Light, Dark, and Planetary Spheres: Psychotherapeutic Inspirations from The Corpus Hermeticum

This essay explores planetary symbols in The Corpus Hermeticum (an ancient Greek wisdom text from the second or third century CE).


It was submitted in October 2020 as a reflection paper in a course toward my masters degree in counseling psychology with an emphasis in marriage and family therapy, professional clinical counseling, and depth psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute.



Psychotherapeutic Inspirations from The Corpus Hermeticum


Shawna McGrath

October 16, 2020


I initially chose Pœmandres, the Shepherd of Men from The Corpus Hermeticum for this reflection paper because I was curious to explore Hermes’ contrasting experience of the enchanting Light and chaotic Darkness as a metaphor for consciousness and unconsciousness; however, I was drawn into the Astrological correspondences of the seven spheres as a pathway to know the Self, a central theme to my future psychotherapy practice. In this text, Light is experienced by the student, Hermes, as blissful while Darkness is experienced as painful (Mead, 2016, p. 4). This sentiment describes my experience of psyche, both joyful and chaotic, depending on the material and context. Additionally, the Shepherd speaks of moving through seven spheres, or plains, to a state of enlightenment, “…upwards through the Harmony…those who have gained Gnosis – to be made one with God” (Mead, 2017, p. 16). In my experience as a professional Astrologer, I immediately recognized the qualities of these seven spheres, as described by the Shepard, as the seven planetary bodies utilized in Astrology (Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn); these are often correlated to archetypes (Tarnas, 2007, p. 85). I imagined a person constantly experiencing different archetypes throughout their lifetime, depending on the phase and circumstances of life at any point in time. This concept will certainly inform my psychotherapy practice. However, before the seven spheres, the Shepard’s discourse initially started as a creation story involving only the Light and the Dark.


Perceptions of Light and Dark

I see this duality of Light and Dark as a metaphor for experiencing consciousness and unconsciousness. To have gnosis, contact with the Self, one must have space for the unknown. Meade wrote, “The unity of light and darkness is still a higher mystery” (2017, p. 28). Hermes’ description of Light brought to my mind complete awareness, being uplifted, a feeling of certainty. In contrast, the description of Darkness brought up for me blindness, a time of dreaming, and unknowns. Upon further reflection, I remembered that ancient Egyptians considered black as a helpful symbol for “fertility and rebirth” (Pinch, 2002, p. 48). Since The Corpus Hermeticum draws from Egyptian, Jewish, and Greek traditions, (Salaman, Van Oyen, Wharton, & Mahe, 2000, p. 79) it seems that the symbolic associations to Darkness may provide something more than simply chaos. Marion Woodman and Elinor Dickson speak to this point in discussing the revival of ancient wisdom from Gnosticism and alchemy, “It is within this chaos that a deeper, intrinsic order reveals itself” (1996, p. 39). I hope to bring this concept of working with the light and dark (consciousness and unconsciousness), as a mystery to be experienced, into my psychotherapy practice to cultivate an open and creative mindset for whatever is presented in the room. Moving further into the Shepard’s creation story, seven spheres are brought into existence.


Planetary Spheres & Astrology as a Path to Self

Following Hermes’ experience of Light and Dark, the Shepard goes on to describe the process of enlightenment as moving through seven spheres (Mead, 2017, p. 16) that strikingly resemble the seven planetary bodies used in traditional Astrology (Brennan, 2017, pp. 167-187; George, 2019, pp. 51-52). As a professional Astrologer, I was intrigued by this correlation. I know from my Astrological studies that Hellenistic, Arabic, Medieval, and Renaissance Astrological traditions correlate the seven planetary bodies with deities, personal traits, vocations, and even objects (George, 2019, p. 44-45). In contemporary Astrology, the planetary bodies tend to be associated with psychological archetypes. For example, Demetra George makes the following correlations with each planet to a modern archetype, “Moon: Mother/Caretaker, Mercury: Messenger/Trickster, Venus: Lover, Sun: Leader/Illuminator, Mars: Warrior, Jupiter: Sage/Wise Man, Saturn: Elder” (George, 2019, p. 52). When combining the Hermeticum’s concept of moving through the seven planetary spheres with the modern concept of the planets as archetypal symbols, it could be said that a person may move through different psychological and archetypal states throughout their life as a process of connection to the Self. I can see myself integrating a psychotherapy client’s Astrological birthchart in this exploration. Though I may not share these inspirations with clients, they will inform my presence and perceptions. As Carl Jung said of Astrology, “…I very often found that the astrological data elucidated certain points which I otherwise would have been unable to understand” (1973, p. 475).


Conclusion

Ultimately, my intention as a psychotherapist is to provide a space to journey with the Self through what is happening in the client’s life and within our interactions in the therapy room. From this place, the concepts of Light and Dark (consciousness and unconsciousness) bring out my associations with psyche and mystery so that I may allow the process to proceed of its own accord. Further, I experience the concept of witnessing the Self and the client’s inner wisdom through certain archetypes correlated to the planetary bodies in Astrology. These concepts are philosophical foundations and a symbolic language that I hope will bring further openness, depth, and a synchronistic mindset to my practice as a psychotherapist.


References


Brennan, C. (2017). Hellenistic astrology: the study of fate and fortune. Amor Fati Publications. Denver, CO.


Dickson, E., Woodman, M. (1996). Dancing in the flames: the dark goddess in the transformation of consciousness. Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boston, MA.


George, D. (2019). Ancient astrology in theory and practice: a manual of traditional techniques: volume 1: assessing planetary condition. Rubedo Press. Auckland, New Zealand.


Jung, C. G. (1973). Letters: Vol. 1: 1906-1950 (G. Adler & A Jaffé, Eds.) (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). Princeton University Press.


Mead, G.R.S. (2017). Thrice-greatest Hermes, Vol. 2: I. Corpus Hermeticum: I. Pœmandres, the Shepherd of Men.” Accessed September 25, 2020. http://gnosis.org.


Pinch, G. (2002). Egyptian mythology: a guide to the gods, goddesses, and traditions of ancient Egypt. Oxford University Press. New York, NY.


Salaman, C., Van Oyen, D., Wharton, W.D., Mahe, J. (2000) The way of Hermes, new translations of the corpus hermeticum and the definitions of Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius. Inner Traditions. Rochester, VT.


Tarnas, R. (2007). Cosmos and psyche: intimations of a new world view. Penguin Group, Inc. New York NY.

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