Poimandres, the Shepherd of Men

[Note: Poimandres (Greek: also known as Poimandres, Poimander or Pimander) is a chapter in the Corpus Hermeticum.

Originally written in Greek, the title was formerly understood to mean “Man-Shepherd”, but recent studies on its etymology have shown that it is actually derived from the Egyptian phrase meaning “Knowledge of Re” or “Understanding of Re”. It is also a sort of deity or attribute of God as nous.]

1. It chanced once on a time my mind was meditating on the things that are, my thought was raised to a great height, the senses of my body being held back − just as men who are weighed down with sleep after a fill of food, or from fatigue of body.

Methought a Being more than vast, in size beyond all bounds, called out my name and saith: What wouldst thou hear and see, and what hast thou in mind to learn and know?

2. And I do say: Who art thou?

He saith: I am Man−Shepherd (Poimandres), Mind of all−masterhood; I know what thou desirest and I’m with thee everywhere.

3. [And] I reply: I long to learn the things that are, and comprehend their nature, and know God. This is, I said, what I desire to hear.

He answered back to me: Hold in thy mind all thou wouldst know, and I will teach thee.

4. With these words His aspect changed, and straightway, in the twinkling of an eye, all things were opened to me, and I see a Vision limitless, all things turned into Light − sweet, joyous [Light]. And I became transported as I gazed.

But in a little while Darkness came settling down on part [of it], awesome and gloomy, coiling in sinuous folds, so that methought it like unto a snake.

And then the Darkness changed into some sort of a Moist Nature, tossed about beyond all power of words, belching out smoke as from a fire, and groaning forth a wailing sound that beggars all description.

[And] after that an outcry inarticulate came forth from it, as though it were a Voice of Fire.

5. [Thereon] out of the Light […] a Holy Word (Logos) descended on that Nature. And upwards to the height from the Moist Nature leaped forth pure Fire; light was it, swift and active too.

The Air, too, being light, followed after the Fire; from out of the Earth−and−Water rising up to Fire so that it seemed to hang therefrom.

But Earth−and−Water stayed so mingled with each other, that Earth from Water no one could discern. Yet were they moved to hear by reason of the Spirit−Word (Logos) pervading them.

6. Then saith to me Man−Shepherd: Didst understand this Vision what it means?
Nay; that shall I know, said I.

That Light, He said, am I, thy God, Mind, prior to Moist Nature which appeared from Darkness; the Light−Word (Logos) [that appeared] from Mind is Son of God.

What then? − say I.

Know that what sees in thee and hears is the Lord’s Word (Logos); but Mind is Father−God. Not separate are they the one from other; just in their union [rather] is it Life consists.

7. And speaking thus He gazed for long into my eyes, so that I trembled at the look of him.

But when He raised His head, I see in Mind the Light, [but] now in Powers no man could number, and Cosmos grown beyond all bounds, and that the Fire was compassed round about by a most mighty Power, and [now] subdued had come unto a stand.

And when I saw these things I understood by reason of Man−Shepherd’s Word (Logos).

8. But as I was in great astonishment, He saith to me again: Thou didst behold in Mind the Archetypal Form whose being is before beginning without end. Thus spake to me Man−Shepherd.

And I say: Whence then have Nature’s elements their being?

To this He answer gives: From Will of God. [Nature] received the Word (Logos), and gazing upon the Cosmos Beautiful did copy it, making herself into a cosmos, by means of her own elements and by the births of souls.

9. And God−the−Mind, being male and female both, as Light and Life subsisting, brought forth another Mind to give things form, who, God as he was of Fire and Spirit, formed Seven Rulers who enclose the cosmos that the sense perceives. Men call their ruling Fate.

10. Straightway from out the downward elements God’s Reason (Logos) leaped up to Nature’s pure formation, and was at−oned with the Formative Mind; for it was co−essential with it.

And Nature’s downward elements were thus left reason−less, so as to be pure matter.

11. Then the Formative Mind ([at−oned] with Reason), he who surrounds the spheres and spins them with his whorl, set turning his formations, and let them turn from a beginning boundless unto an endless end.

For that the circulation of these [spheres] begins where it doth end, as Mind doth will.

And from the downward elements Nature brought forth lives reason−less; for He did not extend the Reason (Logos) [to them].

The Air brought forth things winged; the Water things that swim, and Earth−and−Water one from another parted, as Mind willed. And from her bosom Earth produced what lives she had, four−footed things and reptiles, beasts wild and tame.

12. But All−Father Mind, being Life and Light, did bring forth Man co−equal to Himself, with whom He fell in love, as being His own child; for he was beautiful beyond compare, the Image of his Sire. In very truth,

God fell in love with his own Form; and on him did bestow all of His own formations.

13. And when he gazed upon what the Enformer had created in the Father, [Man] too wished to enform; and [so] assent was given him by the Father.

Changing his state to the formative sphere, in that he was to have his whole authority, he gazed upon his Brother’s creatures. They fell in love with him, and gave him each a share of his own ordering.

And after that he had well learned their essence and had become a sharer in their nature, he had a mind to break right through the Boundary of their spheres, and to subdue the might of that which pressed upon the Fire.

14. So he who hath the whole authority o’er [all] the mortals in the cosmos and o’er its lives irrational, bent his face downwards through the Harmony, breaking right through its strength, and showed to downward Nature God’s fair form.

And when she saw that Form of beauty which can never satiate, and him who [now] possessed within himself each single energy of [all seven] Rulers as well as God’s own Form, she smiled with love; for ’twas as though she’d seen the image of Man’s fairest form upon her Water, his shadow on her Earth.

He in turn beholding the form like to himself, existing in her, in her Water, loved it and willed to live in it; and with the will came act, and [so] he vivified the form devoid of reason.

And Nature took the object of her love and wound herself completely around him, and they were intermingled, for they were lovers.

15. And this is why beyond all creatures on the earth man is twofold; mortal because of body, but because of
the essential man immortal.

Though deathless and possessed of sway o’er all, yet doth he suffer as a mortal doth, subject to Fate.

Thus though above the Harmony, within the Harmony he hath become a slave.

Though male−female, as from a Father male−female, and though he’s sleepless from a sleepless [Sire], yet is he overcome [by sleep].

16. Thereon [I say: Teach on], O Mind of me, for I myself as well am amorous of the Word (Logos).

The Shepherd said: This is the mystery kept hid until this day.

Nature embraced by Man brought forth a wonder, oh so wonderful.

For as he had the nature of the Concord of the Seven, who, as I said to thee, [were made] of Fire and Spirit − Nature delayed not, but immediately brought forth seven “men”, in correspondence with the natures of the Seven, male−female and moving in the air.

Thereon [I said]: O Shepherd, …, for now I’m filled with great desire and long to hear; do not run off.

The Shepherd said: Keep silence, for not as yet have I unrolled for thee the first discourse (logoi).

Lo! I am still, I said.

17. In such wise than, as I have said, the generation of these seven came to pass.

Earth was as woman, her Water filled with longing; ripeness she took from Fire, spirit from Aether. Nature thus brought forth frames to suit the form of Man.

And Man from Light and Life changed into soul and mind − from Life to soul, from Light to mind.

And thus continued all the sense−world’s parts until the period of their end and new beginnings. ~The Corpus Hermeticum, Poimandres, The Shepard of Men, Paragraphs 1-17.

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