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

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.

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  • 1

    Cf. Bremmer 2012.

  • 2

    Flannery, Shantz, and Werline 2008, 1–8.

  • 3

    Yamane 2000.

  • 4

    Yamane 2000, 76.

  • 6

    James 1902, 379–429, concerning mystical experience. Cf. Fitzgerald 2000, 133–34, on day-to-day experience.

  • 7

    Segal 2011, 376–77, 379; Fitzgerald 2000, 128–29.

  • 8

    See Turner 2013, 415–17.

  • 10

    Cf. Festugière, 1944–1954; 1967.

  • 13

    Bull 2014, 179–374. 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).

  • 20

    Hanegraaff 2008.

  • 21

    Van den Kerchove 2012, 358–71; 2017; DeConick 2016, 79–90.

  • 22

    Bull 2014, 319–74, 415–36; Gordon 2013.

  • 32

    Polito, Langdon, and Brown 2010.

  • 35

    Ritner 1993, 218–19.

  • 37

    Cf. Podemann Sørensen 2012, 478–81 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.

  • 39

    Segal 2011, 382; cf. Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice (4QShirShabba).

  • 41

    Morris 2006, 20; Winkelmann 1997.

  • 44

    Stob. herm. 6.2–4; cf. Bull 2014, 337–50; 2017, 76–81.

  • 45

    Janowitz 1989; Kaplan 1997, 97; Scholem 1954, 49–54.

  • 46

    Bull 2017, 82–87.

  • 47

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

  • 49

    Flood 2006, 172–78.

  • 51

    On boy mediums, cf. Hopfner 1921, 236; Johnston 2001. For an English translation of the spells, cf. Betz 1985.

  • 52

    Gordon 1997, 81–6.

  • 53

    Dieleman 2011, 108–15.

  • 54

    Johnston 2001, 102.

  • 57

    Bull 2014, 425.

  • 59

    Bull 2017, 87–91.

  • 60

    Taves 2009, 152, 164; Greene 2012, 85, 167, 198, 244.

  • 61

    Gordon 2013, 164n3: “‘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).”

  • 71

    Porphyry, Vit. Plot. 3; Justin, Dial. 2–8.

  • 74

    Corp. herm. 13. Cf. Kasser et al. 2008, 29–30; Wurst 2012.

  • 75

    Lundhaug and Jenott 2015.

  • 77

    Hedrick 1980, 84–86.

  • 79

    Goehring 1986.

  • 88

    Ward 1975, 160.

  • 89

    Frankfurter 2003, 369–70.

  • 95

    Williams and Jenott 2006, 1044. For the blessing sung in silence, see Disc. 8–9 nhc vi,6 59.19–22.

  • 97

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

  • 98

    Frankfurter 2003, 378–79.

  • 99

    Römer and Thissen 1990, 175.

  • 101

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

  • 102

    Turner 2013, 418. Cf. also the 10th- or 11th- century Coptic invocation to receive a revelation (Tibet 2014).

  • 103

    Lundhaug and Jenott 2015, 6, 70, 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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