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A Basic Historico-Chronological Model of the
Western Hermetic Tradition

An Alternative Thematic Model of the Western Hermetic Tradition


Viewed thematically, as an alternative, the western Hermetic tradition, or philosophia perennis, can be conceptualised alternatively in a useful thematic model with seven fundamental components.

  • Correspondences
    Equivalences are assumed to exist and to operate among all of the constituent parts of the universe. This is manifested in the notions of the macrocosm (above) and the microcosm (below) and the associated ideas of
    1. universal inter-dependence
    2. inner and outer ‘realms’ of the cosmos as a Divine ensemble of hieroglyphs and
    3. Man’s mission to decipher them.
  • Phenomenalism and Magia
    Nature is conceived as a living entity which can be read as a ‘text’ that is permeated throughout by an interior, hidden and circulating ‘fire’, or magia, which (in turn) is comprised of
  1. the overt activities by which we are informed of that knowledge.
  2. a knowledge of the subtle network of sympathies and antipathies that unifies it and humanity and
  • Imagination and Mediations
    These are inter-connected and complementary concepts. The former, one of Man’s range of capabilities, allows him free access to various levels of reality. The latter include rituals, symbols. Images, numbers and mandalas etc., which develop
  1. our knowledge of Nature’s ‘hieroglyphs’ and
  2. our understanding of the inter-active relationship between God, the cosmos and humanity.
  • Transmutation
    A sort of alchemical process, this is the modification of Man’s being so that an individual, enlightened by gnosis, is changed qualitatively, or given a second ‘birth’, moving inexorably towards Man’s Divinely ordained fulfilment and thereby ameliorating the destruction engendered by his primeval Fall.
  • Concordance
    This is manifested by two syncretistic assumptions or tendencies:
  1. that there are discernible common denominators between the different religio-philosophical traditions and

(b) that there is an underlying primordial tradition that permeates all of those traditions.

  • Transmission
    In order to be valid, gnosis must be transmitted from one individual to another in initiatory affiliations that have unimpeachable authenticity or regularity, enlightenment being seen as something that is bestowed, inherited or handed on in a legitimate and legitimising sequence.
  • Secrecy and Opacity
    Access to gnosis is seen as something too precious to be disseminated widely, for to do so would debase its potentiality and its potency. Hence, gnosis is restricted to self-selecting, numerically small elites and hidden carefully by contrived obsfucation.

If this model is used to determine whether and how far speculative Freemasonry synchronises into the western Hermetic tradition, we have to begin by examining the content of the current basic Masonic rituals that have been inherited from previous generations. There is prima facie evidence therein that Freemasonry does mesh in quite neatly. As far as the ‘Correspondence’ component is concerned then there are close parallels drawn between the nature, formation and operation of the Lodge (qua microcosm) and the universe (qua macrocosm). With regard to the second component, ‘Phenomalism and Magia, in the Second Degree, for instance, the basic task for the freemason is to decipher ‘the hidden mysteries of nature and science. The whole of the rituals themselves - and more particularly the repeated emphases therein on the symbolic use to be made of Working Tools by the freemason – would seem to be the ‘Mediation’ element mentioned in the model. As far as the ‘Transmutation’ component is concerned then there is a potent image in the Lodge rooms – that of the spiritual development of the freemason symbolised by the progress from the Rough Ashlar to the Smooth Ashlar. Speculative Freemasonry does not espouse any particular creed but is founded on ‘that religion on which all men do agree’ and so it parallels the ‘Concordance’ element of the model. As far as the ‘Transmission’ component is concerned, then of course Freemasonry is initiatory with the secrets being confided by a Master to newcomers. More details of this will be given later. Finally, the ‘Secrecy and Opacity’ features are to be found in plentiful supply in Freemasonry. For instance, great stress is placed on the former in the Obligations which all members are required to take at various stages and which they are expected not to violate by betraying ‘secrets’ to non-members. More will be said about the intentional ‘Opacity’ of Masonic imagery later.

However, Freemasonry’s claim to have a legitimate place within the western Hermetic tradition requires much more careful analysis. This paper concentrates first on the English tradition with which the present writer has been acquainted for the past 25 years and then it will refer to other European traditions with he is also familiar.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014