with magical agencies and Wiccan theurgy. He whispers in the minds of CEOs, demagogues, pundits, visionaries, curious children, careful craftsmen, secret sages, and underworld dons.

Hermes as the sponsor of intellectual penetration gives us modern mathematics, modern physics, modern technology, information theory, modern weaponry, and modern finance. Yet, Hermes as trickster knows that these “smart” and powerful practices of cognitive resourcefulness cannot penetrate to the truth of Being or effect a commodious alignment upon or with it. There are mathematicians in whose psychic core nestles a will to unravel or further entangle the knotted skein of existence; it hardly matters which. These are the self-articulations of the inescapably inscrutable—that mathematics itself discovers paradoxes; that fundamental physics powers up from contradictory theoretical unnegotiables; that young physicists at Cern or Fermilab enthuse over the promise of enigmas to come! But far from gleefully celebrating scientific discoveries, where technologies seek mastery rather than harmony, Trickster Hermes countenances environmental, military, fiduciary, and medical catastrophes. We have given ourselves an ever-increasingly integrated global system of finance, information, and communication. These only exist, however, by a perpetual will-to-expand that threatens terrestrial existence as a whole. Is intelligence itself irremediably rigged so that it overwhelms, floods, manipulates, teases, demands our participation, sues for our allegiance, and torments our self-esteem, all the while entangling reason and existence in networks across the world, until it well might seem that our will to ameliorate our sundry predicaments—in short technology—is engineering our demise?

Our time seems overwhelmed by multiple spheres of intelligent concern that must but, it would seem, cannot be brought under a coherent set of views. How such views might steer clear of authoritarian dogmatism, head-in-the-sand private intuition, narrow professional specialization, or extravagantly broad but undependable fantasy is rarely discernible. We require not further elaboration of what mind we have thus far been able to muster but an altogether new imagination of intelligence. Any further life for the tradition of the Hermetic does not proffer itself merely as the continuation of ideas and practices of the past. These seven texts are offered for their hidden gems of insight and direction, some of which insights indeed are tried and true though eclipsed (occulted) by more familiar texts and contexts. Others have yet to find their articulation and their time of invention, discovery, or application. Still, without the whole of the Hermetic universe being brought to bear in principle, the partial activities of mind are subject to all the familiar consequences of intellectual partiality—global conflict, ecological devastation, fundamentalist confusions of all kinds (not only religions suffer from unnegotiably intransigent practices and beliefs). Here Hermes, slighted by partiality, plays the trickster and allows the conflict of ontologies to wreak havoc upon the whole of apparent Being. If technological reason is one facet of mind but has managed to project itself over the whole of the world of our time, crises of climate change, habitat destruction, overpopulation, and income inequality would be the dark jest of that partiality—Hermetic blowback, the devastating games of Trickster Hermes. But to return to Hermes the dignity of a principle of intellect that cannot be fragmented is to heal the inescapably discordant multiplicity of the world, not by bringing the fragments together under a normative hierarchy but by opening the ground from which this very multiplicity continues to grow and into which each phenomenon dissolves when its time-span form comes to a close. What I call a time-span form is any continuing phenomenon: a gesture, a plan of action, a conversation, a poem, a narrative, a musical or dance performance.

These seven texts are central to a still-evolving Western Esoteric Tradition in which the principle of spiritual awakening engages creativity exactly where its dark twin—the inalienably transitory character of being in time—is also in play. Solve et coagula, dissolve and bind together, the alchemists love to say. The Hermetic work involves breaking apart and bringing together, incursions of things appearing suddenly and phenomena vanishing from view. That which has become stultifying in its overbearing coherence or manically prolific without regard to context or use must be dissolved to reveal the fresh, creative ground that still underlies its elements. That which suffers in an agony of mere repetition or random incoherence must be recombined, reaggregated, forged and fused anew under the aegis of an emergent harmony. That which is impossible but desirable must be delivered to and from means available from the invisible, that is, the Divine Background to all that comes to appear.

Hermetic work, in spite of its comfortable fellowship with abstraction, is concrete and specific. Its values proceed from action appropriate to its phase, not the rigid insistence upon atemporally lodged, abstract generalities. And yet the work itself follows from a principle of radical immediacy that is in time but not of time and is nowhere apart from intelligence and Hegel’s “labor of the concept,” the intellectual concentration required to make thoughts cogent and appropriately communicable.
Though all seven texts have been translated before, they have never before been published together. The hope is that here their points of connection and mutual illumination might spark originary insights in their readers. The numen, godhead, or spirit or what I think of as the Genius of Hermes inspires the deepest kind of research—private, contemplative investigations into the nature of Being itself, as well possibilities for new social formations. If, as one of the slogans of Occupy Wall Street had it some years ago, “Another world is possible,” it is through a commonly communicable yet individually accessed ground of awakening that new sociality might evolve. What one discovers under such an aegis is the continuing reconstruction of the concerns of what, some years ago, Peter Lamborn Wilson and Chris Bamford dubbed “Green Hermeticism” (Wilson 2007)—Hermeticism reconvened for the renewal of the world.

About The Author

Charles Stein is a poet and independent scholar with a Ph.D. in literature from the University of Connecticut and a bachelor’s degree in ancient Greek from Columbia University. The author of several books of poetry, including From Mimir’s Head, as well as literary works such as Persephone Unveiled and The Secret of the Black Chrysanthemum, he lives in Barrytown, New York.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Inner Traditions (December 6, 2022)
  • Length: 352 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781644114629

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Raves and Reviews

“I have to go back forty years to Stanley Lombardo’s pitch-perfect renderings of Parmenides and Empedocles to match Stein’s resourceful lucidity and poetic nimbleness. His commentaries are rigorous and impeccable, and the translations are an exaltation unto themselves. Stein has sounded the depths. These are more than documents, they are vitalities.”

– Jed Rasula, Helen S. Lanier Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Georgia, Athens

“In alignment with the spirits of Thomas Taylor and G. R. S. Mead, Charles Stein has devoted decades to a meticulous deep reading and research of the works collected now in The Light of Hermes Trismegistus, and the translations that have resulted are highly considered, musical, and shapely. We are thrice blessed with Stein’s illuminating, fresh, and detailed commentary and his offering of a profound and original philosophical view of a possible past, present, and future of the Hermetic texts.”

– Kimberly Lyons, author of Capella

“Charles Stein’s translations from the Hermetic tradition have the wildness and directness of great poetry, the precision and depth of profound philosophical inquiry, and the spiritual intensity and devotion that only comes from practice and experience in a number of sacred traditions.”

– Marcus Boon, author of In Praise of Copying

“This collection and commentary delivers what only the right poet’s translation can: it recovers the vital Western sources of Being in a poiesis true to our moment in time. ‘The text itself is the secret,’ as Stein takes from Henry Corbin, and here in these sacred renderings the secret is: the text itself is Hermes--for our eyes now.”

– George Quasha, poet, artist, writer, and copublisher of Station Hill Press

“In this embarrassment of riches, Charles Stein’s electrifying translation of Parmenides is alone worth the price of admission, but there is so much more. The generous essays following each work--taking us along a deep journey into their unique poetic value--make his brilliant translations stand out all the more. While there is a certain irony in calling this a timely book, Stein offers us the kind of knowledge we should be hungering for.”

– Ammiel Alcalay, author of After Jews and Arabs and editor of Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document

"Hermes Trismegistus is at once an energetic deity in ancient mythology and an enigmatic figure credited with writing a body of texts in the ancient world. This book presents newly translated texts that translator Charles Stein subsequently explores for connections and ideas relevant to contemporary times. Highly recommended as an unusual grouping of Hermetic texts as well as a source of contemplations on those texts for more advanced readers."

– Elizabeth Hazel,

“Charles Stein’s translations are an activation within the history of magic and the magic of historiography. In his hands these esoteric works are not mere artifacts but living things that maintain a vital charge made easily accessible within anyone’s open ‘poetic wallet.’ This anthology’s purse ultimately is a vast portmanteau of the Hermetic treasure house that delivers inspiriting news renewed and unpacked with each reading.”

– Robert Podgurski, author of The Sacred Alignments and Sigils

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