Hermopolis: the City of Beautiful Renewal

“Let us praise Thoth, the exact plummet of the balance,
from whom evil flees,
who accepts him who avoids evil,
the Vizier who gives judgement,
who vanquishes crime,
who recalls all that is forgotten,
the remembrancer of time and eternity,
who proclaims the hours of the night,
whose words abide for ever.”

Hymn to Thoth written by Horemheb, the last pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty of Egypt

Statuette of an ibis, the Vatican museum

Thoth, the Ibis-headed God of writing, magic and wisdom, inventor of hieroglyphs, was also the god of the moon. He was “the reflection of the sun (Ra) in whose absence he fills the darkness of the night with his moonlight.” (1) The shape of the ibis’s beak was reminiscent of the crescent moon. There was a connection with Thoth and the heart; first of all the Egyptians would draw an ibis as a hieroglyph for the heart; secondly, Thoth played a major role in the weighing of the heart ceremony:

“If the weight of the heart was found to be equal to that of the feather [of Maat], the deceased is deemed by Thoth as having led a ‘true life,’ namely having been true of heart and tongue.” (2)

Detail from the Papyrus of Hunefer, Thoth recording the result of the ceremony standing on the right (via Wikipedia)

Maat, the goddess of truth, justice and the cosmic order, was also one of the consorts of Thoth. Through his association with the moon and the heart, Thoth was a deity that embodied the intelligence-of-the-heart, to use the term invented by René Adolphe Schwaller de Lubicz, the brilliant French Egyptologist and mystic. For him, this type of intelligence is distinct from “the cerebral intelligence” in that it is a vehicle to reach the divine through the development of cosmic consciousness.

Thoth was also the god of healing, as he was the one “who brings justice, who healed the Sacred Eye” of Horus, which the son of Osiris had lost in the battle with Set. (3) The symbolism of the eye of Horus (called Udjat or Wedjat eye in Egyptian) encompasses healing, insight, wholeness, integrity, integration of opposites and defense against evil. (4)

Wedjat amulet via https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/552777

Before the Hellenistic city of Alexandria was established, Thoth had his own divine city in Egypt. The Greeks called it Hermopolis because they associated Thoth with their own Hermes. The original ancient Egyptian name of the city was Khmnu, which means “the city of eight” or the city of the Ogdoad – a group of eight deities associated with a creation myth of Hermopolis. (5) Eight gods emerged from the primordial waters of chaos – four male gods with frog’s heads and four female deities with serpent’s heads:

God Nun and his consort/daughter Nunet (fluidity and water)

Heh and Hehet (infinity and air)

Kek and Keket (darkness and fire)

Amen and Amunet (hiddenness and earth) (6)

In another version of the myth, the Mound of Flame emerged from the waters, on its top a celestial goose laid a cosmic egg, out of which sun the creator was hatched. In still another version, a lotus bud appeared on the surface of the waters. When it opened, it revealed a sun god as a child. (7)

I wrote at length about the symbolism of the lotus here, but I love how Mervat Nasser notices that this flower, which opens with the sunrise and closes at dusk, symbolized the notion of Being for the Egyptians:

“Like death resurrected, new life springs from the inertness and hiddenness. What this meant was that the act of being was never separate from non-being, and that creation was never a one-off incident, but something that entailed constant repetition.” (8)

She speaks of the crucial moment of “not-yet-being,” when opposites are united and there is yet no strife.

“The Blue Egyptian Water Lily” by Joseph Constantine Stadler

Because of this symbolism Hermopolis represented for the Egyptians “a place of beautiful renewal.” (9) The county where the city of Thoth was located was called the Nome of Wenet – literally the district of the hare. This beautiful lunar animal was represented by the hieroglyphic sign, which signified the essence of life or simply “being,” explains Nasser. This same hieroglyph was often encircled by the serpent ouroboros, strengthening the symbolism of the eternal renewal.

The Hare hieroglyph over water

The Picatrix, a book of magic and astrology originally written in Arabic in the eleventh century, gives us a breathtaking description of this hermetic city of wonders:

“In this text, the city is described as having fruitful trees and a lighthouse with ‘a spherical cupola’ that flooded the city with a different coloured light each day of the week. It also had ‘four gates guarded with statues of priests’ … and whoever wanted to learn a science ‘went to its particular statue, stroked it with his hand and then stroked his breast, thus transferring the science to himself.” (10)

Seshat at the Temple of Luxor via Wikipedia

There was also the Temple of Thoth in Hermopolis, which may be regarded as a prototype of the Temple of Solomon – the ultimate expression of divine geometry. Here the role of another consort of Thoth is crucial. Her name was Seshat and she was the goddess of writing, of measurement and the ruler of books. No foundation ceremonies of temples could take place without her. Her emblem was the seven-pointed star or the seven-petaled flower. Thus she symbolized the notion of divine harmony and divine cosmic order. (11) Number eight, on the other hand, which is associated with Thoth, bears the quality of intermediation between the square and the circle, between heaven and earth, says Cirlot in his Dictionary of Symbols. Hermes/Thoth was indeed a divine intermediary between the realms. Eight is also a symbol of regeneration (eight for the infinity of cycles) and “is associated with the two interlacing serpents of the caduceus, signifying the balancing out of opposing forces or the equivalence of the spiritual power to the natural,” adds Cirlot.

Dr Mervat Abdel-Nasser, the author of the book that I partly based my post on, is the founder of New Hermopolis. In the final chapter she describes it as an ecological retreat centre “for those who seek to truly belong to a world where barriers and frontiers no longer exist.” The centre was created with the Hermetic idea of oneness in mind. She quotes from the Hermetica:

“The All is not many separate things,

but the Oneness that subsumes the parts.”

In the square pond on the grounds of New Hermopolis the founders succeeded in reviving the Egyptian blue lotus, a species considered to be extinct.

Notes:

(1) Mervat Nasser, The Path to the New Hermopolis: The History, Philosophy and Future of the City of Hermes, Rubedo Press 2019, p. 18

(2) Ibid., p. 21

(3) Ibid., p. 22, the quote comes from Coffin Texts, a collection of ancient Egyptian funerary spells 

(4) Ibid., p. 24

(5) Ibid., p. 27

(6) Ibid.

(7) Joyce Tyldesley, Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt, Penguin 2010, p. 70-71

(8) Mervat Nasser, The Path to the New Hermopolis: The History, Philosophy and Future of the City of Hermes, Rubedo Press 2019, p. 68

(9) Ibid., p. 29

(10) Ibid., p. 33

(11) John Anthony West, Serpent in the Sky: The High Wisdom of Ancient Egypt, Quest Books 1993, p. 48

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3 Responses to Hermopolis: the City of Beautiful Renewal

  1. Jeff says:

    Hi Monika. Another great post, and well-researched as always. I noticed that you referenced “The Picatrix.” I’ve heard this referenced quite a bit in texts I’ve read, as well as podcasts. I am on the fence about whether to buy it and read it. But currently reading “Secret Teachings of All Ages” by Manly P. Hall. That will certainly keep me busy for a while 🙂

    Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jeff, thank you very much, kind sir. When it comes to the Picatrix, I have never read the whole thing but I keep hearing about it especially in the context of astrology. I think it must be fascinating and not an easy read at all. Manly P. Hall will for sure keep you busy – I grew tired of it towards the end but perhaps you are more patient. Hopefully you’ll drop a little review on your blog.
      Best wishes
      Monika

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jeff says:

        Hi Monika. Yes, the Picatrix seems to be pretty influential. But as with many texts of this nature, they demand a lot from the reader.

        As far as Manly P. Hall goes, I am reading along with a friend of mine, and the plan is to read a few chapters and then have a video call where we discuss, kind of like a virtual book discussion. And yes, I have every intention of drafting up some posts regarding the book in my infinite free time – LOL.

        Hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday season. Thanks for all the light you bring to the world.

        Jeff

        Liked by 1 person

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