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The Gnostic Society Library

Thrice-Greatest Hermes - Volume 2

by G.R.S. Mead


LXXIX. 1. And must I also speak of the daily incense-offerings, as I promised, 1 the reader should first of all have in mind the fact, that not only have men [in general] always paid most serious attention to things that conduce to health, but that especially in sacred ceremonies and purifications and prescribed modes of life “healthy” is not less important than “holy”; for they did not think it right to render service to the Pure and perfectly Harmless and Unpolluted with either bodies or with souls festering and diseased.

2. Since, then, the air—of which we make most use, and with which we have most to do—does not always keep the same disposition and blend, but at night is condensed, and weighs down the body, and brings the soul into a desponding and anxious state, as though it had become mist-like and heavy; [therefore] as soon as they get up they incense with pine resin, sanifying and purifying the air by its 2 disintegration, and fanning up again the [fire of the] spirit connate with body 3

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which had died down,—since its perfume possesses a vehement and penetrating [force].

3. And, again, at mid-day, perceiving that the sun draws from the earth by force an exceedingly large and heavy exhalation, and commingles it with the air, they incense with myrrh. 1 For its heat dissolves and disperses the turbid and mud-like combination in the atmosphere.

4. And, indeed, physicians seem to relieve sufferers from plague by making a great blaze, as though it cleared the air. But it clears it better if they burn fragrant woods, such as [those] of cypress, juniper, and pine.

5. At any rate, they say that at Athens, at the time of the Great Plague, Akrōn the physician became famous through ordering them to keep fires burning by the side of the sick, for he [thus] benefitted not a few.

6. And Aristotle says that the sweet-smelling odours, given off by perfumes and flowers and meadows, conduce no less to health than to enjoyment; because by their warmth and softness they diffuse themselves gently through the brain, which is naturally cold and as though congested.

7. And if, moreover, they call myrrh bal among Egyptians—and in translation this comes pretty near to meaning the dispersion of silly talk—this also affords some evidence for the reason why [they use it].

LXXX. 1. And [finally] kuphi 2 is a mixture composed of sixteen ingredients:—of honey, and wine, and raisins, and cyperus; 3 of pine-resin, and myrrh,

p. 365

and aspalathus, 1 and seseli; 2 and further of mastich, 3 and bitumen, 4 and nightshade, 5 and sorrel; and in addition to these of both junipers 6 (of which they call the one the larger and the other the smaller), and cardamum, and sweet-flag. 7

2. And these are not compounded in a haphazard way, but with the sacred writings being read aloud 8 to the perfume-makers when they mix them.

3. And as to their number,—even though it has all the appearance of square from square, and [that too] the only one of equally equal numbers that has the power of making the perimeter equal to the area, 9 it must be said that its serviceableness for this purpose at least is of the slightest.

4. But the majority of the ingredients, as they possess aromatic properties, liberate a sweet breath and healthy exhalation, by which both the air is changed, and the body being gently and softly moved by the vapour, falls asleep 10 and loosens the distressing strain of the day’s anxieties, as though they were knots, [and yet] without any intoxication.

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5. Moreover, they polish up the image-making and receptive organ of dreams like a mirror, and make it clearer, no less than the playing on the lyre which the Pythagoreans used to use before sleep, thus charming away and sanifying the passionate and reason-less nature of the soul.

6. For things smelt call back the failing sense, and often, on the other hand, dull and quiet it by [their] soothing [effect], when their exhalations are diffused through the body; just as some of the physicians say that sleep is induced when the vaporisation of the food, as it were creeping gently round the inward parts and groping about, produces a kind of tickling.

7. And they use kuphi both as draught and mixture; for when it is drunk it is thought to purge the intestines, [but when applied externally 1] to be an emollient.

8. And apart from these [considerations], resin is a work of the sun; and myrrh [comes from] the exudation of the trees under the sun-heat; while of the ingredients of kuphi, some flourish more at night, like all things whose nature it is to be nourished by cool breezes and shade and dew and damp.

9. Seeing that the light of day is one and single, and Pindar tells us that the sun is seen “through empty æther”; 2 while air is a blend and mixture of many lights and properties, as it were of seeds dropped from every star into one [field].

10. Naturally, then, they use the former as incenses by day, as being single and having their birth from the sun; and the latter when night sets in, as being mixed and manifold in its qualities.


363:1 Cf. lii. 5.

363:2 Sc. the resin’s.

363:3 That is, presumably, what was called the “bodily or animal spirits”—the ethers or prāṇa’s.

364:1 The resinous gum of an Arabian tree; probably a kind of acacia.

364:2 This was also used as a medicine.

364:3 κυπείρου,—Cyperus comosus, an aromatic plant used in embalming, a sweet-smelling marsh plant. Cf. F. cypère and E. cypres.

365:1 ἀσπαλάθου,—a prickly shrub yielding a fragrant oil; mentioned in the Apocrypha and in some old herbalists. Cf. “I gave a sweet smell like cinnamon and aspalathus”—Ecclus. xxiv. 15. It was not the Genista acanthoclada.

365:2 σεσέλεως,—the Tordylium officinale; formerly called in English also “cicely.”

365:3 σχίνου,—or may be “squill.”

365:4 ἀσφάλτου.

365:5 θρύον,—or may be “rush.”

365:6 Lit., juniper-berries.

365:7 κάλαμου,—probably Acorus calamus (cf. Ex. xxx. 23 et al.). It is to be noticed that the ingredients are arranged in four sets of four each.

365:8 That is to the sound of mantrāḥ, as a Hindu would say.

365:9 Cf. xlii. 2 and figure in note.

365:10 The kuphi being used at sundown.

366:1 A lacuna of 8 or 9 letters occurs here in E.

366:2 Olymp., i. 6.

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