In all the old manuscript records which contain the Legend of the Craft, mention is made of Hermes as one of the founders of Freemasonry. Thus, in the Grand Lodge Manuscript, No. 1, whose date is 1583 and the statement is substantially and almost verbally the same in all the others that "The great Hermarines that was Cubys sonne, the which Cubye was Semmes sonne, that was Noes sonne. This same Hermarines was afterwards called Hernes the father of Wysdome; he found one of the two pillars of stone, and found the science written therein, and he taught it to other men."
There are two persons of the name of Hermes mentioned in sacred history. The first is the divine Hermes, called by the Romans Mercury. Among the Egyptians he was known as Thoth. Diodorus Siculus describes him as the Secretary of Osiris; he is commonly supposed to have been the son of Mizraim, and Cumberland says that he was the same as Osiris. There is, however, much confusion among the mythologists concerning his attributes.
The second was Hermes Trismegistus or the Thrice Great, who was a celebrated Egyptian legislator, priest, and philosopher, who lived in the reign of Ninus, about the year of the world 2670. He is said to have written thirty-six books on theology and philosophy, and six upon medicine, all of which are lost. There are many traditions of him; one of which, related by Eusebius, is that he introduced hieroglyphics into Egypt. This Hermes Trismegistus, although the reality of his existence is doubtful, was claimed by the alchemists as the founder of their art, whence it is called the Hermetic Science, and whence we get in Freemasonry, Hermetic Rites and Hermetic Degrees.
It is to him that the Legend of the Craft refers; and, indeed, the York Constitutions, which are of importance, though not probably of the date of 926, assigned to them by Krause, give him that title, and say that he brought the custom of making himself understood by signs with him to Egypt. In the first ages of the Christian church, this mythical Egyptian philosopher was in fact considered as the inventor of everything known to the human intellect. It was fabled that Pythagoras and Plato had derived their knowledge from him, and that he had recorded his inventions on pillars. The Operative Masons, who wrote the old Constitutions, obtained their acquaintance with him from the Polycromycon of the monk Ranulf Higden, which was translated from the Latin by Trevisa, and printed by William Caxton in 1482. It is repeatedly quoted in the Cooke Manuscript, whose probable date is the latter part of the fifteenth century, and was undoubtedly familiar to the writers of the other Constitutions.
The art or science of Alchemy, so termed from Hermes Trismegistus, who was looked up to by the alchemists as the founder of their art. The Hermetic philosophers say that all the sages of antiquity, such as Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, and Pythagoras, were initiated into the secrets of their science; and that the hieroglyphics of Egypt and all the fables of mythology were invented to teach the dogmas of Hermetic philosophy (see Alchemy).
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