Skip to main content


All posts published here are presented as casual conversation pieces to provoke thought in some direction or another, they do not necessarily represent fixed opinions of the Inner Council, as our work exists beyond the spectrum of bound statement and singular clause.

Poemandres, The Shepherd of Men

The following is a transcript of Manly P. Hall’s lecture on The Pymander or The Vision of Hermes. It is an eloquent breakdown of the core concept at the centre of Hermetic thought and teaching. Enjoy!


These structures we may call economic, political, religious, artistic, they become schools and sects and creeds, they become doctrines and arts and sciences forming like bodies composed of infinite units, compounds each one of which must ultimately be dissolved. Thus all mental and emotional forms, cultural forms and concepts are temporary kinds of bodies composed of the voluntary cooperation of selves or selfhoods which stay as long as they can stay, or endure as long as they can endure and then depart. So we have another interesting level namely that self, iota, the ego is the column set up in the midst of our own natures by which we seem to see or feel the presence of a tremendous and enduring power, but this power is purely symbolical. Hermes then beseeches the great mind, reason which is the eternal dragon to reveal to him something more. He has now learned of how leviathan—this dragon—gathering unto itself a third of the stars of the heavens carried them forth into the abyss. We have again a biblical parallel. According to Hermes comes the greater mystery of it all. How men, how this infinite number of separate Inesses shall finally be reconciled, how from the base metals and substances of nature the infinite mind shall be rescued and restored and revived. Reason explains to Hermes that all these forms and bodies set up in nature are merely the instruments of its own purpose and its purpose is the complete and full discovery of its own unity.

Man in order to experience that which is good must have certain need, must have desire, and be capable of the archetypal thought of good, it must have the ultimate archetype of unity in order to experience its own eternal unity, that which is undivided knows not its own unity unless it passes through the experience of a parent diversity and discovers itself. Thus reason through this vast pageantry and circuit of things is forever concerned with its ultimate goal, self discovery. That from the exploration of the not-self it shall be restored to the equilibrium of the self knowing. And the great mind or reason tells Hermes that the course of this is a vast cycle of which the death of man is a miniature representation or replica. The reason says to Hermes that man is separate from truth because of the various deflections which affect its mind, which affect its attitudes and particularly divided from others of its own kind. The formula for regeneration as set forth in the vision is almost completely Buddhistic but it is not certain that it was brought from India although it is possible that it could have been, because the doctrine of Buddhism had been established in Asia for 450 years before the probable date of the compilation of the Pymander. In any event this pattern—perhaps supported by the Babylonian account of the adventure of Ishtar at the seven gates—certainly gives us a clue to what we want. The soul passing out of the body at death, therefore precedes toward the goal of liberation.

What is death to the body is achieved by a certain disenchantment of the mind, thus as the body must die to release its occupant so illusion must die in order that the truth content in reason may rise victorious over error. Here again a strong psychological position, and in this sense death thus becomes disenchantment. The reason escaping from the wiles of the senses and from the pressures of material situation. We have something a little reminiscent also of the Percival legend and the young prince in his experiences in the enchanted garden of Klingsor the black magician. This disenchantment—like in the story of Mohammed’s night journey to heaven—consists of the reason ascending through the seven orbits of the planets, ascending through the seven gates of the governors of the world and voluntarily returning to each of the governors the conditioning qualities which that governor has bestowed. Otherwise man fell by taking on attributes and qualities he rises by renouncing them. We have a little bit of astrology coming into this pattern, which is perfectly consistent with the times for in those days astrology was as sound a science as physics is today, people regarded it with just as much appreciation and keenness of affection. The disembodied being, the disenchanted one was wakened from the sleep of material life and has passed out of this world of matter into the Cerberial world of the divine machinery moves first upward through the gate of the moon and there as Hermes says it relinquishes the power to increase and decrease. In other words it ends the moods or renounces its strange allegiances by which man has become servant of the moon, servant of change, servant of vacillation, servant of mood, servant of generation, servant of all these things which in their inconstancy hold up the mirror of illusion in which the being sees the distorted reflection of itself.

To all the strange illusions of night and darkness, the waxing and waning, from the strange laws governing the 28 cycle of the moon, from all the strange world of phenomena—which is associated by the ancients with the lunar orb—and constitute together the lunacy of all time. These are rejected, cast off, returned again to their custodian where they shall be held to be used by others who need them, but now the soul is returning to its homeland. Having relieved itself from all of these mysterious bonds and bondages the soul then ascends to the gate of Mercury and here it returns to the guardian or the worker of the gate those things that belong to the world of Mercury. Hermes says that these include all manner of deceit, all manner of false thinking all schemes, all plots and strategies, all brilliant intellections which have no substance in themselves, false knowledge, false learning, sophistication, that by which brilliance is mistaken for truth and the light of sophistry is substituted for the light of reason. These things must return again, and man to pass through the gate and ascend must pay the fee of the gatekeeper and at each gate the gatekeeper demands its allotment from the nature of man, so that at each gate man loses something of his mortal or corporeal nature. He ascends to the third gate, and here he must restore to Venus those things which are the peculiar province of this goddess. Most of that which he must restore is vanity, vanity must cease, he must never again be moved by appearances and the outward semblances of things, he must not chase the will-o-the-wisp of gratification or of idle fortune, nor must he in any way be deceived by the seemingness of anything. He must penetrate appearances, seeking for that beauty which is in the soul of things, and not indoctrinated only by those symmetries and graces of form which he has mistaken for the presence of reality.

Having paid the keeper of this gate he goes on and approaches the gate of the sun. Here to this guardian, to this one of the seven governors he must restore its substance which is ambition. Here he must return to the gatekeeper all of those things which bear upon greatness, all desires to excel others, all comparative search for self aggrandisement, to escape from the illusion of high office, or the delusion of humility and humble station. To escape also from the temptation of possession and the great temptation of all, to use what we have to the detriment and destruction of those who have less. This must be left with the keeper of the gate of the sun, and then the soul proceeds onwards to the gate of Mars. Here the gatekeeper also demands his fee, and to him must be returned all contention, all discord, all hate, all war likeness either of the mind or of the body. Here likewise there must be an arbitration of every conflict which can possibly affect adversely the spiritual destiny of the soul. To Mars therefore must be given back temper, anger even righteous indignation has no place, all things but gentleness must be renounced. And then to the gate of Jupiter the soul ascends and here it must perhaps sacrifice more than than in any other place given our way of thinking today for here we must sacrifice judgement of others. Here we must sacrifice the type of thinking which many people regard as philosophical, we must give up the mental solution to the mystery of life, here we must end forever the discussions, discourses, debates of the learned.

Here we must also seek to escape from theoretical knowledge, from the common mistake that if we name a thing we know it. Here we must reform the whole concept of our higher learning making it identical with the quest for reality—rather than the accumulation of a wealth of ideas which may seem to be a marvellous fortune but really are only a burden to the spirit. Having passed through this gate the soul comes finally to the gate of Saturn. Here it must give up those things which are its most basic ideas. Its belief in life and death, its belief in happiness and sorrow, its belief that this world bears anywhere within the substance of itself any injustice. Also we must give up all compromise about the laws of nature and the laws of God. Here we must give up all evasions, we must give up everything which seems to point to the permanence of our illusionary state. So that indeed from the gravity of this planet we have gained a gravity which holds us down and we must return it so that we are once more free of motion. That we move with the moment that we master the mystery of time, that we overcome forever past, present and future in ourselves, becoming now not only bodiless but trainless, dwelling in space, and having so done according to the old beliefs we are returned again to the infinite from the strange whirring rings of Saturn of the soul which has ascended above the 7 governors then it turns into what Hermes calls the blessed state of the eight sphere.

This eight sphere which in the old astronomical system corresponded with the imperium or the abode of the angels or the abode of blessed spirits, was also the sphere of the fixed stars, here the reason having liberated itself now from all worldliness passes into the contemplation of the divine universe. Not again necessarily coming face to face with the great dragon but beholding directly the works of reason, beholding as Hermes did in his vision the unfolding of the resplendent world of absolute law, beholding truly the angels and the stars, even the wide eyed cherubim. Beholding a magnificent garden in space, a garden filled with the flowers of truth. Here the being comes into the certainty of the divine good, lives in the world directly the fashioning of God and beholds inwardly the faces and substances of the divine powers. Thus having ascended through the mystery of the ladder, or of the seven conditions, the being no longer conditioned moves again into the archetypal state of pure reason.

This to a certain degree corresponds also with the ladder of illumination described by Plotinus the neo-Platonist, for it represents undoubtedly the progressive refinement of man’s consciousness and his motion from opinion to sense, from sense to knowledge, from knowledge to wisdom, from wisdom to understanding, from understanding to intuition, from intuition to illumination and from illumination to God. It is an ascending order. This constitutes on unquestionably the presence in the Hermetic doctrine of a distinct discipline perhaps corresponding somewhat to the chakra system of yoga Vedanta and again in the vision of the apocalypse of John these levels and layers through which the soul ascends are of course the seven churches which are in Asia. The victory over the 7 governors corresponds to the opening of the 7 seals. These analogies and parallels bring us again finally to the contemplation of released or illumined reason. Reason which by virtue of itself now reasons about the one subject, that is deity. Not deity theologically, but deity as totality, deity as the end of all learning, the summit of all sciences, the source and perfection of all arts. We no longer think of reason either as philosophical or as theological, it is now simply the total knowing of the total thing to be known. Hermes having received this part of the revelation brings to us another interesting situation for us to consider. He asks the great mind, the great reason, the dragon something about the nature of the expectancies and hopes of mankind about all this. He knows and perhaps has already been told because the original sequence of the verses or sections of the vision is not really known. He anticipates at least that he is about to approach the ministry of service, that he is to bring the message of the great dragon, that he is to become the instrument for reason, that truly it is not himself but the divine reason in him which is to speak. And he asks naturally to whom shall the reason speak and who shall understand the reason? How shall this strange ministry be promoted? The dragon answers him very definitely, but of course as always in these cases a dogmatic way which is not clearly practical at least not in its first presentation. First of all the reason assures Hermes that the secret of the final liberation of all things is that the same reason which in its substance overshadows and permeates is also the same reason which in its fragments—divided and embodied—must accept the doctrine. Thus reason speaks only to itself. It speaks from the total appearance of itself to the diversified appearance of itself. And because every germ of life contains the seed of reason this seed can be restored, it can be released, it can ultimately be raised from the darkness of its ignorance to an abiding in eternal life. However this reason—in the case of mankind—is deeply buried and hidden within the structure of mortality, it is obscured, punished, almost destroyed by the senses. It has slight if any opportunity in the confusion in our outward living to achieve its proper and purposeful end.

Therefore the divine reason tells Hermes very simply that the course of procedure—much as in the biblical parable—is that Hermes shall go forth and sow the seeds of reason, that he shall bring the message and the message will fall upon fertile ground and upon sterile ground and there shall be some that will immediately accept, there are others who will ultimately accept, there are many who will not accept, or time, or time and a half times. That there will be those whose understanding will in various degrees of intensity rise from darkness of their sleep and search for this reason which is the true substance of themselves. There are others again who will believe it but will not see it. There are some who will say this is true but this is not for me. There are others who will say sometime, when things are different I will search, but now I cannot. There are others who still will say I would like to search but my worldliness is stronger than my faith therefore I will cling to what I know and sometime perhaps I should know more. All kinds of humanity. There are some who shall blaspheme the reason, shall deny that it exists and say that man comes out of the earth and will return to it and that is all. These shall be considered as abiding in a strange thrice dark darkness, for they are not only without the light, but they are without the vision of the need of the dark and they are without the possibility of the hope of the light.

These different beings will variously react and some may turn upon Hermes and injure him, some will ridicule him, some may attempt to destroy him, others will pass him by and ignore him and a few will listen, more will argue, and some in turn will attempt to convert him to their ways. In all cases it is his duty to preserve always the vision and the reason, to serve it in any way that he can, and if it shall happen that a man shall not come to not know the reason of the world because the voice of Hermes has not reached him or the voice of other prophets sent by God have not come to him or men have so diluted the words of the prophets that they can no longer guide their lives by the ancient ways, these men are not lost, they are not destroyed, nor is there for them any great and eternal evil. They shall simply at death go to sleep and they shall sleep and they shall move in their sleep through the gates and the keepers of the gates, and in their sleeping they shall pay no fee and there shall return nothing to the keeper of the gates. They shall return again into the great eighth sphere but they shall sleep and they shall sleep through the mystery of this and in their sleeping they shall fold into the sphere of the stars and in the sphere of the stars there’s a river,—flowing forever—called by us the river of stars. The milky way, and the milky way is the nurse of little souls and it nourishes them out of the milk of life, and when the souls reach this they shall enter upon the stream as little ships upon a river, they shall float and float and float. They shall float back again down into the world and be born again.

They shall float back into the dream and into the illusion into which they have never awakened, and they shall rest for a little time among the stars that they shall be born again in this world, and they shall keep on this cycle until they awaken, for they cannot be released until consciously and voluntarily they return to the seven guardians the fees of the payment of the seven spheres. This Hermes is told by the eternal reason, is not because God loves or hates, because God punishes or rewards, for there is nothing that God could hate but himself, nothing that he could reward but himself, there is nothing that he can say well done to except the doing of himself. There is no way in which a part of himself can be lost to himself, for he is all and he is forever. Therefore this great cycle goes on not by fear, not by hate, not by punishment nor by reward, but because it is under the mysterious axis which is called the spindle of necessity upon which all things turn. And these are the robes and the ways of the machineries by means of which the divine power fulfils its own work. They are the functions of its body, just as circulation and assimilation and excretion are functions of the mortal body of man. Because the rotations and revolutions of the bloods and fluids of the body maintain the body so the mutations and revolutions of beings maintain the vast circulation of that infinite one, who alone is the essential substance of things.


If you would like to understand more about archetypal therapy and the ongoing integration support that we offer at the Inner Council then feel free to contact us for a casual and confidential conversation. We are, by the way, expecting you.