Sacred Sexuality and the Hermetica

Those who have read Brian P. Coperhaver’s translation of the Hermetica have no doubt been overwhelmed by the density of the final book, the Asclepius (also known as the Perfect Discourse). This book is replete with speculation about the nature of god, universal mechanations, and sex.


I was surprised, too. While the majority of the Hermetica focuses on how to know God by shunning sensory pleasures, it seems sexual experiences are not only tolerated, but a potent reflection of divinity. It’s true!

If you don’t mind, I would like to share a rather graphic passage from the Corpus Hermeticum. Or as we call it in my house, “First-Century Pornography.”

Grasp this in your mind as truer and plainer than anything else: that god, this master of the whole of nature, devised and granted to all things this mystery of procreation unto eternity, in which arose the greatest affection, pleasure, gaiety, desire and love divine. One should explain how great is the force and compulsion of this mystery, were it not that each individual already knows from contemplation and inward consciousness.

(Corpus Hermeticum: Asclepius. 21; Copenhaver 1992: 79)

Alright, that’s not so juicy. But check out this next passage:

For if you take note of that final moment to which we come after constant rubbing when each of the two natures pours its issue into the other and one hungrily snatches <love> from the other and buries it deeper, finally at that moment from the common coupling females gain the potency of males and males are exhausted with the lethargy of females.

(C.H.: Asclepius. 21; Copenhaver 1992: 79)

Damn! I need a cold shower after typing that! Basically, what we have above is a graphic depiction of the sexual act culminating in orgasm. This is some steamy stuff!

According to the Asclepius, sex contains such great mysteries that it should be guarded from the profane:

Therefore, the act of this mystery, so sweet and vital, is done in secret so that the divinity that arises in both natures from the sexual coupling should not be forced to feel the shame that would come from the laughter of the ignorant if it happened in public or, much worse, if it were open to the sight of irreverent people.

(C.H.: Asclepius. 21; Copenhaver 1992: 79)

This is far from the idea that the body should be shunned, rather it is through sex that humans can experience the god within! This was the only overt reference to sacred sexuality I noticed in the philosophical Hermetica. Perhaps some readers have found others. It’s interesting that a small paragraph can be so racy and so divergent from the general thrust of the rest of the text. No pun intended.


Copenhaver, Brian P. Hermetica: The Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius in a New English Translation, with Notes and Introduction. Cambridge University Press, 1995. Print.

Photo by James_C.

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