Book Review – The Light of Hermes Trismegistus: New Translations of Seven Essential Hermetic Texts by Charles Stein
The Light of Hermes Trismegistus
New Translations of Seven
Essential Hermetic Texts
by Charles Stein
Publisher: Inner Traditions
Publication Date: December 6, 2022
This book is a unique compilation of seven texts and excerpts/fragments of texts that Stein considers to be essential to Hermeticism. These texts have never been published together and are translated by Stein from Greek or Latin. The included works are:
- The Theogony of Hesiod
- The Homeric Hymn to Hermes
- The “Poem of Parmenides”
- The Chaldean Oracles
- “The Vision of Isis” from the Metamorphosis of Apuleius
- “On Divine Virtue” by Zosimos of Panopolis
The subject is introduced at the start of each chapter with appropriate context and any other necessary details that could aid the reader as they take in the translated text. Then the author dives into the nitty gritty outlining the text’s connection to Hermetics; geeking out on language, translation, and grammar; and expanding on any other aspects the author found interesting and embodied the Hermetic Genius. I’ll share my two favorite takeaways below.
The chapter on The Theogony of Hesiod, Stein discusses how The Theogony wasn’t just a proclamation of lineage of the gods but a bit of the history of the emergence of the cosmology of the Ancient Greeks. The use of Middle Voice (as opposed to Active or Passive voices) as a means to speak something into existence means that each time the poem is performed, the gods are created. To take it one step further, the bard becomes the muse as they recite. Similarly, in “On Divine Virtue,” Stein comments that “to deal with a god one must in some manner become that god: one must align oneself on his attributes, resonate with his particular set of vibratory frequencies.” This is what we magicians do when we cast spells, we are more than parrots repeating chosen words, we become the god that speaks our desires into being.
In the chapter on The Homeric Hymn to Hermes, Stein discusses Hermes’ sacrifice of a tortoise to make a lyre, which he eventually gives to Apollo. Stein discusses how the gruesome end of the reptile demonstrates the “inseparability of good and evil,” that is a Hermetic theme as the tortoise’s death marks the start of his career making the music of the gods. Thus, this is one demonstration of Hermes being both ends of any spectrum, and everything in between – ambiguous, just as human nature is.
The book reads like a heavy academic article, which may either excite or deter one from picking up a copy. Personally, I found it very dense and hard to parse. This may be because I’m closer to the start of my study of Hermetics and alchemy, but it could also be because academic articles are frequently complex, filled with jargon, and rarely suited for a general audience. I found myself having re-read pages and frequently pause to look up words in the dictionary (thus expanding my vocabulary – not the worst thing to happen to me). Having to do my own interpretation to understand what was written was tiring, but ultimately, I believe I enjoyed the brain exercise (to an extent). Besides, “the occult does not cease being hidden even when it is revealed,” as Stein states on page 301 – if you are looking for a book on the occult written in language that feels accessible, this is not it. All that said, I enjoyed revisiting some of the texts that I had not studied since college, and especially enjoyed adding a magical lens to look through. Finally, I do recommend this book to anyone who loves approaching occultism with an academic approach.
The Light of Hermes Trismegistus on Amazon
About the Author:
Montine is an astrologer, tarot reader, and occultist living on unceded Duwamish land that some call Seattle. A forever student, journalist, and queer gender-nonconforming femme, she spends her time listening to the stories people tell with the hope of understanding many more perspectives than her own. Recently diagnosed with ADHD and self-diagnosed as autistic, she is rediscovering the world through a neurodivergent lens and transforming her life to work smarter and not harder. She writes an annual called Book of My Shadows which explores different ways to use the energy of New and Full Moons for personal growth and exploration and one of her current hyperfixations is studying the Greek Magical Papyri.