Through all of my writing on Hermeticism and Hermetic philosophy on this blog, I’ve recommended a number of books. In this post, I’ll pull them all together to create a reading list for those interested in the subject.
I’ve broken the books into categories. First, we will start with introductory books. If you just want a brief overview of Hermeticism and the teachings of Hermes Trismegistus, start with these. However, if you’re ready to sink your teeth into something heavier, explore the books in the other categories. If you have other books on the topic to recommend, please post them in the comments and I’ll try to incorporate them into the list.1
Introduction to Hermeticism
We’re looking at a big, difficult subject, so it’s a good idea to start slowly and at the ground floor. These three books try to do just that. Freke and Gandy present a summary of Hermetic philosophy, so you can get some ideas about what Hermeticism is about. Lachman gives a quick and easy history of Hermes Trismegistus. Finally, the Emerald Tablet is the most popular classic Hermetic text and it’s always worth reading.
- The Hermetica: The Lost Wisdom of the Pharaohs by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy
- The Quest for Hermes Trismegistus: From Ancient Egypt to the Modern World by Gary Lachman
- The Emerald Tablet, and also read my piece on the Emerald Tablet
Intermediate Books on Hermeticism
Once you’ve been introduced to the concepts of Hermetic philosophy and the mythology behind Hermes Trismegistus, I think it’s time to really dig into his words. The Corpus Hermeticum is the collection of different tracts and writings, mostly attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, his son Tat, or his student Asclepius. There are a few really excellent modern translations available. Check these out!
- The Way of Hermes translated by Clement Salaman and others
- Asclepius: The Perfect Discourse of Hermes Trismegistus translated by Clement Salaman
- Hermetica translated by Brian Copenhaver
The Hermetic philosophers and mystics operating in Alexandria and other parts of North Africa were contemporary with Christian Gnostics. As a result, they not only shared a lot of ideas, but some Hermetic texts ended up in surprising places. Gnosticism therefore deserves special mention, so you might be interested in these books.
- The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels2
- The Nag Hammadi Scriptures: The Revised and Updated Translation of Sacred Gnostic Texts by by Marvin W. Meyer and James M. Robinson
During the Renaissance, Hermetic philosophy made a huge comeback. This reinterpretation of ancient writings has a strong influence on how Hermeticism is viewed today, but we’re not quite done figuring it out. Check out these books for more info on this era.
- The Secret History of Hermes Trismegistus: Hermeticism from Ancient to Modern times by Florian Ebeling
- Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition by Francis Yates
- Eros and Magic in the Renaissance by Ioan P. Couliano
It should probably be pointed out that the influence of Hermeticism on the Renaissance isn’t as cut and dry scholars like Frances Yates have argued. There’s a lot more nuance to what has been going on, so it helps to get some other view points. Here’s one.
- Frances Yates and the Hermetic Tradition by Marjorie G. Jones
Advanced Books on Hermeticism
Research on Hermeticism is ongoing. We’ve discovered links to Graeco-Egyptian magic, to Neoplatonism, to alchemy, and much more! An ongoing study of Hermetic material might never end. Here are some great books when you’re ready to really dive into the (papyrus) weeds!
- The Egyptian Hermes: A Historical Approach to the Late Pagan Mind by Garth Fowden
- Theurgy and the Soul: The Neoplatonism of Iamblichus by Gregory Shaw
- Eternal Hermes: From Greek God to Alchemical Magus by Antoine Faivre
- The Hermetic Link: From Secret Tradition to Modern Thought by Jacob Slavenburg
- The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation by Hans Dieter Betz
- Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic by Stephen Skinner
And this is just the list to get you started! During your exploration, you are sure to find more and more fascinating books about Hermeticism and Hermes Trismegistus. If you find or know of some that should be included here, please let me know in the comments.
The featured image is from the Heracles Papyrus (Oxford, Sackler Library, Oxyrhynchus Pap. 2331), a fragment of 3rd century Greek manuscript of a poem about the Labors of Heracles. All book links in this article are Amazon.com affiliate links.