Dear Dirty America


Lectures on Alchemy – the Hermetic Tradition & Its Prophecy

August 01
19:26 2011
Credit: Entropath

Alchemy is not merely about turning shit into gold. It’s about a transformation of the soul. Terence McKenna gave a fascinating lecture on alchemy and the Hermetic tradition. Reading the entire transcript is a ‘trip’. He began the lecture with:

 Well, it’s very interesting – every ancient literature has its apocalypses and in the hermetic literature there is a prophecy, I think it’s in book two but that really doesn’t matter, and the prophecy is that a day will come when men no longer care for the earth and at that day the gods will depart and everything will be thrown into primal chaos and this prophecy was very strongly in the minds of the strains of non-Christian thought that evolved at the close-at the centuries of closure-of the Roman Empire.

 When you look back into historical time it’s when you reach the first and second centuries after Christ that you reach a world whose psychology was very much like the psychology of our own time. It was a psychology of despair and exhaustion. This is because Greek science which had evolved under the aegis of democratian atomism and Platonic metaphysics had essentially come to a dead end in those centuries.

We can debate the reasons why this happened. An obvious suggestion would be that they failed to develop an experimental method and so everything just dissolved into competing schools of philosophical speculation and a profound pessimism spread through the Hellenistic world and out of that pessimism and in the context of that kind of universal despair which attends the dissolution of great empires a literature was created from the first to the fourth centuries after Christ which we call the Hermetic Corpus or in some cases the Trismegistic Hymns. 

Now this body of literature was misunderstood by later centuries, especially the Renaissance, because it was taken at face value and assumed to be at least contemporary with Moses if not much older. So the Renaissance view of Hermeticism was based on a tragic misunderstanding of the true antiquity of this material and there are people, hopefully none in this room, who still would have us believe that this literature antedates the Mosaic Law, that it is as old as Dynastic Egypt. But this is an indefensible position from my point of view. In the early 16th century two men, a father and son, Issac and Marik Casaubon, showed through the new science of philology, that this material was in fact late Hellenistic. 

Now, I’ve always said that I am not a Classicist in the Viconian sense, in the sense that there is a certain strain of thought that always wants to believe that the oldest stuff is the best stuff. This is not the case to my mind. To my mind what is amazing is how recent everything is. So I have no sympathy with the fans of lost Atlantis or any of that kind of malarky because to me what is amazing is how it all is less than 10,000 years old. Anything older than 10,000 years puts us into the realm of an aceramic society relying on chipped flint for it’s primary technology.


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