Hermeticism, named for Hermes Trismegistus, is a set of spiritual and philosophical beliefs. It’s essentially a non-Christian Gnostic tradition, meaning that it focuses on gnosis — the seeking of secret knowledge related to how the physical and spiritual world works.
In his writings, Hermes Trismegistus outlines the foundational laws that govern reality. These are the Seven Hermetic Principles.
Principle of Mentalism
The first of the Hermetic principles dictates that the All, which is understood to be the universe and totality of everything, is the product of the thoughts of a living mind. For anything to exist, it must be proceeded by a thought.
This is the same foundational concept that forms the basis for all forms of magic — there must first be a thought, or mental state, for there to be a result. All things are the result of a great, infinite, underlying consciousness.
Principle of Correspondence
This describes the relationship between various planes and the physical world. Much as a shaman knows to go into the realms of non-ordinary reality to discover and correct things in ordinary reality, and the spinning of atoms resembles the motion of planets, Hermes Trismegistus understood that all things on the physical plane reflect the other planes.
While humans are limited in what we’re able to see and experience, we can make deductions about other spheres based on what we’re able to observe. Macrocosms are reflected in microcosms, and vice versa. This allows humans to comprehend the unknown by studying the known.
Principle of Vibration
The third of the seven Hermetic principles states that everything has a vibration, and nothing is truly at rest. This has been backed up by modern science — everything, down to the tiniest subatomic particle we’ve been able to observe, moves.
Even if something appears to be perfectly still, like a stone, it’s vibrating at the atomic level. The actions of tiny particles dictate the form and composition of all matter.
In Hermetic thought, the differences between manifestations of thought, energy, matter, and spirit all come down to vibrations.
The universal, infinite mind is at the highest state of vibration, while gross forms of matter are at the lowest. Everything else exists somewhere in between.
At the highest rate of vibration, things can give the illusion of stillness — picture how a rapidly-spinning fan can appear to be staying still. Likewise, at the lowest rate of vibration, things can vibrate so slowly that they appear to not move at all.
Principle of Polarity
This principle holds that everything has an opposite, and all opposites share the same nature and differ only in degree. Consider fast and slow, as mentioned above — they’re both degrees of motion, the only difference is that one has less speed than the other.
Dark and light are the same, as the only difference between the two is that light has more photons than darkness. There’s also no clear border between these opposites. There’s no definite moment when dark becomes light.
This is the foundation of mental alchemy. If all things are dual, and all opposites are identical in nature, it’s possible to use one’s will to alter their perception and experience of the world.
Principle of Rhythm
This principle says that what goes up must come down, and all things are in a state of flow from one polarity to the next. When you combine the third and fourth principles, you can naturally draw the conclusion of the fifth.
Everything has motion, and opposites are merely a matter of degree, so everything must exist in a state of measured motion. Life flows toward death, destruction begets creation, and our mental states ebb and flow.
Understanding this allows one to exert control over their response to and feelings about these inevitable changes. Much as the ant knows that abundance won’t last forever, and prepares itself, while the grasshopper lives as though these days will never end, and suffers for it.
Principle of Cause & Effect
Much as the principle of rhythm holds that everything is in a state of transition from one pole to the next, cause and effect hold that there is no such thing as chance. The swing of the pendulum from one pole to the other doesn’t happen randomly.
Every action has a reaction, and there’s a law that dictates why — even if one may not understand that law. By recognizing that every action has a consequence, one can choose which actions to take, and take mastery over their life.
Principle of Gender
The last of the Hermetic principles holds that everything has qualities that can be conceptualized as either masculine or feminine. This should not be conflated with the human expression of gender, as people exhibit both energies to differing degrees from individual to individual.
Instead, masculine and feminine here are merely descriptors for two opposites. Masculine energies are future-driven, assertive, progressive, and penetrative. Feminine energies are grounded in the present, protective, traditional, and receptive.
Too much masculine energy leads to unchecked recklessness, while too much feminine energy leads to a state of stagnation where life becomes dictated by outside forces.
All people can and should exhibit a balance of both. Much as sperm and ova lead to conception, a balance of masculine and feminine energies lead to creation and regeneration.
Applying the 7 Hermetic Principles
The Hermetic principles are a guide to self-mastery. By properly applying them, it’s possible to govern your experience of the world.
The principle of mentalism simply says that your thoughts are more than just thoughts. When you can learn to hold onto the thoughts that serve you, and discard those that don’t, you can change your internal climate and impact how you perceive and interact with the world. Meditation is one way to learn how to observe your thoughts, without becoming attached to or distressed by them.
Correspondence and cause and effect tie in together. All things are a reflection of laws and relationships in higher and lower planes, so all things are interconnected.
Similarly, all effects arise due to a cause. When you understand this, it’s possible to take a bird’s eye view of life’s difficulties.
Owning your behavior and the consequences of your actions, and understanding that all things are connected, means that you can learn to respond to life instead of simply reacting to it. You choose your actions more wisely, and they yield a better effect.
Vibration is a bit more complicated. Humans are unique in that we can control our vibration. Much as effects follow from causes, our vibration proceeds from our thoughts and actions.
Hermeticists believe that a person’s vibration is akin to the tuning of an instrument, and, like an instrument, can be controlled. It requires applying the other principles to allow the mind and body to achieve a state of ease.
The principle of polarity involves challenging the way you think of things. Take something you hate, and try to explore these feelings. Is there any good you can find? Is there a single facet of that thing that you could love?
Hate is a strong emotion, and strong emotions foster an attitude of reaction, rather than response. Controlling the degree of emotion you feel allows you to control how you respond to things, and keeps them from bothering you and thereby lowering your vibration.
The principle of rhythm is relatively easy, and one that most adults intuitively understand, even if they may have difficulty applying it. No state lasts forever. Hard times follow good times, and vice versa.
Understanding this allows you to develop a deeper appreciation for when things are good, and prevents you from obsessing over rough patches.
Consider your relationship with money. Have you been poor in the past, and has this caused you to develop a poverty mindset? Or maybe you’ve been very well-off, and aren’t prepared to experience scarcity.
Realize that no state — bad or good — exists forever. Prepare yourself to experience the opposite eventually, and you’ll be ready when it comes.
The principle of gender is one of balance. It means accepting all aspects of yourself, and examining how your behavior begets your experiences. Are you an aggressive go-getter? This shows an abundance of masculine energy — remember the principle of rhythm, and realize that there will come a time when that energy will no longer serve you.
You need to know how to balance this with feminine energy, so you can respond to the ups and downs of life appropriately. The principle of correspondence dictates that as above, so below, and mentalism says that all things proceed from a thought.
The Hermetic principles, therefore, are a set of laws that can transcend the physical plane and impact one’s experience of the spiritual worlds. Self-mastery in this plane leads to understanding the human microcosm, which leads to a greater understanding of the mind as a macrocosm.
However you choose to apply these principles, whether for self-mastery or spiritual knowledge, they can help you achieve a greater state of calm, respond better to life’s hard times, and create the life you want to experience.