Hermeticism, also called Hermetism, is a religious, philosophical, and esoteric tradition based primarily upon writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus (“thrice-greatest Hermes”). These writings have greatly influenced the Western esoteric tradition and were considered to be of great importance during both the Renaissance and the Reformation. The tradition traces its origin to a prisca theologia, a doctrine that affirms the existence of a single, true theology that is present in all religions and that was given by God to man in antiquity.
Much of the importance of Hermeticism arises from its connection with the development of science during the time from 1300 to 1600 AD. The prominence that it gave to the idea of influencing or controlling nature led many scientists to look to magic and its allied arts (e.g., alchemy, astrology) which, it was thought, could put nature to the test by means of experiments. Consequently, it was the practical aspects of Hermetic writings that attracted the attention of scientists. Isaac Newton placed great faith in the concept of an unadulterated, pure, ancient doctrine, which he studied vigorously to aid his understanding of the physical world.
In Hermeticism, the ultimate reality is referred to variously as God, the All, or the One. God in the Hermetica is unitary and transcendent: he is one and exists apart from the material cosmos. Hermetism is therefore profoundly monotheistic although in a deistic and unitarian understanding of the term.
Hermeticists believe in a prisca theologia, the doctrine that a single, true theology exists, that it exists in all religions, and that it was given by God to man in antiquity. In order to demonstrate the truth of the prisca theologia doctrine, Christians appropriated the Hermetic teachings for their own purposes. By this account, Hermes Trismegistus was (according to the fathers of the Christian church) either a contemporary of Moses or the third in a line of men named Hermes—Enoch, Noah, and the Egyptian priest-king who is known to us as Hermes Trismegistus.
God, having created the universe, then created the divisions, the worlds, and various gods and goddesses, whom he appointed to certain parts of the universe. He then took a mysterious transparent substance, out of which he created human souls. He appointed the souls to the astral region, which is just above the physical region.
He then assigned the souls to create life on Earth. He handed over some of his creative substance to the souls and commanded them to contribute to his creation. The souls then used the substance to create the various animals and forms of physical life. Soon after, however, the souls began to overstep their boundaries; they succumbed to pride and desired to be equal to the highest gods.
God was displeased and called upon Hermes to create physical bodies that would imprison the souls as a punishment for them. Hermes created human bodies on earth, and God then told the souls of their punishment. God decreed that suffering would await them in the physical world, but he promised them that, if their actions on Earth were worthy of their divine origin, their condition would improve and they would eventually return to the heavenly world. If it did not improve, he would condemn them to repeated reincarnation upon Earth.