The first discourse of the Corpus Hermeticum elucidates much of the imagery presented here. This discourse, called the Poimandres, encapsulates the Hermetic philosophy attributed to Hermes Trismegistos, which is spread out over eighteen dialogues in the Corpus Hermeticum. Written in Egypt in the 2nd century AD, it arose from the same millieu as Gnosticism, Neo-Platonism, and Christianity. At times, it shares a strong affinity with Gnosticism. And, indeed, a copy of the Poimandres was found in the Nag Hammadi corpus discovered in Upper Egypt fifty years ago.
      Like Gnosticism, the divine One of Hermeticism divides at the beginning of time, creating a multi-layered cosmos. A strong dualism pervades, dividing the upper aeons from the lower in terms of light and dark; spirit and matter, eternity and time, knowledge and ignorance.
      Where Hermeticism differs is in the role of Sophia and the Demiurge. In Gnosticism, Sophia (Wisdom) engenders Yaldabaoth, the lion-headed serpent who ruthlessly imprisons particles of light in the darkness below. And, as Demiurge, Yaldabaoth creates the archons and their planets, which surround the earth like so many prisons - each guarding a doorway to transcendence.
      In the Poimandres, there is no Sophia. Instead, there is Poimandres himself, the divine Mind, who reveals everything through ‘the Light-giving Word’. Emanating outward from Mind is a ‘second Mind’ called the Demiurge. But, unlike Yaldabaoth, this demiurge is wise and knowing, “a Craftsman who... crafted seven governors; they encompass the sensible world in seven circles.” (C.H. I. 9)
      The major difference is that the lower realms are not prisons guarded by Gnostic archons. Nor are the Hermetic ‘governors’ actively hostile towards humans. The governors’ planetary motions determine our fate, but that is all. Another book in the Hermetica, the Liber Hermetis (Book of Hermes) expands these Astrological views on fate and planetary rulership mentioned here.
      The Poimandres goes on to explain how the earth is created through an admixture of earth, air, fire, and water. The fourth dialogue in the Corpus Hermeticum adds to this the image of a krater or great mixing bowl, which the Greek philosopher Zosimos recognized as fundamentally Alchemical.



      As Johfra noted about the Corpus Hermeticum: “These expositions form the Hermetic cosmology and philosophy. From them, Astrology acquired its spirit while Alchemy demonstrated their practical expression.”(Zodiac p. 3)
      Where Hermeticism differs mostly from Gnosticism is in the belief that Astrology and Alchemy can aid us in remembering our divine origins. Through Astrology we understand the order of the planets and stars in the heavens. Through Alchemy, we gain a similar understanding over the four elements on the earth. The Hermetic adept strives to acquire the Craftsman’s knowledge of the creation. (And the same may be said of the Hermetic artist: through his own craftsmanship in images, he seeks to understand the workings of the stars and the elements).
      That is why Nature is also given a most prominant role in the Poimandres. As the Earth, she generates the lower life forms: the minerals, plants and animals - even the body of man belongs to her.
      Gnosticism and Hermeticism agree once more that man is an admixture of spirit and body. In both systems, 'the Fall' is preceded by the appearance of the Anthropos, a model of man in the upper aeons who is fashioned after the divine image. The Fall of the Anthropos from the upper heavens to the lower leads to the creation of man. And it is the divine image in the Anthropos that gives man his particle of divine light, his knowledge of the upper aeons.
      For the Fall, Hermeticism turned to the Greek myth of Narcissus while the Gnostics drew their imagery from Adam and Eve in the Garden. According to the Poimandres, the Anthropos became enamoured by his own form reflected in Nature’s pool. He lovingly fell into Nature’s embrace and acquired flesh. He then appeared in Nature seven times as seven androgynes - each of which manifest the qualities of one of the seven planetary governors.
      After this, “all living things, which had been androgyne, were severed into two parts - humans along with them - and part of them became male, and part likewise female.” (C.H. I. 18) So, all of nature, from the lower animals to the seven human androgynes, divided into male and female forms to procreate and sustain themselves on the earth.
      (Incidentally, this Hermetic myth entails that there are seven types of human, each of them born with a predominant quality from one of the seven planets. Hence, some people are Saturnine, others Jovial, and others Mercurial etc. This Hermetic idea became fundamental to Renaissance Astrology.)