Hermeticism is rooted in ancient Egyptian (and to a lesser extent Greek) teachings and is possibly the oldest spiritual tradition on Earth. Throughout the ages, it has been referred to as the "prisca theologia" - or perennial philosophy.
If this philosophy is perennial, it is primarily because it has been carefully passed down through the millennia, mainly through oral teachings.
It is important to note that Hermetic philosophy has also been repeatedly absorbed and integrated into other spiritual traditions. As a result of this assimilation, people sometimes find it difficult to distinguish the “original” Hermetic teachings from the other teachings they have been mixed with.
The most direct way to understand a tradition is to go back to the source and look at the concepts that were originally spelt out. The Hermetic mode of looking at reality is traditionally referred to as “Gnosis”. Gnosis is a Greek term that can be translated as “knowledge”. However, the kind of knowledge advocated in Hermetic philosophy is very different from our modern understanding of knowledge. Nowadays, it is generally accepted that knowledge is something that is achieved through reason, argumentation and that involves the intellect. The main tool that is used to develop this type of knowledge is language.
Gnosis refers to a very different type of knowledge, though—a knowledge that cannot be attained through logic or empirical evidence. Instead, Gnosis is about developing an intuitive, immediate understanding of reality. In this sense, it involves cognition of reality through non-discursive means (in other words, not through the medium of language). According to Hermetic teachings, Gnosis is the way to true wisdom. As such, it forms the basis for understanding the nature of the relationship between humans, the cosmos and the divine. The study of Hermeticism is essentially an investigation into these different aspects of existence and how they relate to one another.
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