The 4th of July celebration is not only a time for Americans to entertain leisurely pride, but also a time to reflect on the origins and nature of a youthful empire. Perhaps even more so this year when a bright past seems dreamlike and obscure because of an oily present and a storm cloud future. Theists and atheists, historians and politicians, have long debated what inspired the Founding Fathers to stand up to a world of demigod kings and ironhanded religions to create a nation where all potentials of human individuality and freedom could become actualized.
Beyond all the theories and folklore, most people have overlooked the reality that an ancient heresy was a key ingredient in the crystallization of the USA.
That would be Gnosticism, specifically its pagan branch called Hermeticism.
The Origins and Influence of Hermeticism on the Founding Fathers
Hermeticism originated in pre-Christian Egypt. Unlike its Jewish and Christian cousins, Hermeticism was allowed to evolve throughout western history—at times highly regarded by the ruling, extroverted religions. The mythic founder of Hermeticism, Hermes Trismegistus, according to several Church Fathers including Saint Augustine, was a revealer of divine providence who even exchanged theological recipes with Moses himself. His doctrines were venerated in the Christian Byzantine Empire, the Muslim caliphates, and throughout Europe during the Renaissance and even the dry Enlightenment Period.
According to Stephan Hoeller, in his book Freedom: Alchemy for a Voluntary Society, the ideas of Hermes Trismegistus were drenched in the minds of the colonialists who conspired against the British Crown.
Hoeller writes that:
By the time of the American Revolution, the Hermetic Renaissance was fused to a considerable extent with the originally French movement of the Enlightenment. The courts of France, Austria, Russia, and of the German Princes were teaming with adepts of the Hermetic arts and teachings. Thus the normative leadership of the American Revolution, particularly its intellectual wing led and exemplified by Benjamin Franklin, was thoroughly imbued with the spirit of the Hermetic Enlightenment.
Hoeller offers in his book evidence of how Hermetic philosophy reached the revolutionary attitude of many of the Founding Fathers. In one section, he writes:
The emissary of the revolutionary colonists to France, Benjamin Franklin, was an ardent Freemason, who established close links to leading members of that fraternity at the Lodge of the Nine Sisters in France. There he met the aged Voltaire, whose elaborate Masonic memorial services Franklin attended later. The Lodge of the Nine Sisters counted among its membership Voltaire, Lafayette, Prince Charles de Rohan and the philosopher Helvetius. The Lodge was noted for its Occult and Hermetic association. While diplomatic and discreet in voicing his deeper convictions openly, Franklin wrote freely of his Hermetic allegiances and connection in his letters.
Hoeller further noted, in an interview on my show, that Thomas Jefferson also attended this particular lodge.
The Gnostic Aspects of the American Government
In essence, the Founding Fathers created a republic partly based on Hermetic Enlightenment and selected writings of Hermes Trismegistus. Hoeller presents four Hermetic principles that were woven into the fabric of the virgin American Republic:
The separation of Church and State: One of the main tenets of Gnosticism is that all religions are under the rule of lesser, flawed deities. Gnostics were inclusive and pacifist, but at their core distrusted all faiths that bowed to gods operating within time and space. Humans were meant to make contact with the God above God that did not dirty itself with the material world unless it was to broadcast salvific information. This view was a strong influence on Enlightenment deism. Hoeller writes:
Franklin even wrote a liturgy for a new religion based on deistic, Hermetic principles, and sent a copy of it to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who accepted it with pleasure and presumably with approval.
On the other hand, the notion of secular rule was just as absurd in the Gnostic worldview. Thus, the best approach was to keep the secular and the religious, two defective systems, in check and unable to copulate lest they reproduce the fury that destroyed the Classic Gnostics and so many mystic traditions throughout history. Let each find their higher power as a free being and not as part of a collective hive.
The three branch theory of government: In the early days of America, the idea of a monarch or a president with broad powers was hotly debated among the Founding Fathers. The Hermetic sorcerers believed that any earthly ruler was but a reflection of the limited god that oversaw Creation. Much like its Christian counterpart that was often democratic in its religious structures, Hermeticism suggested that leadership roles should be temporary and diluted.
The source of legitimacy of government: Even during the Enlightenment Period, divinity was said to shine stronger through kings and priests. Yet in ancient Alexandria, the Hermetic creed insisted that every human being was endowed with a Divine Spark, a shard of the Godhead that housed all goodness, truth, and virtue. All humans were not only divine but indeed equal to the ancient Gnostics. Thus, any government should logically have the participation of its godly human population.
The alchemical interaction and eventual conjunction of opposing forces: Hoeller encapsulates this notion when he writes:
The Hermetic vision of existence declares that life is a process, not a fixed condition. Because of this, life cannot be managed, but rather must be permitted to function. In this vision, government is a master of the alchemical art, who guards and oversees the process, but does not interfere with it. The less governmental interference with the life process of the body politic, the better.
The fabled Hermetic alchemists did not truly create the Philosopher’s Stone but facilitated and managed exotic substances in order to create the miracle of spiritual wholeness (which was the actual Philosopher’s Stone!). In the same token, a judicious government allows its citizenry the independence to thrive, learn, and sometimes even enter into conflict, all within a laboratory where no individual’s Divine Spark is compromised.
Obviously, there are and will always be many theories on the complex alchemical experiment that is the USA. But one cannot deny the visionary insights of the Egyptian Gnostics whose arcane wisdom benefited many cultures for over 2000 years.
The truth is that there are no records concerning the passing of Hermes Trismegistus, an enigmatic figure who rubbed shoulder with Jewish patriarchs and Babylonian mages. But it would not be too farfetched to assume that the founder of Hermeticism never gave up on Western Civilization. After all, his astral hand has guided many nations and thinkers into greatness. Presently, the USA is fragmenting as a people along with its very foundation. Perhaps what it needs is to call once again upon the lead-to-gold gifts of Hermes Trismegistus and the Gnostics, just like the American Colonialists who dared their souls against the god of this world and his subjects. All of this for the Philosopher’s Stone that can make whole all that is fragmented.
As Hoeller writes:
The chief inspirer of the American Republic was not Moses or Jesus, and even less Saint Augustine or Saint Aquinas, but rather Hermes Trismegistus of old. Hermes, who survived among the alchemists, magicians, Rosicrucians, esoteric Freemasons and the French Enlightenment philosophers, crossed the Atlantic on his winged sandals and stood with the caduceus in the first assemblies of the Continental Congress.
Here we stand as a people now more than ever. We can do no other.
More on the Gnostic founding of the USA with our interview with Robert Hieronimus: