Visionary Experience and Ritual Realism in the Ascent of the Discourse on the Eighth and the Ninth (nhc vi,6)

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The Discourse on the Eighth and the Ninth (nhc vi,6) is a dialogue between Hermes Trismegistus and his son, during which they experience visions of the eighth and ninth spheres, above the seven planetary spheres. The paper aims to show that such experiences were not merely literary fiction, but actively pursued and allegedly obtained by those who followed the course of spiritual formation known as the Way of Hermes. A comparison with the Greek and Demotic magical papyri shows that these texts all show signs of “ritual realism,” meaning that correct ritual performance necessarily provides direct access to the divine realm, which should be experienced as real. It is furthermore argued that the Coptic translation of the text, and its presence in the Nag Hammadi codices, might be explained by the interest of Egyptian monks in visions of the divine.

Visionary Experience and Ritual Realism in the Ascent of the Discourse on the Eighth and the Ninth (nhc vi,6)

in Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies



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Cf. Bremmer 2012.


Flannery Shantz and Werline 20081–8.


Yamane 2000.


Yamane 200076.


James 1902379–429concerning mystical experience. Cf. Fitzgerald 2000 133–34 on day-to-day experience.


Segal 2011376–77379; Fitzgerald 2000 128–29.


See Turner 2013415–17.


Cf. Festugière 1944–1954; 1967.


Bull 2014179–374. I refer to the candidate as male since this role is played by Tat in Corp. herm. 13 it is however also possible that women were admitted as some Hermetic treatises feature Isis as the teacher (Stob. herm. 23–27).


Hanegraaff 2008.


Van den Kerchove 2012358–71; 2017; DeConick 2016 79–90.


Bull 2014319–74415–36; Gordon 2013.


Polito Langdon and Brown 2010.


Ritner 1993218–19.


Cf. Podemann Sørensen 2012478–81 with ref. to: Coffin Text 1.116 4.254 345; Pyramid Text 852–856; P. Berlin 3055 (Karnak Liturgy for Amon); Book of the Dead 15 16. Cf. also Bull 2017 91.


Segal 2011382; cf. Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice (4QShirShabba).


Morris 200620; Winkelmann 1997.


Stob. herm. 6.2–4; cf. Bull 2014337–50; 2017 76–81.


Janowitz 1989; Kaplan 199797; Scholem 1954 49–54.


Bull 201782–87.


Cf. Mahé 2006who interprets the embrace to be similar to the Valentinian kiss.


Flood 2006172–78.


On boy mediums cf. Hopfner 1921236; Johnston 2001. For an English translation of the spells cf. Betz 1985.


Gordon 199781–6.


Dieleman 2011108–15.


Johnston 2001102.


Bull 2014425.


Bull 201787–91.


Taves 2009152164; Greene 2012 85 167 198 244.


Gordon 2013164n3: “‘Realism’ in this sense means the claim that correct religious knowledge-practices can fulfill pragmatic human wishes by providing direct access to the divine world which will necessarily respond. This sense roughly corresponds to the Egyptian concept/deity Heka/heka(u).”


PorphyryVit. Plot. 3; Justin Dial. 2–8.


Corp. herm. 13. Cf. Kasser et al. 200829–30; Wurst 2012.


Lundhaug and Jenott 2015.


Hedrick 198084–86.


Goehring 1986.


Ward 1975160.


Frankfurter 2003369–70.


Williams and Jenott 20061044. For the blessing sung in silence see Disc. 8–9 nhc vi6 59.19–22.


DidymusComm. Eccl. 167.19–23 (Kramer 1970 my trans.; cf. Bull forthcoming a).


Frankfurter 2003378–79.


Römer and Thissen 1990175.


London Oriental Manuscript 6794. Cf. Meyer and Smith 1994 279–80.


Turner 2013418. Cf. also the 10th- or 11th- century Coptic invocation to receive a revelation (Tibet 2014).


Lundhaug and Jenott 2015670 234 253 264; Hedrick 1980 91–92; contra Emmel 2008 who averred that the books were likely translated into Coptic by urban intellectuals wishing to make a new Egyptian esoteric literature.


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